Raffles Dubai director of sales & marketing Cathy Mead. Raffles Dubai director of sales & marketing Cathy Mead.

Hotels must improve the skillsets of sales and marketing staff to overcome the challenges posed by today’s economic climate

The challenges presented to hotel sales and marketing professionals by the current economic climate have revealed a need for training to get back to basics, according to Dubai’s top sales and marketing directors.

Speaking at a roundtable organised by Hotelier Middle East last month, The Address Hotels & Resorts area director of sales and marketing Seema Pande said: “It might have been an area that was neglected in the past and you need to bring it up. That sets a good company apart from a great company, because a great company has still carried on training throughout the years where they didn’t think they needed training”.

A key issue amid tougher market conditions was to ensure sales staff see their managers in practice and believe that senior management are there to support them.

Raffles Dubai director of sales & marketing Cathy Mead said: “You have got to be with them. I’m not going to send you out to [a challenging market] if I’m not prepared to do it myself.

“You are back to room 101; you are back to the basics,” said Mead.

“And we have to go back to room 101 as well,” she added. “It’s about one word — thank you — or recognising staff in front of their peers and saying ‘great job, well done’. It still makes people feel like a million dollars.”

Training was not only necessary for the short-term but in order for the industry to deliver sales and marketing professionals to staff the region’s upcoming property portfolio, said Rotana Hotel Management Corporation Ltd corporate vice president, sales & marketing Michael Marshall.

“Training is very important for bringing the pipeline  of people through because this is a challenge. We are recruiting; in all we’re looking for 15/16 people and finding these people is [tough].

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“We are opening so many hotels that we don’t have that pipeline [of staff] internally and this is something that we want to build with more training, but also, when looking out in the marketplace there are some people around but they are not all at the level, with the skillset that you want, and this is something we need to raise in the region,” asserted Marshall.

Pande was in agreement, explaining that when hotels were at their busiest people were recruited or promoted that did not necessarily have the right experience.

“In the last year or so, people that were promoted had no experience of running a team,” explained Pande. “Now these people are getting trained. Most of us have worked hard and a lot of people didn’t have to,” she added.

In addition to his role at Rotana, Marshall is also one of the founding committee members of the UAE chapter of the Hospitality Sales and Marketing Association International (HSMAI).

The benefit of  training courses offered by HSMAI is that they are very well priced, said Marshall, meaning hoteliers could afford to send staff on external courses that they couldn’t justify the cost of holding in-house for just two or three members of the team.

HSMAI president Mona Faraj, managing partner of Insights Management Consultancy, said that courses in subjects such as presentation skills and Neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) would cost “anything from AED 750 (US $204) to AED 2000 ($545) tops”.

HSMAI already has 100 members — its target for the first 12 months — and Faraj is looking to set up a network in Lebanon and Qatar.

The other members of the HSMAI committee include: Tarek El Sherif of Millennium Hotels; Asma Al Fahim of European International College, Abu Dhabi; Kristie Goshow, Smart Thynking; Jeff Strachan, Marriott International; Jumeirah Group’s Terry Kane; Richard Haddad of Vision Hotels; Adrian Deegan from Rotana; and Sayed Tayoun, Crowne Plaza.

For more on the challenges facing sales and marketing professionals, see this month’s issue's roundtable on page 36.