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Relationship Building

Hotels Need To Put Priority On Making Meeting Planners Feel Special

Tuesday, March 07, 2017
Steve Pike
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It’s no secret that relationship building is the key to any business. That’s particularly true in the hospitality business, where there are relationships between guests and hotels; vendors and hotels; and guests and hotel staff.

Perhaps the most important, however, is the relationship between a hotel/resort and meeting and event planners. You don’t really think all those meetings, banquets and activities happen on their own, do you?

“The relationships have certainly evolved and become more personal,” said Adam Leon, sales manager for Hotel Colonnade in Coral Gables, FL. “It is not just about business. People do business with people they trust. Our goal is to show our planners that we are here to make their lives easier and make them look good. When you achieve this, you have a client and friend for life.”

Solid—and long lasting—relationships between hotels, resorts and meeting planners often can be the difference between a property’s success and failure. Building those kinds of relationships can be like walking a tight rope, but they are an essential part of a hotel and resort business model.

“It’s important to keep your banquet team and banquet space busy, which is exactly why Phase 1 of our (recently completed) redesign was our 65,000 square feet of meeting space,” said Alex Tonarelli, managing director at Loews Miami Beach.

“We have a dedicated group of sales people who make building relationships with meeting planners the priority. Traveling to see them in their offices and showing them how our hotel can create different, creative and unique group experiences is key. We travel to see them, we host them for site visits and invite them to special events like Art Basel, Boat Show and South Beach Wine and Food Festival, where they can see how the hotel activates and executes events, while at the same time experiencing the destination.”

Whether visiting meeting planners or hosting them, communication needs to be a top priority.

“Our team is very forthcoming with information when it is available to share with our clients so that they are ‘in the know’ of what is taking place,” said Steven Green, director of sales and marketing, DoubleTree by Hilton Orlando at SeaWorld. “It’s important to provide solutions—and creative ones. Planners respond positively when we anticipate that there will be a challenge and we already have in hand some solutions to address it.”

That’s what Jess Johnson, director of sales and marketing at the Sheraton Bay Point Resort in Panama City Beach, FL, calls the “fine details.”

“It’s not rocket science, but just a lot of fine touches,” Johnson said. “For example, inviting them to taste margaritas served with our own in-house simple syrups with our Mahi mini tacos. They get all that for free. Meeting planners are all about the details. So, if you can create those tiny details within their experience— they notice those.”

The cultivation of relationships, said Mario Bass, director of sales and marketing at JW Marriott Hill Country in San Antonio, begins with the first phone call or email regarding the business planner’s needs.

“No matter the intrinsic power of a destination or beauty of the property, if a sales person is not responsive from first contact, the relationship is strained,” Bass said. “Cultivating a relationship is about letting someone know how important they are to you; caring a little bit more to ensure even their smallest needs are met. At our resort, we strive not only to provide world-class experiences for our meeting and business planners, but also equally as important, to show them we were listening, even to the smallest of details.”

Though technology has changed the way people interact, said Jason Kern, director of sales and marketing at Hammock Beach Resort in Palm Coast, FL, the proposal process—and often the negotiations—are still each most valuable when conducted face to face.

“Everyone is so busy now, that as a sales organization you need to be prepared when visiting clients’ offices, or conducting appointments,” Kern said. “Gone are the days when you can just drop off cookies. Clients genuinely want to know updates about your resort or destination, as they have less time for casual conversation.

“I’m still a big believer in making sure we spend time with our clients when they are on-site for their meetings. Bringing coffee or their favorite beverage to them daily is a nice touch. Leaving a personal note in their room at night goes a long way, too.’’

Another key?

“Continuity in your sales effort,” said Gary Griggs, director of sales and marketing at the new Henderson Beach Resort & Spa in Destin, FL.

In building relationships with meeting planners, Griggs said, it’s important to have as little change in the sales staff as possible.

“That’s the culture I’m bringing here,” said Griggs, a 30-year veteran of the hospitality industry. “I want (sales people) to stay. I want to find the right people who want to call this their home and build those relationships. When you are strong like that, you can be more selective with your groups and be more successful.’’
Steve Pike
Hotel Interactive® Editorial Division

Bio: Steve Pike is an award-winning golf writer and author who helped define golf business reporting in the early 1990s as the first Golf Business Editor for Golfweek magazine and later at Golf World and Golf Shop Operations magazines for Golf Digest. Pike further pioneered this genre at the PGA of America and Time Warner as the golf business writer and editor for PGA.com. He started in newspapers more than ...
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