17 experts advise on what’s to come this year. Spoiler: Data factors big.
The Innovate Conference for the Advancement of Business Travel offered business travel executives the opportunity to articulate priorities and recommendations.
Group SVP of worldwide sales Derek DeCross talks:
Group is fresh off a leadership transition. Former chief commercial officer Keith
Barr assumed his new role as CEO on July 1, replacing CEO of six years Richard Solomons,
who will retire on Aug. 30. But a transition of another sort was already underway
at IHG, as SVP of worldwide sales Derek DeCross, who joined from American Airlines
in February 2016, worked to fill gaps in the company's sales organization, particularly
in the business-to-business segment. He spoke with BTN lodging editor Julie Sickel.
BTN: What have
you been working on since you joined IHG?
Derek DeCross: I really
spent the first six months or so asking lots of questions, putting together a pretty
thorough analysis of [strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats for] our
organization with my team, with my peers, with our customers. I hired Jonathan Kaplan
from Starwood to head up our global sales strategy team, and he's filling out his
own team. I also brought over Simon Scoot, who was with our InterContinental Hotels
& Resorts global brand team, to lead our renewed focus on luxury and lifestyle
sales. And we created a new B2B marketing and loyalty team, among other organizational
changes in Brian King's sales operations group. B2B sales are very important to
IHG, and it's exciting to see the company really collectively rally behind the drive
toward a stronger focus on B2B opportunities.
BTN: Tell me how
the appointments you mentioned relate to the white spaces IHG has.
DeCross: IHG today
does not have a global small and midsize enterprise program. That's something that
Jonathan Kaplan's team is working on right now. We have some programs in place already
like our small meeting solutions team and business rewards that reward travel bookers,
but you'll see us putting more resources into this area. We did not have a broader
position on the sales side within the luxury and lifestyle segment, either. By bringing
Simon over and by putting people on the West Coast, the East Coast, London and in
regional areas around the world, we really filled that out, as well. Finally, the
B2B marketing piece is crucial. Having a great B2B marketing and sales organization
is essentially like having 10,0000 sales reps all saying the same thing with the
latest collateral with the latest propositions, etc.
I … firmly believe that having a strong presence of IHG Rewards Club within a corporate travel program is a very healthy thing for the manager to really help drive compliance."
BTN: What will
your B2B team be doing around loyalty?
DeCross: We will absolutely
be working with the corporate travel teams to identify opportunities for how we
can use IHG Rewards Club to drive compliance to their programs. With the B2B marketing
team, we'll have the infrastructure to help make those types of activities actually
hit the road map and then be delivered upon over the next few quarters. We also
will be working very closely with our loyalty team to make sure that the B2B voice
is brought in to heavily influence their activities. There's a lot of opportunity
and headroom to improve our penetration within this segment. I also firmly believe
that having a strong presence of IHG Rewards Club within a corporate travel program
is a very healthy thing for the manager to really help drive compliance. Employees
who are rewarded for their business stays are much more likely to engage and drive
preference in their travel program.
BTN: What can
the hotel industry learn from the airline industry?
DeCross: It's not really learning from the airline industry
so much as overcoming some of the structural differences between us. One of those
elements is really having access to better account-level marketshare data. Unfortunately,
we don't have a Prism equivalent like the airlines do, and that is an opportunity
for us as a supplier, as well as our customers. Another opportunity is really involving
how we conduct corporate transient RFPs. The amount of human capital spent on the
hotel RFP cycle on all sides is truly staggering. One thing we can all agree on
is that everyone, whether it be the supplier, whether it be the customer, whether
it be the agency, drives far more value to the respective organizations [if they're
not] doing this routine six to eight months of the year. It's not that airlines
have the silver bullet here, either, but I haven't met a corporate travel manager
yet who said they preferred the hotel methodology. While IHG has really standardized
and automated the RFP process and we've leveraged proprietary [revenue management]
systems and key tools and programs to help our hotels ensure we can get the best
rates possible for our customers—and we have been increasingly moving towards dynamic
rates and strategic pricing programs and longer-term deals—there's so much more
opportunity ahead here to improve.
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