Remote work hasn’t traditionally been top of mind when talking about the hotel business. The overarching impression of the hospitality industry evokes a culture of personal, face-to-face interaction. The hotel industry took one of the largest hits in talent acquisition and retention during and after the pandemic and it remains a constant, costly struggle today. COVID-19 continues to change the scope of how we define work and interpersonal communication in all industries, including hotels and particularly in hotel sales. As a result, there cannot be a discussion about attracting and retaining top talent in hotel sales without bringing remote representation into the equation.
What can the hotel industry learn from other sectors to attract employees in non-guest-facing roles? People want more flexibility––hybrid work reduced attrition rates at a large technology firm by 35% and improved self-reported work satisfaction scores, with no negative impact on performance ratings or promotions, according to a new study co-authored by Nicholas Bloom of Stanford University.
The adaptation of remote hotel representation into modern hospitality operations is a cultural shift for many owner/operators. Generations of hoteliers have predispositions about what the sales process has traditionally looked like and find adapting to evolving process changes a challenge.
Prospecting, other than answering and responding to calls, is one of the tenants of hotel sales. Previously, there had been a focus on in-person prospecting, visiting clients, hotel tours, going to community events, and hosting events in the hotels to attract local businesses. While this has not gone completely away, staffing shortages and employment trends have made these efforts less accessible.
Digital Tours and Contracts are the Norm
Many businesses have done away with or strictly limited receptionists, in-person work requirements, and business engagements. Hotel tours have gone virtual on nearly every level and have plummeted in demand. Success in hotel sales is more about having the skill to find and build relationships, and develop close contracts without physical representation. Strategy and competency, especially in a time of labor shortage and changing global work culture, are key to sustained success.
Since the inception of email, most rate and contract negotiations have been effectively done digitally rather than in person. Most LNR (located negotiated rate) and CNR (corporate negotiated rate) accounts are now negotiated and signed completely digitally by strategic hotel sales professionals.
The Value Proposition of Remote Hotel Sales
The value proposition of remote sales is difficult to refute. Hotel sales company's average service costs range, on average, between $1500 and $2500 a month for the same sales support as an onsite FTE. The greatest difference you see between on-property candidates and remote sales companies is the experience level of the sales representatives. In speaking with several remote sales company leaders and hotel representatives, remote sales representatives have an average of five to eight more years of experience than the applicants at the physical property level.
Almost all remote sales organizations rely on a Regional Director style of operation, where one representative will have several hotels in their portfolio. The number of hotels varies greatly by company and is a good question for an owner/operator to ask when shopping for a service. Technology has made it increasingly simple for remote sales companies to be seamless with their on-property counterparts. Hotels can send a call to an in-house sales office extension that is seamlessly forwarded to a remote team member, who answers the phone as if they are on the property. Meetings are regularly attended via Zoom with both clients and hotel staff members if needed or preferred. Brand or hotel email addresses are easily accessible for remote representatives. Many remote hotel sales professionals represent the same hotels for years, becoming a trusted, integral part of the onsite hotel culture.
Women Want Remote Work Options
Women make up over 70% of the hospitality industry (source: Hospitality Industry Pipeline (HIP) Coalition) and the percentages can be even higher in hotel sales-specific roles. This is fueling the shift away from on-property sales careers as women seek out a higher quality of work/life balance in post-pandemic America. Most remote hotel sales organizations are owned and operated by women. As a result, statistically, it appears that the shift to remote hotel sales support is not turning back. 58% of employees working remotely over the past year said they’d look for a new job if they weren’t allowed to continue working from home post-pandemic, according to a survey by FlexJobs. According to Vikram Singh, global hospitality & travel strategist, in a popular December 2021 hospitalitynet.org article “People who are good at what they do – the ones who don’t need excessive amounts of meetings or supervision – are flocking to flexibility. The “A Team” is working from home and running circles around people still trapped in the office.” He summarizes that the culture change, for those who adapt, results in higher profit, lower overhead, and better quality of business.
The Future of Hotel Sales
The future of hotel sales managers is the same as much of the past and present for owner/operators: predominantly women, highly skilled, developing and maintaining relationships, keeping hotels full and clients happy. The future is going to be more efficient for owner/operators and for sales professionals who adapt to the changing cultural landscape in hotel sales.
Halee Whiting is the owner and founder of Hospitality with Flair, a remote hotel sales company. A creative, outside-of-the-box, seasoned hospitality professional who offers a different perspective on sales, marketing, and content creation. Having worked in the hospitality industry for 14+ years, working her way up and around every department from housekeeping, front desk, and catering until finding her calling in sales, where she was a Regional Director over a portfolio of 13+ hotels from independents to various brands like Hilton, Choice, IHG, Wyndham, GrandStay and Red Lion. Halee also has her own travel blog, and is the host of the “All is Fair in Love & RevPar” podcast.