Meeting and event professionals told a gathering of sales and marketing directors that budgets were not going up and they better get online for both RFPs and bookings. They also asked for more creativity in answering RFPs and transparency in negotiations and contracts so that everyone knows what they are getting.
The advice came during the Voice of the Customer session that opened the first-ever Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association International (HSMAI) Hotel Sales Strategy Conference for directors of sales and marketing held here this week. The session, moderated by Robert A. Gilbert, CHME, CHA, president and CEO of HSMAI, brought four diversified meeting and event planners together with the audience made up primarily of directors of sales and marketing from hotels, convention and visitor bureaus and others looking for their business.
When questioned about budgets for 2008, Lee Ann Adams Mikeman, Assistant Vice President for Conference Planning and Special Events at SAIC said: 'Our budgets are going to remain the same, but we are trying to create more efficiencies by opening small meeting centers in our regional offices.' She also noted that attendance at the large events has fallen off in recent years, a fact that others on the panel and in the audience have also noticed.
Liz Jackson, Vice President, Meetings Management Group, said, 'ROI is being pushed to the limit, which then impacts the budgets.'
Horacio Gavilan, CMP, Executive Director of the Association of Hispanic Advertising Agencies, said that 'while business remains good, our meetings are well attended.' But he added, 'We are looking at shifting some of our ancillary meeting costs from the association to the members so we can keep the price of attending at the same levels.'
Jackson agreed, adding: 'Associations are more cost-conscious looking for savings by reducing the number of activities to save money.'
Timothy Burke, Director, Office of Travel and Transportation Services, Federal Acquisition Service, provided the government viewpoint noting that 'we look at budgets differently and centralization is an important option for us within the government agencies. Most of what we do is regulated and must be transparent.'
The question of online RFPs and bookings led to a lot of discussion.
Mikeman noted that 'Online bookings for meetings and RFPs online are increasing greatly and we are being evaluated on our programs and how we use technology.'
Jackson said: 'It starts with the relationship we have developed with the convention manager and with the hotels,' but also noted, 'our younger employees are spending their time online. We greatly value our suppliers who act as trusted advisors.'
Gavilan agreed: 'Our team is under pressure and we use online services, but while we want to use the technology, we want to back it up with face-to-face meetings.'
Once again, Burke provided the government view adding, 'what's going to happen on the federal side is that we will have an electronic toolbox to work with. Similar to what has been developed in other travel areas, such as FedRooms.gov.'
Ending the session with some advice to the audience of sales and marketing professionals, Liz Jackson offered: 'Those who respond to an RFP with creativity, even online, will succeed,' but quickly added that 'many sales people today are not well trained to sell, especially on the telephone.'
She also suggested that hoteliers should 'focus on transparency so everyone knows what to expect. We don't want to sign a contract and find we have a lot of unexpected expenses.'
Mikeman suggested that everyone should respond to the RFPs and do follow-up calls. She also suggested that hotels work with meeting planners when needed to rebook cancelled space and 'do understand that we consider you important partners.'
New Tools for Online Marketing
Gordon Liametz, president of Revenue Performance, a company devoted to Internet sales and marketing solutions, focused on securing group leads online. He provided a detailed look at some of the new tools for online marketing and emphasized that:
1. It is important to have your site optimized for search engines.
2. B2B searchers are looking for information and you have to provide information in PDF files so it can be printed and shared.
3. Hotels should use the DMAI's MINT database System – a shared repository of information about association and corporate meetings to find out what meetings have been planned in particular cities.
4. Utilize SPOCK.com – social media search engine.
5. Set up a 'Google Alert' for news about companies you are trying to attract.
6. Do a search on companies you are looking for in your public library.
7. Explore Zoominfo.com as a paid option that provides bio information on corporate personnel and their positions.
8. Review Hotel Planner, Group Travel Planet and Groople because they are the biggest sites for SMERF business currently online.
9. Sales and marketing professionals should mix up the lists they use for e-mail campaigns and decide up front what metrics to use.
Bart Berkey, Director of Talent Acquisition, Sales and Marketing, for Ritz-Carlton Hotels, emphasized the importance of finding the right talent. 'In today's economy what you have to sell is only as good as who you have selling it, and finding the best sales and marketing staff for your company is as important as any of the amenities you offer guests.'
He likened hotel sales to the art of selling a car, noting it's about fit, it's about usage, it's about reliability and guarantees, it's about budget and overall performance.
He suggested that in advertising openings to 'know what you want and describe it accurately.'
Berkey urged companies to 'use industry websites for maximum exposure' and pointed out that HSMAI has a job search listing service online that costs only $200 per job posting which is a lot less than advertising in newspapers and magazines and the postings last longer.
When you get applicants in for interviews, you need to 'wow your candidates with something extraordinary. Sell the job to your candidates.'
He also warned of 'inadvertent blindness, which happens when we are so focused on some things that we don't see everything' and often miss hiring good candidates or hire the wrong applicant instead.
Julie Shen, Professional Training and Executive Coach with Master Connection Associates, helped attendees focus on leadership skills, noting: 'All the knowledge in the world won't matter if you can't lead a team to success.'
'We all need to be better coaches and provide constructive feedback,' Shen said, adding: 'But we must also create the fun factor at work for our employees. Making the workplace fun is no longer an option. We have to learn how the younger generation wants to have fun at work.'
In working to improve employee skills 'continuous effort, not strength or intelligence, is the key to unlocking potential,' Shen said, adding: 'Be authentic, be clear, give people their 15 minutes of fame and one-on-one time.' She suggested lots of feedback and make it 'SMART' feedback including:
Fran Brasseux, Executive Vice President of HSMAI, and Mark Thompson, chair of HSMAI's Hotel Director of Sales & Marketing Special Interest Group Advisory Board, closed the day with the observation that 'there is a whole new way of doing business and we have to learn about these techniques to incorporate the tools into our business.'
Sponsors of the event were Rudner Law Offices, SECURE-RES, TIG Global, Smith Travel Research and Open Hospitality. The HSMAI Hotel Sales Strategy Conference was organized by HSMAI and HSMAI's Hotel Director of Sales & Marketing Special Interest Group Advisory Board.
HSMAI is an organization of sales and marketing professionals representing all segments of the hospitality industry. With a strong focus on education, HSMAI has become the industry champion in identifying and communicating trends in the hospitality industry, and bringing together customers and members at annual events, including HSMAI's Affordable Meetings(R). Founded in 1927, HSMAI is an individual membership organization comprising more than 7,000 members worldwide, with 39 chapters in the Americas Region.