Industry leader and California operator Maurice Brewster contributes insights to a Wall Street Journal article.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Regular runs for a four- or five-star level hotel rank as one of the most coveted contracts and street credentials in luxury ground transportation.
The references and prestige from such work can lead to all types of corporate and retail-level luxury service, while exposing an operator to a full range of potential clients.
Operators at the 2019 LABLive educational event on Jan. 21 heard some firsthand, frontline insights on how to appeal to decision-makers behind lucrative hotel and convention contracts.
Tod Roadarmel, the marketing and sales director for the 60-property Omni Hotels & Resorts chain since 2011, spoke to about 200 attendees at the Bridgestone Arena in downtown Nashville as part of the two-day LABLive event. He has 25 years of experience in the hospitality industry, including as a former senior vice president of sales for Gaylord Entertainment.
Roadarmel now works at the Omni Hotel in Nashville where he supervises 50 employees and five managers of sales divisions at other locations. The Nashville location, which averages rates of $260-$300 per night, has 746 guest rooms, 54 suites, and 80,000 square feet of meeting space. The chain itself is growing, with the Louisville, Ky., Omni opening in March 2018, the 600-room Oklahoma City Omni in August 2018, and the 1,200 room Boston Omni a month later.
LCT related article: 2018 LABLive: What Hotels Look For In Luxury Transportation
Getting more people to stay at a hotel has much in common with trying to put them into luxury vehicles.
The Omni sales, marketing, convention, and catering teams work with major Fortune 500 companies, association conventions, and large group clients. “We know who our clients are, and we chase them hard,” Roadarmel said.
His sales team often hits the road to secure business from existing clients. “They’re getting ahead of the game and actually going out and meeting customers in person, taking them to breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and getting in their faces to say, ‘hey, we're still here, and we want your business.’”
Overall, the Nashville hotel spends about $85,000 per year on picking up clients at the airport, and $400,000 to $600,000 per year on transportation from all other group and visitor clients.
Who you approach first depends on the size and scope of the hotel. With larger hotels, the first step would be to visit the director of convention services, which generate most of the airport transfers and call up the ground transportation companies.
“The door's always open; we'll always put out RFPs,” he said. “We know it's easier dealing with somebody you know and respect.”
Roadarmel emphasized the value of cultivating longstanding relationships with service providers and partners. “We believe in partnerships. We've had the same destination management company ever since day one and the same audiovisual company because we built great relationships with them. We don't want to let each other down. When one of us is succeeding, all of us are.”
A typical approach, or script, for an operator seeking business from a hotel that already has a leading provider would be: "’Hey, who do you work with now? Are you happy? Can it be done better? Here's us, here's what we do. Here are some references.’”
With larger hotels, operators should start with the director of convention services as a point of contact. "The reason I say that is it's where probably most of our transfers come from. So for example, I have a director of sales and the 10 salespeople who will negotiate and hunt for the fish. Once they bring the fish in, they turn it over to the [convention team], and they handle the customers, ground transportation, banquet event orders, and the meeting set up."
The bulk of the presentation consisted of Roadarmel and LABLive host Bill Faeth taking questions from the audience relating to the steps and protocols of contracting with high-end hotels.
"We'll always talk to people and entertain RFPs. But in this situation, if a [company] has been as loyal to us before we even opened the doors and they've missed one run in seven years, I don't think I could leave them right now.”
“If they have loyalty to somebody, it will be tough for them to leave right away, but I think you just consistently follow up once a quarter, go meet them for a cup of coffee, send them a Christmas card, and continue to stay on top of it. Bring a portfolio of references and your equipment. We've had a couple of transportation companies out there that were aggressive, which doesn't work as far as I'm concerned. I'd rather have someone say, ‘hey Tod, let's get a cup of coffee and catch up,’ and just sit down and spend 15 minutes talking together. All of a sudden, after three or four of those meetings, I think, ‘you know what? I gotta give you a chance.’”
Roadarmel advised using or bringing references who are general managers or sales directors of other hotels instead of a high school football coach, travel manager, or business traveler who uses your transportation.
"If you’re good enough for the Hermitage Hotel, the only five-star hotel in the state (Tennessee), or the new JW Marriott, Westin, or Hilton, then those are what we call our comp set. We compete with them, and all of a sudden, if XYZ company is good enough for them, I need to look at them.”
“I'd just start with a phone call. Our open bids happen on a fiscal calendar year, so we review all of our parking, AV, and transportation in November or early December so we can have our decision made before Christmas and have a contract done and in place by Jan. 1.”
“I have to say the history of the company and reputation in the market and industry. Are they continually updating and getting new equipment? I would also say partnerships. I would say those are my top four or five. I didn't say price, not that price isn't important—price is always important. But am I going to worry about 25 or 50 bucks each way with a company when that company has been reliable, their cars are clean, and they're always on time? No, I'm going to pay the extra money, absolutely, because of the service and reliability. If I've got a customer bringing me a million dollar piece of business, I want it to be flawless."
“We do not add any fees on. Whatever is charged is what we charge the customer. However, the agreement we have is 10% of the business we do with them, they give it back to us as a credit so they don't write us a check. That's the same thing we do with our AV company and DMC. What we, in turn, use that for is when ownership comes in, or some of our executives comes in from Dallas, we call and say, ‘hey, it's our VIPs. Let's use that against our credit.’”
“Pay for my house car and driver’s salary. How about that for starters? Like I said, we have a great relationship, but if someone else who has a relationship like the current company we have and added that on, I’d have to seriously take a look at it."
“We have groups on our books contracted right now all the way out to the year 2031.
I don't think it would help anybody in this room to find out who's definitely at my hotel in 2023, '24, or '25. It's most important for you guys for the next 12 months. Because if I'm a meeting planner with the NRA, for example, I'm not thinking about buses or transfers or anything for my 2023 convention right now. I'm thinking about 2019 maybe into 2020, but that's as far as I go because in our industry so much can change in the next three to seven years that it's not that important to planners.”
“It can be very subjective. I'll start with the worst. Probably being too aggressive would be bad for me, such as someone who can't take a hint. That person continues to call and email, and I find out they're going behind my back and trying to get with my normal salespeople or customer service people. I've had people email and leave me a voicemail every week, and I’ve had to call them back and say, ‘with all due respect, leave me alone. Reach out to me in six months.’"
The positive ones would be integrity, honesty, and a track record. The best thing to do is have a track record, have good experience, and be among the top.
Roadarmel agreed with Faeth’s suggestion a top performing company should keep a data-based case study to document their record.
“I'm very happy with my provider, but if I ever was leaning one way or the other, and someone came to me with that data, I'd say, ‘my God, they've done this for the JW or this for the Hermitage hotel over the past five years? We need to talk.’”
“References. I would ask you, ‘okay, who have you done business with in the past? Give me three or four year’s history. Be honest with me. What are some of your best customers? Where did you not have success?’ And I'd pick up the phone and call them."
“To me that doesn't hold a lot of weight. Anybody can go online and give someone just one star and say the experience was horrible. I don't put a lot of weight on that.”
"For example, years ago when Bill (Faeth) took me to lunch one day to talk about his company, Grand Avenue Transportation, we stayed in touch and then ran it by our director of finance with the pricing, ran it by our general manager, set up a meeting with him, asked Grand Avenue to prepare the contract, ran that by our legal department and our finance director, and then general manager executed it."
"We'll have a meeting once a quarter, and I'll send a note out to my staff we’re meeting with the vendor for breakfast, lunch, or drinks, and does anyone have concerns? ‘Give me the good, the bad, and the ugly.’ 99 times out of 100 they’ll say ‘thank you,’ and we'll sit down for 20 minutes or an hour, and [the vendor] will say, ‘how are we doing as a company? How's our fleet? How's our service? Are we on time?’ It reassures me, the end user, he still cares about my business and he reacts if we have a challenge.”
“I think the condition of the equipment is important. Are they always clean? Have the vehicle be at least from the past two or three years. Don’t come driving up in a 1992 Lincoln Continental. I think cleanliness and the right vehicle is very important. When we're picking up that vice president with IBM or Microsoft, the transportation, driver, service, and experience is a direct reflection on my hotel and what we do.”
“My director of sales has a team of nine and they have a $50 million goal this year that just got approved. I have my director of conference services who has eight people working for them. Their goal on banquet food and beverage in our building is $20 million. We have our catering team, which sells all non-room groups, whether you're the Boy Scouts of America or the Vanderbilt baseball team, and they have a goal of $3 million a year as a team. I'll look at the monthly reports. If I see someone's trending down, then I'll start having them prepare call reports. I'll start tracking the number of calls. If they're making their number or exceeding their number, I just let them continue to do what they do. Fortunately, we've produced more revenue in this hotel than any Omni in our brand ever since year one, ever since we opened. I don't care if you work 8:30am to 3:00pm. Make that number. Just bring in the revenue.”
“I'll call them in and we'll talk about it. What's going on? After 30 days, I'll have a conversation with them. After 60 days, we'll have a written and then we'll start the Performance Improvement Program after 60 days, after the second conversation. We have training at the corporate office, for service, leadership, catering sales, and for group sales. Every new employee I have automatically goes for a week in Dallas with our corporate trainer."
LCT related article: How To Get Hotels To Stay With Your Service
Related Topics: Bill Faeth, building your clientele, client markets, corporate business, Corporate RFPs, customer contracts, hotels, How To, industry education, LAB Live, meetings and conventions, partnership contracts, procurement, working with hotels
Industry leader and California operator Maurice Brewster contributes insights to a Wall Street Journal article.
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