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Lessons from the Field
A Common Sense Approach to Success in the Hospitality Industry
By Dr. John Hogan, CHA MHS CHE, May 16, 2008

Extending Your Sales Team or Make Travel Agents
a Regular Part of Your Sales Programs


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“If you have enough push, you don't have to worry about the pull.”
                                                                               Zig Ziglar

Many of today’s hotels do not have staff whose primary responsibly is that of being a sales manager or director. Many hotel owners that have smaller or rooms only properties have tended to rely on their location or perhaps their brand affiliation that is totally going to profitably fill their hotel.  

Time has demonstrated repeatedly that while a hotel brand may deliver certain percentages of advance reservations with name recognition, it still requires hands-on quality management and sales activity to really drive revenue.  The real success comes when someone with influence at the hotel level provides the necessary “push.”

In their simplest definitions, a travel agency is a business that sells travel related products and services, including package tour to end-user customers on behalf of third party travel suppliers, such as airlines, hotels, ground tour companies and cruise lines. In addition to dealing with ordinary tourists, most travel agents have a special department devoted to travel arrangements for business travelers, while some agencies specialize in commercial and business travelers. Some agencies also serve as general service agents for foreign travel companies in different countries. Many agencies have a core of experienced and dedicated travel associates. 

Travel agencies have also undergone tremendous changes the past ten years.   As they seldom get any fees or income fro the airlines any longer, they allocate their priorities to serving their corporate clients that pay a service charge for finding the best airline tariffs.  They also continue to help plan and create vacation and special trips for their leisure clients.  In both leisure and corporate business, many agents recognize that each trip could be a unique experience and that approach gives their clients, the most value for their dollars.  The lowest or cheapest is not always the best value and agents remain an excellent resource to offers options, choices and suggestions that may be the best value.

The travel agent, whether part of an international conglomerate or a small town independent, should be treated as part of your sales team. The truth is, they cost comparatively little (equal in most cases to the equivalent of a 10% discount), and have access to clients you may have no way of ever reaching.

Once thought to be only for the leisure or the vacation traveler, today’s agent handles a wide array of arrangements for business, leisure and group markets.  Recent surveys show that more than 500,000 US based companies and most Federal government agencies use travel agencies to handle their needs. Agents are always trying to find the best value airfare options and lodging arrangements to fulfill individual travel, meetings and conferences needs.

Group incentive travel is another important area for today’s agent.  Finding the right product/service/location as the right “reward” means that agents today have to be made aware of new benefits that your hotel offers.

For every business, repeat customers are critical to long-term success. For hoteliers, repeat business comes many times from travel agents. The agent’s incentives include satisfied clients, competitive value (price, services, frequent traveler recognition including airline or hotel bonus programs) and commissions promptly paid.

While agencies may be levying service charges to their clients for airline or hotel services, earned commissions remain an important part of their revenue stream.  Traditional commissions are 10%, although some hotels have successfully used higher figures during certain critical low demand periods to get agency attention and some business from primarily leisure travelers who may be open to suggestions on optional destinations.

Getting the attention of agencies is a major challenge.  Mailing them brochures and assuming their staff will take the time to read them in detail is like playing the lottery – there is an occasional winner, but most lottery tickets (and brochures) end up in the circular file.

Hoteliers have found some of the following approaches to be effective in reaching travel agencies:

  • Personal selling visits to individual agencies
  • Advertising in trade magazines and directories aimed at audiences of targeted agencies.
  • Packaging their hotel with other services, especially for the leisure market as part of a destination.  This can include food, admission to some area attractions, and auto rental for a day, etc.
  • Working with their State/Provincial Tourism Office, Convention and Visitors Bureau or Chamber of Commerce in all promotional efforts involving travel agencies.
  • Participating in brand sponsored agency promotional activities, including advertising and personal selling events.
  • Offering qualified agents familiarization visits (no or low cost accommodations in exchange for a tour of the hotel).
  • Working with other hoteliers of the same brand or management group in focused blitzes aimed raising agency awareness and referrals.
  • Participating effectively in trade shows geared to travel agencies and consortiums
  • Thank you letters and asking for more business from agencies already using your hotel
  • Commission checks mailed the same day as the guest leaves – except for those hotels using a central payment system by the brand
What is your hotel doing to cultivate travel agent business today?

Feel free to share an idea or to contact me regarding consulting and speaking engagements at johnjhogan@yahoo.com anytime and remember – we all need a regular dose of common sense. 

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of this publication 

All rights reserved by John Hogan.   This column may be included in an upcoming book on hotel management.

John Hogan’s professional experience includes over 35 years in hotel operations, food & beverage, sales & marketing, training, management development and asset management on both a single and multi-property basis.  He holds a number of industry certifications and is a past recipient of the American Hotel & Lodging Association’s Pearson Award for Excellence in Lodging Journalism, as well as operational and marketing awards from international brands.  He has served as President of both city and state hotel associations.

John’s background includes teaching college level courses as an adjunct professor at three different colleges and universities over a 20 year period, while managing with Sheraton, Hilton, Omni and independent hotels.  He was the principal in an independent training & consulting group for more than 12 years serving associations, management groups, convention & visitors’ bureaus, academic institutions and as an expert witness.  He joined Best Western International in spring of 2000, where over the next 8 years he created and developed a blended learning system as the Director of Education & Cultural Diversity for the world’s largest hotel chain. 

He has served on several industry boards that deal with education and/or cultural diversity and as brand liaison to the NAACP and the Asian American Hotel Owners’ Association with his ongoing involvement in the Certified Hotel Owner program.  He has conducted an estimated 3,100 workshops and seminars in his career.  He served as senior vice president for a client in a specialty hotel brand for six years.

He has published more than 350 articles & columns on the hotel industry and is co-author (with Howard Feiertag, CHA CMP) of LESSONS FROM THE FIELD – a COMMON SENSE APPROACH TO EFFECTIVE HOTEL SALES, which is available from a range of industry sources and AMAZON.com.  He resides in Phoenix, Arizona and is finalizing his 2nd book based on his dissertation –     The Top 100 People of All Time Who Most Dramatically Affected the Hotel Industry.

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Contact:

Dr. John Hogan, CHA MHS CHE
johnjhogan@yahoo.com

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Also See: Finding Business Leads Can Be Easier Than You Think / Dr. John Hogan / May 2008
Understanding the Differences Between Marketing and Sales / Dr. John Hogan / April 2008
Identifying Your Customers / Lessons from the Field A Common Sense Approach to Success in the Hospitality Industry / Dr. John Hogan / April 2008
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