Ciara Feely

ciara-feelyI am a hotelier by heart. Joey Miranda Oliva (now of Highgate Hotels) hired me into this industry in 1996 as Sales Coordinator for the central sales office of Bristol Hotels, which became InterContinental Hotels. We sold five hotels in downtown San Francisco, sixty conference rooms and about 2500 guestrooms. I was lucky to have a number of mentors with that company. Sheila Fonseca and Marie Allen, my first managers, and Joey the head of our division. Thank you ladies, for your guidance, lessons and friendship.

I’ve had very influential Directors of Sales and Marketing with that company whom I still consider my mentors. Sheila Foley who has gone on to be General Manager of the Arizona Biltmore Hotel, a Waldorf Astoria Hotel and Dayna Zeitlin who is blazing a trail with Provenance Hotels.

Dayna hired me to help her open the Omni San Francisco Hotel in 2001. That was a career highlight for me as we built sales revenue from zero to $5.8 million in my first year and I loved every minute of it. I was particularly proud of that figure especially opening the hotel three months after 9/11. I still consider that hotel my baby as it was such a tough competitive market to sell in. I learned a lot.

Dayna taught me the importance of building trust and focusing on the team. She looked after her team as well as she did her clients. With her as a role model I treated my clients with that same level of respect and appreciation for their business.

I can still hear Sheila Foley coming out of her office at 10am saying: “it’s prime selling time ladies, are you talking to your clients?” I quote you regularly Sheila. A common characteristic of great sales people is that they respect prime selling time. It is for client conversations only.

Tracie Lundquist Gunning was my first partner in business. I was promoted to Sales Manager and we were teamed up together. She was the first person to teach me to stop selling and build the relationship first. I also learned a lot from her about the importance of having fun in business. Jim McGuire and Tracie were definitely role models in how to reach your sales goals while having a lot of fun with your clients and members of your team.

I will always remember the wise words of John Simonich a Regional Vice President of Operations at InterContinental Hotels: “Ciara, selling a hotel is a lot like selling perishable goods. If you don’t sell a guest or meeting room today, the opportunity is lost forever.” I’ve always looked at hotel sales from that perspective, the opportunity lost. It’s helped me to focus on the conversion rate. A key area I help my clients grow.

In our industry, the average conversion rate is 20 per cent. That means that 80 per cent of the sales effort is not productive. That adds up to a lot of empty guestrooms and meeting rooms.

Wasted sales effort and empty rooms is costing the industry billions in lost revenue opportunities every year. This book was written out of pure frustration in seeing why business is being lost. I only saw the reasons why so much business is lost, once I became the client however.

I’ve been a Venue Finder for ten years. I developed this niche for myself after moving back to Ireland. I founded in 2006, where I run both an online directory for finding venues and a personal service. In that capacity I listened to the client brief – asked very detailed questions such as what are the results you want to get from organizing this event? I wrote very detailed specifications that I sent out to suitable hotels and venues. What I found was the proposal sent to me was rarely enough to convince the Planner why I felt the recommended hotel was at least worth a site inspection.

I had to do all this work in the middle, rewrite the descriptions, and make it so easy for the Planner to see why the venue was the right fit. I prepared hundreds of reports for the client

to convince them why I was recommending a property. I sometimes had to hop into the car and go take my own photos and videos of the property.

I saw first-hand why business was being lost and I wanted to do something about it. So I started to write this book. That is when I saw there was a difference between how the property wants to sell and how the Planner wants to buy. I developed the Conference Converter System™, to bridge that gap. The system is proven, it makes sense, it’s practical and it works.