Cristina Serra discusses what excites her about the travel industry, and leveraging digital and technology to facilitate equal opportunities for women. We talk about how hotels can establish a differentiated position from OTAs (online travel agencies) and private accommodation, as well as insights on fostering innovation that delivers compelling customer experience, increases loyalty and drives revenue.
Accenture Travel: You are Vice President Brand Strategy and Guest Experience at Radisson Hotel Group (RHG), with rich experience in hospitality and airlines. Tell us about your professional journey and what excites you about the travel industry?
Cristina Serra: I studied Electronic Engineering and Avionics (bachelor's degree in engineering, aeronautical and electronics) before starting to work for Vueling. I was in love with this industry from the first moment. I wanted to know more and I had an opportunity to move to marketing, so I accepted and found the view from the commercial site much more strategic. In the airline business I loved the strategy, the competition, the business model, the planes, the speed in which everything happens, etc. but it is an industry which is limited to the airline’s country of origin. The hotels don’t have this limitation, because you can have hotels everywhere, but it is a slower industry. If you want to apply a new technology to 1500 hotels, with different owners, it’s a challenge! I have personally been very lucky because in Radisson Hotel Group we have an ambitious 5-year plan that is propelling the group fast and with brilliant results.
In both hospitality and airlines the customer is staying with us, the product is the experience with us, and I love this part! I love to combine engineering and marketing—defining, designing the product, innovating, measuring, etc. Also, in both industries you travel, work with different cultures and, maybe it’s another topic, but travel is my lifestyle.
AT: Accenture's research finds the ratio of female to male managers is at a poor 17 to 50 globally. How can digital and technology be leveraged to facilitate equal opportunities for women?
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CS: In my team the ratio is the opposite. In my management style, aligned with RHG, my teams manage their time, homework and travels, and they deliver extraordinary results. Radisson Hotel Group offers all technical possibilities; all meeting rooms are prepared with video conference capabilities and we have real-time chatting and clouds for sharing material, etc.
AT: How can hotels keep pace with speed to market, agility and innovation of digital natives to deliver more compelling customer experiences that drive increased loyalty and revenue per customer?
CS: The speed to market when you speak of, say XXXX rooms is incompatible. I personally have been driving innovation and strongly believe that everything should be tested, scalable (price and product) and realize benefit in a reasonable time. With this formula you will be able to convince owners to invest. I am not in favour of building a business case at the initial innovation stage because we will kill all ideas. But once it’s tested and working, we need to demonstrate the positive impact—customer experience translating to increase in revenues, positive reviews and loyalty.
At RHG we pilot everything in our own hotels to test different scenarios, and to build trust in front of owners. We give high importance to guest usability, and sometimes we are so complex that a new experience is not used by guests. Last but not least we need to help the guest evolve. When I started in aviation nobody was doing the check-in online!
AT: How can hotels compete with OTAs and private accommodations and establish a differentiated position?
CS: OTAs are distribution channels. The world is evolving and ecommerce is a reality. We should be working together. I think private accommodation and hotels provide solutions to different needs, different targets at different moments. I have used private accommodations when going to the beach with five friends because we want to be together in the same space and cook dinner together. When I arrive in Shanghai on a business trip after 11 hours and coming from another trip I don’t want to wait for the tenant with the keys; I need dinner ready in my room and laundry service.
AT: What kind of a traveler are you?
CS: I travel more than half of the time, for business, for leisure, with family or friends, and am always a different traveler. For business as mentioned above I have more requirements, higher expectations. For leisure I am happy camping in the Amazon or in a private accommodation in Thailand. I am a clear example that I can be a target for all our hotel brands: Radisson Collection if I want a romantic weekend, Radisson Blu for business, Park Inn by Radisson for a trip with friends, etc.
AT: What is your favorite travel destination?
CS: I have visited almost all countries of South America, and I think it is a magical continent! Chile, Venezuela, Peru, Brazil etc.—but my favourite travel destinations are where my family and friends are, like Kho Phangan (where my best friend is living) and the Mediterranean Sea!