Industry Update
Opinion Article25 March 2020

What a Sparkplug Teaches about Hotel Operations During a Crisis

By Greg Johnson, Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Newport Hospitality Group

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We are seeing occupancies declining, groups canceling and jobs being lost. It is easy for hoteliers to get caught up in the vortex of panic and depression. Up until now, many sales leaders have assumed the role of the hotel sparkplug, filled with energy and optimism to cast an uplifting aura throughout the back of the house. It is critical that we all continue this message of confidence and hope.

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Aside from the metaphorical meaning of the term 'sparkplug', let me first digress with a short story about some engine troubles I was recently having which nonetheless provides a powerful lesson for those in hospitality. Annoyingly enough, my engine was consistently misfiring when I accelerated or reached a speed of around 50 miles per hour. After going online to search for the cause of the issue, the main advice was to switch out the ignition coils and sparkplugs - a straightforward and inexpensive task that I completed myself.

With a sense of accomplishment, I slid behind the wheel and fired up the engine. Almost immediately, the warning lights came on and the engine itself started shaking and growling. I had no choice but to then take the car to a real mechanic. It turns out one of the replacement sparkplugs I used had a small crack in the ceramic insulation. After a full diagnostic, that was the only problem - a small, three-inch part was enough to throw off the performance of the entire vehicle!

If you compare a car to a hotel's organizational structure, all it takes is one downtrodden personality - one broken sparkplug if you will - to unbalance the productivity of the whole operation. So, ask yourself honestly if you are now, in these trying times, becoming a vital component of your management team that has had its ceramic insulation cracked?

Through my years of working and honing my hotel sales skills at Newport Hospitality Group (www.nhghotels.com), we've developed a solid training manual for how managers should conduct themselves during any crisis. All boiling down to fundamental mantras that are easily memorable and broadly applicable, in face of this COVID-19 outbreak, these matter now more than ever, and I would like to share a few of them with you.

1. Be confident.


We have seen a perilous decline in business, but there are ways to ensure you are bringing the maximum revenue that is still available. Incentivize groups to postpone their events for later in the summer or fall instead of simply rebooking for 2021. If your groups have signed contracts that have cancelation or attrition clauses, don't immediately let them pull out completely. In an assured manner, use these terms to your advantage by saying that you will waive any fees associated with canceling their group if they will rebook this, or another, future event.

2. Fish where the fish are.


Corporate clients, leisure groups and association events are not the type of business you should be going after for the here and now. Have you contacted universities about students that can't travel home? Similarly, there are plenty of displaced travelers who can't get back home, so where are they staying? Perhaps you could try hospitals that have doctors and nurses who would rather stay with you then to have to travel great distances between shifts? Or how about government agencies that are mobilized during times of emergencies?

3. Be purposeful.


It is easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of chaos of present happenings. You are in charge of knowing what business you have and where you are going to get business in the future. To this end, have 30-day, 60-day and 90-day action plans. Do you have an ecommerce plan for business now and in the future? How are you leveraging the guests currently in-house for information and opportunities? Are you contacting all your clients to send a message of hope and partnership to keep a strong relationship?

4. Use the strength of your brand.


Visit your brand's website daily to refresh your knowledge base on everything that others are doing during this crisis as well as to remind yourself of the full potential of your hotel organization. Use their tools and resources to strengthen the positioning of any individual conversation you have. Utilize their communication templates to more effectively correspond with your clients. Stay abreast of what the brands are doing to minimize the pandemic we find ourselves in.

5. Be hopeful.


There is pandemonium and panic everywhere, but we hoteliers are resilient. We will weather this storm and we will be the best at doing whatever it takes to succeed. You need to be the sparkplug that keeps people looking at that horizon while we are all dealing with the immediate needs of our hotels. Give encouragement. Post positive and inspiring quotes. Give compliments. Ask how you can help. And above all, smile!

Your team needs your leadership and your positivity to keep the engine running smoothly. Become that premium unbroken sparkplug that we all need right now. You can make a difference and you can change the lives of those around you.

And to conclude, instead of posting an inspirational quote, how about a funny poem written by yours truly about all the irrational toilet paper stockpiling?

  • Oh, toilet paper I do lack
  • That's why I have a dirty crack
  • You're soft and strong, a perfect pair
  • So I don't stain my underwear
  • I used to throw you in the trees
  • With trails of whiteness in the breeze
  • Now shelves are bare, and mobs abound
  • But only paper towel can be found
  • The empty cardboard rolls lay bare
  • Without a solitary square
  • Kleenexes and baby wipes
  • Anything for one clean swipe
  • The hoarders I can't beat but try
  • I'd even settle for one ply
  • But here I sit upon my throne
  • With scrubbing options still unknown

Greg Johnson

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