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Lessons in Hotel Management from Howard Feiertag

Posted on: July 23, 2019

Now an instructor at Virginia Tech, Howard Feiertag has a background of almost 30 years in hospitality, including work in: hotel operations; food and beverage; sales and marketing; catering; meetings and convention management; as well as tour and travel. It’s fair to say Howard is a true hotel industry thought leader – in fact, Virginia Tech recently renamed the faculty at which he teaches the Howard Feiertag Department of Hospitality and Tourism Management in his honour, to recognise his contributions to the sector.

Throughout his many years in the hospitality business, Howard has learned a thing or two about how to succeed in the field, sharing many of these insights in his monthly columns for Hotel Management Magazine. His new book, Hospitality Sales and Marketing, showcases a selection of these articles, providing an invaluable guide for both experienced and aspiring hospitality professionals. We’ve gathered together some of Howard’s key tips to help you flourish in your hospitality career.

Get a Room

As the title of one of Howard’s columns from 1986 puts it, the more you know, the more you’ll sell. Successful salespeople have confidence in their knowledge of the product – from guest rooms to parking facilities, they know everything there is to know about the property they represent.

Howard advises that hotel managers have the sales team experience the hotel for themselves: they should not only spend a night in the hotel as a guest, but also try out all the activities on offer at the property – dining in the restaurant, taking a dip in the pool, et cetera. This isn’t about slacking off or taking a holiday, it’s about in-depth product knowledge.

This exercise can be tough, with a lot of facts and figures to memorise. Staff will be surprised by how much they didn’t already know, but that’s exactly why it’s so worthwhile: it’s about building an arsenal of selling points and matching the right information to the right customer. There will come a time when making a sale hinges on knowledge gleaned from this exercise, be it the capacity of the hotel’s meeting spaces or the view from the honeymoon suite.

Product Analysis

Translate Features into Benefits

The product analysis exercise isn’t just about knowing all the features of the property, but the feel of being exposed to them. Sales and marketing staff shouldn’t just know that you have king size beds available, they need to be able to express just how comfortable those beds are. It’s about selling an experience rather than a hotel room.

Understanding these intangible selling points is critical to the sales process, yet Howard stresses that it’s a skill which takes time and practice to develop. Why not fill out features/benefits worksheets for different customer personas or market segments to help flex this muscle?

Turn Every Employee into a Salesperson

The sales department is not the whole hotel, but the whole hotel is the sales department. In the tourism and hospitality industry, quality customer service has a greater impact on the sales effort than almost anything else. All employees – not just those who work in the sales department – have the power not just to bring in business, but to keep visitors coming back, by providing a stellar customer experience. Although hospitality training is important, it’s better to hire nice people and teach them job skills, as it’s much easier than doing the opposite.

Frontline staff are also well-positioned to upsell customers, recommending room upgrades or the dinner in the restaurant. The hotel manager must ensure that every employee sees selling all services of the property is a part of their job, regardless of their specific responsibilities. Whatever their role, staff must be prepared to extend themselves to guests – it’s about offering that second cocktail, rather than waiting for the customer to ask.

Offer a Second Cocktail

Listen to Your Customers

Unless you understand a client’s needs, you can’t figure out how you can help them or ascertain which of their problems your product could solve. Salespeople should be persuasive, but it’s no good bombarding customers with spiel if you haven’t taken the time to listen first. Same goes for marketing – you need in-depth understanding of their needs to tailor your offer.

Take on board feedback from your guests. Customers are much more likely to remember a negative experience than a positive one – it takes years of work to establish a reputation for good service, but one or two instances of bad service could cancel all that out. In fact, studies have shown that 95% of customers with small problems, and 82% of customers with big problems stay with the company that upset them if their complaint is fixed quickly. It’s clear that service recovery plays a major role in customer retention and loyalty. For this reason, Howard suggests that hotels actively solicit complaints, treating each one as an opportunity to win over a customer.

Pay Attention to Developing Trends

To succeed in the hotel business, you not only need to have knowledge of your own product, but of what’s going on in the wider industry. In 1994, Howard spotted an opportunity for hotels to attract positive PR and new customers by implementing eco-friendly initiatives. 25 years on, sustainable tourism is bigger than ever: cheaper flights mean foreign travel is on the rise, but consumers are also increasingly concerned about the ethical and environmental impact of their trips.

Savvy businesses have realised that adopting responsible tourism practices allows them to reduce costs through reduced consumption of natural resources and redirect these savings to improve the quality of their customer experience and expand their marketing reach.  Ecotourism is a major trend in hospitality and will only continue to grow in importance as fears about climate change escalate.

Hotels should pay attention not just to trends in travel, but food too. When Howard penned his 1997 column advising readers to rethink their catering, clients were increasingly on the lookout for greater variety and healthier meals; today they may be after vegan options. In fact, vegan tourism is now a trend in its own right, which a number of tour operators launching holiday packages designed specifically for vegan travellers.

Find out more about trends and opportunities in tourism, travel and hospitality with our collection of titles from Apple Academic Press.