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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 12, 2008

Finding Business Leads Can Be Easier Than You Think

“You can either take action, or can hang back and hope for a miracle.”  
                                                                                 Peter Drucker

It certainly seems the cost of travel is going up these days.  The cost of gas for our vehicles, of fuel for the airlines and even of food for a variety of global reasons are affecting the asking prices facing travelers.  With a US Presidential election just around the corner as well, the advertising rates in certain mediums are likely to be rising as well.

Rather than feeling a sense of helplessness, we should look at where we can find business leads – they have always been there, but when the economy is strong, they are often overlooked as too fundamental or unnecessary.

Success in sales is often a result of developing good business leads'. Some sales people believe they must travel far and wide to track them down and in certain market segments that holds true.  The reality is, tonight, that there are business leads right on almost every hotel’s premises and perhaps more than you'd find by going out of town.
Here are four excellent way to develop business leads without even leaving your office:

1.  Current Guests

  • People who stay at your property are prime prospects for other types of business, such as meetings, conferences or social activities.  
  • A quick check of reservations, registration cards or your property management's guest history feature will reveal which guests are regular repeats or that may be logical prospects for more business. 
  • Many hotels use a simple front desk promotional activity to gather business cards in a briefcase or glass bowl.  The incentive for the guest is to win the monthly drawing for whatever you choose to give away.  The incentive for the hotel is create a database of guests or locals meeting guests in your hotel. 
  • Look for corporate officers, association representatives, sales managers, personnel managers, etc.  They may be in a position to decide where to hold their next meeting or where to send their overnight guests.
2. Associates/Employees of Your Hotel 
  • Everybody belongs to some kind of organization, such as a church, garden club, bowling team, softball league, self help group, PTA, educational group - the list goes on and on.
  • Sales people and managers should take advantage of this by meeting with housekeepers, desk agents, accounting staff, bell staff/van drivers, restaurant and bar employees — anyone who works at the property. Ask them for their help in providing leads for meetings and social events. 
  • Incentive programs provide the answer to the "what's in it for me" question asked by some employees.  There have been tremendous employment opportunities for many hourly staff and they sometimes require reminders of the need for teamwork.  When strong occupancy centers such as Florida or Las Vegas show downturns or uncertain forecasted demand, these hourly staff might be a potential source of business. 
  • Offer your staff dinner for two at the restaurant of their choice, a weekend at the hotel, or a cash award based on the revenue generated as a result of the lead.  There's a hidden benefit to having employees provide leads, which is improved staff moral.
  • Almost immediately, you'll see associates become more involved in working together. Just having salespeople speaking to other staff members will do the trick. The message here is, "Everybody sells."
3. Existing Files                                                                                                                                                           
  • The most likely and best source of leads is already at everyone's fingertips — right in the file drawer or the computer's memory. Unfortunately, files get buried so deep after guests depart or after a conference or meeting that no one takes the trouble to book the group again – until it is too late and the competition has made personal contact and "sold" them.  
  • While smaller or rooms only properties do not serve as many groups, there are frequently still a solid number of potential leads at almost all kinds of locations from existing and previous guest information. 
  • This approach requires some thought, effort and a plan. Going through just a few files each day is a good way to generate business from groups or regular guests that have booked your property in the past. If they had a positive experience at your hotel once, there's a strong possibility that they'd be glad to return. All you have to do is ask them!
4.  Newspapers.................... with a twist 

Without a doubt, USA TODAY has accomplished one of its’ primary goals – to become the “daily” paper of the traveling public in the US.  Most hotels that provide complimentary newspapers to their guests use USA TODAY because it is felt the product meets the general informational need.  

  • While TV, radio and the internet provide a wide range of news daily to large numbers of people, many of us still glance or read at least a portion of a newspaper at some point during the day. But does anyone read them with the purpose of developing business leads? There's a difference between simply reading a newspaper and reading it with a specific purpose in mind. 
  • Here is the twist as you try an experiment.  The difference is in which papers you use for finding local business leads.
  • Ask three or four people on your staff to review a (hometown or regional) local newspaper for anything that might lead to room business, meetings, parties, and dining room and bar business, etc. 
  • See who can find the most leads. You'll be astounded by the results. The "readers' will come up with more sales leads than you can contact in a day.  The idea, of course, is to train people to read the newspaper with the thought of looking for business. Once they do this exercise, they'll look for leads every time they read a newspaper, and new business will be popping up automatically.
Who does the reading for the leads?
  • Almost everyone can do it.  It can be assigned to different people on different days. 
  • Leads can be cut out and passed on to various department heads for follow-up.
  • The sales manager (if you have one) should get the leads for group- meetings business; the front-office manager should get the leads for local contacts on room business; the catering manager gets the leads for social functions; the food and beverage manager gets the leads for restaurant and lounge business.
All four of these ideas have been working for years at many different types of properties in every kind of economic cycle.   The bottom line remains that it is the general manager's job is to make sure the system works and follow up takes place after the leads are identified.

Feel free to share an idea or to contact me regarding consulting and speaking engagements at 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  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.


Dr. John Hogan, CHA MHS CHE

Also See: 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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