Familiarisation visits, site inspections, show-rounds. Whatever you call them, they are a pivotal part of the sales process for many hotels and need to be handled efficiently if you want to turn them into business.
Here are a few essential pointers on how to use them effectively.
Everybody is in the sales team If you're planning a show-round, make sure everyone is informed, either through your daily meeting or a brief call to each head of department. Don't create a paper chase with a written memo, it's too important for that.
Reception staff and porters should know who is arriving. Housekeeping should be supportive and welcoming. Remember: serious prospective clients will want to see the grounds and back of house, so ensure the chef, his brigade, your gardener and maintenance men are all prepared, as the client may want to talk about special menus or outdoor events.
Product knowledge The person leading the tour should have a complete knowledge of the product. Too many hotel staff only know their own part of the job. If you work in the conference office, you should be as fully aware of bedroom configurations, room service and fine dining as you are of the meeting rooms, equipment and 24-hour package menus.
Creating the atmosphere
Prepare in advance and create an atmosphere. Work with reception and housekeeping to arrange a cross-section of rooms to view. Always show the smallest - or "worst" room - and the best, along with a variety in between.
Set the lighting, lightly spray the room with pleasant smells, turn on low music, and check the room beforehand for obvious maintenance needs. Make sure your in-room literature, such as the room service menu, isn't dirty or dog-eared.
Ensure the walk to the rooms is not littered with room service trays, dirty laundry, badly hung pictures or lights with bulbs out. Ask housekeeping to close linen cupboard and service area doors.
If you have a group show-round that you have divided into more than one tour, arrange an alternative route so you don't create congestion.
Remember that all the other parts of the hotel require the same thoughtful planning. Available meeting rooms should be laid out in different formats, the leisure club and restaurant managers should be aware of your arrival and ready to talk positively and informatively on their part of the service delivery.
What good agents want Good booking agents appreciate professionally run hotels. They want to be invited a long time in advance and at times of the year that are suitable for them. You need to be sensitive towards which times of the year agents set aside for negotiating their corporate rates and packages, and avoid the busy periods.
Well-run booking agencies set their staff a target of the numbers of hotels they have to visit, and even write this into their job descriptions. So make your site visits informative, creative and efficient.
If the agent is bringing an important client, call the agent first and ask how you can help them win the business or build the relationship. Work with the agent.
General managers and senior staff should be part of the event, especially if it an overnight visit.
Don't skimp on the hospitality you offer your prospective client, but don't go over the top. Too many times sales staff work hard at getting agents in, only for operations to do it on the cheap. On the other hand it is not an excuse for a booze-up until breakfast.
For overnight visits by a group - and if it is a weekend they will bring their partners - build in some creative sales activities. Offer prizes for a quiz on the hotel's prices and product benefits, for example. Involve local attractions for visits or sporting events.
Close the sale
Show-rounds should achieve a business result, either immediately or in the future. Bookers or influencers do not have time to undertake visits just for the chance of a free lunch. So act accordingly. Ensure they know you will be discussing their specific requirements at the end of the tour.
During the show-round, ask questions: probe politely to find out more of their business requirements. Drop in the benefits as you hear the answers. Keep meeting their aspirations and deal honestly with their concerns. Don't walk around with a clipboard or an armful of paperwork.
Once the tour is over, move easily into a private area to close the sale. Don't spend another five minutes asking reception which rooms are available for you to use. Avoid sitting in the public areas with your notes on your knees.
Now you are ready to ask for the business and close the sale.
by Stuart Harrison Stuart Harrison, formerly managing director of brands and franchising at Premier Hotels, now runs his own consultancy, the Profitable Hotel Company. He is also a visiting fellow of Oxford Brookes University.