Recently, a competent and client-revered hotel sales director was fired. No surprise there. As hotel operators continue to cut costs to satisfy owner and lender fiduciary responsibility demands, talented sales directors have been laid off and terminated in alarming numbers since the economic downfall of 2008.
The terminology used makes little difference—whether it’s labeled laid off, furloughed, downsized or (my personal favorite) reduction in force—the bottom line is that the sales director is out of job and most likely won’t be returning to that hotel as an employee.
David M. Brudney
An argument can be made some of these sales directors were let go with cause. In addition to poor performance by the sales department overall, contributing factors may have included personal sales goal declines, sales team leadership, direction, coaching, communication and morale. But, in far too many cases, these skilled sales directors have been singled out as scapegoats for numerous reasons:
1. Something, someone—other than the economic downturn—has to be blamed for the huge declines in occupancy and rate;
2. Sales department budgets always have been a prime target for ill-advised management to cut when business turns for the worse; and
3. Sales directors typically command total compensation packages that are higher than other department heads, making them most vulnerable when reducing payroll becomes the order of the day.
All too often I’ve experienced examples of general managers, corporate senior management oversights and, especially, hotel owners refusing to accept any responsibility for the alleged failure of the hotel sales director.
There may be several factors that led directly, or contributed heavily, to the demise of the sales director:
1. The hotel could be positioned and priced incorrectly;
2. The hotel’s brand failed to deliver timely, necessary sales and marketing support services;
3. Senior management failed to react promptly and accurately as market conditions changed;
4. Senior management’s failure to accept impact of new supply growth within the competitive set;
5. Failure to complete badly needed property renovation and upgrades in a timely manner;
6. The hotel never recovered from one or more bad experiences of a visible group(s);
7. Heavy turnover in convention/conference service and banquet department staffs;
8. Fallout from the AIG event—the hotel experienced unavoidable multiple cancellations, heavy attritions and deferred events by previously loyal, top producing, high-end corporate group clients; and
9. The general manager’s micromanaging of the sales department.
But there’s residual damage, irreversible in most cases, with meeting planners who find themselves holding the bag. Ownership, asset managers, senior corporate management oversights and even general managers fail, far too often, to understand the importance of the symbiotic relationship between many meeting planners and hotel sales directors.
When meeting planners (and their superiors) execute a one-to-three-year contract with a hotel, the booking was made because of a strong professional and often personal relationship between the planner and sales director in many cases. That relationship has been developed throughout years of good service by the sales director. Credibility and trust are firmly in place already. One of the finest compliments a hotel sales director can receive from a meeting decision maker is: “We’re not booking your hotel; we’re booking you.” I can’t count how many times I’ve heard meeting planning professionals tell me, “As long as he/she (the sales director) is still there, our meeting will be there.”
When the sales director is dismissed, for whatever reason, many meeting planners feel a sense of betrayal, and, right or wrong, their anger is directed at the hotel and that hotel’s brand. More times than not, the planner’s first reaction is to cancel the meeting (if that option is available, based on the contract) and to book it elsewhere.
There are those who’ll argue hotel sales director turnover cuts both ways. Sales directors leaving by their own volition will cause just as much planner anxiety as if the sales directors had been fired. But it’s important to keep in mind most quality sales directors leave their positions because of feeling undervalued, underpaid and limited in career advancement. In most cases, the sales directors accept their new positions with better compensation packages, expanded responsibilities and with a sense of being valued more.
Once again, far too many times the subject hotel’s owner, asset manager and senior corporate management oversights may be oblivious to the immediate and future consequences of the fallout from terminating the sales director. Given the current cost-cutting, face-saving, do-whatever-is-necessary-to-save-the-management-contract environment, good people are fired without enough careful thought given to the immediate and longer-term consequences.
These are times when those in positions to make those decisions must be reminded that, despite the past decade transition from being in the hotel business to being in the business of hotels, we still remain a business that’s all about relationships. We can ill-afford to ever forget that.
David M. Brudney, ISHC, is a veteran hospitality sales and marketing professional well into his fifth decade of service to the hospitality industry. Brudney advises lodging owners, lenders, asset managers and operators on hotel sales and marketing “best practices” and conducts assessments of hospitality (as well as other industry) sales and marketing operations throughout the U.S. and overseas. He can be reached at David@DavidBrudney.com. View his Web site at www.davidbrudney.com.