Sales Tips based on local experience
During my almost 40 years of experience in travel & hospitality, I have been very fortunate to come across many different cultures and have dealt with a great variety of customs for conducting business. My travels around the world have given me the opportunity to observe and put into practice a rather diverse assortment of business etiquettes.
From the ceremonial way in which you exchange and glance at business cards in Japan, to the more in-contact cultures of South America where it is totally acceptable to engage in closer physical contact and sociability during a business meeting.
As times and business dealings evolve, so do rules and behaviors. However there are some basic rules that are not meant to be broken and that every sales professional must observe at all times, especially when doing business in a foreign country. Some of these rules may seem like common sense but it is surprising how frequently these are not being followed.
With the incredible boom of global travel in the past 20+ years, hotel companies and other travel-related enterprises are sending their road-warriors around the world to “hunt” for business, to explore new markets and to foster business relationships with their already established business partners.
Whilst it is a fact that in recent years many hospitality and tourism professionals have adopted a more laid back business culture, it would be a costly misstep to assume that business etiquettes are antiquated or unnecessary; or that the way to conduct a business exchange is “mainstream” around the world.
In my experience as a “road-warrior” for so many years, I can say that every country you visit has a different way of doing business, even if you are travelling on business to several countries within the same region of the world. This is true from the booking window to request a sales appointment, to the dress code observed by your host when welcoming visitors from abroad in their office.
With regards to the experience I have been so lucky to accumulate during my career, 22 years have been spent in South America, in beautiful Buenos Aires, dedicated to implementing innovative sales strategies for independent hotels and small hotel groups; planning successful sales missions for hoteliers visiting South America, and also helping travel advisors with the design of memorable travel experiences for their clients. The later mainly for high end leisure travelers and for the MICE segment.
Considering the facts outlined above, I am thrilled to share with you a number of my personal experiences in relation to some best practices and success tips to make the best of your sales trip to South America.
“Before you knock on the door”
Let’s dust off and review the notes from our Sales 101 classes. Every sales professional knows that the first important step is to qualify the list of clients you plan to visit, and evaluate:
1) their potential to generate business for your type of hotel and
2) their volume of business to your destination.
So, before you request an appointment, do your homework and answer those 2 basic questions to start putting together your target list.
A good starting point to elaborate the initial unprocessed list, are the industry´s data reports where you can see the business production to your property and also to your comp-set.
You can expand the initial list by researching who are the main competitors of those agencies that appear in your reports.
Most likely, those competitors of your clients will have a similar profile and clientele which could be interesting for your property.
When targeting potential clients in South America, keep in mind that the business booked for hotels is very fragmented with numerous travel agencies producing small volumes of bookings.
Therefore, I always recommend looking at the region’s production as a whole, considering production by IATA, by feeder market, by nationality, etc.
Keep also in mind that very often, and contrary to other markets where the agencies focus either on corporate or leisure travellers, South American agencies service equally all travel segments.
Very often in my presentations with large audiences, I would have advisors from the MICE, leisure and corporate departments, so be prepared to adapt your choice of words to entertain agents from different areas.
Another consideration to keep in mind is that these retail travel agencies will channel their bookings, for both corporate and leisure, via a tour operator or a metasearch platform.
This makes it very tricky to track the production generated by retails agencies as those channels are not reflected with the agency’s identity on the IATA production statistics.
The “no problem” attitude
Differing from other countries where sometimes you have to schedule your visit a year in advance, in South America it is relatively easy to get an appointment to visit a travel agency.
Obviously it helps to have a local representative helping you with the contacts and with the positioning of your property on an on-going basis.
What also makes it easier to get good appointments is that your product is attractive, of high quality and easy to work with.
Keep in mind that if you want to meet with the senior travel advisors and with the decision makers, you should plan your meetings from 10:00 am onwards.
In many countries in South America, the norm is that senior advisors take an extended lunch break which offers a great opportunity if you want to entertain those clients with highest potential.
An option I use frequently is to host a lunch presentation at large retail travel agencies and TMCs.
The number of participants may range between 15-25 travel consultants and I usually ask my main contact at the travel agency to help me and coordinate all the details with their preferred caterer.
“The clock is ticking”
As mentioned before, it is best to plan your daily agenda starting at 10:00 am and to schedule your last appointment to start around 5:00 pm so that you are finished before 6:30 pm.
Another advice, If possible, is to avoid scheduling sales calls on Fridays after 4:00 pm. Keep in mind that Latinos have a more relaxed way of life, including when it relates to punctuality. It is acceptable to be a few minutes late, especially in big cities like Buenos Aires, Sao Paulo and Bogota where traffic is a nightmare.
If your clients are mostly senior travel advisors, keep in mind that “after office drinks” is not a popular option. A different story is when you invite to an evening cocktail or top clients dinner, which should be scheduled to start around 8:00 pm.
If you want to secure a good turnout, make sure you pick a new, trendy and high quality venue for your event.
During day presentations you are expected to bring food only if you are having a presentation early in the morning (breakfast) or during the consultants´ lunch hour. Light lunch with finger foods is perfectly fine.
Mexico is different in the sense that you are expected to bring “something” when doing walk-around at large TMCs, regardless of the time of your visit.
In my experience, another point to consider when visiting Latin America is that you know when you arrive to your appointment but you do not know at what time you will leave.
South American like to talk and to exchange impressions about a diversity of topics, so be prepared to start long and interesting conversations with your hosts.
With this in mind, and also considering the traffic problems in major cities, make sure you always leave enough “air” between calls.
“Who is the boss”
When scheduling your appointments, make sure you know the decision-making power of the person(s) you will meet during your visit.
You will learn that most retail leisure agencies with very good high-end clients in South America have the decision power concentrated in the position of the so called “Operations Manager” (OM).
This is your key contact and the person I always call “My Ambassador”. This is usually the individual who negotiates with suppliers; who knows all details about the hotels booked for the agency´s clients, and is also the “go to” person when the travel advisors need specific details about your property.
It is not uncommon that an advisor would ask the OM which hotel they can book in a particular city or would mention the name of a hotel and the OM would simply show a thumb up (in approval) or down ( in disapproval).
Commonly, upon the initial consultation with the OM, the agent will send various alternatives to the traveler.
Once the client has made their selection, it is the OM who processes the hotel booking and is in contact with your property to coordinate all the details and especial requests related to the reservation.
- Latinos are friendly people and believe in strong business relationships so don´t be surprised when these occur and accept social invitations.
- Do not feel awkward and play the game! A business meeting can easily begin with kissing, hugging and different degrees of respectful touching. In some countries, men kiss men on the cheek, totally normal
- Appearance is very important. South Americans will judge the quality of your outfit and your professional aspect
- Be on the alert if you see a large number of GDS bookings from a particular travel agency which are always cancelled. In the past, I have denounced a few unethical agencies that made a large number of hotel bookings with the sole purpose of giving the hotel confirmation to a client who needed to apply for an entry visa for your country. Once the client gets the visa, the hotel booking is cancelled.
Oscar Gómez is an expert multicultural Sales & Marketing consultant in global hospitality who has held various positions in hotel development, global sales, marketing and customer service. In addition to the experience in the sales field, he has also served as lecturer in several private universities in his native Dominican Republic.
WHEE – Creative Hospitality
is a representation & consulting company for the hospitality industry dedicated to helping travel-related companies in their growth and successful positioning in South America. WHEE is a founding member of the World Hospitality Alliance.