Arlene Coyle, SVP commercial corporations, Amadeus
Arlene has lived and breathed corporate travel for 20 years and as such is an advocate of how the individual will play a key role in managed travel in the future, helped by technology. At the Phocuswright Conference 2018, Arlene will take part in an executive round table entitled the Remaking of Corporate Travel.
In a series of interviews with executives participating at the event in Los Angeles in November, PhocusWire finds out what makes them tick...
What are the gaps in your experience and knowledge of the industry?
I have worked in managed travel for 18 years, so while I am super at ease with change, technology and terminology for the corporate traveller and business travel agencies — policies, preferences, reason codes, traveller servicing and duty of care to name a few — there are other areas like SEO, conversion ratio, and retailing that I don’t get to talk about so much.
However, with the lines blurring between business and leisure trips, I feel much more at ease with those conversation thanks to the unique position Amadeus holds in the travel industry. Any time I feel out of my comfort zone, I can turn to my colleagues in Airlines, Hospitality, Payment, Retail, OTA, or to our clients and partners, to bring me up to speed pretty quickly to ensure we’re all moving the industry forward.
When was the last time you spoke to one of your customers and why?
Earlier this year, Amadeus re-organized our company to get even closer to our customers and to put them at the center of all we do. The Travel Channels organisation, which I’m a part of, is made up of different customer-facing segments — online travel companies, retail travel agencies, business travel agencies and corporations. This segment-led approach means we are able to work even more closely with our customers and deliver solutions tailored to their businesses so they can better serve their customers.
So in my role, as SVP commercial corporations, I talk with my clients and partners every day, multiple times a day. With our new technology platform, Amadeus cytric Travel and Expense, for corporations and corporate travellers, each and every day there is something happening in that space — clients going live, new clients coming on board, travellers discovering new features, things they like, others less so… so client interaction is part of my day-to-day and that is what I love about what I do.
On a scale of one to ten, how lucky are you?
I am Irish so I have to say that the luck of the Irish is with me. But more seriously, I feel pretty lucky with all I have going on in and outside of work. So I would say close to 10.
What assumption about travelers have you found not to be true?
My colleagues in Amadeus Research and Ventures conducted research this summer on traveller motivations. When we think about technology today and our phones being sources of endless information, I assume that a large percentage of our travel planning takes place online and well ahead of the journey. In fact, 85% of activity bookings still take place offline, and over 70% of destination content is booked onsite at the destination.
What was your childhood aspiration?
The only one certainty I ever had as a child was that I wanted to travel. On my Christmas list was a globe which, by the way, I never got! I loved anything to do with travel, airplanes, languages… I remember collecting cards of the world from cereal boxes, and learning about jungles and oceans, cities and buildings. Inherently, I knew that travel was always something I would do.
I also loved investigations, and mystery books, and I had a great imagination. So for a career, I wanted to be part of Interpol. That was a job which combined the best of both worlds. I am not sure what happened along the way, whether my parents or my teachers put that idea out of my mind — I certainly did not join Interpol, but I have more than met my dream when it comes to travel.
Who is the person you most admire within the industry and why?
There is a huge amount of great people working in this industry. There are some incredible leaders out there who manage to inspire and lead their teams every day. Those people and names we all know. Under those leaders, there are also a huge amount of unsung heroes, the people we never read about.
As a very frequent traveller, generally speaking, I admire anyone who has a sense of humour, who does their job with relentless passion and who knows when I want to sleep on a flight!
If I were to name a leader who has fundamentally changed the way we travel and the way we may travel, I would have to call out Dara Khosrowshahi (Uber CEO and former Expedia CEO) who I had the pleasure to interview at an Amadeus leaders event, for his humility and drive.
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What is your proudest professional achievement?
Getting to work for Amadeus, of course. I was pretty determined to work for this company because I love technology and information. When I started out, I was working for CWT in Paris. In France at the time, we had the Minitel, and I found it absolutely fascinating to get information from a screen. So you can imagine my delight when I first attended a course on Amadeus. I was literally spellbound. I booked hotels all over the world, travelled the length and breadth of the globe (all in training environment of course!!). The effect of that knowledge and having access to places I only ever dreamed of, meant that it was the obvious place for me to be. A proud moment when I finally joined in 2000.
You’re explaining the industry to a new employee, complete the sentence:
“Beware of the….attraction. Once you are hooked, it’s hard to go elsewhere!!”
If you weren’t in travel, what industry/company would you like to be part of and why?
I always liked the car and shampoo industries. Cars, I guess because of the movement, the design, features and how they manage to differentiate, the progress this industry has made, and the link people have with these products. It’s a bit like the travel or technology space where the evolution is endless.
And I find the shampoo industry fascinating. I am amazed at the creativity that goes into shampoo, and what people will buy based on brand, hair types, smell, bottle size. I could spend all day in the shampoo aisle!
Tell us about your favorite vacation?
I enjoy discovering new places and meeting new people. Working with so many cultures in Amadeus, meeting our teams and our clients means I have the unique opportunity to experience this first hand around the world.
Some of these business trips then go on my list for family vacation. Japan was one of these. For me this is a country which ticks all the boxes — culture, food, diversity, scenery, history. It has it all. I loved it. It was pure escapism, as well as being incredibly enriching culturally. Travelling across four cities, Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka and Hiroshima was a privilege, and to enjoy that on the technologically amazing Shinkansen (bullet train) was a dream come true.
What would you tell your 20-year old self?
That was a tough age and I really feel for kids starting out today — so much has changed and will continue to change. What I would say is have confidence, find people who believe in you, are willing to help you learn and grow, and take your time. Take some risk, you will get there.
What do you consider to be the most important invention in the digital world in the last 20 years?
You know with the pace of change and with innovation being fast and vast, it’s difficult for me to pick one. Self-driving cars as an example is terrifying for me, and I am unsure about drones, but what I can say is, regardless of the changes we see in the digital world, nothing will replace the human connection and engagement. This is what bridges the gaps between the physical and digital. That is why I believe travel and the service industry has a long future ahead, and why at Amadeus we place the traveller at the core of what we do.
We need to ensure that we keep up with the pace of change in our industry, keep the connections in place and ensure that those changes are good for our customers and good for Amadeus.
What’s your must-have app?
I have a few apps I use all the time, I am pretty practical and fairly loyal when it comes to apps. I like simplicity, things that work, and the experience. I am a big fan of the Nice Cote d’Azur airport app, obviously I love CheckMyTrip (from Amadeus) which, by the way, is now the number one travel app. I also love Facebook and LinkedIn to stay in touch with everyone professionally and personally.
But most of all I love the world clock app! I love thinking about what time it is in different parts of the world and what people are doing in their day.
Tell us something you dislike about your role in the company?
While the pace of change in our industry is quite exciting, it’s also very challenging, especially in a business like ours where scale is very important. We have diverse customers each with their own set of needs and expectations, so staying ahead of the pace change to remain competitive and determining what serves the best interest of our customers, our employees, our company can keep me up at night.
Describe your desk and working environment?
I work at the Amadeus office in Sophia Antipolis which is in the South of France. Each day I get to look over the mountains and the sea while I’m at my desk. But more often than not, I’m on a plane visiting customers around the world. Since the start of the year, I’ve had the opportunity to travel to Mexico City, Toronto, Bangkok, Madrid, London, Paris, Sydney, Auckland, San Diego to name a few. The best part of my working environment is being out in the field meeting new people in new places.
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