Maria Elena Velardi, Chief marketing officer at Wayaj
Wayaj is an app to discover and book eco-friendly hotels and experiences around the world. Maria Elena Velardi joined in May 2017 as its chief marketing officer.
For our November theme, PhocusWire talks to marketing chiefs on the challenges of their roles and the impact of technology and data on travel marketing.
When should travel startups consider hiring a CMO?
If we’re talking about startups, ideally the CMO should be on board since day one.
They should be part of the founding team’s trinity - business (CEO), technology (CTO) and marketing (CMO) – when there is the synergy created by a shared vision between these three parts of a business, it is going to move ahead much faster.
New entrepreneurs often think that success depends on having a good new idea, but in my experience that is not true.
Success depends on the execution of that idea and marketing is crucial to creating a product that appeals to your core market.
How essential is online reputation management for a travel brand, and what role does the CMO play in this?
In the age of Instagram and social media, travel has become an integral part of how we define ourselves in relation to our peers.
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Therefore, there are a lot of personal expectations around the travel experience. Combine this with the fact that, by definition, travel takes people outside their comfort zone and we have customers in a very sensitive position.
Online reputation management is crucial for any travel company. Startups might have an advantage because they are smaller and more agile organizations, so reaction time is shorter, and stakes are usually lower.
The role of the CMO is to define clear guidelines, maintain brand voice, support the marketing team in managing customer expectations in a transparent and friendly way, and provide a reliable support for management to deal with a crisis.
What things from your previous experience has prepared you for the CMO role at Wayaj?
Working for a startup is wearing many hats at the same time and/or in quick succession. I have more than 15 years of marketing experience, spanning from PR and journalism to ecommerce and analytics.
I worked mostly with lifestyle brands, and this project combines my passion for travel and a sense of purpose.
I am passionate about exploring the possibilities that tech innovation opens every day; I’m not cut for a cozy routine job.
What are the marketing trends that you think will have the biggest impact on your business in the next five years?
Marketing with a purpose is certainly one that it’s built in our company’s mission. Personalization has also been our objective since the beginning - that’s why we ask the users to create a profile and tell us their travel preferences, so then thanks to AI and machine learning (another trend that we have already started to implement with our chatbot), we can recommend the best destinations and experiences without them sifting through hundreds of possibilities.
What is Wayaj’s greatest marketing threat right now and what is its greatest marketing opportunity?
The biggest threat is climate change and how people are reacting to it. And I am not referring to those who decide not to fly anymore, but to those who ignore it and continue to travel the non-sustainable way.
The greatest opportunity is that more people are becoming aware of climate change, and tourists’ demand for responsible, ethical experiences is rising.
How do you get a buy-in from your boss when you want to get more funding for a new marketing initiative?
The keyword is always “ROI”, and not only in financial terms, but in terms of educating people about a more sustainable lifestyle.
What are the greatest challenges of your role?
Finding the right talent, managing expectations vs budget.
What advice would you give to an experienced marketer from another sector who is pondering a move into the travel industry?
Coming myself from another industry, I had experience in travel way back just after college. I found the industry is made by people very passionate about what they do.
They all have traveled a lot and their minds are more open in terms of diversity and cultural integration, compared to the average in other industries.
The industry is also undergoing a profound change with digital technologies, and there is space for new disrupting ideas. So be brave, be passionate and dive in!
How do you market sustainability to travelers who are just looking for the best deal?
We are really trying to dispel two stereotypes: one that sustainability is just a luxury, and vice-versa that sustainability means doing away with all the comforts and staying in a hut with other tree-huggers.
Sustainability doesn’t cost more; it costs less. Sustainability means energy savings, less disposable plastic, food grown on premises and so on. It costs less in financial terms and in environmental terms.
Wayaj offers a wide range of properties to suit any travel style: from private islands in the middle of the ocean to hip hostels in historic cities, from treehouses in the jungle to amazing modern hotels in the heart of the urban jungle.
How has your content marketing objectives evolved in your current role?
Let’s say that as the company grows so does my reach in terms of marketing channels to develop and maintain. Videos is certainly an area of content marketing that we will be working on in the coming months.
I am astonished of how little the big hospitality brands have done in video so far; any travel vlogger worth their name has at least double their subscribers on YouTube.
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