David R. Evans, CHME, has enjoyed a long career in what could be called the Golden Age of hospitality sales and marketing. When he graduated college, he took a public relations role at the Olympic Hotel in Seattle, which led to a sales position at that property in 1961. He later moved to the Century Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles, and eventually became vice president of sales and marketing for Western Hotels International, which became Westin. He spent nearly four decades at Westin.
At the time he retired in 2000, Evans was senior vice president of global sales and marketing for Starwood Hotels & Resorts. A few years later, he founded David R. Evans & Associates, providing hotel sales and marketing consulting.
Evans has funneled his wealth of experience and expertise into a new book, Yield to the Power of Common Sense. The book’s subtitle is CS=PR2, which stands for Common Sense = Performance & Results2, the formula that has guided his career.
“Westin Hotels started by operating by the seat of our pants,” Evans told Convene. “We had to use common sense in order to do our job. We didn’t have 800 manuals, and we had to think outside the box.”
When he began consulting, Evans said he was struck by the fact that many of the organizations he was working with “were not operating on common sense. They had all kinds of different guidelines or rules.” At companies or organizations with a very “top-down leadership,” he said, “most people don’t think for themselves.”
Evans relied on a bootstrapping mentality during his tenure at Westin — and in his volunteer industry roles. In Yield to the Power of Common Sense, Evans demonstrates how that kind of thinking — when combined with constraints — led him to create an event tradition of contributing to the greater good.
“Westin Hotels & Resorts was a relatively small brand facing much larger brands like Hilton and Marriott. Because we didn’t have the big bucks for lavish events, we had to be very creative. To get to host … a meeting planner event was a coup,” he writes, “but it came with a substantial expenditure. Over the years, as vice president of global sales, I became very concerned that we were going over the top as an industry, with these extravagant events.
“In January 1994, we had the opportunity to host 2,500 of our “closest friends” (half meeting planners and half hotel “peddlers”) at PCMA’s annual meeting, held at our beautiful Crown Center Hotel in Kansas City. …
“As the host hotel company, we had to sponsor the opening event. Given my frustration over the lavish events and our limited budget, I felt we had a golden opportunity to make a statement, but still leave the assembled [group] with a lasting memory.
“At this time, I was serving as the chairman of the PCMA Foundation Board, so, as a supplier board member, I had to be very judicious about how far outside the box I could go.”
Evans goes on to explain how, in an effort to scale back on the opening reception, he thought of finding a worthwhile charity and then donating “a large sum of what we save from our food and beverage costs to that charity in the name of Westin and PCMA.”
A need was identified at the nearby Hallmark Children’s Hospital: a shortage of preemie respirators. “Without batting an eye,” Evans said, he ordered a respirator for $25,000, and told no one of his plans.
“On opening night, our food and beverage display was woefully missing in grandeur and fine food,” he writes. “We had some basic hors d’oeuvres in the center of the ballroom. On the stage was the new preemie respirator, proudly displayed. Each attendee that night had a nametag with the picture of a new baby being saved by the new machine. Initially, the attendees were shocked by the proletarian display of food and drink,” he writes. But once the respirator was presented to hospital administrators with thousands of people in the ballroom audience, he told Convene when recalling the event, “you could have heard a pin drop. A pin.”
It was at that moment, Evans writes in the book, that “the world of hosting lavish events became a wonderful philanthropic [opportunity] for the industry.”
He seized that opportunity at the following PCMA Annual Meeting in Orlando, when he and then-president of the Orlando CVB, Bill Peepers, gave away a heart machine for babies born with heart failure to a local hospital. That night is a particularly poignant memory for Evans. “When I was going up the escalator to present this machine at the dinner following the [opening reception], I noted that the machine was missing from the lobby where it had been displayed,” Evans writes in Yield to the Power of Common Sense. “When I asked a doctor where the machine had gone, he said, ‘At this time, it is saving a baby.’ There was not a dry eye among the 3,000 people attending.”
Fast Forward to Today
Clearly, we are not living in the Golden Age of hospitality at this particular moment in time, so Convene asked what advice Evans can share as hospitality sales professionals work toward a recovery during the pandemic. Evans said that question was worth pondering but he immediately underscored the importance of being prepared — he predicts an “onslaught of meetings” once the pandemic is over.
If hotels can survive this crisis, Evans said, “and today, right now they’re doing the best they can at 25- or 30-percent occupancy, they need to remember that this won’t last forever — and that human nature is to shake hands and smile at each other. People were never designed to be locked up. So I would be preparing our staff and telling them when [the pandemic] stops, people are going to travel like hell.”
Evans thinks that we are still a year away from that “because of the fact that it’s going to take time for the vaccine to settle in,” he said. “But I would be preparing for a resurgence of the meetings business like you’ve never seen. And your sales team better be prepared, because those that are prepared are going to book the business.”
And, he added, he would tell hotel salespeople to “keep the common sense. Keep the relationships. Take care of people. Find ways of being very creative in terms of dealing with customers and be very flexible” when it comes to rates and terms. “And keep in touch,” he said, “Find ways to maintain your relationship under the current frustrating circumstances.”
Michelle Russell is editor in chief of Convene.