theWorks - the Nexus Blog

selling sales

Why are hotel sales teams so unsuccessful at selling their IT needs in to their own organizations? I've come across a seriously scarey number of hotel groups where sales people are still managing their daily activites, contacts and reporting via Excel and emails. And before someone says, 'why aren't they using the PMS?', that may be a reasonable solution at property level but it frequently leaves regional, national and international sales managers out in the cold. Which means that the team as a whole is not connected.

Part of the problem stems from a faulty but stubborn equation that's been embedded in the collective psyche of our industry for far too long: Technology = Operations. PMS? CRS? CIS? Pick whichever TLA you like, but the reality is that systems designed to manage the hotel operation (or the finance of course) attract all the attention and all the investment. The Sales team is left to scratch around 'making do' with either a bolt-on front end to the operating system or a stand-alone generic salesforce application that was designed to sell....well, just about anything but hotel rooms.

If a VP Sales is brave enough to embark on the road to a proper sales solution, watch how quickly the combined forces of IT, Operations and Finance hijack the show and turn a simple need - 'I'd like to create a more effective sales organization please' - into an enterprise-wide technology gorge-fest. The end result (should there be one at all) is a system that can calculate the VAT on a Venezuelan tour group but leaves our long-forgotten VP Sales wondering if regional sales bothered to call on IBM last week.

Call me old-fashioned, but is not sales the lifeblood of any hotel group? Yes it is. So give the team the tools to do the job!

there's a herd of travel managers in the lobby...

A General Manager is making one of those rare state visits into the sales department. The room falls silent."Who's he?" whispers one of the interns. The GM clears his throat and announces.. "At 2pm this afternoon the global travel managers of IBM, Accenture, BP, Exxon, Chevron and Pfizer will all be in the hotel. They're interested in including this property in their programs for next year and want to negotiate a deal." There's a brief pause while this momentous proclamation sinks in, quickly followed by excited chatter and a buzz of anticipation. "I'd love to greet them personally", adds the GM,"but this afternoon I have to review the plans for the new spa....so it's over to you." And with that he turns on his heel and leaves. All eyes converge on the Director of Sales. "Well, what an amazing opportunity" she says, "This is one for you, Jenny". Jenny the sales coordinator freezes mid-bite of her tuna sandwich and looks around slightly alarmed. "Me?...errr...OK then.. let me make some notes...how do you spell Exxon...?"

Ridiculous? Maybe the bit about the travel managers showing up at the hotel is a little unusual. But the scene is not so far from the truth when those same opportunities are presented to the property electronically via an RFP. Too many hotels are conditioned to believe that replying to RFPs is an administrative burden to be endured rather than a sales opportunity to be exploited. The task of responding is given to the most junior member of the team and provided that the bid response meets the deadline, not enough time or energy is devoted to the quality of the offer. Just because the client is sitting at a desk 2,000 miles away does not change the fact that a sales negotiation is underway that needs a serious sales approach to be sure of securing maximum business at an optimal rate.

So as 2011 unfolds and those RFPs hit the inbox, I recommend that hotel sales people imagine the corporate travel managers sitting in the lobby waiting to read their response. And, of course, make the whole process a whole lot easier by using Nexus. Happy New Year!

tripadvisor will eat itself

The phrase 'victim of its own success' has surely never been so true as in the current fiasco surrounding TripAdvisor. Well,'victim' may not be quite the right word...just yet. It would be hard to class them as victims when they've just announced an astonishing 44% increase in quarterly revenue vs Q3 last year to $139m. Parent Expedia claims that the site is the first ever travel brand to reach 40m unique monthly visitors in a single month. Impressive. Except that the gentle winds of mutual discontent that for a long time have been ruffling the feathers of hotel proprietors on the one hand and TA & their users on the other, is developing into a full-blown hurricane.

Hotels for their part are claiming that what was once an occasional fake bad review from a disaffected employee or scurrilous neighbouring property is now turning into a series of highly coordinated campaigns of deliberate sabotage and an increasingly common expression of competitive activity. Reputation Management company, Kwikchex, has declared war on behalf of the industry and is reckoned to have 800 hotels and restaurants lined up ready to 'name and shame' the fake reviewers. Far from taking this threat on the chin, TA has struck out with equal measure, claiming that fake positive reviews, penned by hotel staff, family and friends (not to mention the likes of Kwikchex and their ilk) are deliberately misleading customers with glowing reports of 'attentive staff' and 'dinners to die for'.

One glorious example of such sharp practice has just been uncovered in rural Ireland. According to the Belfast Telegraph, the following email from an un-named manager at the Clare Inn was sent to his staff:

"We have come up with a plan for everyone on this email only to post a review about their stay at the Clare Inn," the email read. "You must do this from your HOME PC or internet cafe, do not use a Lynch PC or the IP address will be picked up. I'd rather you didn't discuss this with your team. This is not something we would normally endorse but the reviews of the Clare Inn at the moment leave us with no choice.Please do not use hotel language or else our plan will backfire."

..and of course it has backfired now that the story is all over the free world. TA is responding to these shenanigans by posting red warning labels on the profiles of hotels thought to be guilty of bigging themselves up. The battle lines are drawn.

All of this of course is an inevitable consequence of the enormous influence that TA now has in the hotel bookings market. When a hotel business can succeed or fail on the basis of TA reviews is it any surprise that reputations can be bought and sold like an eBay auction? Quite where this leaves the poor consumer is at this stage unclear.Stripping out the fake good reviews and the fake bad reviews from the genuine articles is becoming as hazardous as choosing a hotel in the pre TA era. But such is the wonder of the web that no doubt as TA and its detractors wrestle themselves to the floor another player will emerge from the wings as the real, authentic, unadulterated, neutral, trustworthy hotel review site... who's your money on?

houston, we have a hotel problem...

I blame myself for the error of judgment. I should have realised that this 'independent Mediterranean-style family-run property' was not going to be an ideal choice based on the Trip Advisor comment that said 'this could be a great hotel, just not in this country.' But downtown Houston was full for the NBTA Convention and I didn't want to be stuck out in the boonies with an almost-in-Dallas zip code. So I took a chance...

It was a Sunday afternoon; the mercury way up over 100°F; and the city streets were deserted as the taxi pulled up outside the hotel entrance. It was an anonymous looking building with a simple glass door and few clues as to its function. Then a figure emerged from inside. Dressed in old jeans and a t-shirt, he had the grizzled and emaciated appearance of a man who's eventful life has added 70 years to his 40 year old frame. As he paused at the entrance, I could just make out the slogan emblazoned across his chest - 'body piercing saved my life'. There was a reddish stain on his shoulder that looked suspiciously like blood. He started to walk across to the taxi. My heart beat a little faster. Was this man typical of the hotel clientele? Maybe it was one of those welfare hostels. Would I have to spend the night fully dressed behind triple locked doors clutching a kitchen knife? "Careful man" murmured the cab driver as he prepared for a fast exit.I opened the taxi door. "Good afternoon sir", said the blood-stained, grizzled 110 year old, "may I take your bags?"

The blood-stained, 110 year old grizzled doorman led me into the tiny lobby where I was checked in by a thickly accented man of Mediterranean descent. In the background, two weary women of indeterminate age absent-mindedly shuffled papers and yawned. I took my key and followed Grizzly up the stairs and into a room on the first floor. He seemed like a nice man so I tipped him generously, partly as insurance against any nocturnal axe-thru-door incidents. After he'd gone I surveyed my surprisingly pleasant room. There were two large windows...but these were covered by blinds that refused to open. There was a coffee maker... but it refused to make coffee. There was a wifi signal... but my laptop refused to connect.

I had three hours to kill before the NBTA opening reception. So I triple locked the door, sat on the bed and - kitchen knife in hand - waited for night to fall.

hotels & the beautiful game

The final occupancy numbers won't be with us for a few weeks, but - surprise, surprise - to quote one African newspaper,'the World Cup has not been the cash cow many expected it to be.' Wow. Hold the front page. How many major international sporting events ever deliver guests at the levels computed in the febrile imaginations of owners and developers? Despite the usual surge in available 4 and 5-star rooms, it seems most fans were happy to settle for converted schools, universities and guest houses. And to make matters worse, Visa's list of big spenders - citizens of England, USA, Australia, France and Brazil - all packed up and decamped fairly early in the proceedings thanks to risible performances on the field....

...talking of which, there seems to be no meaningful correlation between the standard of accommodation enjoyed by the teams and their success in the competition. The French team were accused by a government minister of staying somewhere 'far too flashy', while the Nigerians booked themselves into a Hampton Inn next to an interstate. Both teams were eliminated at the group stage, though presumably the Nigerians will feel the more satisfied of the two: how can you be expected to defeat Argentina with only an 'On the Run Breakfast Bag' for sustenance?

Finally, spare a thought for the England team. Humiliated on the pitch by that footballing powerhouse Algeria, then embarrassingly exposed by Germany, their final ignominy was to have their underwear stolen by members of staff at the team hotel. Should've stayed at a Hampton.

holes

Cast your eye across the British cultural landscape at the moment and you'll find one dominant theme - holes. They're everywhere. There are holes in the road. Quite a lot of them actually.. around 1.5 million, which is 50% up on last year in the aftermath of a Siberian Winter. The government is so concerned about the potential impact (literally) on the electorate that they've announced a £100m pay out to help councils fill them up again. Of course, that's £100m they don't really have because there's another big hole in the public finances. This debt hole is heading rapidly toward £1.6 trillion and means that next year British taxpayers will spend more on debt interest than on Defence.

And then there's the Lenny Henry hole. For those unfamiliar with Lenny, he's a Brit comedian who also happens to be the face of Premier Inns. The latest Premier ad campaign involves Lenny smashing a hole in a hotel room door with an axe, a la Jack Nicholson in The Shining, sticking his head through and shouting 'Here's Lenny'. This parody supposedly demonstrates the ill-effects of sleep deprivation caused by a bad night in a lousy hotel. Unfortunately for Premier, it's also demonstrated the ill-effects of broadcasting an axe-wielding Lenny Henry on daytime TV. Terror-stricken young children have reportedly been sent running and screaming for Mummy, leading the Advertising Standards Authority to ban poor Lenny from all children's programming.

I have some sympathy with Premier.. and Lenny. Let's face it, we've all had moments when we've wanted to smash a hole in a hotel door. Typically it's the door of the room next to us when 'nocturnal sounds' of one sort or another inhibit the serious business of falling asleep. Maybe Premier should consider a sequel with Lenny as the Terminator crashing through the walls from one room to another, ruthlessly taking out anyone shouting, moaning or talking on the phone too loudly, or with the TV on full volume at three in the morning. I'd buy into that. And with that kind of message Premier would soon monopolise the business traveller market. But I guess that's a hole other story...

bali breathing...

Last time I was in Bali I was carrying a backpack, wearing sandals and chilling out to the wind chimes in Ubud. A 'few' years later and I've returned in smart casuals for a conference. Many things have changed - more traffic on better roads, an incongruous Planet Hollywood, the tight security around Nusa Dua - but thankfully the essential Bali is still intact. There's an overwhelming sense of tranquility and everyone really does smile. Whether this is a cultural/ religious phenomenon or a narcotics related trance is unclear, but it certainly makes for a peaceful experience.

Jogging along the beach one early morning in search of authenticity, I come across a group of locals wading along the shoreline collecting seaweed off wooden barriers and piling it into small flat boats that bob along in front of them. How heart-warming to find a genuine cottage industry! Later I learn that the enterprise is just one of hundreds throughout the region owned by a big American corporation. Still, shattered illusions can't remain long in an environment like this....

....because back at the conference the mood is positively bouyant. Somehow the fusion of Balinese wellbeing, Asian dynamism and travel industry optimism has created a brew so heady that one speaker can declare - with no apparent irony -"In August the region was 28% down, now... we're only 21% down!" Bless.

lessons from a small plant

Forgive me, but I'm coming over all Wordsworthian. Looking out from my office I see a blanket of white snow and ice covering the lawn and flower beds. But thrusting forth from the frozen ground is a flash of green...it's a daffodil! OK, it's not at the 'fluttering and dancing in the breeze' phase, but still - a daffodil in December?

Now if this was a half decent blog I'd write some heart warming stuff about green shoots of spring in the depths of Winter being a metaphor for early signs of life appearing in the barren wastelands of the hotel industry. But I have a hunch that the next overnight frost will kill the daffodil stone dead (not to mention the metaphor). No, the lesson I would prefer to draw from this touching floral phenomenon is the importance of resilience. We press on, not because of some fantasy that Spring will arrive tomorrow, but because that's what we're wired to do. And because we know that even if business does not come bounding back in January, it will eventually as surely as Spring follows Winter.

May we all have a happy and peaceful Christmas and New Year...and a firm hope for 2010 born of resilience.

Here endeth the first lesson...

expedient expedia

I've been following the Choice/ Expedia dispute with some interest. Should we applaud Choice's CEO, Steve Joyce, for taking a courageous stance against loss of control of his hotels' rates and inventory? Or sympathise with the laudably pragmatic views of one Choice franchisee who is quoted as saying "I am an independent business person who will likely not survive this loss in sales I will experience while the big boys are having a pissing contest." Well, maybe we have to do both. No one wants to lose business, but then again no hotel should have to accept business at any price. The short term loss of being withdrawn from the site is going to hurt, but the longer-term damage of accepting adverse terms would be even greater.

In a past life I've been through this scenario myself with Expedia. They play hard ball in hard times because they can... and generally they do deliver. But if one supplier has complete control over your sell price down to last room, then where do you find rate parity? In a handbasket, on its way to hell.

The word Expedia is invented but obviously has its roots in 'expedient'. The OED defines expedient as 'convenient and practical although possibly improper or immoral'. That's one Branding company that really fulfilled the brief....

what's in a name?

I see that Hilton has announced a 'new' name...it's... errr....Hilton. I wonder how many late-into-the-night-sessions-with-Corp-ID-consultants it took before they came up with the 'Worldwide' suffix? To be fair, I suppose with one of the most recognised brands in the world (hotels or otherwise) there's only so many variations you can consider without compromising on brand values. (And I do like the new logo, even if it does look like a novel way of arranging a twin-bedded room).

When Utell and Anasazi merged to form REZsolutions back in '98, a journalist asked Anasazi founder Tom Castleberry how long it had taken to come up with the new name."Not long enough" was his succinct response. I'm tempted to offer the same reply when it comes to Nexus. I come across people all the time who think they've heard of us when in fact they have in mind an entirely different Nexus. Us Nexus's offer the world everything from business information to medical services, building alarms and, of course, hotel sales management systems.

This week I added another one to the list. A client sent us an important document via UPS, but unfortunately they addressed it wrongly. Rather than checking back with the client as to the correct address, UPS in its infinite wisdom decided to google an alternative Nexus location (at least I assume this was their methodology based on the outcome). It took a few days to finally ascertain that the document had been delivered to a Docklands-based company called Nexus Range. Of course I went to the website to look for a contact number and - wow - what an interesting organization! I like to think that our own product portfolio is exciting and appealing but I have to concede that the Nexus Range leaves us in a distant second place. I would blush to tell you more so if you're curious do your own UPS-style googling. I can't see any obvious marketing tie-ins between our two Nexus's, but I might just nick their tag line...

Nexus - guaranteed to hit the spot for everyone

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