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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, November 6, 2008

Unleash the Potential!   Recognize the True Value
of Your Front Line Sales People

By Dr. John Hogan CHE CHA MHS
November 6,, 2008

Always make a total effort, even when the odds are against you.   
                         Arnold Palmer,  American Golfer

The economic uncertainties facing the hospitality industry in 2009 are very real, but there have been cycles of reduced demand before and the industry has addressed them successfully in the past.   Not all hotels have staff totally dedicated to sales, but every hotel has motivated and concerned staff that care about the success of their employer.

Too few hoteliers pay enough attention to front-line staff and their ability to sell for our hotels.  People who work at your front desks, van drivers, bell staff, telephone operators, doormen, cashiers, night auditors – they are the front line for many potential guests.  And “potential” is the correct word, because if those people mentioned above do not receive the proper information, knowledge and attention to meet the needs of those potential guests, many of them will likely keep on looking for other lodging options.

Jim Sullivan, a noted hospitality industry columnist and speaker, began referring to the tight labor market more than five years in a different fashion than most people.  Rather than facing a labor shortage problem, he maintained that what we face is really a “turnover problem.”  In his talks and writings, he frequently reminded us that we must recognize the individuality of our staff.   While one could argue it is difficult and challenging, the options are worse. Continued, costly turnover and management spending too much time in operations hurts business potential.  Reducing turnover is part of the manager’s responsibility, but there is a need to balance efforts in operations and in sales.  A satisfied employee usually gives better service, which makes for a satisfied guest.  

In times of lower demand, there are more empty rooms at the hotel across the street from you. While one solution could be to hire additional  sales managers when there are fewer  potential guests looking for a new favorite hotel in your town,  matching the needs of those potential guests with the talents and needs of the hotel staff is an option to long-term success that many hotels can take.

The makeup of our staffs varies by location, but it includes all ages, many more nationalities than ever before and tremendous ranges of interests and capabilities. The United States and Canada continue to attract immigrants from around the world who want to become citizens, but also remain attached to their original culture. Today’s college freshman has a completely different perspective than those of us over age 40.  Generation Y individuals view the Reagan years as recent to them as the 

Franklin Roosevelt era and they have never personally felt the threat of a nuclear bomb. These new entries into our job market have always had CDs, cable TV and more choices than any generation ever in the world. It therefore makes sense that we must recognize them as the individuals they are.

A potential guest views your hotel and its’ first impression only once.  There is one last impression – and both of them are frequently influenced primarily by those front line jobs identified above.

How do we need to pay more attention to those people?  A major part of it is attitude on the part of owners and managers.  Imagine today that you are a Generation Y person, or a recent immigrant from a country 3,000 miles away.  You have perhaps learned a new language, new cultural habits that are not yet comfortable, but you want to be successful.

What will either of these people think of being called or thought of as a desk “clerk?”  What will they feel about the one hour of orientation or training they receive prior to assuming responsibility for a $500 bank and the second shift of a hotel that may have an asset value of $1 million, $2 million or more?   Would a 66-year old, semi retired native born American or Canadian feel any different?

We must upgrade our attitudes to one that includes consistent respect, attention, reasonable fixed compensation and training so they can be successful and satisfied with their role in the hotel, as front desk sales receptionists (or whatever titles you elect). Perhaps financial incentives for 100% occupancies at agreed standards (X $ rate, no walks, etc.), for up selling to premium rooms, suites is part of the answer. Perhaps cross training, certifications or other personalized incentives may meet the needs of your staff.

Innovation must take place to improve both staff and guest satisfaction.  The first greeting to a guest and a positive check-in experience can set the tone for a guest’s entire stay.  None of us want to speak to the top of a receptionist’s head that is bowed down looking at a computer screen.

A positive first impression, a welcoming so to speak, makes the other little things that can go wrong less important.  Starting the guest off negatively can set an avalanche of complaints and problems.  The long-term goal is to get repeat customers, which of course adds to the most effective form of selling and marketing, word of mouth referrals.

Our front teams must be made to feel respected and important.  Do your sales and management teams include them regularly in planning meetings for finding new customers and keeping existing ones?  No one is closer to guests, yet so many properties ignore this resource.

The front desk team can provide tremendous leads resulting from ordinary, pleasant conversations with guests. Sales and management staff can prompt the front desk team on questions to ask.
Rewarding the desk team with recognition, incentives, promotional opportunities and respect will make an unbelievable difference in your top and bottom lines. 

Questions of the day
These questions are offered to stimulate discussion about the way we do business.  There is not necessarily only one “correct” answer – the reason for this section of the column is to promote an awareness of how we might all improve our operations.  Consider using these or similar questions at staff meetings encourage your team to THINK!

  1. When was the last time you as an owner or manager sat down with your front line team to discuss the current issues facing your hotel?  
  2. When was the last time you asked them for ideas to boost sales or satisfy customers?
  3. What kinds of incentives do you offer your front line team when they contribute to maximizing revenues?

Feel free to share an idea at anytime or contact me regarding consulting, customized workshops or speaking engagements.  Autographed copies of LESSONS FROM THE FIELD – a COMMON SENSE APPROACH TO EFFECTIVE HOTEL SALES can be obtained from THE ROOMS CHRONICLE and other industry sources. 

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: Defining Hospitality - Readers Respond with their Insights / Hotel Common Sense / John Hogan / October 2008
Understanding the Value and Power of Breakfast / Hotel Common Sense / John Hogan / October 2008
A Bakers Dozen of Strategies for Hotel Restaurant Managers / Hotel Common Sense / John Hogan / October 2008
A Bakers Dozen of Strategies for Hotel Food and Beverage Directors / Hotel Common Sense / John Hoganv/ September 2008
My Definition of Hospitality. What’s Yours? / Dr. John Hogan / September 2008
Principles for Success as a Hotel Manager: 6 Observations on Finding and Employing Problem Solvers / Dr. John Hogan / September 2008
10 Hotel Sales Action Steps to Succeed in Today’s Competitive Marketplace / Dr. John Hogan / September 2008
10 Hotel Sales Mistakes to Avoid in Today’s Competitive Marketplace / Dr. John Hogan / August 2008
Ways to Identify and Build Repeat Guests / Dr John Hogan / August 2008
Principles for Success As a Hotel Manager - Maintaining Relationships Throughout the Organization / Dr John Hogan / August 2008
Principles for Success As a Hotel Manager - Part four: Communicating with Clarity and Candor / Dr. John Hogan / July 2008
Principles for Success As a Hotel Manager - Part three: Using your management style effectively / Dr. John Hogan / July 2008
Principles for Success As a Hotel Manager - Part Two: Motivating the Team / Dr. John Hogan / July 2008
Principles for Success As a Hotel Manager Part One: Understanding the Organization / Dr. John Hogan / July 2008 
Updating Hotel Marketing and Sales Strategies Mid Year NOW Is Essential / Dr. John Hogan / June 2008
Don’t Underestimate the Impact of the Hotel Sales Office / Dr. John Hogan / June 2008
Factors for Successful Interviewing Potential Hotel Sales Candidates / Dr. John Hogan / June 2008
The Importance of Meaningful Sales Team Job Descriptions / Dr. John Hogan / May 2008
For Hotels with Limited Service, Fewer than 100 Rooms - How Do You Determine if You Need a Person Dedicated to Selling / Dr. John Hogan / May 2008
Extending Your Sales Team or Make Travel Agents A Regular Part of Your Sales Programs / Dr. John Hogan / May 2008
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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