Smaller, independent properties face innumerable sales and marketing challenges, ranging from tighter advertising budgets and less latitude to absorb unforeseen downturns to higher OTA commissions and a lack of ‘guaranteed’ business from loyalty program redemptions.
Unlike their chain property brothers and sisters, Directors of Sales and Marketing (DoSM) at these hotels often operate independently with limited support networks or the refining of ideas through collaboration. At the same time, their value to the operation is markedly more significant, as general managers (and owners!) increasingly look to them to forge the future direction and profitability of the entity.
Some properties with more substantial conference facilities often weigh this position in favor of the sales side of the equation, as supporting group room development efforts are paramount. Still, with digital activities as the primary driver for leisure business, some properties have eschewed the traditional marketing position entirely, delegating that role to the revenue manager.
As a result, those DoSMs who remain successful seem to have multiple roles – part revenue manager, part sales leader and part marketer. There’s one certainty, though; they need to be tech fluent to perform their duties well in today’s environment. With the DoSM being such a complex role, I was pleased to sit down with a real veteran, Cathy Christopher, to discuss her take on all of this.
But first, a briefing the property that she calls home. Inn on the Fifth is located (where else) along 5th Avenue in the center of Naples, Florida. The hotel actually straddles the thoroughfare; the main property on the north side has 87 rooms while the Club Level, a recent 32-suite addition, is on the south side. This is a Forbes four-star, AAA four-diamond property, and it operates very much in keeping with the traditions of hospitality – a strong focus on service culture. Immaculately maintained, the hotel has garnered a strong following and has a high repeat booking.
Larry: Cathy, you’ve been at the Inn on the Fifth for quite a while. What changes have you witnessed?
Cathy: Well, I started with the Inn in 1997, in an era that predates the real application of the internet and digital technologies. We’ve moved from newspapers and directories to web and mobile. And with this technology has come a sense of speed. Gone are the days of fax and mail; booking decisions come from multiple channels 24/7. We converse with clients in Germany just like they’re around the corner. We take so much for granted; while we have moved closer together from a business standpoint, we’ve moved further apart in terms of creating a human connection. Our role in marketing is even more critical, namely to put a face on our communications efforts.
Larry: How has technology impacted your role as DoSM?
Cathy: Technology has allowed us to create a multitude of guest-oriented programs and motivate guests to spend more while onsite. Technology allows us to build web-based programs that enhance our ability to build revenue directly on our own website versus the OTAs. We also use technology to enhance the guest experience while onsite using mobile technologies. Lastly, our guest records are fully integrated to build referrals and repeat guest opportunities.
Larry: In your role as DoSM, how important is TripAdvisor?
Cathy: First and foremost, TripAdvisor is important to the guest. We know through guest feedback that the bulk of our new guests are basing their decision to stay on a review from this resource. Any critical guest influencer is important to me as the DoSM, as my primary role is to promote the property and convert awareness into purchases. Apart from the obvious ‘star rating’, I look at TripAdvisor in relation to our key comp set, understanding where we have opportunities and where we can make improvements to our service delivery.
Larry: In our discussions, you have made several references to the Forbes Travel Guide Standards. This is an operational guide. How does this impact you as DoSM?
Cathy: There is no real defining line between operations and marketing. In fact, I see this as a circle of continual improvement. First, we focus our efforts on better guest service. Improved guest satisfaction and TripAdvisor scores are directly linked. Working to boost one of these ultimately enhances sales conversion and allows us to build our rates.
Larry: What has been the impact of Airbnb on your business?
Cathy: There is no question that it is a force to be reckoned with. We know that there are many Airbnb offerings available within the surrounding (downtown Naples) area. That is why we are focusing our marketing efforts on demonstrating our service excellence. In addition, we continue to value add extras for our direct booking guests, from a $25 immediate resort credit on check-in from a Facebook link to a free appetizer with their first meal in our restaurant. From a marketing standpoint, all of this leads to higher repeat rates.
Larry: What should a GM look for when selecting a candidate for the role of DoSM?
Cathy: Stripping away the obvious technical skills required for the assignment, a DoSM has to be visionary, tenacious and curious. And selling skills are not just to secure group or wholesaler business from external sources, but also securing buy-in to initiatives from operational management. I would encourage GMs to look beyond the basics (which can be checked through references), and focus on understanding if their approach and vision matches those that you have set for the organization.
Larry: If DoSMs are reading this, what guidance can you give them regarding their careers?
Cathy: Don’t limit yourself to your product, your market and what you are currently undertaking. Attend at least one trade show per year. Subscribe to all the free online publications in our industry and read everything that you can. Set your goals high and accomplish them.
(Article by Larry Mogelonsky, published by Hotel Interactive on April 26, 2016).