Jump Start Your Group Business for 2013


As 2012 comes to an end, it is an opportune time to evaluate what worked and what didn’t work, and incorporate those initiatives and practices to ensure the foundation for financial success. A smart and honest assessment and evaluation coupled with timely implementation, will place owners and managers in a stronger position to withstand economic uncertainties or situations that occur over which they have no control.

Properties that relied on group business were at a particular disadvantage in 2012 due to world wide economic conditions and, in the US, a “wait and see” attitude, until after the Presidential election in November.

The application of social media, mobile marketing, and technology, in all of their forms, has, in many cases, diverted attention from direct sales and its value. Direct sales is typically the most controllable and quantifiable part of a marketing plan. When structured and implemented effectively, direct sales can achieve the best ROI, even when the cost can account for 50% of the entire marketing budget. Social media metrics are based on soft indicators such as the number of impressions or the number of “likes”, whereas, direct sales metrics are based on revenues, rates, and/or roomnights and are probably much more meaningful to a business.

Are there strategies that will efficiently and cost effectively impact group business even in an uncertain environment? This article will address some tips to penetrate this market regardless of market conditions to ensure that your property(s) is positioned for success for the new year.

Establish a Strategic Plan:

It is tempting to jump on every new social media platform with little, if any, understanding of the platform and who it actually reaches. More often than not, a lot of time and energy is spent with little return. But a well-founded plan is the key to staying true to the property’s position, thereby ensuring that every initiative is well thought out and is quantifiable.  It is the foundation from which all actions stem. The position determines what services and amenities are offered; to which type of business the property caters; and pricing. With the positioning in place, it is important to determine the most realistic mix of business on any given day, for a year out, as the patterns and demand for business change daily based on season, day of the week, holidays, and local factors. That level of detail will provide the basis of the sales plan and it will provide the basis for which market segments and the volume the sales department solicits, at what rates, and will identify rate opportunities and need periods.

Depending on the property, it may be wise to segment group business into all the various sub-markets i.e. corporate, association, SMERF, leisure, weddings, etc. The key to success is the understanding of each segments’ demand periods and plan your budgets and goals accordingly. Otherwise, a “first come first served” approach to booking business will invariably displace revenues that cannot be offset with future bookings. Taking the time to quantify the business on a daily basis allows for well-founded goals for the sales team and for the individual sales manager and keeps the focus tight.

Stay True to Your Target Market(s):

One of the first steps of the strategic plan is one of the most basic. That is, identify your target audiences. Without that focus and understanding, it will be tempting to waste valuable resources on the latest tool or to just follow the competition.  For example, wedding parties and corporate groups have different needs and different expectations in choosing a venue. A property can certainly cater to multiple markets, but having a clear understanding of those specific customer needs and a clear understanding as to how to reach them will result in a better ROI.


Once you drill down to what will really drive the targeted group business, look at what the actual customer/meeting planner or decision maker will require in making a decision. Did Tweeter feeds or Facebook “likes” generate group business? Many properties are spending countless resources to develop an avenue that does not generate group business and have overlooked smart uses of technology and resources. Does your website have “user-friendly” information that is clear, concise, and downloadable for each type of targeted customer? Is the group contract tailored to the group and sent in a timely manner? Do you offer amenities that the target market wants and needs? Free Wi-Fi in the meeting room may be more important to the corporate group than an iPad in the guest room for reaching the hotel concierge. But a bride may prefer a massage to free Wi-Fi. Identifying those needs, tailoring it to the target markets, and marketing it to those customers is key to winning those clients.


Most meeting planners and clients will still want to “see it, feel it, and touch it”, regardless of how well organized the website is or how user-friendly it. Personal interaction is key to the sales process and is the primary component to make the sell. Not every need or every concern can be listed by a client in an RFP. It is the skillful approach by the sales person that will uncover those issues and resolve any concerns, resulting in booked business.


Prospect Efficiently:

Many times, the sales person or sales leader is at a loss as to find new prospects. The tight security of companies has made it virtually impossible to prospect through cold calling. Company directories rarely exist for external use and unsolicited emails many times, end up in the spam file. But there is business to be uncovered and the smart leaders will take the right steps to ensure that their sales people can uncover group leads. Some tips are:

  • As we know that people do business with people they know, it’s therefore important to be visible. Join industry associations where the membership is comprised of meeting planners and influencers.  Some examples are:  Meeting Planners International; Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association International; International Special Events Society, and Biz Bash.  In addition to joining, it is also important to actively participate. Active involvement contributes to her/his credibility, professionalism and overall image with the potential client.  These associations have membership directories and the chances of a sales person reaching a decision maker are greatly enhanced.
  • Monitor the local news on a daily basis to know about the local business environment. Real estate deals can result in new business for a hotel.  And usually by the time a new business has relocated to your area, the hotel deals are already done. The key is to be the first.
  • Get involved in your local community. Being a good citizen and good community member will once again allow you to interact directly with the movers and shakers who are responsible for sending business your way. But, be consistent. Sometimes, hotel management is no better than “ambulance chasers” who try to benefit from a crisis. Even good deeds during a crisis will backfire if they were strictly self-serving. An authentic and ongoing approach to doing good deeds is key to being an important and respected part of the community.

Take Stock of your Property and your Competitors:

Unfortunately, it is far too common that an established sales person has never been to a competitive property. Without that first hand knowledge, it is impossible to sell effectively if a customer is shopping your property as well as your competition. Information gained by a personal visit cannot be duplicated by a visit to a web site or an internet search. A thorough understanding of the competitors’ properties, as well as the sales person’s property, creates a position of strength for the sales person in negotiating rates or conditions of booking. A personal visit will enlighten the sales person on all the soft elements in a property. How was the person greeted? Were the public spaces clean? Did the staff appear professional and well groomed? Were the meeting room walls in good repair or in need of painting? That level of detail, combined with an honest assessment of his/her own property and good sales skills, will place the sales person in a better position to book the best business at the best rate.

Develop a Staff with Excellent Sales Skills:

Lastly, although the sales and marketing landscape has changed over the years, sales expertise is still critical for success.  Owners and managers may find that the sales force books business at rates that are below the budget; or book business that unduly burdens operations and at high costs; or looses business to a less desirable competitor. But have steps been taken to arm the sales department with skills that will allow them to deal in a competitive booking environment?

It is the skilled and professional sales person that will develop loyalty and inspire confidence with clients, despite product deficiencies or outside factors over which the property has no control.

It is the excellent sales skills that will convert leads or inquiries to actual business and also excellent sales skills that will produce the highest revenues. How much revenues are left on the table just because the sales person does not possess the product knowledge or great sales skills to sell at a higher rate? It is the most successful sales person who has a good understanding of the hotel as a business.  What does a 6:00pm group check out mean to the over-all business? It typically means that expenses are significantly increased to cover the additional labor costs required to clean those rooms long after the housekeeping staff has left. Armed with those sets of skills, the sales person is fully prepared to negotiate in the best interest of the hotel while simultaneously ensuring that the client’s needs are fully met. That winning formula will help foster client loyalty and will help minimize any issues that may have come up during the client’s stay.

So rather than follow the pack, the successful owner/manager will take charge and ensure that they customize expert plans and develop skilled sales people who can impact business regardless of market conditions and who enjoy the challenge! Let’s enter 2013 with a new passion.





Brenda Fields, ISHC

fields & co


Brenda Fields is a marketing specialist in the lodging industry. Her experience includes senior marketing management positions in luxury, boutique, convention hotels, and conference centers.


Representing a “who’s who” roster of clients, Brenda has worked with a number of industry leaders and innovators, from hotelier Ian Schrager and NYC real estate developer Harry Macklowe, to global brands including such as Starwood Lodging Corporation.  In addition to major hospitality brands, Brenda’s consulting practice includes a wide range of independent properties around the country, such as The Kitano Hotel, New York; Woodlands Resort and Inn, Summerville, South Carolina; Bel Age Hotel, Los Angeles, CA; Mondrian Hotel, West Hollywood, CA, and more. 


Brenda brings a hands-on approach to problem solving along with her three-decade long record of results as both a consultant and in corporate marketing to each challenge.  She has honed a reputation for helping owners and operators achieve target revenues through development and execution of cost effective, workable strategic plans that maximize profits and build stronger, sustainable brands.   

Brenda is Past President of Hospitality Sales and Marketing Association International Chapter in NYC; served on the Americas Board for HSMAI, and was named one of “The Top 25 Most Extraordinary Minds in Sales and Marketing” by HSMAI”. Brenda is an industry speaker and author and serves on the Editorial Board of Hotel Executive.com, is a regular contributing editor to international publications.

Brenda can be contacted at brenda@fieldsandcompany.net; 518 789 0117 or by visiting http://www.fieldsandcompany.net.

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Social Media: Tips to Get Them at “Hello”

Just in the last five years, the world has changed as we know it with the ever-evolving social media platforms, which present a myriad of options for marketing, connecting, and selling and buying. Articles upon articles tell us about the increasing importance and necessity for businesses to play in the social media arena. But when it is reported that Queen Elizabeth is “tweeting”, and a CEO of a five-star hotel company sent a “tweet”, it is obvious that social media, when used unauthentically, comes off as nothing more than an ruse, without positively influencing business or creating a positive image.

So how can hoteliers determine the best course of action, given the choices of social media platforms, the increasing popularity of them, and the corporate strength behind them i.e. Goldman Sachs investing in Facebook and JP Morgan Chase investing in Twitter? This article will address how to implement some good ol’ fashioned marketing strategies to ensure that your business can identify and implement the best social media platforms, whether it’s a campaign for Twitter, Facebook, Smart Phones, or Google, just to name a few, to achieve your specific goals in the most cost efficient way.

Although the social media platforms are different from the tradition marketing platforms, with which many have grown up, what seems to be missing over and over are the basic tenets of marketing. The technology and its applications may be new, but the marketing principals remain the same. Whatever the platform, no matter how current, simple marketing strategies and tactics should be addressed in every case.
They are: define your product; establish the positioning; determine the target audience; understand the specific demographics of the target audience; and maintain consistency in all communications. Getting back to marketing basics will help demystify some of these new social media platforms and ensure that the owner/manager focuses on what will be effective for his/or her property without wasting valuable time and resources on non-productive tactics.

A realistic understanding of what you are is the first step is plotting a social media campaign. Are you a destination resort, urban boutique hotel, conference center, or a limited service property? Each of these has a specific target customer, which in turn has his/her own reason for the “buy”. This understanding allows for crafting the right message, to the right audience, on the right platform.

The second step is to understand/determine your property’s position within its competitive set. It is obvious that Cartier and Wal-Mart have different target audiences which require different marketing approaches. But how often do hoteliers just follow the lead of others without making a discerning assessment of its own positioning and target audience? My guess is that Queen Elizabeth will not be considered “cool or hip” by those that read her Tweets, but will just leave people, confused as the “product”, the message, and the platform are just too disconnected. Understanding your property’s positioning and its target audience is key to implementing a highly efficient and effective marketing program through any platform whether it be traditional, digital, or social media.

Target Audience:
Many properties define their target audiences as either “business” or “leisure”. While that may be a good start, it is important to understand the target audience on its most basic level i.e. demographic and socioeconomic factors, in determining which social media platform to use.

Social Media Demographics
Who is using which sites? According to recent research by Flowtown:
• More women use Facebook and Twitter than men.
• People at either extreme high income or low income, are the least likely to use social media websites.
• Those aged 35 to 54 are more likely to use social media than other age brackets.
Using the statistics on Twitter as an example:
• In less than five years, Twitter has risen from a tiny start-up with their 140-character messages, trying to generate relevance in the world of social media. Recent estimates place the number of people with Twitter accounts at around 190 million people, sending 65 million Twitter messages each day.
• According to a recent Pew Charitable Trust study, certain demographic types were more likely to rely on Twitter. Not surprisingly, young adults were far more likely to use Twitter than other age brackets i.e. 14% of people surveyed from age 18-29 said they use Twitter, more than double that of any other age bracket. Women also were more likely to use Twitter than men, with 10% of all females saying they were Twitter users versus 7% of all males.
• Other results were also surprising. A significant finding was the use of Twitter by individuals who identified themselves as Hispanic.
o 18% of Hispanic internet users in the United States said that they also used Twitter
o 13%of black respondents claimed to use Twitter
o 5% of whites are Twitter users.
• Where a person lives also appears to have an impact on their use of Twitter, according to the Pew study. Residents of urban areas were the most likely to use Twitter, with 11%of survey respondents saying they use the site. That’s in contrast to 8% of suburban residents and 5% of rural residents using Twitter.

After all the above elements are determined and a program is put into effect, it is just as critical to maintain consistency; that is, consistency in frequency of communication and more importantly, consistency in tone, look, and feel, which reflect your brand and appeal to your target audience. An urban and contemporary boutique hotel should communicate differently than a formal, five star resort and spa and vice versa. Seamless integration of the style, message, and platform is necessary to influence the desired target audience, resulting in increased business.
There are really no short cuts to effective marketing. Taking the time to fully understand who you are, who your target audience is, and which social media platform will best reach the audience, will place you in a much stronger position to positively influence business.

Why waste valuable time and resources when informed decisions will help you “get them at Hello”.

This article was republished with the permission of HotelExecutive.com and its author and cannot be republished without its author’s permission.

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A Few Key Learnings from 2010

1. No matter how hard we have it, someone else has it worse. Remember the British Petroleum oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Louisiana? For about three months, oil gushed unchecked into the Gulf of Mexico and images of devastated wildlife and oil-slicked beaches were publicized around the world.

The oil spill is considered by many experts as the worst environmental disaster ever in the United States. Tony Hayward, former Chief Executive Officer of British Petroleum, said in April to fellow British Petroleum executives, “What the hell did we do to deserve this?” Ironically, environmentalists and the families who lost loved ones in the explosion could ask the same question. On May 31, 2010, Hayward told reporters, “The first thing to say is I’m sorry.” However, he continued, “We’re sorry for the massive disruption it’s caused their lives. There’s no one who wants this over more than I do. I would like my life back.”

2. You can’t underestimate the power of good public relations. Tone-deaf, Tony Hayward probably set new standards for public relations disasters. But a close runner up was Hewlett-Packard and its former CEO, Mark Hurd. In August, the HP board condemned the exec for authorizing over $75,000 in compensation to Jodie Fisher, a former adult film actress who was hired to do marketing work for the company. Hurd abruptly resigned, but left the company with another PR crisis. It came to light that Fisher, who accused Hurd of sexual harassment, also alleged that Hurd informed her about a major HP acquisition before it was announced.

If that’s not enough, far crazier was the way that HP handled the entire debacle, leaving hundreds of unanswered questions to be explored relentlessly in the press, exposing a board of directors in great turmoil. In late August, it was slapped with a shareholder lawsuit for “gross mismanagement.” In the end, the board cleared Hurd of any sexual harassment charges. Hurd settled with Fisher and even landed a nice little job at HP rival, Oracle. At HP, meanwhile, what remained was mounting legal bills and the bitter taste of Hurd’s awkward departure, not to mention a fall from grace in the public eye.

3. You can’t control Mother Nature. Despite great planning and great foresight, life can and does hand us a curve ball! For example, who knew that an ancient volcano in Iceland named Eyjafjallajökull, would erupt and cause complete chaos throughout the world. Volcanic ash turned day into night and grounded flights, stranded travelers, and cost individuals and businesses money, time, and effort, not to mention heartbreaks when lives were disrupted and once-in-a-lifetime events were missed. There was an unprecedented number of flight cancellations, more than 100,000 between April 15 and 21, affected millions of travelers, and the fallout by all accounts, cost the airline industry alone approximately USD$1.7 billion. And more recently, snow and blizzards resulted in a total disruption of and halt of travel plans in the US and Europe, up to and during the Christmas holiday period, with flights cancelled and travel in cars and on trains, impossible.

4. There’s always a light at the end of the tunnel. The world shared the in the grief and horror of the Chilean miners who were trapped 2,000 feet below the surface in a collapsed mine; and was united in its elation when the 33 miners were miraculously rescued after being trapped for 69 days. For the first 17 days, all miners were believed to be dead.
But in mid-October, after 69 days trapped below the earth, one by one, each miner was brought to the surface and was welcomed by family and friends. There was an overwhelming out-pouring of love throughout the world.

One of the miners, 63-year-old Mario Gomez, was brought to the surface breathing from an oxygen mask. Gomez had worked as a miner for 50 years. After he was helped out of the escape capsule, he immediately dropped to his knees to pray. “I never lost faith that they would find us,” he said. Esteban Rojas also knelt and prayed on arrival. The 44-year-old had promised to wed his wife formally in church if he got out alive, to seal their civil marriage.

U.S. President Barack Obama hailed the rescue operation as an inspiration to the world and stated, “This rescue is a tribute not only to the determination of the rescue workers and the Chilean government but also the unity and resolve of the Chilean people who have inspired the world”.

So, here’s to learning and growing and to a better and brighter 2011! Happy New Year!

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The Art and Science of Killer Sales Prospecting

Now more than ever, most hoteliers are searching for demand generators and are relying on direct sales to impact revenues to fill the significant void left by the ailing economy. Depending on the type of property i.e. transient vs. group-based, direct sales could be responsible for as much as 50%-90% of the occupancy.  But many times, the sales person or sales leader is at a loss as to find new prospects. The tight security of companies has made it virtually impossible to prospect thru cold calling in person, the previously traditional means of finding leads. And the sales software to maintain account information and history is more often than not, poorly utilized and provides no information for prospecting. Additionally, many of the big companies hire third party meeting planning companies which add an additional layer for the sales person to identify and sell. This article will address some key tactics for uncovering sales prospects and in maintaining consistent systems and procedures to produce quality information for current and future prospecting. Implementing new tactics, combined with a motivated sales department will ensure that the sales organization is fully productive in accomplishing their roles of generating business.

The New Normal:

This one phrase alone captures what is happening in the world now: Business is down; security is tight; and technology is rampant. When it is all put together, the hotel sales function and how business is generated has changed dramatically. For the most part, the new generation of hotel sales people has been raised on technology i.e. text messaging, emailing, and social media. Therefore, conducting business using all the latest technology comes naturally to them. But, they have also, in all likelihood, entered hotel sales several years ago when business was strong and the biggest challenge was finding space to book business that came to them. Therefore, unless there has been exceptional sales management, the tools and skills required now either are not used or haven’t been developed to generate business in a down economy. The combination of art and science for the sales person is critical for identifying and booking business in a highly competitive marketplace.

Now that it is a buyer’s market, most hotel sales people are faced with the challenge of finding customers. The sales department working with a sense of urgency, attention to detail, and expert sales skills will place a property in high rankings against its competitors regardless of its product deficiencies and drawbacks.

According to meeting planner David Ezer, Conference Director, Jewish Funders Network, headquartered in New York City, the sales person who takes the time to understand his business and his needs will always get high marks and will certainly get his attention. A generic email or scripted phone call will be ignored. According to David, “I know it’s more work for the sales person, but something that recognizes they’ve spent even five seconds looking at my organization’s website will always get a response from me.”

To Danielle Cattani-Post, CMP, Conference & Event Manager at McKinsey & Company in NYC, her ”pet peeve is when a hotel sales person does not really understand what (her) company does“.  She states, “When a hotel sales person requests a visit to my office, they should be taking advantage of trying to get as much information beforehand so they are fully prepared.  Of course this might be difficult and I understand that they are not always given that opportunity. But when they do come in, I expect them to listen to everything I say.  When they follow up, it’s nice to hear them reiterate some of the key points I had made.  For example, I had a hotel sales person visit my office and I explained how having windows in the meeting space is extremely important to my company.  The next time we met, they had created a custom made packet of all of their properties that had windows, listed by city.  I was extremely thankful and impressed that they had listened to my needs.”

It’s that combination of art and science that will propel a sales person to excellence. Technology alone will not compensate for a passionate and skilled sales person who is dedicated to meeting or exceeding the expectations of the owner/manager and to simultaneously meeting or exceeding the expectations of the client.

Below are some tips and tools to evaluate for your sales people, ensuring the best ROI in booking business:

Account base:

  • The sales department’s own account base is the most cost effective and most logical place to start.  According to how it was set up, the account base represents existing customers and/or potential customers. Chances are most accounts have not been thoroughly qualified. For example, does the information in the database detail that the insurance company which booked a nice piece of business last October has other business for your property? If not, this is a good starting place. Contacting past users and qualifying for future business is far more simple than trying to find a new customer and convince him or her to book your property.  A simple trace system will allow the sales person to contact the client when it is time to start making the decision on the next meeting.
  • Also, in the case of a multi-properties, proper qualification by the sales person can generate leads for sister properties. By just asking one additional question i.e. “Where are other locations that you meet or travel to?” can pay off in dividends you’re your sister properties. Qualifying existing business is THE most cost effective initiative that can be implemented. It costs nothing and the pay-out is high.

Prospecting Lists:

  • The best sales people do their homework before approaching a potential client. Otherwise, valuable time is wasted to determine if the client is even possibly a potential client. Market research allows the sales person to approach a potential client with confidence and an understanding of their business allowing a greater basis for connection and communication.
  • There are companies that specialize in prospecting lists. Depending on the property’s needs and budgets, there are many options. The first step is for the sales leader to have a set strategy for sales prospecting. Sales can be broken down by industry types, geographical areas, or booking channels, as examples. Several companies provide online lists that can be sorted by industry types, geographical areas, company size, and key executives and contacts. It is important to verify how current the list is and how often it is updated. Once the prospecting starts, it is important to ensure that best practices for qualification are in place that that the sales person is educated to know what information is to be obtained.
  • It may take a few well crafted emails, including information from the market research, to get a response, but the higher quality of communication to a potential client, results in a response.

Reader Board Services:

  • How many times do we hear “There is no business” or “Companies just aren’t meeting or traveling as frequently as before”? We know that the reality is that there IS business and finding and booking the business is the function of the sales department. “Backyard selling” is finding business in your own local community. How many times has a sales person been complacent with a regular client, only to learn that the client is also booking the competitors?
  • Just as there are companies providing lists of companies for prospecting, there are companies that specialize in providing properties’ lists of meetings and events that are held at their designated competitors. Depending on the budget, the number of sales people, and the size of the community, this is something that can be accomplished the old fashioned way i.e. having a sales person look at the competition’s reader boards on an ongoing basis. In a small community, it should be fairly straightforward in indentifying the company and the meeting contact. In a large city, it may be more difficult. Therefore, it could be more cost effective to subscribe to a service which will provide the quality information for sales follow up.

Industry Associations:

  • What better way to stay abreast of industry trends, influence the industry, and to meet decision makers than joining an industry association?  Networking with decision makers combined with educational opportunities can pay off in dividends when approaching potential clients. And instead of becoming a passive member, it is important to fully participate by joining committees or taking a leadership role. Two high-profile associations are Hotel Sales & Marketing Association International (HSMAI) and Meeting Planners International (MPI). Both provide educational opportunities and resources to increase job performance. And both provide opportunities to develop relationships with peers and clients alike.

Trade Shows:

  • Trade shows can be costly with exhibit fees, travel expenses, other fees. But a trade show that is targeted to your market(s) and has a proven track record of quality results is worth investigating. Corporate transient executives and meeting professionals attend and are accessible at shows such as NBTA (National Business Travel Association) and HSMAI’s (Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association International) Affordable Meetings. To make these and other shows worthwhile and cost effective, it is important to organize staffing so that the booth is always “manned” as well as have pre-set appointments. The key to success of attending any trade show is to be proactive as opposed to waiting for customers to come to you.

Community Involvement:

  • If budgets are an issue, as they many times are with small or independent properties, there is nothing like becoming a part of the local community to generate business. Sometimes, the most obvious ways to get business are over-looked. Being a good neighbor and a good community member is what a property can do most naturally and cost effectively.  Developing good will in the local community can pay off in dividends. Who is better at recommending where to shop, where to eat, and where to stay than the people who live there?
  • Therefore, by integrating itself in all aspects of the community and by being a good neighbor, your property will have a strong competitive advantage, in particular with the types of market segments solicited i.e. weddings, social functions, business meetings, and corporate and leisure business.

Therefore, rethinking the entire sales prospecting process to conform with the times, and ensuring that the sales people are motivated and success-driven, will place a property in the enviable position of consistently achieving top results regardless of market conditions.

About Brenda Fields

In her more than 27 years as a marketing and sales pro in the hospitality industry, Brenda Fields has emerged as the “go to” consultant for independent and/or privately owned hotels and resorts seeking real-world solutions for today’s market challenges.

From small boutique hotels to large convention properties, Brenda has created and implemented highly successful marketing and yield management programs that enable owners to achieve target results despite market conditions.  Most notably, she helped a 1,400 mid-town Manhattan hotel realize 86% occupancy two years running in a depressed economy, resulting in the achievement of proforma and first place in market share out of 14 competitors. For a small, four-diamond property on Park Avenue in NYÇ, she helped turn-around declining sales resulting from increased competition from nearby chain-affiliated hotels through a restructuring of the sales department and effectively increased distribution channels to reach new markets.

With extensive expertise in pre-openings and repositionings, Brenda was responsible for the successful opening and stabilization of the Paramount Hotel in NYC, one of the first boutique hotels, for which she developed and executed a direct sales and yield management program in addition to a national and international marketing campaign.

With a “who’s who” roster of clients, Brenda has worked with a number of industry leaders and real estate investment companies including Starwood Lodging Corporation, Vornado Realty Trust and Planet Hollywood, John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Company, Olympus Real Estate Corporation, Gotham Hotels and Dolce Hotels and Resorts, among others.  Her consulting practice for independent properties includes clients such as The American Club, Kohler, WI, The Kitano Hotel, New York; Mondrian Hotel, West Hollywood, CA; and as well as in international locations, i.e. Costa Rica and England.

Brenda is a member of International Society of Hospitality Consultants, served on the Americas Board of Directors for Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association International, is past president of the Greater NY Chapter of HSMAI, was named one of the “Top 25 Most Extraordinary Minds in Sales and Marketing”, by HSMAI, serves on the editorial board of HotelExecutive.com, and writes for numerous industry publications.

Brenda can be contacted at +518 789 0117 or email at brenda@fieldsandcompany.net.

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Are You Ready for the Upturn?

The industry is just starting to wake up after a long, cold winter! And the good news is that industry experts are predicting better results for the remainder of 2010 and for 2011 than previously forecasted. “STR predicts 2010 occupancy to increase 1.9 percent to 55.8 percent, average daily rate to decrease 2.3 percent to US$95.45, and revenue per available room to end the year virtually flat with a 0.5-percent decrease to US$53.22. Supply in 2010 is projected to grow 2.2 percent and demand is expected to rise 4.1 percent” as published in eHotelier, April 12, 2010.

In all likelihood during these unprecedented economic times through out the world, it was very difficult for the owner/manager to know what steps to take to reverse the downward trend and to simultaneously positively impact the bottom line. Most hoteliers cut expenses as a first step followed by cutting room rates to generate demand. The expenses cut were most likely in the areas of staff reduction and property maintenance. But did they strike the right balance of those two measures to ensure the desired results for the short term without compromising the long term?  Now that business is slowly coming back, why wait to ensure that your property is ready to compete for market share. The adage, “You play the way you practice” is never more true than now. To ensure that your property is poised for success when business demand returns, now is the time to address some key areas that will distinguish your product and services from the competitors. Waiting for the business to return before implementing changes may be too late.  This article will provide a few reminders to make sure that your property is poised for success when business is back.


This may seemingly be an obvious or unimportant issue, but without a firm understanding of your position in the market place, decisions made to cut costs can have a powerful impact on your business. A five star hotel that has not offered five star services, will be hard pressed to justify rate increases when business returns and will be hard pressed to expect customers to return after receiving a guest experience that was less than industry standards. Guests remember if service was spotty or inconsistent and if rooms were dirty and in need of repair regardless of what they were paying. And meeting planners may have enjoyed the low rated conference packages they received during the poor economic times, but will think twice about returning to a property that did not meet their expectations. A low price will not compensate for faulty AV equipment, late coffee breaks, or absent service staff when needs arose. Consistency develops trust and trust develops into guest loyalty. Even in difficult times, decisions can be made to reduce costs without jeopardizing the position in the marketplace.

Staffing and Training:

During the downturn, many positions were eliminated and some job functions either disappeared or were combined with other positions. Unless there was a plan in place to address the areas that were impacted, more often than not, a service or a function just was not provided. And again, the end result was a disappointed guest who will find another place to stay upon his/her return trip.  So rather than wait for business to increase before this is addressed, why not be proactive and create and implement a plan to identify all areas impacting the guest experience from answering the phone, making reservations, check in and check out, and room service, to name a few. Set standards based on reasonable expectations relative to guest expectations and operational issues, communicate that to the staff, and train on an ongoing basis. Waiting until business is there to justify the expense or effort will be too late.

Property Maintenance:

Big ticket items such as FF & E expenditures were either delayed or scaled back in an effort to reduce expenses. Even with limited staff or limited resources, now is the time, when business is down, to bring your property to exceptional levels of cleanliness and maintenance. Continuous periods of high occupancy create lots of wear and tear on a property and taking rooms out of inventory for maintenance and deep cleaning is most likely not an option to most owners or managers when demand is high. During the feast periods, guests will pay the going rates just to have a room and will accept it in almost any condition rather than forgo the business trip or family holiday. But, as we know, once occupancies start to fall the tide will turn and hotels will experience a “Buyer’s Market”. Those properties that had noisy air conditioners, stained carpets, or slow shower drains, will find themselves eventually making the investment to be competitive. Therefore, set up a program to clean up and fix up all of those items that not only will keep guests away, but when ignored become much more expensive to clean or repair than maintaining high standards. Keeping your property in exceptional working order it is not only more cost effective in the short term, but also ensures guest loyalty in the long term which translates into revenues.

Direct Sales:

As we know, direct sales can account for 50% of the marketing budget. How often do we hear that the sales person doesn’t have time to make sales calls? When pressed to explain why they don’t have time, they many times attribute it to dealing with operations/accounting/guest service issues. But, consistent management and consistent expectations will help develop a sales culture, where sales calls is the priority and the achievement of goals is mandatory.

With staff cutbacks, it is very tempting, due to a limited staff, to have sales people handle such issues. More often than not, they are very happy to so do, but again the outcome is that sales calls are not made, and eventually the property finds itself lagging behind its competitors. Without the proactive solicitation of new business, a property will find itself coming up short as supply/demand dynamics shift. And that can only be accomplished with consistency. Now more than ever, it is important to maximize every dollar spent to generate business and the sales department is one of the most expensive investments. Therefore, ensure that all systems are in place for maximum productivity and the maximum ROI.

Rate Management:

It is also critical to establish a pricing or yield philosophy. In the down economy, rates have spanned a broad spectrum, with seemingly little basis and little parity. With such wide discrepancies, consumer confidence is in question. How can hotels justify rates to customers that vary significantly from day to day or from season to season? Secondly, the cycle will not end unless group or any long term contracted rates are established at “tomorrow’s” prices, not today’s. In BTN News, January 25, 2010, Monica Eiden, Carlson Wagonlit, stated “2010 hotel rates globally are about 6.6 percent lower than 2009 rates, and North American hotel rates are down by more than 8 percent”. Therefore, despite an uptick in business for 2010, group hotels are locked into rates that were established a year ago.

Therefore, as an owner and/or manager interested in protecting your investment and ensuring optimum performance, it is important to proactively address providing a good guest experience. By setting up your business initiatives now with the end result being a good and consistent guest experience, you are well positioned when overall demand increases.

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Group Business: Tips to Impact Revenues Despite the “AIG” Effect

“Group business was the driver of the horrendous year that the hotel industry experienced in 2009, and leaders on a general-session panel at the Americas Lodging Investment Summit don’t see any hope of a recovery until that same business returns”, according to Jeff Higley, Hotel News Now, January 26, 2010.

Almost overnight, group business disappeared when the worst economic times of our life time coincided with the public exposure of AIG and other companies spending lavishly on group business while accepting government bail-outs. As a result, large groups from high profile companies wanted to avoid at all costs the illusion of excess or decadence and cancelled their meetings at resorts, conference centers, casinos, and convention hotels. In desperation, most group properties significantly reduced rates to attract any group business and undercut their competition to gain back this market. But did that strategy work? All data points to the fact that this strategy did not work to reverse the downward trend or, in any meaningful way, impact business.  Are there other strategies that could cost effectively impact this segment of the business even in a down economy? This article will address some tips to penetrate this market regardless of market conditions to ensure that your property(s) is positioned for success.

Change Strategies:

OK. We’ve all heard the expression that “craziness is doing the same thing over and over and expecting difference results”. But do we really believe that? If so, why are we still sending our sales people to call on the same accounts or on the same industries or in the same locations? Effective strategies are the outcome of expert analysis and evaluation. And strategy-setting is an ongoing process and through excellent management, it will be obvious when to change and when to maintain the current strategy. There are numerous reports on trends and with industry statistics and data by Smith Travel Research and PricewaterhouseCoopers, as two examples. The key in determining the best strategic plan is to incorporate the broad/macro information that is available, use competitive information, and evaluate your own current situation. What works for your competitor may not work for you. Look at what’s different in the business landscape.  Is there a new airline flying into your area? Do you have the opportunity to provide a real “get-away” experience for your local groups so they don’t have to fly to other destinations? Do you have increased international traffic from a recent “Visa Waiver” country? And can you target key international markets that are not impacted by the US Government’s bail outs? Can you develop a “casino” or a “beach” for groups that will not go to those destinations? By staying current with your local business environment, combined with global realities, and adding some creativity, will place you in a much stronger position to develop the most effective strategic plan.

Prospect for Business:

Many times, the sales person or sales leader is at a loss as to find new prospects. The tight security of companies has made it virtually impossible to prospect thru cold calling. And phone directories rarely exist for external use and emails have security or “pest control” features that make it almost impossible to even leave a message. But there is business to be booked and the smart leaders will take the right steps to ensure that their sales people can uncover group leads. Some tips are:

As we know that people do business with people they know, it’s therefore important to be known. Have the sales people join industry associations where the membership is comprised of meeting planners and influencers.  A few key associations are:  Meeting Planners International; Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association International; International Special Events Society, and Biz Bash.  In addition to joining, it is important to be an active member. To work this to the best advantage, active involvement contributes to her/his credibility and professionalism and overall image with the potential customer.  These associations have directories and the chances of a sales person reaching a decision maker are greatly enhanced.

Monitor the local news on a daily basis to know about the local business environment. Real estate deals can result in new business for a hotel.  And usually by the time a new business has relocated to your area, the hotel deals are already done. The key is to be the first.

Get involved in your local community. Being a good citizen and good community member will once again allow you to interact directly with the movers and shakers who are responsible for sending business your way.

Develop and Maintain Excellent Sales Skills:

Although prospecting has changed over the years, the same basic sales skills are still critical. Once prospecting has uncovered a viable piece of business or a customer calls in directly, it is excellent sales skills that will convert those leads to actual business and also excellent sales skills that will produce the highest revenues. How much revenues are left on the table just because the sales person does not possess the product knowledge or great sales skills to sell a higher rate? In BTN News, January 25, 2010, Monica Eiden, Carlson Wagonlit Travel’s project manager for global hotel solutions, stated “2010 hotel rates globally are about 6.6 percent lower than 2009 rates, and North American hotel rates are down by more than 8 percent”. Although it is evident that we are in a “buyers’ market”, are we convinced that the sales people are actually “selling” or just giving in? Could effective sales actually impact those percentages to the owners’ advantage?

In addition to excellent sales skills, the most successful sales person also has a good understanding of the hotel as a business.  What does a 6:00pm group check out mean to the over-all business? It typically means that expenses are significantly increased to cover the additional labor costs required to clean those rooms long after the housekeeping staff has left.  Armed with an understand of the property as a business, the sales person is more prepared to artfully negotiate in the best interest of the hotel and simultaneously ensuring that the client’s needs are fully met . That winning formula will help foster client loyalty and will help offset any problematic operational issues that may have come up during the client’s meeting.

Price Creatively:

As stated above, group average rates are significantly down and it is likely that average rates will remain low if sale people book future groups at the current going rates.  So, to try to remove some selling obstacles, why not rethink the pricing strategies? Some ideas are to consider pricing like Conference Centers by bundling guest rooms, meeting room rentals, and meals. Or add free Internet, phone calls, fitness center, to the guest room rate. These low cost items can help offset customer objections regarding pricing if they feel your product is a good value.  And when was the last time that you evaluated the rates per room category? Sometimes, lowering the rates in specific room categories can positively impact the overall average rate as it can help show that the customer is getting a good value as opposed to heavy discounting off of an inflate rare. The key is to evaluate your product and how you have quoted rates and provide a customized solution for your property and your clients.  Many of our best ideas have come out of a crisis, so it may be the time to challenge your staff to approach pricing in a creative way.

So rather than despair and blame poor results on the economy, the successful owner/manager will ensure that they develop and are armed with skilled sales people who can impact business regardless of economic conditions and who enjoy the challenge!

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Winning in a Reset Economy: Three Steps to Success

Unless we have been living under a rock for the past year, we would know that the world’s economy has plummeted and that the hospitality industry worldwide has experienced an unprecedented drop in RevPAR, the primary indicator of profitability.  As the world is adjusting to this new economy, the hospitality industry is searching for ways to recover.

According to Smith Travel Research (August 13, 2009 article by Chad Church), “The outlook for 2010 looks slightly better than 2009, but the industry still is expected to end 2010 with decreases in all three key metrics. Occupancy is projected to end 2010 with a 0.6-percent decrease, ADR is forecasted to end the year with a 3.4-percent decrease, and RevPAR is expected to end with a 4.0-percent decline.”

Although this outlook is less than optimistic, there are strategies that can be implemented to turn your business around regardless of your base of business i.e. transient vs. group or the type of property i.e. convention, boutique, or resort or regardless of your marketing budgets. The key is to understand the new economy and how it has impacted your mix of business and the type of business, resulting in new demand periods. Once that understanding is in place, you are in a position to establish strategic plans to incorporate the new business environment.

In this reset economy, there is no “one size fits all” approach. The successful business owner/manager is one who understands the new environment; understands his/her business on a micro scale; and will then customize an approach that best fits his/her needs.

This article will address the key components to put your property(s) on the path to success in this new economy and maintain success regardless of market conditions.

The Evaluation Process:

Smith Travel Research has compiled data from most major markets which show how business has changed ranging from trends to market segments. Some trends indicate that leisure travel has replaced corporate travel as the primary market, which in turn changes the days of the week which represent the highest and lowest occupancy. It is important to know where your business comes from i.e. domestic vs. international and what specific markets in those two groups. The more information you have regarding your business, the more effective you will be in determining effective strategies which can easily be changed as the environment changes. There are too many variables at play to determine a solution that works for everyone.

Therefore, compile historical data, if you don’t already have it, which will show how your  property(s) was sold on a daily basis i.e. what mix of business and at what rates and what was impacting your business from outside sources (conventions, hurricanes, Olympic games, etc). That information will help you understand what has changed so that you can set up a well-founded plan.

It is not too late to understand and to segment your business. Depending on the complexity of your business, there are either software programs which can record this or it can be done manually so that you start producing data that you provide a solid history for future analysis and evaluation.

The Planning Process:

  • Determine your position in the marketplace.

A firm understanding of who you are, where you want to be in the marketplace, and what you offer (relative to your competition and general market conditions), will determine all strategic plans and will influence any decisions to be made with changing market conditions or filling specific need periods. It is tempting to rush into decisions and change course in the hopes to generate business if your property’s performance is below expectation. But a clear focus and clear understanding of your position, and then to establish strategies consistent to that positioning will avert costly mistakes for both the short term and the long term.

  • Create a detailed rooms budget.

A solid rooms budget is one that will tell you where you want to be and how you will get there. Effective budgets are laid out on a daily basis, which clearly has incorporated demand factors and well-founded assumptions, by day, by market segment, with rooms and rates per segment. Each market segment has its own peaks and valleys on a daily basis as well as on a seasonal basis. This is the result of factors such as holidays, conventions, and seasonal trends. Incorporating all of these factors will create an accurate projection of occupancy and average rate when laid out on a daily basis as opposed to taking “short cuts” by just using monthly totals and projections to establish budgets. This also lays the foundation for improved budgeting in other departments, especially food and beverage. For example, 100% occupancy made up of groups which are out of the hotel all day, is not the same as a full house of other segments from which you can assume a certain percentage to impact room service or the restaurants.

By accurately identifying and quantifying all potential segments on a micro basis and understanding each market segments’ travel trends and needs, the hotel is able to proactively solicit those specific markets, efficiently and cost-effectively, without wasting valuable resources, as well as understanding when to change course when market conditions change.

  • Define your objective(s).

Some strategies produce short-term results, while others pay off in the long term. For example, is the goal to generate immediate revenues or is the goal to establish a market presence that will grow over time? More often than not, the two goals are mutually exclusive. For example, an “image ad” campaign is designed to create awareness over time, without having an immediate impact on revenues. Conversely, a significant rate reduction or a special promotion can have an immediate impact if planned, executed, and marketed properly. But this strategy can have a negative long-term impact, depending on your hotel’s position in the marketplace and which segments are targeted.

So in defining your objective(s), it is important to tie in which segments will be impacted i.e. group, weekend, or rack rated business, and the impact of your strategies in the over-all mix of business.  Robbing “Peter to pay Paul” does not accomplish anything and is pretty much a waste of time and resources. So it is useful to look carefully at the segments.

·Set realistic expectations

It is tempting to try to be all things to all people by using a “shotgun approach” to marketing your hotel, assuming that the greater the exposure, the better and business is business regardless of who it is. But by staying true to the positioning and by determining which segments of the market are viable for your hotel, you can then ensure that all marketing strategies are cost effective and actually reach the target audience.

Therefore, it is important to establish strategies for each market segment to include the means to reach them and a time frame to realize results. Each marketing resource will produce a different ROI and different timetable to impact business. By understanding each potential segment, i.e. who it is, the reason for the buy, and each segment’s travel trends, the hotel is in a much stronger position to maximize occupancy and yield by using its resources wisely.

Look into the market place in order to quantify potential business per segment. For example, in a down market, how much business, per segment, can be realized even when the strategies are effective and on target? Should you look for a windfall of roomnights or revenues, or, is it wiser to measure market share and use that as the measurement to evaluate the effectiveness?

  • Rate Parity and Revenue Management: How often have you tried to book a hotel and found that the best rate was on a third party web site? And even more astonishingly, how many times have you then called to hotel to be informed that you were better off booking that rate on the third party web site? You don’t need to be a Chief Financial Officer to know that this mismanagement of rates hurt your profitability in two ways i.e. selling a room for less than market demand and paying a fee to an outside agency instead of booking it thru your own resources which are part of the overhead.

It is also critical to establish a pricing or yield philosophy. Typically, the   large meeting and convention hotel will yield its business by selling out to a certain percentage of occupancy in advance, and then push high rates to fill the remaining rooms. But in a small boutique hotel that caters almost exclusively to transient (not group) business, the opposite is true. In order to maximize rates, it is important to identify peak periods one year out and establish rate and market segment guidelines. Many small, independent hotels sell out prematurely at discounts and loose the opportunity to let high demand fill their hotels at top rates. Understanding the supply/demand dynamics is the most cost-efficient method to sell your hotel.  Even in a down market, there are still peak demand periods. Sell effectively during peak periods, and revenues are positively impacted, with no expense. And maintaining rate parity sets you apart as a property on which your customers can rely.

The Implementation Process:

By establishing a thoughtful and detailed plan based on exact business elements, hotel owners and managers will not only take control of their business and be able to weather any storm, but will approach simple and difficult business decisions alike, from a position of strength and confidence. The confidence and knowledge will direct the best course of action to take, whether jumping into the Social Media area, web site optimization, and/or strategizing for direct sales.

Based on the hospitality industry’s experts’ analysis, it is unlikely that our industry will recover soon and it is evident that we are in a new economic environment. Taking the time to understand your business on every level will place an owner/manager in a position of strength when deciding the best course of action to reverse any downward trends. It’s never too late.

About Brenda Fields:

In her more than 26 years as a marketing and sales pro in the hospitality industry, Brenda G. Fields has emerged as the “go to” consultant for independent and/or privately owned hotels and resorts seeking real-world solutions for today’s market challenges.

With a “who’s who” roster of clients, Brenda has worked with a number of industry leaders and real estate investment companies including Starwood Lodging Corporation, Vornado Realty Trust and Planet Hollywood, Choice Hotels International, John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Company, Olympus Real Estate Corporation, Pew Charitable Trust Foundation and Apple Core Hotels among others.  Her consulting practice for independent properties has included a wide range of clients such as The Kitano Hotel, New York; Woodlands Resort and Inn, Summerville, South Carolina; Founders Inn and Conference Center in Virginia Beach, VA; The Addison, Boca Raton, FL, Bel Age Hotel, Los Angeles, CA; Mondrian Hotel, West Hollywood, CA; and as well as clients in international locations, i.e. Costa Rica, England, and Germany.

As founder of Fields & Company, Brenda has applied the formulas for success she developed over the years to assist owners and operators in achieving target revenues through cost effective, well-founded strategic plans and through creating and sustaining strong brands.

She brings a unique perspective and an ability to fully understand each client’s challenges, honed from over a two decade-long record of unparalleled success in the hospitality industry.  Brenda attributes her success to the solid business foundation she developed while working for the former Dunfey Hotels Group out of Hampton, NH at the beginning of her career which placed her in key sales and marketing positions ranging from luxury hotels and convention hotels. Industry leaders and innovators such as Ian Schrager and real estate developer Harry Macklowe have benefited from Brenda’s distinctive combination of strengths: to analyze and manage every detail of an assignment while never taking her eye off the bigger picture.

Brenda is a member of the invitation-only, International Society of Hospitality Consultants (ISHC); currently serves on the Americas Board for HSMAI: is Past President of the Hospitality Sales and Marketing Association International in NYC; was recongnized by HSMAI as on of the “Top 25 Extraordinary Minds in Sales and Marketing”; was awarded the “Leadership Development” and “Best of the Best” awards by HSMAI i; is a member of the Editorial Board of Hotel Executive.com; contributes regularly to international publications HotelExecutive.com, Hotel News Now, Hotels Online, Hotel Resource Weekly Network News, eHoteliers, and 4Hoteliers; and is a member of the Real Estate Board of New York. Brenda can be contacted at brenda@fieldsandcompany.net; 518 789 0117 or by visiting  http://www.fieldsandcompany.net.

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