Hotels Were More Interesting than Selling Insurance: An Unexpected Career.
By Dr. John Hogan & Howard Feiertag
Wednesday, 16th March 2011
A Professional and Personal Tribute to Neil Salerno -

As we interact with different types of people in our every day business activities, it is amazing what we can discover if and when we take the time to actively listen to the stories people share. 

Over the past two years, I have learned a great deal collecting information on a number of Hospitality Conversations® that were offered to readers on a range of topics that have included scheduling effective renovations, working with recruiters, selling hotels, maintaining quality assurance standards and implementing training programs. 

At HospitalityEducators.com,  we have launched a series of articles on internship programs at several universities with more in the pipeline.

Last November, I decided to expand the Hospitality Conversations® by speaking with individuals of different generations who were employed in general operations of hospitality businesses. The first was GEN Xer  Sean Fatzinger, who has a passion for the food & beverage portion of our industry and the second was to be a  Baby Boomer who had spent his 35 year hospitality career in hotel sales. 

Neil Salerno for the past 15 years or so has been known as the  Hotel Marketing Coach™ as he worked with many independent and branded hotel properties in establishing and maintaining their hotel web sites, internet marketing strategies and overall technology marketing. 

Neil agreed in October to become a guest columnist for HospitalityEducators.com with an emphasis on revenue management,  and we had a number of interesting phone conversations as I began to prepare the column.   Neil became hard to reach by email or phone beginning in December and I was saddened to learn he passed away in mid February .

As I reflected on the contributions this professional made to our industry, I immediately thought of a person who had known Neil much longer than me.  Howard Feiertag, my co-author of Lessons from the Field -  A Common Sense Approach to Effective Hotel Sales, had worked with and trained Neil. 

Kathleen Hogan, my co-founder and the Publisher at HospitalityEducators.com immediately suggested that perhaps Howard and I could share some insights about Neil and this short tribute to him.

Neil L. Salerno, CHME, CHA, Coach, Consultant & Author

The official biography is on his website  and it highlights some of Neil's more than thirty-five years in the hospitality industry. 

Since entering the industry in 1967, he held positions in hotel sales, marketing, and operations. Working his way from front desk associate, food & beverage management to sales management, Salerno progressed during a time of explosive growth in the hotel industry. He held positions in almost every area of hotel operations and sales, managing hotels from 60 to 1102 rooms.

Comments from John Hogan

Neil told me he accidentally entered the hotel segment of hospitality.  He said he was learning to sell insurance and that  it held limited interest for him. 

As with many of us, he found a "job" that evolved into a passion for hospitality.  He shared with me some of his experiences in food & beverage and catering which he found "interesting'  but tiring, as the work week was six and seven days per week. 

One of his first mentors was the previously mentioned Howard Feiertag, who was the Corporate Director (or Vice President) of Sales for a then small company with less than two dozen hotels, American Motor Inns. 

Neil shared stories of the values and lessons offered by Howard (then and throughout Feiertag's distinguished career) on the "high touch" side of hospitality sales and the need to focus on the basics.  Neil preferred the sales side of the business, and when he left American Motor Inns (which had grown to include about five dozen properties), he left as Vice President of Sales and Marketing, having followed in the footsteps of  Howard Feiertag.

In my conversations with him, Neil focused on a number of things he felt were very important:

1. He stressed one should never stop learning and should always try to be both a teacher and student.
2. He continued to appreciate those who shared their strategies for success with him and he said he tried to do the same, especially in revenue management and in online marketing.  These values led him to his emphasis on coaching, as outlined in his work that began  with hotels and online marketing in the mid-1990s.
3. He valued the lessons he learned at each brand and management company he associated with, as they each had a perspective and approach that had the potential to work.  On the other hand, he was frustrated by those who he felt were close-minded and would not consider options or other ways that might be more effective.
4. He stressed that the evolution of the internet and online marketing, still in its comparative infancy, would require hoteliers and sales teams to adapt all of their marketing plans and approaches for using this technology to achieve ongoing success.

Comments from Howard Feiertag

....about Neil Salerno….

" Didja ever think about hiring a movie star?  Well, in the business of sales, why not?

This is how it happened….way back to 1967, I had just started with American Motor Inns, a hotel owner of 26 Holiday Inns. My first job was to go around to visit the company properties to hire and train sales people. We only had three or four sales departments at the time, at our largest properties.  I started in New England and was to work my way down south.  It was in Meriden, Ct when I first met Neil….somehow or other he found out we were seeking sales people, and since he was living in New Haven at the time…it seemed close enough for him to seek employment in Meriden.

Neil was a knock-out, so to speak, everyone turned to look when he walked in. This guy was so good-looking, how could we not want to hire him.  The interview did not last too long, and I cannot recall even taking a look at an application or resume.

In those days, if we liked what we saw, that was IT!  I've always said: "You can never make a second first impression"….Neil felt right at home the first day of work…I don't even think there was much training to do….I told Neil to just meet and talk to people and get them to stay, and have their meeting at the Meriden Holiday Inn. You can eat and drink all you want; you must entertain guests at all meals….and he sure did that very well. 

Many times the general manager of the property complained to me about Neil signing all those guest checks for bar and meals (Bruce, the GM did not believe in drinking, but had to put up with it since that was the way we operated our sales department, as our President was behind me 100%……and  speaking of our President, Joel Krish…when he first met Neil, he fell over….he also fell in love with this Hollywood actor, or model). 

And….Neil was bringing in the business. He worked his tail off, always complaining about his 7 day week and 24 hour days, but he loved it.

Soon after, Neil helped me by being our regional man in sales for New England's 7 properties that we owned and operated ...Most of our sales people were female, which Neil loved, and they loved him, of course…..They all did exceptionally well in sales. Neil was on a commission for what he sold and what they sold too…..so we kept them happy in their little regional sales team.

Neil then moved on to Baltimore where we put him in charge of sales for our 12 properties located there. He was very popular with our female sales teams, as well with our male sales folks.  Neil was a big hit with our general managers and Regional Vice President.  It all started with his good looks, wonderful personality,  dress and demeanor….all wonderful per-requisites for sales people.

Throughout his years in sales, Neil became very knowledgeable in the area of food and beverage since our sales folks also were responsible for catering sales. On many occasions, Neil found himself in the kitchen helping out with food preparations, plating up the food, and making sure it all went well at banquets.

We had a few moves around the company as we grew into operating 50 hotels, with Neil heading up some of the planning for new hotels as well as getting them open, hiring, staff, doing the marketing plans, etc.

Within a few years of his employment, he was promoted to Vice President of sales and took for me while I took over the Food and Beverage Operations and then became Sr. Vice President of Operations.  We worked hand in hand….

Unfortunately, for most of our female sales managers, Neil had decided to re-marry.... I was his best man at the wedding.

It was in 1982 that I left the company to join another company in West Palm Beach, Florida….another hotel management organization with 60 hotels.  Soon after, Neil had decided to join us. He was our VP of Sales for our new brand of Royce Hotels.  Needless to say, he did a fantastic job for us. In a few years, when our Executive Vice President of Royce decided to leave to form his own company, he took Neil with him…that was my last "official" business connection with Neil.

Throughout the years with Neil at AMI and Royce, I was also involved in conducting sales training workshops around the country for various national and state organizations, as well as  hotel groups.  Neil also got involved in conducting training sessions, and we did many together.

Although  eil worked with other management companies, we did get together periodically to schmooze and talk about old times. During his period of time in Sarasota, Florida where he headquartered his Hospitality Coach business, we met about once a year  during my visits to Florida. Through his articles, he developed many contacts around the world, and did consulting on revenue management, and websites…and did it just about all via the telephone or on-line.

Neil was an amazing person…the ideal sales person, well-liked by all, very well respected and a hard worker.  He will be missed by all of us in the industry."

John Hogan is a successful hospitality executive, educator, author and consultant and is a frequent keynote speaker and seminar leader at many hospitality industry events.  He is Co-Founder of a consortium of successful corporate and academic professionals delivering focused and affordable counsel in solving specific challenges facing hospitality today.

www.HospitalityEducators.com is a membership site offering a wide range of information, forms, best practices and ideas designed to help individual hoteliers and hospitality businesses improve their market penetration, deliver service excellence and increase their profitability. Individuals wishing to contribute materials may send them Kathleen@HospitalityEducators.com.

Dr. John Hogan, CHE CHA CMHS    
United States - Phoenix, Phone: 602-799-5375

Howard Feiertag, Inn at Virginia Tech   (540)231-9459, howardf@vt.edu

Howard Feiertag, a well-known hospitality industry veteran, is on the faculty at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg, VA, with the Department of Hospitality and Tourism Management, in the Pamplin College of Business.

His background of over 40 years in hospitality includes convention bureau management, hotel operations, food & beverage, sales & marketing, catering, meetings and convention management, as well as tour and travel.
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