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How to excel at the upsell..

Training your front-desk staff on how to recognise and capitalise on upsell opportunities at guest check-in can result in a much-needed boost to bottom lines.

As revenue-per-available-room growth slows to a crawl in most markets, hoteliers are struggling to find ways to improve revenues, which makes it a great time to implement a comprehensive front-desk upselling training program that goes beyond room attributes, views and locations.

Obviously, hotels offering a diversity of accommodation types (room, suite, executive floors), along with those offering premium views, have the most potential upside with an upsell program. Yet properties consisting of a homogeneous inventory, such as limited service and all-suites, can create unique room attributes that justify a rate differential.

Examples include upgraded sleep comfort (dream mattresses, high-thread-count sheets), snack and beverage equipment (mini fridge filled with sodas, snacks, flavoured waters, premium coffee), or bathroom/beauty amenities such as high-end shampoos, and glamour style dressing rooms (full-length mirrors, curling irons, hair straighteners.)

However, beyond these room attributes and accommodation types, there are other opportunities to upsell at registration that apply to all hotels on a space available or off-peak basis.

These include early and late check-in fees, or adding a second (connecting or adjoining room) to an existing reservation for an additional fee at check-in.

Step one in implementing an upsell program is to identify the upsell opportunities that best fit your inventory and operations.

Next, hoteliers need to identify a rate structure that makes upgrades a reasonable value. Most properties market a range of rates to various market segments. However, groups, high-volume accounts or guests participating in special discount programs are typically only offered the special rate for the least expensive room type. Upgraded accommodations, if offered at all, are at top-tier rates. The end result is that the additional cost to upgrade does not justify the value received.

For example, if the top-tier rates are $200 for a regular room and $250 for deluxe, a $50 difference seems reasonable. However, when a special corporate rate of $165 is offered for the regular room only, the upgrade fee, which is now $85, is effectively out of reach.

To work around this, implement a “flat rate” for upgrading to the next highest category. In this scenario, the guest always has the option of upgrading for the same fee, regardless of what rate they qualify for. Whether it’s a corporate, group, government or promotional rate, the investment for the upgrade seems more reasonable. Best of all, additional revenue is created from rooms which might have been given away at lower rates anyway if the hotel instead over-sells the lowest room types.

After identifying the upsell opportunities that match your inventory and operational constraints, it’s time to conduct training to expose the front-desk team to the various techniques and tactics.

Tips and tactics

Be sure to reconfirm the pre-reserved accommodation, reassuring the guest that they already have a nice room. Otherwise, the attempt to upsell might diminish the value of what they already bought.

For example, don’t say: “Right now we have you in our standard room, do you want something nicer?” Instead, train the team to say: “Mr. Johnson, we have you confirmed in one of our traditional rooms, which I’m sure you will find quite comfortable … ” then continue to ask if they are aware of or interested in upgrades.

Don’t say: “Our check-in time isn’t until 4 p.m., and it’s only 10 a.m., so check back later.” Instead say: “Ms. Perez, I know it’s early, and our official check-in time is 4 p.m. We’ll do our best to get you access to the traditional room category as soon as possible. However, we did have a deluxe room that was vacant last night and therefore is open now for an additional rate of $35.”

Utilise incremental sales techniques. When a guest has an advance reservation in their minds, the original room rate has already been paid. This is even truer for those who booked online at most online travel agency websites, where they actually have pre-paid. Therefore, reference only the additional investment. (“For only $25 more, I can offer you one of our _____ rooms.”)

Demonstrate the value received, and be as specific as possible. For example, don’t say: “Deluxe rooms have a view.” Instead, say: “In this room you can look out your window and see ____.”

Rather than saying “the executive floor has a lounge,” say “as a guest on this floor, you’ll have 24-hour access to our executive lounge, which includes ____.” Rather than saying “this is a 600-square-foot suite with a fully equipped kitchen,” say “since you’re travelling with your family, you’ll love having all the extra space this suite provides.”

Use a “rate-framing” technique: Mention higher rates as a reference point to position lower rates as being a good value.

“These rooms usually run _____, but because of (special circumstance) I can offer you a special rate of _____.”

Use visual aids. Many hotels are finding it helpful to display digital picture frames or tablets flashing photos of actual rooms and suites. You can also drop-in a slide that says: “Ask us about our upgraded room options.”

Measuring and incentivising the results 

A key ingredient in any upsell program is to measure the results and to implement a recognition and/or incentive program.

Front-desk upsell incentives are especially easy to justify, as the incremental upsell revenue can be measured by the “rate change” reports from PMS systems.

Reward the individual associate for each upsell, with either a percentage of the upsell revenue or a predetermined cash amount. Cash incentives should be paid separately to help differentiate rewards from base salary.

If you cannot get approval for a cash incentive, use a system where points are earned and can later be used for rewards such as gift cards, free stays at sister properties, or days off with pay.

By focusing the front-desk team’s attention on upselling your property, hoteliers can turn on the faucet to this extra revenue stream. Along the way, your guests will enjoy utilising the extra space, upgraded room features and special services they might not have otherwise considered.

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Doug Kennedy

Doug Kennedy is president of the Kennedy Training Network.

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