An Interview with Alex Raiman

As the Czech Republic continues to battle with the Covid-19 pandemic, with hotels remaining closed and restaurants only keeping afloat through offering a takeaway service, I thought it would be interesting to talk to one of our Synergy Hotel Consultants’ partners, Alex Raiman, to see how he is getting on and how he sees the future for his company, Saleshero.   Since Saleshero specialises in the coaching of sales people, I thought it would be safe to assume that he and his team are going to get very busy once things start to get going again, since sales and marketing are going to be even more important than ever.  This is what he had to say:

JW: You have only recently set up your own company, Saleshero.   Bearing in mind the situation over the last year, and the fact that you are focused on sales and sales training, this must have been a very difficult time for you? What have you been doing?

AR: It’s true.  We launched at a very difficult time for everyone. But, actually, the timing couldn’t have been better for us, since everyone now is acutely aware of their sales problems, and since last May we have added 16 new clients to our SalesHero portfolio.

We have, we think, a unique approach to sales coaching. Here in the Czech Republic a lot of companies provide sales training, but none of them provide ‘sales coaching’.  Most of our training is built on working on a one-to-one basis, and we specialise in transforming sales-people into hunters.  That means sales-people that are proactive, and who know how to pitch and generate their own sales opportunities. This works particularly well with companies that have a new product.  We also work with the owners of companies, and coach them to implement a sales mindset into their organisations.

JW: Prior to setting up on your own, you held some very interesting positions, including working for one of the CR’s biggest travel operators, Invia.   The advent of the internet had a huge effect on travel agencies generally and many were suffering way before the pandemic hit.   What do you think were the key things that travel agencies could have done then (i.e. before the pandemic) and can do now to stay competitive?

AR: I have mainly observed travel agencies in CEE and their lack of in-depth understanding of future market shifts, and I believe that there is one thing that travel agencies could have done better to stay competitive pre-pandemic. Due to their size, they all came up with the same offer to the same cash-cow segments every year, yet there was and is one segment on the rise world-wide. Millennials have the money and they are approaching the peak of their careers, and this, I believe, will last for the next 10 to 15 years. So finding ways to reach this segment is an opportunity to stay competitive.

JW: We have not yet seen the full effect of the pandemic on the travel business (although the airlines and hotel businesses are regularly in the news).   What do you think the effect of the last year will be on the big travel agencies now?   Will they survive?   And if they do survive, what do you think their key strategies might be?

AR: Indeed, the pandemic has hurt all travel businesses very badly. And a lot of them will not survive because they were not really competitive in the first place, so the small players, in particular, will be wiped out.  Reflecting on the market here, the big players were able, and had the resources to apply for government support, so I think they will survive. Plus, they have owners and investors that will keep them afloat.

I think a lot of people in general are frustrated by having to stay at home, and as soon as they will be able to travel, they will. So, go after them, and be ready. Until that moment comes, nurture. Nurture relationships with key suppliers and key distribution partners, nurture, above all, relationships with clients through social media and content marketing strategies.  Keep your brand in everyone’s mind so that when the market rebounds, you are the first they think of.  

The marketing funnel in travel starts with people dreaming about their next vacation. Help your clients to dream. And if it will take another year, have the content ready to dream with you. When they dream with you, and they get into that phase of buying their next vacation, they will buy that vacation from you.

JW: You also worked for a company specialising in luxury car travel, Daytrip.  Again, they must have been hard hit by the pandemic, but maybe when things get back to normal (‘the new normal’) travelling by car rather than plane will become a lot more popular.  Your thoughts on that?

AR: Travelling by car will, for sure, become more popular over the long term. The pandemic has made travellers more aware about potential health risks when moving around and traveling in a private car is safer than traveling by airplane or by train in that respect. Also, people want authentic travel. That’s been a huge trend for the past few years, and traveling with a local driver is authentic. 

The drive towards technologies such as autonomous driving and battery driven cars, makes travel by car quite sustainable and affordable. Plus technology allows the selling of highly individualised travel at scale, because you as a travel business are able to supply a highly individualised service at scale to consumers that demand more and more tailor-made offers. To illustrate, you get picked up at your home, you get brought to the airport. There you have an express facilitation through customs and passport controls. You board your plane and get off the airplane, a private car waits to bring you to your hotel. You stay for the next day or so, until a private car picks you up again. So something that used only to be affordable for rich people is now affordable for a larger group of middle-class consumers.

JW: As a team member of Synergy Hotel Consultants, your role is to offer sales training and/or sales services to hotels where Synergy has been brought in to give support.   Sales and marketing are obviously going to be hugely important once things start to get going again.   In a snapshot, what would you advise hotels once they start to open up again in regard to making ‘quick sales’?

AR: If you are a hotel, and you are planning to open up again, there are a couple of things you can do.

  • Go to your database and search for clients that spend the most money with you. They will be the first ones to travel again. Execute a sales campaign with your front desk and reach out to this segment. You could label it “Back to Travel” or something more original. I think you get the point. Basically, do everything that you can to reach out to those that will be the first to travel again. 
  • Key is to focus. Just one campaign. Let’s say I’m a five star hotel in Prague with 200 rooms. I would create “Back to Travel” packages for affluent travellers. I would start by sending a highly personalised email. Something like: “we’re still here and if you want to travel, here’s a suggestion.”  I would follow up with a call, and ask them: “How have you been, will you travel again, how about we put together a nice little back-to- travel package for you here in our city, for four days. What would you like?  How can we pamper you?”.  Something really personal that builds a special relationship.

JW: The Czech Republic, and Prague in particular, is very reliant on tourists.   If you were advising the tourism board of the Czech Republic (or anywhere else for that matter) what would you suggest the key sales messages should be to start to get the tourists arriving again.

AR: I’m making an assumption here but I think that the first ones to travel will be people that have not been financially hit by the pandemic. They still have money so I would probably start with the wealthier segment. And if those are the first people traveling, I would advise the Tourism Board to position the Czech Republic as a premium destination. 

I think that should be possible as we have excellent resorts, hotels and restaurants that are world class with world class service. And I would move away from offering Prague as a cheap destination, focusing more on ‘premium’, and support that in my marketing and PR communication. Destinations such as Prague don’t want mass tourism anymore, since it is no longer sustainable. So go premium, or go home.

JW: Do you think the hotel industry in the Czech Republic will get back to ‘normal’?  Or do you think there will need to be a lot of changes in the way that hotels have operated before and will in the future?

AR: I think that the top hotels that have international ownership and capital, that are of the premium variety, will mostly continue as before. Below that there will be a huge shake up.  So the smaller hotels, backpacker hostels, family-run pensions and those with less than four stars – I suspect that these will have a big problem. I think that they will probably have to reinvent themselves as it will be a long time before we see the same number of visitors.  They will want to think about how best to serve the needs of the local market, or maybe they can consider turning into residential, co-living projects, which have nothing to do with tourism. For the five-star hotels and more premium hotel industry, I think they will have to re-orient towards pan-European travel and the local markets, and I see hotels already doing that.

Any other thoughts?

If you still have personnel you need to get your sales into gear. You are competing for a smaller market and all the players are going to be going after this same smaller group of high value clients.  Look at your resources and see how you can utilise them to find out and, above all, build relationships with high value clients and sell individualised offers directly to them.