Wyndham on retail and women in travel
This week it is International Women’s Day and we have been hearing from executives from across the industry
Danielle Alviano likes to be out of her comfort zone. “When I was looking for the next step in my career I knew that I wanted to be challenged. I’m a firm believer that you’re not learning unless you’re uncomfortable,” says Alviano, Wyndham Hotels & Resorts' Director of Retailing & Promotions, who will be speaking in San Francisco next week.
Moving out of the retail sector, where she was for over 11 years, and into travel seemed like the right step. “I knew it would give me that but it would also be tough - and it was! Because although the industry is “warm, friendly, welcoming and fascinating", some aspects of it are also "complicated".
At Wyndham, Alviano gets to work with many different aspects of a global organisation. “I’m regularly working cross-functionally – interacting with revenue management, brand marketing, analytics, operations, and others to plan a promotion, evaluate a current promotion, or analyse a past promotion to figure out what comes next. I get pulled in many different directions, but it’s probably what I love most about the job and this industry.”
Retail vs Travel
In retail, she worked on the product side selling marketing programmes into retailers, but the bulk of her experience, almost nine years, was working on the retail side in several roles that gave her “a lens into all aspects of the business”.
Says Alviano: “Above all else, the most important lesson I’ve learned is to break down the silos. The most successful outcomes can only come from bringing together the right people cross-functionally, and opening lines of communication. You can’t get anywhere in your own silo. Create a process, but don’t over-engineer it – adapt, learn and optimise along the way. Be agile and flexible.”
In the travel industry, what Alviano sees as the most pressing issue is the need to be more agile. In many cases, retailers have the advantage of more consistency in product, and full control. However, in a franchise organisation like Wyndham, a franchisee at an individual hotel has the power to make a large number of decisions at the property level.
In travel, it’s much more difficult to operationalise and execute – we’re more constrained with traditional dollars or percentage off offers, stay-longer save-more deals...but we can look to retail for inspiration
“As a brand and company, we can set the strategy and provide the direction, but ultimately it’s up to the individual franchisee to execute that vision. That difference in control can lead to inconsistencies within a brand,” she says.
Retailers also have the ability to be so creative and flexible when it comes to promotional strategies – they can run free shipping, gift with purchase, buy-one-get-one and more.
“Of course, we can look to retail for inspiration. But in travel, it’s much more difficult to operationalise and execute – we’re more constrained with traditional dollars or percentage off offers, stay-longer save-more deals, and the like. Instead, we’re in the memory-making business, we’re not just selling a product – we’re selling personal experiences to millions of individual travellers. “Memorable, personalised, authentic interactions go a long way,” she says.
With Walmart just having signed up for the AI & Analytics in North America show next week, it seems that big retail businesses also want to learn from travel!
Why diversity is doubly important
Needless to say, since it's International Women’s Day this week, the EyeforTravel inbox has been rammed with views from women in the travel industry on issues of diversity, including gender, and what their businesses are doing to ramp this up.
The Expedia Group even went as far as to ask women leaders in travel to share their thoughts on diversity in the industry. Bonny Simi, President, JetBlue Technology Ventures, was one. Unsurprisingly, she believes that “diversity is a business imperative, and that also includes diversity of backgrounds, ages, ethnicities, and more, beyond gender.”
According to Simi, not only does a diverse team bring different perspectives and backgrounds to the table, better decisions are made because of it. “In the travel industry, women make the majority of purchasing decisions, therefore it makes good business sense to have more female leaders and investors,” she adds.
Dorothy Dowling, Chief Marketing Officer, Best Western Hotels, agrees: “If we truly want to be a customer-led organisation and listen to the voice of the customer, then promoting diversity on our teams is essential.”
Research released by Ctrip this week, which finds that over 70% of hotel-booking decisions are made by women, backs this up. Moreover, six in 10 outbound travellers are women and more women (57%) than men (43%) are solo travellers according to Ctrip’s 2018 package tour data.
By the way, Amy Wei, Group GM of International Train Ticketing, Ctrip will be speaking at the upcoming Digital Strategy Summit in London May 21-22).
Little wonder then that some companies are maximising their PR efforts by using the ‘celebration’ of women to launch new products. Intrepid Travel, for one, has announced a range of itineraries for its popular Women’s Expeditions where female guides lead women-only tours.
The website Women in Travel Tech cites numerous other reasons why it makes commercial sense. A report by investment research and analytics company MSCI ESG Research titled ‘Women On Boards,’ finds that companies with strong female leadership generate a yearly return on equity of 10.1% versus 7.4% for those that lacked female leadership.
Is the industry going fast enough?
Iris Taguet, Head of Blockchain Programme at Air France-KLM says: "Speaking for Air France-KLM, I can clearly see that a lot has already been done to emphasise qualified people, irrespective of their gender, to join our industry. From my own experience and from conferences and events in the travel space, I find many women as leaders of technology companies on panel discussions." [Gillian Tans, CEO of Booking.com and Claire Gilmartin, CEO of Trainline to name just two]. "So, I think there are not too many 'male domains' left in our field. However, I do wish more events would introduce the travel tech space, in general, to schools and universities".
I do wish more events would introduce the travel tech space, in general, to schools and universities
Heddi Cundle, the founder of a travel gift card company, who was interviewed for an EyeforTravel story in 2015, doesn't agree: "The industry is still run as a blind sighted, boys club with gender bias.” However, she also believes that this will “change very soon and very fast”.
Taguet would certainly recommend a career in travel tech and one of the ultimate highlights of her career has been working on launching blockchain, a "new technology with such potential", in an organisation like Air France KLM
She says: "Technology in the travel space is so versatile, and especially when you start in this space. Some of the technology we use today has its roots in the 1960s and 1970s and evolved over many decades. In my experience, patience is key while understanding the technology. Curiosity is extremely helpful too and, as this is very feminine attribute, I can already see a growing number of female IT experts around me. However, there is always room for more!"