21 – Marketing Ideas with Regional DOS Pat Kobela
On this special edition of Suite Spot, we host our first remote guest Pat Kobela, Regional Director of Sales at Chartwell Hotels.
Ryan Embree interviews Pat as she shares some insights and best practices from her years of experience in the hotel industry. Ryan and Pat trade thoughts on what makes a successful sales and marketing strategy in 2019 and Pat gives advice on what has made her so successful in her role at Chartwell Hotels. This episode covers everything from renovations to social media and serves as a great marketing guide for hoteliers.
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Ryan Embree: Welcome to Suite Spot where hoteliers check in and we check out what’s trending in hotel marketing. I’m your host, Ryan Embree. Thank you everyone for listening to the Suite Spot. Today we have a very special episode on the Suite Spot. We’re actually going to be joined by a special guest Pat Kobela who is the regional director of sales at Chartwell Hotels and she is one of our very first guests that’s not with us in studio. So we’re super excited to be doing this with her and want to thank you, Pat for joining us today.
Pat Kobela: Thank you Ryan. I’m excited about this also.
Ryan Embree: Great. So, um, just for a little bit of background. Let’s start by letting our listeners to know kind of what your experiences in the hotel industry.
Pat Kobela: Okay, sure. So, um, I have been in various facets of the overall tourism industry for the past probably 30 years. Even during college I was a flight attendant for a private company, then went on to travel agency work and went into hotels. Both, some back of the house operations, front line sales, front office management, that kind of stuff. And (I) really expanded there with my connections and ended up doing some tourism publishing, advertising, again also in the tourism end of the industry, and then ultimately owning my own business for advertising, AD agency type of work and, ultimately becoming a consultant in, um, for hotels and the tourism industry. So, and now I’m currently with Chartwell Hotels and the regional director is a fairly new position, um, for the nine hotels. So that’s growing and we’re expanding from there.
Ryan Embree: That’s awesome Pat. And I’m sure a lot of that experience has served you well in the position, you know at every facet and kind of a corner of the travel industry, you know, from your early stages of starting as a travel agent to, you know, the advertising and marketing side. And with that, you’ve brought a lot of fresh perspective and ideas that you’ve shared actually with myself and our director of marketing without kind of giving away, uh, you know, all your secrets. You know, I would know we’ve talked about some unique and creative ideas you’ve worked with even with the CVBs (Convention and Visitors Bureau). Um, could you share some of those ideas?
Pat Kobela: Sure. So, um, I have always been a really big proponent of CVBs, or DMOs (Destination Marketing Organizations), TPAs (Tourism Promotion Agencies) sometimes they’re called just different variations of CVB in different areas because they really are the force behind bringing awareness to a local region. And what’s all in that region, and how they want to bring that to the general public, and maybe even some specific market segments. And they’re very key. And that, and, and unfortunately, there are many communities that don’t even understand what a CVB does unless maybe you’re in a metropolitan area where they’re constantly bringing in, you know, huge conferences, and big events, and tournaments and such. But, you know, even working with the CVB in your local community and partnering and networking with the other members, you know, brings great opportunities. Um, items that you may not have thought of or partnerships that, you know, everyone’s kind of doing their own thing. And then you realize if we put all of our thoughts together, you know, we can create a greater good with that. So, and with that, you know, a lot of the agencies are always looking for help. You know, they’re looking for help from their, from their members. You know, because they’re out in the trenches as well too. And um, so, you know, if you’re CVB is looking for some assistance or ideas, give it to them, you know, work with them. Um, whether it’s, general leisure market, whether it’s motor coach, whether it’s corporate, whether it’s sports oriented, you know, they really do want to hear back from you and working cooperatively really gets a lot done.
Ryan Embree: Absolutely. And what a way to kind of help them out because obviously, you know, the purpose of a CVB is to bring travelers and visitors to that local region, helping them and facilitating them, you know, in whatever way you can is not only going to help the networking aspect, but it’s also going to help with your ultimate goal, which is fill, you know, fill your hotel rooms, get more travelers in your area. And, I want to transition because you know, you mentioned it before, you know, you’re working with nine hotels right now, but every single, well I’m sure every single one of those markets is completely different from one another. And managing all of that, you know, the CVBs and, and the networking opportunities, what’s it like to manage multiple hotels in multiple areas and what are the challenges that come with that?
Pat Kobela: So that is something that we’re really spearheading right now with Chartwell. Um, you know, this is, like I said, a new position. So as far as, you know, we’re not micromanaging actually each, um, location or each hotel, you know, we’re looking at again, the greater good. So if we’re looking for a CVB connection, we encourage our local staff, the local dos, the general manager, of course, to be involved in their local community and participate, give them ideas, and then we share it. We’re sharing ideas. You know, I have worked with several CVBs, so I know what works for one does not necessarily work for another from the marketing perspective. So we encourage them to do that, reach out, find out what’s in there, what’s really going on with their areas and you know, be their proponent, you know, market your property through your networking with your CVB and other, actually other associations.
Pat Kobela: You know, obviously I cannot be at local chamber meetings and CVB meetings, but channeling those ideas towards the individuals that are actually in the markets is what we’re trying to do and get everybody kind of on the same wavelength. And that’s really our local part of it, you know, because the other component of that is our hotels are also all franchised, so they’re either an IHG, a Hilton or Marriott. So they obviously all have their own promotions, special programs. Um, they have their own marketing efforts and of course our hotels are going to participate in what makes sense for them as well too. So that’s the end of it. First, you know, kind of like a franchise versus your local marketing. They’re actually two different items.
Ryan Embree: Absolutely. And, we encourage that to our hoteliers all the time is, you know, the, the brands are obviously great, uh, for, you know, that overall marketing and maybe message that you’re trying to send to travelers, but at the same time they only go so far. The reason that, you know, these new travelers are turning to places like Airbnb’s, or other, you know, vacation rentals is because they’re looking for that localized experience. So if you can do your part to really get involved with the community and create a local experience for a traveler, you really have the advantage on both ends from, you know, having that, that franchise foundation, but also kind of, uh, putting that, that local twist to it as well. You know, we have a lot of obviously hoteliers that, that are listening to this podcast that might just be a director of sales for a property or sales and marketing director for maybe just a couple of, of properties. Um, what advice can you give them who are maybe just starting a similar role or are looking to be in the role that you are in now?
Pat Kobela: I think one of the best things that I found is to sit back, and watch, and listen. You know, every market is obviously different and every hotel can be different, whether it’s a limited service, full service, and it obviously plays a different role in each market, in each community and such. So someone new coming in, really needs to determine what that property is and how it fits into the community and how it fits into the businesses that are using it, the associations that may be using it. So you know, everything has some sort of rhyme and reason the procedures may not be the right methodology, but listening to what is happening and seeing how things are done I think is step one. You know, we all tend to try to go in and fix everything and then realize there may be some behind-the-scenes items that we’re not taking into account or consideration and pushing forward and then realizing you need to take a step back. So really taking a look at, you know, what those properties, why they may be doing things, why they want to do something similar to that, if that specific procedure may not be working.
Ryan Embree: I love that advice. Um, yeah, absolutely. Coming in there and obviously listening to not only you know, the people that are already at the property but also listening to your guests. We talk about that all the time.
Pat Kobela: Yeah, exactly.
Ryan Embree: You know, getting that feedback and actually using that feedback, leveraging it.
Pat Kobela: And Ryan, I just wanted to expand on that too. As new person on that end of it. You know, someone sitting in on revenue calls really can give you a good background of where that hotel sits in the market and how clients or guests may be looking at it also. You know, seeing the strategy, you know, you listen for a few times on revenue calls, you can quickly figure out, you know, where the hotel stands in the market, who the competitors are, you know, when, you know, when you can push rate, when you have to take back a little bit. So that’s another, I think revenue calls is a really good way to learn a hotel.
Ryan Embree: Absolutely. Absolutely. You know, I want to I want to kind of switch gears. What do you, what do you say to those maybe director of sales that feel like they don’t need the feet to street, the, the cold calling for potential business to fill the hotel. They say, you know, I’m going to do all of my marketing and sales via social media and LinkedIn.
Pat Kobela: So, so I’ve actually had that happen and we’ve had to actually go in and recreate the wheel just a little bit. You know, I think cold calling as a whole just has an ugly ring to it and people take it the wrong way. But, well if you really think about it, we’re cold calling all the time, all the time. Whether it’s on social media, networking, prospecting, you know, going to committee meetings, anything like that. It’s constant, you know, that crazy video that’s, you know, always portrays that salesperson talking a mile a minute and in your face and you know, it’s rambling and gibberish it gives a bad note to anyone in sales. It doesn’t have to be hotel sales, it could be any type of sales. To me with, with sales and cold calling, it’s all about you really being confident about your product, who you are and how you sell that product, and how it fits into the client’s needs.
Pat Kobela: And all of that is still going to come through, whether it’s social media, whether it’s email, whether it’s face-to-face, phone calls. So you know, the beat the street kind of concept for some of the larger accounts is tough because you cannot, you know, really go in and get that information anymore. You know, it’s just physically impossible. There’s a lot of buildings that are under lock and key. There’s security personnel that don’t know anything except, you know, they have a list of names and if you don’t have a name you’re not going in, you know. Um, but at the same time your local businesses, like your hospitals, your universities your colleges, you know, some of the local businesses that may not be part of a big conglomerate and you know, they’re not using concur and they, you know, don’t have one of the travel agencies as a third party booking everything. You know, you can still go there, can still find out some information, but it’s a matter of a combination of all really, you know, how many of us really, you know, we find a place and then we may look on LinkedIn to see who’s there, see who we know, you know, go to certain meetings or chamber events or CVB events or just professional organizations trying to network there to see if we can find information.
Pat Kobela: So it’s really a combination of all, you know, at one point cold calling was all you did. You’re on the street eight hours a day, you went all day. But now you’re still cold calling. But it’s a mix. It’s a mix and you have to play it smart. You know, with that. You don’t have the time anymore to be out on the road all day long. Just trying to bang on arbitrary doors.
Ryan Embree: I completely agree. It’s, it’s now turning more into a hybrid where you’ve got to be able to integrate both. You have to be able to optimize your skills in both.
Pat Kobela: Yes. I totally agree. And, just another point on that, learning how to speak correctly and write correctly more so now than ever before with all the auto-fills and spell-checks and such, you know, it’s so easy to type a mile a minute and then you realize your message says something completely different than what you meant it to be because of auto fill.
Ryan Embree: Yes, absolutely. And communication obviously plays a huge part in that and, and there’s always going to be that human element to it. I feel,
Pat Kobela: Absolutely.
Ryan Embree: Especially in an industry like the hotel industry, you know, where it’s a customer service oriented. You know, that’s the foundation of hotel industry is that human connection. So speaking of communication, you know, that kind of leads me to my next question is about communicating to your hotel employees or motivating the people that work underneath you to kind of, you know, bring out the best in them and having managing nine hotels. What do you kind of say to those hotels and the best way to approach that?
Pat Kobela: So actually you hit on two topics there, Ryan. The communicating, and then the motivating. At Chartwell, we really let our, like GMs and such have their own programs at each property. You know, they motivate their employees, they have their own internal programs. Um, you know, things like monthly luncheons, giftcards recognitions, contests, games. Um, especially if a hotel has won an award or has done very well. You know, they each kind of do their own internal program with that. As far as communicating, we actually, as a company, we just implemented a sales program that all nine of our hotels can now actually communicate with each other with our contacts and sales and bookings and such. So, and we can actually message each other through the system as well too. So we’re very excited about that. Um, we realized that we have a lot of joint accounts that we did not know before this. Yeah. Communicating through that program for on, on a sales level, um, is already starting to benefit. And it’s actually building comradery within our sales team overall through the nine hotels because now we are talking to each other more so, than you know, either emailing directly or taking time to make a phone call, we can message through the sales program and, um, you know, talk about maybe specific accounts or specific bookings or if somebody needs help with something. Um, so we’re very excited about taking that and really moving forward with it and expanding on that.
Ryan Embree: That is exciting. And you know, I’m sure that is motivating for, you know, some employees to be in constant communication, to kind of be able to share best practices, um, you know, and, and what maybe that communication tool can bring. So I think those, those two things go hand in hand. Um, now, let’s kind of switch gears to something maybe that might not be so fun as you know, monthly luncheons or gift cards, and talk about renovations. Um, you mentioned that a few of your properties right now are going through some renovations. We know that this is obviously a huge part of the hotel industry. Um, at one point or another, how do you balance marketing and promoting a hotel that might be going through renovations.
Pat Kobela: Is that, is there such a word as balanced when you’re renovating? Um, yeah, renovations are always fun. We’re, you know, we’re actually coming out of one renovation, or one of our properties. And it’s beautiful. You know, you see it. It’s, you know, you think of all the agony and the pain that you’ve gone through, but it does, the end result is always very nice. You know, the renovation process is, um, it’s very tricky and balance is at least one, one of the words. It’s a lot of planning ahead. And even with planning, there’s always a glitch that comes up, you know, things that burst, or equipment that doesn’t show up, or furniture that doesn’t come, or just all of that, you know, the, the property that just came out of renovation, we actually, um, stopped construction. Um, you know, we finished a certain phase because obviously we don’t renovate the whole hotel. It goes in phases, right?
Ryan Embree: Right.
Pat Kobela: So we have either floors, a certain floor, or a certain tower that gets done and you know, at that property we stopped because going right into high season and there was a lot of citywide events that was sold out, you know, the whole area is sold out. So to take another set of rooms out of the market was just going to be a catastrophe. So we actually stopped renovation in the middle. You know, we had probably two thirds of the hotel done and then we stopped for the last phase to come to get through that busy season and then go back in, which wasn’t planned. You know, that opens up a whole other set of doors and issues that come with that. But, you know you make, you make the best that you can and you improvise a lot and then you get back on track and then you’ve got to like start over that new phase.
Pat Kobela: So it’s, you know, no matter how much scheduling you can do and no matter how much planning you can do, um, you know, there’s always something that’s going to come up. So everyone really has to be flexible. Pricing, availability, all of that, that is really key when it comes to your revenue calls. At that point you really need to work with your revenue manager with that, you know, keep them up to date, let them know what’s going on. And of course the numbers always look horrible compared to the, you know, the previous year.
Pat Kobela: So, right. You have to take that into consideration too.
Ryan Embree: This again comes back to communication too. How are your employees communicating with guests? How are your employees and your marketing strategy communicating with, you know, potential guests? I mean at the end of the tunnel, like you said, it always ends up looking great and beautiful and everyone loves a newly renovated hotel. So to keep that excitement up online and through your social media and, and you know, other, other portals and channels I think can do a lot for, you know, when you do come out of that renovation and making the most of it.
Pat Kobela: Exactly.
Ryan Embree: You know, talking about social media and you know, obviously reputation also plays a big part when it comes to renovations. What digital marketing strategies do you think are most important for hoteliers to be implementing?
Pat Kobela: So with our franchises and um, the brands are becoming very motivated, would be the good word, very progressive in allowing the properties update information quicker, easier. I remember the days where, you know, once the copy was set on your website, the copy was set on your website. That’s it. Like trying to, trying to get that changed was a feat in itself. So we take advantage of the franchises doing what we’re doing. And then of course each franchise has their own social media components. So we of course want to piggy back off of that. So right now one of the key things that’s going on is really keeping your website up to date with new copy, fresh copy fresh photos. And you know, coming out of a property with a renovation is great because there’s so much to you know, there’s so much to promote, there’s so much to, you know, update. An existing property, you know, working, this kind of even goes back to your CVB working with your attractions and other partners in the community where you can update that information or show partnerships whether on your website or if you know, if the hotel has its own Facebook page or if it participates on the franchises Facebook page or if it’s doing its own LinkedIn page. All key, like content is key, right?
Ryan Embree: Right.
Pat Kobela: We keep hearing that. So the, you know, the brands are really stepping that up and each of the properties are piggybacking on those efforts. And I’m looking forward to like a strong return on that. I really am, you know? And I think it makes us all more aware of what we can promote, how we’re really working within our communities and how we’re promoting ourselves as well as other entities in the community or even within market segments. You know, if you’re in an area or you’re a hotel that is very sports oriented, updates, Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, whatever, keeping that information fresh is key and consistency is key to, you know, to put something up and then not have anything for two months and then come back again. That’s kind of defeats the whole purpose too.
Ryan Embree: Absolutely agree. And you know, to echo your point about the brands being I think motivated as a great word, it’s brands I think are starting to realize how big of an impact this can have on hotels’ revenue. And you know that having all of that information out there, having the difference between, you know, a couple of keywords in there in your, in your copy or a couple pictures updated, you know, that happening at the sooner at a sooner time is going to have an impact that day on whether a traveler chooses your hotel or a competitor. So they’re starting to understand that this, this plays a big part in the traveler’s decision making process.
Pat Kobela: Absolutely. Absolutely. And I’m so glad to see that some of the brands are having direct emails now. Like you’re directing information to a specific department that will take care of it in, you know, maybe a day, two days instead of a whole process, you know, where it has to be reviewed and tweaked and you know, maybe guideline and you know, all of that that goes with the franchises. So they’re actually working I think better one-on-one with the hotels and their accessibility. Accessibility to them, um, has greatly improved.
Ryan Embree: I see that too. And I think that’s a trend that we’ll continue to see get more and more efficient as time goes by. So, um, and, and finally kind of, I’ll end it, you know, just with the opportunity to kind of talk about not only your role at Chartwell hotels, but just Chartwell hotels as a whole and what kind of makes, what makes you guys unique?
Pat Kobela: I’m going to put a plug out for one of our hotels. Um, they have been our Residence Inn in Williamsport, Pennsylvania has been awarded, the diamond award, the Marriott Diamond Award, which puts them in the running for hotel of the year.
Ryan Embree: Amazing.
Pat Kobela: Of six hotels that have achieved the diamond award. The hotel of the year announcement will be made in April at the April GM Conference. So I think that alone that we have a property of that stature in our portfolio is terrific. So we’re hoping that our other properties will follow suit with that.
Ryan Embree: Yeah, congratulations.
Pat Kobela: Yeah. Yeah.
Ryan Embree: That’s a great, it’s a huge accomplishment.
Pat Kobela: Yeah. We’re very proud of that. We’re very proud of that. Um, I’d also like to say that I’ve worked with, with a few management companies and very strictly guidelined, you know, with SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures) and, um, specific procedures and such. And I understand that.
Pat Kobela: I, I find that Chartwell and this was one of the reasons I enjoyed working, I enjoy working with them is you know, they have those guidelines, but at the same time they allow their GMs and their directors of sales and sales managers to tweak those guidelines to really work within their own communities and to see what works for them. You know, what works for one community. One market doesn’t always work for everybody else. So guidelines are great and then they allow them to really tangent off of that if necessary to try to make it a better experience for guest business clients, conferences, meetings, that kind of stuff. And I, and I really appreciate that, um, my perspective because you know, cookie cutter is sometimes good, but cookie cutter sometimes, you know, your gingerbread man has to like have an extra arm or something. You know.
Ryan Embree: It’s that mix of old and new that we kind of talked about.
Pat Kobela: Exactly
Ryan Embree: Yeah.
Pat Kobela: Exactly, exactly. And the last plug I’m going to do for Chartwell is, um, you know, we have in one of our cities, we have four hotels within one block of each other. So we call it the Chartwell campus. We do a really good job at cross selling and selling it almost as a whole community just down there, just there. Like if you need more to bedded rooms or if you need more conference space or whatever, it’s almost, um, one large area that actually interact with each other with, at the various hotels. And the Nice thing about that is if you’re booking with the one person, you can still stay in contact with that one person, even if you had to spread out some of the, um, the space or the rooms or you know, whatever you’re working on, you know, and I’ve been on the other side of that, so I find that unique. I don’t find that too often with other hotels.
Ryan Embree: Absolutely. That’s what I was going to say is that that sounds very unique and actually a huge advantage too when you think about, you know, what you can do between hotels and the flexibility that you can maybe offer, offer a guest.
Pat Kobela: Exactly. Absolutely. Yeah. And it comes, you know, it always presents new opportunities and it pushes everyone to think really out of the box.
Ryan Embree: Absolutely. Well, Pat, thank you so much for your time today. This was a lot of fun and I hope we can do it again, but I want to thank you for joining us on the Suite Spot. I’m excited to hear about some of these new, uh, initiative at Chartwell Hotels. But again, I just want to have a big thank you and shout out for coming on today.
Pat Kobela: Thank you Ryan. I, I really, um, I really appreciate it. And just the note, um, I think I cold call too for this, didn’t I?
Ryan Embree: You did, you did another benefit of cold calling.
Pat Kobela: Exactly, exactly. So good deal. No, thank you very much. This was great. And, and yeah, I would love to be back. It’s, it was good. I always like talking about the industry with other industry folks.
Ryan Embree: Awesome, awesome.
Ryan Embree: To join our loyalty program, be sure to subscribe and give us a five star rating on iTunes. Suite Spot is produced by Travel Media Group. Our editor is Anne Sandoval with cover art by Bary Gordon and content support by Priscilla Osorio. I’m your host, Ryan Embree, and we hope you enjoyed your stay.
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