Experience, Experience, Experience. Experiences will continue to be the driving force behind a consumer’s decision-making process when booking a vacation; therefore, this point cannot be emphasized enough. Brands who fail to deliver unique, guest-centered experiences will soon be left behind. Companies will also need to integrate those experiences seamlessly through technology.
As part of my series about “exciting developments in the travel industry over the next five years,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Denise Godreau. Denise is the chief brand and innovation officer of Holiday Inn Club Vacations. As a member of the executive leadership team, Denise is responsible for driving cross-functional collaborative innovation in research, data mining, branding, product design, communications and digital technology to accelerate growth among new consumer segments. She has worked at Fortune 500 and startup companies in both the U.S. and abroad, developing a deep understanding of the global consumer and marketplace. Denise has a Master of Business Administration from Harvard Business School and a Bachelor of Science in Economics from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. She has won several awards throughout her career, most notably The Don Quijote Award from the Orlando Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the Top 100 Diverse MBA from Diversity MBA magazine.
Thank you so much for joining us Denise! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I like to say it was a combination of diligence and destiny that has guided me through my career. I am very goal-oriented, so when I started my career, I had target companies in mind and pursued an opportunity with one of those organizations. After my first job, I instead pursued opportunities that aligned with my interests, including individuals I really respected, were located in cities I wanted to explore, or lined up with personal priorities that were important at the time.
Throughout my professional journey and various career decisions, I have been diligent in networking, learning something new and relevant in every opportunity, and stretching beyond my comfort zone. There was also destiny in being in the right place at the right time.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
When I interviewed with Baha Mar, I felt like everything went well until the very end when the CEO asked me how I felt about gaming. I responded that I thought it was polarizing, as some people enjoy it and others hate it. He then asked about the last I had been to Vegas, and I cringed inside as I said it had been many years. I knew the CEO did not like receiving that answer from a possible future CMO of a resort with a large, important casino. I tried to recover, but I had been candid and it was too late.
As I walked back to the hotel room, I kept beating myself up over how I had answered the question, especially as I looked out at the beautiful blue water. Later that evening, I was surprised to receive a call from the CEO saying he wanted me to go to Las Vegas with my husband. He requested we stay at the most beautiful and admired resort in Las Vegas, to attend its shows, restaurants and nightclubs, and play at the casino — all on his dime. Afterwards, he wanted to speak with me again. I was completely dumbfounded. In the words of my husband, “you are the only person I know that messes up an interview, and gets a fully paid vacation to Vegas!”
Needless to say, I loved my time in Vegas, and was able to convince the CEO that I could build a brand for Baha Mar that would compete with luxury resorts like the one I visited. “I knew you could do the job, but I wanted to make sure you were going to love it,” he later told me.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I once wore two different shoes to work — one brown and one navy. I learned not to get dressed in a dark closet ever again.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
I have been with Holiday Inn Club Vacations for five months now, and have to say that the company’s culture is what makes it stand out. From Tom Nelson, the company’s president and CEO, to our receptionist, Elba, I have never worked with a nicer group of people.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out?” Can you share a story about that?
For me, burnout has more to do with liking my leader and job role than the actual hours I work. The more I enjoyed a job, the more I worked. When I felt “burned out,” it was typically because I was no longer working for someone I liked or was traveling too much.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
There are so many, but someone that sticks out is Matt Ouimet, who was my first boss at Disney. He once asked me what I needed from him, and I said, “let me show you what I can do. And if you like it, tell everyone about it.” He smiled and agreed. I owe many opportunities at Disney to the advocacy I always received from Matt and my boss after him, Linda Warren.
Let’s jump to the core of our discussion. Can you share with our readers about the innovations that you are bringing to the travel and hospitality industries?
There have been quite a few consumer pain points that the timeshare industry has failed to address. And, in this day and age, any consumer pain point that goes unaddressed can topple a company or an industry. In the timeshare industry, the product, sales and marketing practices must be redesigned to appeal to a larger consumer base. While I am working to reinvent many aspects of our product, it is too early to discuss specifics.
Which “pain point” are you trying to address by introducing this innovation?
We want to increase flexibility, while reducing complexity. That is not an easy task. We’re also working to create complete transparency, eliminate experience friction points, and build a brand that is functional and emotionally relevant.
When all companies are reading the same research and observing the same trends, everyone ends up producing similar results. The key is to find the sweet spot between a single, important consumer need and your product, then deliver it in a way that is uniquely owned by your brand. This could mean zeroing in on one differentiating factor, as opposed to the safer, “be-all-things-to-all-people” strategy. Building a memorable brand takes courage, time and money.
How do you envision that this might disrupt the status quo?
In order to create brand love through experiences, leaders in the hospitality industry must completely shift their overall business strategy. Brands must accept that they are not in the business of selling rooms, but rather in the business of selling experiences that are segment specific. You cannot be all things to all people.
Can you share 5 examples of how travel and hospitality companies will be adjusting over the next five years to the new ways that consumers like to travel?
- Experience, Experience, Experience
Experiences will continue to be the driving force behind a consumer’s decision-making process when booking a vacation; therefore, this point cannot be emphasized enough. Brands who fail to deliver unique, guest-centered experiences will soon be left behind. Companies will also need to integrate those experiences seamlessly through technology.
- “Just-like-home” Amenities
The travel and hospitality industry is flooded with options for consumers, so guests will seek more spacious rooms and amenities. While the standard hotel room still has an appeal to the business segment, the young solo traveler, and the luxury consumers, families and groups on vacation will seek accommodations that are more home-like and offer unique gathering spaces. Again, it will be hard for a brand to be all things to all people.
- Like a Local
When visiting a new city or town, travelers want to feel as though they have experienced the area from a local perspective. When developing experiences, brands must be representative of the surrounding area and culture. And “hosting like a local” goes beyond design and food; it is about enabling your guests to really do what locals do.
- Multi-Generational Travel Accommodations
With growing multi-cultural families comes an increase in multi-generational travel, as it is very common for Hispanics, African Americans and Asian Americans to travel with grandparents. Any given travel group can consist of three generations and multi-sibling groups, which means a variety of activities to keep everyone entertained and engaged must be offered.
- Subscription-Based Pricing Models
Thanks to services like Netflix, subscription-based pricing models have become commonplace. Many travel companies now offer subscription-based models to find deals, discounted accommodations, access to one-of-a-kind experiences, or pre-paid travel options.
You are a “travel insider.” How would you describe your perfect vacation experience?
I grew up sailing to hidden coves, so I love going places that allow me to get out of urban environments and into small towns with vast natural beauty. Last summer, I rode with my husband on his motorcycle across the country and through Canada to Alaska. We fell in love with Yukon Territory. I also really enjoy Vieques and Culebra in Puerto Rico and the outer Islands of The Bahamas for the same reason.
Can you share with our readers how have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I have a daughter with Angelman Syndrome, and no matter how hard I work, I always leave the best of me for her. I think she has taught me so much that I have applied to work — to fight tirelessly for what is right, to look beyond the obvious, to never give up, to accept help and to find joy in the smallest accomplishments.
Additionally, I once used my media relations knowledge to fight the school district and get my daughter integrated into her local school. The day before mediation, a local news outlet ran a story that featured my sweet seven-year-old, and chastised the school district for not living up to the Individual with Disabilities Education Act. The support we received from our community was priceless. My daughter was accepted into her local elementary school, and middle and high schools with no problem years later. Hopefully, we made it easier for other children with special needs, as well.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring good to the most people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I would love to reinvent housing for people with disabilities. It is segregated and lonely. And yet, I have always found so many kind people in my journey with my daughter. I would love to see work-live-play communities that dedicate 10 percent of its living spaces to areas designed for people with cognitive and physical disabilities. In these communities, residents could work in the offices and retail spaces, and have access to medical services and recreation. This would create an environment where neighbors are happy to interact and help each other in ways that enrich all lives beyond measure.