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Hotel Sales Director Firings Impact
Meeting Planners, Too
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By David M. Brudney, ISHC, October 2009

A very competent and client-revered hotel sales director was fired recently.  No surprise there.  As hotel operators continue to make cuts in order to satisfy owner and lender fiduciary responsibility demands, talented sales directors have been laid off and terminated in alarming numbers since the fall of 2008.

It makes little difference in the terminology used - - whether it’s labeled laid off, furloughed, downsized or (my personal favorite) “reduction in force” - - the bottom line is that the sales director is out of job and in all probability will not be returning to that particular hotel as an employee ever.

An argument can be made that some of these sales directors were let go with cause no doubt.  In addition to poor performance by the sales department overall, contributing factors may have included personal sales goal declines, sales team leadership, direction, coaching, communication, and morale. 

In far too many cases, however, these skilled sales directors have been singled out as “scapegoats” for any number of reasons: 

1.  Something, someone has to be blamed - - other than the economic downturn - - for the huge drops in both occupancy and rate
 
2.  Sales department budgets have always been a prime target for ill-advised management to cut when business turns for the worse and
 
3.  Typically, sales directors command total compensation packages higher than other department heads, making them most vulnerable when reducing payroll becomes the order of the day.
All too often I have experienced in my consulting practice examples of general managers, corporate senior management oversights, and especially hotel owners, refusal or denial in accepting any responsibility for the alleged “failure” of the hotel sales director.

There may be several factors that led directly or contributed heavily to the demise of the sales director:

1. Subject hotel could be positioned and priced incorrectly
2. Subject hotel’s brand failed to deliver timely, necessary sales and marketing support services
3. Senior management failed to react promptly and accurately as market conditions changed
4. Senior management’s failure to accept impact of new supply growth within comp set
5. Failure to complete badly needed property renovation and upgrades in a timely manor 
6. Subject hotel never recovered from one or more very visible group’s bad experience there
7. Heavy turnover in convention/conference service and banquet department staffs
8. Fallout from the AIG event - - subject hotel experienced unavoidable multiple cancellations, heavy attritions and deferred events by previously loyal, top producing, high-end corporate group clients
9. General manager’s micro-managing of the sales department
There is residual damage, however, irreversible in most cases unfortunately, with meeting planners who find themselves holding the bag.  Ownership, asset managers, senior corporate management oversights and even general managers fail far too often to understand the importance of the symbiotic relationship with many meeting planners and hotel sales directors.  

When meeting planners (and their superiors) execute a contract with a hotel one to three years hence, in many cases the booking was made due to a strong, professional and often personal relationship between the planner and sales director.  That relationship has been developed over years of good service by the sales director.  Credibility and trust are already firmly in place.  One of the finest compliments a hotel sales director can receive from a meeting decision maker is, “We’re not booking your hotel.  We’re booking you.”  I can’t begin to share with you how many times I have heard meeting planning professionals tell me, “As long as he/she (the sales director) is still there, our meeting will be there.”

When the sales director is dismissed - - for whatever reason - - many meeting planners feel a sense of betrayal, and right or wrong, their anger is directed at the subject hotel and that hotel’s brand.  More times than not, the planner’s first reaction is to cancel the meeting (if that option is available, based upon the contract) and to book it elsewhere.

There are those who will argue that hotel sales director turnover cuts both ways - - sales directors leaving by their own volition will cause just as much planner anxiety as if the sales directors had been fired.  It’s important to keep in mind, however, that most quality sales directors leave their positions because of feeling undervalued, underpaid and limited in career advancement.  In most cases, the sales directors accept their new positions with better compensation packages, expanded responsibilities and with a sense of being greater valued.

Once again, far too many times the subject hotel’s owner, asset manager and senior corporate management oversights may be oblivious to the immediate and future consequences of the fallout from terminating the sales director.  Given the current cost-cutting, face saving, do whatever is necessary to save the management contract, etc., good people are fired without enough careful thought given to the immediate and longer-term consequences.  

These are the times when those in positions to make those decisions must be reminded that - - despite the past decade transition from being “in” the hotel business to being “in” the business of hotels - - we still remain a business that’s all about relationships.  We can ill-afford to ever forget that.   

© Copyright 2009


David M. Brudney, ISHC, is a veteran hospitality sales and marketing professional concluding his fourth decade of service to the hospitality industry.  Brudney advises lodging owners, lenders, asset managers and operators on hotel sales and marketing “best practices” and conducts reviews of hospitality (as well as other industry) sales and marketing operations throughout the U.S. and overseas.  The principal of David Brudney & Associates of Carlsbad, CA, a sales and marketing consulting firm specializing in the hospitality industry since 1979, Brudney is a frequent lecturer, instructor and speaker.  He is a charter member of International Society of Hospitality Consultants.  Previously, Brudney held hospitality sales and marketing positions with Hyatt, Westin and Marriott..
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Contact:

David M. Brudney, ISHC, Principal 
David Brudney & Associates 
Carlsbad, CA 
760-476-0830 Fax 760-476-0860 
(c) 760-994-9266
David@DavidBrudney.com
www.DavidBrudney.com
www.ishc.com


 
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