Little Things Make a Big Difference

When competing with several quality competitors for a piece of business, you always hope something will stand out in your presentation or proposal that will make you and your hotel rise above the rest.

That something may relate to major parts of your product, such as sleeping rooms, meeting facilities, food and beverage outlets or service. However, in many cases, what might appear on the surface as minor often turns out to be more important than you would have thought. Here are a few examples:

A ride to the airport at 4 a.m.

When I was in the sales department at the Beverly Hilton, Sam Shapiro, a nationally known association executive who was looking at the hotel for a future meeting, asked me if he could get transportation to the airport at 4 a.m. I told him I'd make arrangements for him. When he arrived at the front door of the hotel at 3:50 a.m., he was shocked to find me and my car ready and waiting to drive him.

Over the next few years, he told so many people about this incident that I booked many meetings from his referrals to others because he was so impressed that I drove him to the airport at 4 a.m. With all this beautiful hotel had to offer, this was the thing that stood out in his mind.

Likewise, at the Waldorf=Astoria we were taught to pick up top prospects at the airport when they arrived. Bob Keilt, our director of sales, told us the best way to make a great first impression was to be at the gate personally to pick up the prospect. He always stressed that this was so much better than sending a limo service, and he was right.

It was never a waste of time and is as impressive today as it was 50 years ago, even though you can no longer meet people directly at airport gates.

Bob also believed that if prospects were important enough to pick up, they were important enough to drive back to the airport. Even more memorable, if Bob wasn't available he would ask his wife, Dottie, to drive in from their home in New Jersey to take the client to the airport. You can imagine how impressed the client was that the director of sales' wife would take three or four hours of her time to show how important the client was to us.

Champagne at check-in

At the O'Hare Hilton, a young lady stood at the back of the check-in line in the late afternoon and poured champagne for those waiting in line. I'm sure thousands of people picked that Hilton and others for their next meetings because of this extra something that they and I have always remembered. This idea doesn't need to always involve champagne. Other welcome treats could include ice-cold water, chocolates or fresh fruit. Use your imagination.

It's all in a name

Calling people by name is just about the most important thing to remember and practice in our business. Have a brainstorming sessions to see how to get this going. I worked with one hotel where the doorman introduced the guest to the room clerk by name and the room clerk to the bell person. It wasn't long until every employee in the hotel took part in the effort to call guests by name. There's no question that people returned because of this effort that helped the hotel rise above the rest.

Discuss how you can rise above your competition by doing the little things that will make this the best hotel experience your guest has ever had. The ideas are endless and don't have to cost more than you can afford.

I'd also like to hear from hotel operators and sales professionals on some of the little things that you do to make a big difference with your customers and prospects.

Tom McCarthy, CHME, CHA, spent half his career with Hilton and Marriott in sales, advertising and public relations and half in his own training and consulting business, Hotel Professional Education and Consulting of Falls Church, VA. He is a past president of Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association International (HSMAI) and is a member of the HSMAI Hall of Fame. He can be reached at or 703-931-0757.

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