Meet Sarah Aliffi-Baez, Senior Catering Sales Executive at The Westin Savannah Harbor Golf Resort & Spa
Behind the success of every great property group is a team of passionate, dedicated leaders who make it all possible. In this series, we sit down with experts from the hospitality industry’s top catering and sales teams to get a behind-the-scenes look at their journey and what they’ve learned along the way.
For decades, Sarah Aliffi-Baez has loved planning events. The Senior Catering Events Executive first launched her hospitality career with a three-month internship at a third-party planning company within the pharmaceutical industry. While Sarah had initial plans to return to her home state of Georgia after her New York City-based internship was complete, she decided to stay in the Big Apple for nearly six years to pursue her passion of hospitality.
During that time, she traveled nationally and internationally, working on pharmaceutical events. Sarah also worked at a friend’s startup, where she was introduced to social event planning—events that make people laugh, clap, or cry, like baby showers, film and entertainment, holiday parties, reunions, and weddings. Tired of the cold weather, Sarah moved back to Georgia with her husband in 2008. Shortly after, she was hired by The Westin Savannah Harbor Golf Resort & Spa, where she has worked for nearly 14 years.
Below, check out our Q&A with Sarah to learn about her story, her career, and her biggest advice for others in the hospitality industry.
What makes The Westin Savannah Harbor Golf Resort & Spa special to you?
The Westin Savannah Harbor Golf Resort & Spa is unlike any other property in the area. The hotel is on an island in the middle of the Savannah River, one of the country's busiest ports, offering incredible views of historic downtown, passing cargo ships, and more. The property's charm also comes from the people who work here, some of whom have been here since it opened nearly 25 years ago. So while the beauty and uniqueness of the property drew me in to start, the family atmosphere and authenticity of the people I work with contribute to my continued adoration.
What excites you the most about your role?
I love seeing the creativity that event planners bring to the space. At one point, it seemed like every event had burlap and mason jars. Now, people are thinking more outside the box and taking inspiration from social media and magazines. They're not just looking locally or regionally, but they're looking globally and playing with their own interpretations of what they see.
What successes have you had along the way?
I'm proud to have been on the team that remained on property throughout Covid. The first 8-10 months were the most difficult because, at that point, there were no guidelines to follow; everyone was just trying to figure it out. We were working with a skeleton crew of about four people, yet we continued to move forward, reopening for our first event in June 2020. There was also a lot of time and care that went into having difficult conversations with people to decide how they wanted to move forward with events that, in many cases, were monumental, like weddings; did they want to keep their event date or reschedule? And as new policies and procedures were rolled out, the team didn’t miss a beat, implementing each change as we were notified.
What is your secret to your success?
In the hospitality industry, people have to be able to trust you, and you have to trust them. It’s not about just selling space, you’re building a relationship, and for that relationship to be a success, there has to be mutual respect for one another. It’s not always easy to say no, but it’s necessary to be honest and communicate if something isn’t going to work so that you can work together to find a solution that does. For me, leaning on those values has helped me build the relationships I have today, where 14 years later, I’m still in contact with people whose weddings I helped coordinate. And those values have been outlined for all our event managers, ensuring that we’re all ready to go and providing that same quality of service.
What has been your biggest challenge in this role to date?
One of the greatest joys is seeing the process from start to finish, so when I moved into a pure sales role, it was difficult to pass events along to the event management team once the sales process was complete. I still get to work on the details for some events, helping the planners understand what is possible. I’m also very close with the event management team, and they know that I’m always available to be a backup if they need it.
What is the key to building a strong and successful team?
Good communication and relationships are essential. We each must uncover as much information as possible. As the seller, I have to pass everything I learn to the event manager, who then shares everything with the culinary and banquet teams to ensure the event goes off without a hitch. We are all friends and respect each other, so we all want to see each other succeed.
How has digital technology changed the way you and your team work?
The vast majority of clients use email to complete inquiries and the contracting process due to busy schedules. Over the last couple of years, especially, we’ve had a lot of customers book sight unseen. With the rise in these bookings, we’re using video conferencing tools like Facetime and Zoom more frequently and showcasing the venue with features on our website, like the 360-degree views, to make it easier for people to experience the property virtually.
If you could snap your fingers and create any technology to make your job easier, what would it be?
I would want a system to control the weather, so I would never have to worry about the conditions. If I could change the weather from rainy/cold/windy to popcorn clouds with blue skies for miles, that would remove at least 50% of my work worries.
Do you have any other thoughts you’d like to share with our readers?
Think outside of the box. There are so many possibilities, whether it's how you sell a property (we’ve booked several movies and festivals) or how each venue within the property is used (our golf course, race track, ballrooms, etc., are all bookable venues for any occasion).
To learn more about how ROH can help your property group or hospitality brand drive increased revenue, conversions, and collaboration, schedule a free demo.