by Doug Kennedy Like most hotel companies, International Hospitality Enterprises is looking to reduce the costs of customer acquisition by encouraging more direct bookings. IHE, which operates 7 upscale and luxury hotels in Puerto Rico under flags such as Marriott’s Renaissance and Courtyard, Hilton’s Doubletree, and Best Western as well as 3 independents, works hard to foster direct relationships with its guests. “We strongly value our OTA relationships and work closely with all of the major providers,” says Peter Hopgood, Vice President of Sales & Marketing, “Yet we also do all we can to encourage our frontline colleagues to convert more direct bookings.” Unlike most hotel companies, IHE still maintains its own dedicated hotel reservations teams at each location, even though most brands have encouraged managers to forward calls to CRO. “We have found that many callers ask directly to speak with in-house reservations,” says Hopgood, “So we have actually increased our on-site staffing in recent years. We refer to them as Tele-Sales agents to emphasize that their role is more sales than administrative.” Besides fielding phone inquiries, Tele-Sales agents at IHE also provide personalized responses for all email inquiries. “We recognized that many guests prefer to send their inquiries via email instead of calling, for whatever reason, so last year we decided to encourage more inquiries by posting the biographical profiles of each of our Tele-Sales agents to foster personalized connections with guests who have common interests. This has not only improved our conversion, but we also find guests like to email their questions prior to arrival,” added Hopgood who noted that most of their hotels are in the top rankings at TripAdvisor. IHE also invests heavily in the proper training and incentives for its Tele-Sales representatives. “We have definitely found that the Hotel Sales QUEST program has given our teams the contemporary tools they need to convert callers of today who have already researched heavily online prior to calling. Doug has trained them to ask just the right line of questioning to determine what they need to hear to make a commitment.” All IHE agents are also on an incentive program that rewards their efforts to convert callers and to upsell to higher-rated rooms and suites. Besides focusing on voice reservations, IHE has also trained and incentivized its front desk guest reception staff to convince in-house guests to book directly next time. They have provided the staff with business cards that can be used to invite them to contact the GSA directly next time for future reservations. “We also recognize that the front desk teams also play an important role in profit optimization,” said Hopgood. “The KTN training has reinforced the tools they need to take advantage of sales opportunities from upselling to capturing more walk-ins and return reservations.” Recently IHE looking at implementing a per-call incentive for after-hours bookings converted by its front desk colleagues. Doug Kennedy is President of the Kennedy Training Network, Inc. a leading provider of customized training programs and telephone mystery shopping services for the lodging and hospitality industry.