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Boosting Sales Through The Front Office

by: Avinash Narula
 
Today, even though everybody recognizes the importance of the front office, few consider it to be anything more than a clerical department. Yet over the years, as the market conditions have changed, the nature and importance of the functions performed by the front office have also changed from being an order-taking department to an order-generating or sales department.In fact, it has always been a sales department, but the sellers market in which the hotel industry previously operated made it function otherwise. The current shift in market conditions from a sellers to a buyers market requires that the Front Office function like a sales department. It should be recognized as such in order to effectively use it to achieve guest satisfaction and at the same time increase the revenue of the hotel.

If one looks at the balance sheet of any hotel, it will become obvious that the major portion of the profits, on average 60 percent, come from room sales. Logically, the front office should be the most important department in the hotel but such is not the case. This is because traditionally the hotel industry has been in the sellers market and has always treated the Front Office as a clerical department with the major responsibility of the checking-in and checking-out of guests.

Today, front office (including the reservation department) operates like a clerical department and is not sales-oriented. In a recent study conducted in Houston , it was discovered that the front office and reservation departments of 95 percent of the hotels contacted did not make any effort to sell to a prospective customer, despite the prevailing low occupancy in Houston .

The front office reports to the rooms division along with other departments like housekeeping, uniformed services, laundry, and garage. Front office work is tedious, stressful, and strenuous. Salaries of front office staff is generally low with not much opportunity for advancement, often resulting in low morale and high turnover. This leads to sub-optimal performance and shows up as guest complaints and auditing errors.

Very often, the front office manager is not treated as an important member of the top management team but rather as one of the many department heads in the hotel. As a result, the front office is not given the importance it
deserves.

As a sales department the front office should:
  • Sell rooms to guests who have not made prior  reservations
  • Upsell to guests who have made prior reservations 
  • Deliver the product, i.e., the room, to the guest in exchange for a certain price
  • Maintain the inventory of the product, i.e., the rooms
  • Convey information to guests about other products available for sale at the property, for example, food and beverage. The objective of the front office is to sell all the available facilities at the hotel to the guests. Front office staff is probably the most important means of letting the guest know what services are available
  • Ensure guest satisfaction by fulfilling their needs so that they return
  • Keep record of the guest, i.e., guest history cards
Make reservations. In a small hotel it is the front office which is also responsible for making reservations because it is not economical for a small hotel to have a separate reservation department. This function is very important as it enables the traveller to make advance hotel arrangements for the destinations he intends to visit. The importance of this department is also evident from the fact that more than 80 percent of the hotel guests make advance reservations.

Further, the reservation department is a good source for preparing a prospects list. Correspondence of the guests who have made reservations can offer clues or leads to additional business. For instance, the title of the correspondent of the letter can provide leads to future business. Also, it is a well-known fact that people attending conventions or conferences usually make reservations at least 6 to 8 weeks in advance. A scrutiny of all such advance reservations can provide information about various conventions or conferences being held in the city, and necessary action can be taken to secure additional business

Ensure that maximum revenue is generated from the sale of rooms by striking a balance between overbooking and a full-house. It also has to sell the most expensive

Obtain guest feedback. Because of its interaction with the guest, the front office staff is in a position to know the needs of the guest. If hotel management wants to know what a guest may complain about, all it has to do is to ask the Front Office staff. Front office staff is also in a position to know what the guest likes the most about the hotel which can be used as information to formulate an effective marketing strategy.

Front Office is the central communication point, show window, and nerve center of the hotel. This is the place from where the activities of the various departments are indirectly co-ordinated in order to satisfy the needs of the guest. It is the guest service center with maximum personal contact with the guest.

Due to the present organizational structure of most hotels, there is little communication between front office and the marketing and sales division. Hence, valuable information about the guest, essential for formulating effective marketing strategy, is not conveyed. The change in the market conditions now require that such information be used by the marketing and sales Division. There is now a need for greater co-ordination between the Marketing and sales Division and the Front Office.

The present organizational structure considers the Front Office staff as clerks instead of as a sales force with a tremendous amount of selling power. In an experiment, two sales-minded clerks sold $1,000 more a day in rooms than ordinary clerks on another shift. Later the high-selling team was split up, one member changed to the other shift, then both shifts were able to increase their sales by selling more of the higher priced rooms and suites. It is evident that front office staff have to be something more than clerks. What is required is sales personnel of high caliber.

The quality of Front Office staff needed to efficiently operate the Front Office is higher than what most people imagine. The front office staff gives personality to the hotel. The manner in which the front office staff interacts with a guest and the way requests, however small, are serviced can make or break a hotel. It also determines whether a quest will return or not.

Repeat business to a great extent depends on how front office staff deals with the guest. The most important and difficult aspect of the front office job is that all the activities have to be performed in front of the guest. Any inefficiency is immediately noticed by the guest which could influence the guest not to stay at the hotel again. It is evident that front office staff have to be professionals of high caliber, and not just anybody who can smile will do. In the present market conditions, it is imperative that the front office be managed by suitable personnel so that it can be an effective means of increasing a hotel's revenue. In the present market conditions it is essential to raise the status of the front office staff so that qualified personnel are
attracted to these jobs.

Front Office is responsible for achieving a full-house. It has to strike a balance between over-booking and under-booking. It is also responsible for forecasting occupancy on the basis of which every other department plans their activities. These are important responsibilities which affect the profitability of the hotel, and as such, the position of the front office should be correctly represented in the organization of the hotel in order to enhance its
effectiveness.

It is evident that the position of front office in the structure of modern hotels needs to be reviewed immediately so that effective use of this critical department can be made in he current market conditions. Renaming front office the room sales department and renaming front office manager the room sales executive manager will help ensure repeat business by ensuring guest satisfaction; and will boost sales. It should be noted that the activities of the sales department are basically outside the hotel whereas that of the room sales department will be inside the hotel.

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