While reading the industry news today I came upon a story with an interesting headline “Business travelers going rogue”.
The highlights of the story are:
Unmanaged business travelers make up 70% of the market, according to PhoCusWright.
Hoteliers should shift focus from travel managers to the end user.
Unmanaged travelers are more likely to research travel on OTAs, but they’re more likely to book on brand.com.
So how do we know which of our guests are “rogue” and which of our guests rely on their company to book travel arrangements for their business travelers? Do we really know these answers? And if we don’t, how are we going to find out?
Implementing a Lead Generation program at your Front Desk
How many of our front desks have a “lead generation” strategy in place? I know a couple of our hotels do but I am not sure we are really using these key sales tools in the most effective manner. Are our GSR’s following our strategies 100% of the time and completing all the fields in the reservation/check in screen? Are we as sales people following up with every lead generated?
Do we also need a secondary lead generation strategy in place…..something like a ‘just a note’ to our sales staffs when they run across a key point or “rogue” business traveler?
I’d like to suggest to all of our hotels that we implement (or fine tune) a two phase lead generation program and a Go Direct program at our front desk:
1. Do you have a “drop a business card” fishbowl, briefcase, bucket, box, etc. on the front desk or nearby the front desk area? Is there an incentive for the customer to drop their card? How often to you review these cards? What do you do with those cards once collected?
In order to properly manage this program, you need to be diligent in all aspects of the process.
Firstly, the GSR needs to be proactive and enthusiastic and ask the guest to drop their card into the bowl during the course of the check-in process. “Mr. Johnson, while I am getting your keys ready you may be interested in our fishbowl promotion – this week we are giving away a dinner for two at XYZ restaurant which is just down the street. They have the best clam chowder in the area.”
Secondly, you really must reliably pull a winning card from the bowl. Create signage that simply states, “John from Peoria, IL was our winner last week! Drop your card here to win this week’s prize.” You must also be consistent in pulling cards out on your scheduled day and awarding prizes. (There are no rules here so you can hand pick winners from the array of cards.)
Personally call the winner. This will give you the opportunity to further develop your business relationship with that customer and further sell your services. Is he/she a rogue traveler? Is he/she a repeat customer? Why are they visiting the area? What is the future potential for repeat business? Are there other travelers from their company who come to the area?
Lastly – review ALL the cards each week and remove them (start each week fresh to increase the odds for the winners) from the bowl. Follow up with each of the individuals who dropped a card into the bowl. Opening up the conversation should be easy….”Ms. Jones, thanks for dropping a card into our fishbowl during your stay last week. We really appreciate your business and while you were not our winner, I’d like to personally take the time to thank you for staying with us and offer you a ….” (complimentary beverage selection from our Sweet Shop, OR10% off your next stay, OR another small incentive when you return to the hotel next time). “Do you have a moment or so I may gather some information about you and your company’s travel policies?” In other words, everyone is a winner and you are able to prospect for new/repeat business!
2. In addition to a “fishbowl” type program, your GSR’s may also be able to gather important information for you by simply reading the check in screen. For example, the guest information shows that they work or ABC Company. An observant GSR might further ask the guest, “Mr. Smith, I see you work with ABC Company, what company are you visiting while in our area and may I help you with directions?” or “Do you travel to this area often?”. The GSR must make sure that these questions are in a conversational tone and not be interpreted as interrogating.
Each of these open ended questions may create opportunities for further conversation. Follow the guest cues and don’t take the questions too far. It is not the job of the GSR to gather all the information for sales – just one or two key pieces of information that tells us they have needs for future travel to our area. If the GSR pull out a check list or form and starts reading questions to the guest, the customer may clam up. After all this is check in, not a sales appointment. Depending on how much information the GSR can comfortably get from the customer (especially if it is a first time visitor), then we have the basis for a note to sales.
After the guest leaves the desk, the GSR should simply print the screen of that guest and jot a few notes on the print out. For example, they might write, “he is traveling here to visit XYZ company on Main Street….second visit to this area….travels with 2 other people” and then put the print out it in the sales manager’s box. Now the sales manager has a lead and an opening when they call on the guest. “Mr. Smith, Mary at the front desk tells me that you are working with XYZ company on a project. Thank you for choosing our hotel. Do you have a few moments to discuss your company’s travel policies?”
3. Make sure that you have your “Go Direct” strategies in place.
We have spoken about this sales action strategy in the past so I won’t go into great detail…..but if you are not trying to convert third party bookers to book direct then you are missing the boat (and paying commission on it)!
Each of our hotels should have some sort of a small token prepared and easily assessible at the front desk. Examples would be candy bars, trail mix, Smart water, etc. Attach a small card to each of these token gifts that reads, “Thank you for staying at the XYZ hotel and for utilizing our valued travel partner to make your reservations. The next time you are visiting our area, we hope that you will call us directly at (xxx) xxx-xxxx. Booking direct assures you of the best available rate at our hotel, complimentary breakfast and WiFi, and the ability to earn XXX Rewards points. Have a great stay!” (You will personalize your message to your hotel.)
When the GSR notes that the rate program or market segment the guest make their reservation in (such as Expedia, Travelocity, Orbitz, Hotels.com, Priceline, Hotwire, etc.) they should follow our Go Direct strategy. “Mr. Williams, I see you booked your reservation tonight through our valued travel partner Expedia. Thank you so much! In the future, we hope that you might call us directly to make your arrangements. I can assure you that you will pay the same rate and receive the same amenities, but additionally your rate will qualify you to earn points in our Rewards program. Here’s is a little thank you gift for considering our request.” Unless the guest wants to talk further, that should be the extent of the “soft sell”.
Happy lead generating!
(I’ve copied the entire article below if you would like to read it!)
Business travelers going rogue
12 April 2012
By Patrick Mayock
SHERMAN, Connecticut—U.S. business travelers have more control of their own bookings than ever before, which means hoteliers should think outside of corporate travel policies and consider the end user, according to PhoCusWright research.
“You have to think of them as free agents,” said Carroll Rheem, director of research, during a webinar titled, “The U.S. Business Traveler: Managed, Unmanaged and Rogue.”
Whereas the focus in the past rested primarily on travel managers because they were the decision makers, today hoteliers must place greater emphasis on the travelers themselves, she said.
For one thing, unmanaged business travelers—those who aren’t constrained by a corporate travel manager—make up approximately 70% of the market, Rheem said, citing numbers from a recent special project PhoCusWright conducted. For another, most business travelers lack a travel planning routine, which suggests hoteliers have an opportunity to provide a better booking platform to capture market share, she said.
Only 29% of business travelers have a booking routine. “Even among the managed group the response is only 32%,” Rheem said. “… This says there are a lot of opportunities for new development and openness to trying new business models and trying new features. It also says to me there are a lot of problems to be solved.”
Rheem focused on several travel segments during the webinar, including hotel, air and car rental.
“Ultimately, hotel is the area where we see the most rogue behavior (with managed travelers),” she said.
“When you’re in the decision-making process, there are two kinds of scenarios that really drive rogue behavior: Sometimes there are just too many options. … And other times there are just not enough options for you, especially in that mid-range company that doesn’t have a very comprehensive policy.”
The top driver of rogue behavior, however, is convenience, cited by 47% of respondents to PhoCusWright’s study.
Price also is an influential driver, cited by 30% of travelers.
“Also, loyalty programs are a pretty significant driver,” Rheem said. “One in five road travelers say they accumulate miles or status from a brand that’s outside of company policy. Those points are sticky, and business travelers love those points.”
Seven of 10 unmanaged business travelers said they used online travel agencies when researching travel. Websites for travel providers themselves (e.g., brand.com) was the second most popular, cited by 61% of unmanaged respondent.
When it came to actually making bookings, however, unmanaged business travelers (53%) were more inclined to book at brand.com than an OTA (50%).
“The hotel brand websites coming out on top is not necessarily what you would expect to see,” Rheem said. “… OTAs were far ahead of supplier websites when it came to shopping. But when it comes to booking, a lot of these savvy business travelers are doing the flip. …
“The savvy business travel is often making that switch often specifically for hotel websites because of points,” she said.
Rheem highlighted several other findings from her research during the webinar.
39% of managed travelers mix business travel with leisure travel; unmanaged travelers number slightly more than half.
30% of business travelers said Web-based presentation and video conference tools did not impact their travel plans. Of the remaining respondents, 25% said the tools impacted plans “very little,” while 30% said “somewhat.” Only 2% said the tools impact plans “dramatically.”
A “good website experience” trumped price when using particular websites to research travel.