Kicking of ILTM’s Leading The Way series, we speak to newly appointed CEO Timo Gruenert of the Oetker Collection, on what it takes to be successful in the luxury travel business, and what the future traveller might desire next.
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
I guess the honest answer is: I wanted to run a company. From my early years, I was attracted by business in general, by the mechanism of stock markets and by the art of aligning different interests of different people towards one common goal.
What would you say are the core elements needed to be successful in the luxury travel industry?
Understanding the needs of your guests, having a clearly defined and relevant brand promise and always being true to your values (and have the values in the first place).
Did you or do you have anyone you would consider a mentor? If so, who and how have they helped you realise your potential?
I can think of two people: Frank Marrenbach, who put a lot of trust in me when he brought me into the fold of the Oetker Collection in 2009. His charismatic leadership has always been an inspiration. And Dr Ernst F. Schröder, former general partner of the Oetker Group and my boss for 13 years. Apart from supporting me and from entrusting me with new responsibilities early on in my career, he always told me openly when I needed to improve on certain things. This was not always fun, but it helped me learn a lot.
Is there anything that stands out to you as the biggest mistake of your career or something you’d choose to change if you could turn the clock back?
Well, yes, I can think of a few things. But overall I am quite happy with the balance of my decisions, and especially with the more important ones.
What’s your top tip to people working in luxury travel?
Stay humble, be sincere, and do not get confused between the luxury world that surrounds you during work and your own personal life.
Now that you have stepped into the role of CEO, what will change for the Oetker Collection?
I have been around as CFO and a co-managing director for 11 years now and so have seen the brand build-up from just four properties that were initially owned by the group. Knowing this history, I think we are certainly going to see more of an evolution rather than a revolution. That said, while the Oetker Collection has gained a good reputation with the travel trade over the years, the brand awareness for the direct clients can still be improved on and that’s something we will look at in the future. Plus, if we continue to do a good job, there will be some new Masterpiece Hotels in the future too.
It’s clear that one of the main aspects of your company ethos is about meaningful connections, what does this mean to you?
I am going to reveal the secret to creating meaningful connections: you have to care. We operate exceptional hotels – true Masterpieces – with a family spirit, elegance and genuine kindness. It is this combination that creates a very strong emotional bond between our guests and our hotels. Our hotels are places that people really care about, places that become part of their lives, and they would miss them deeply if they were no longer around. That may sound exaggerated, but I know that this is indeed the case for many of our guests – and employees!
How integral do you think sustainability will be to future travellers when choosing destinations?
Sustainability is indeed going to be one of the most important subjects for the industry going forward. This is not a trend that will go away, on the contrary, luxury hotels have to find their way to becoming genuinely good corporate citizens. This is first a question of mindset, then a question of thinking smart and only finally a matter of execution. Removing plastic bottles is a start of course, but certainly does not stretch far enough.
How does it feel to be part of the luxury travel industry and what has been the most significant change you’ve noticed since you began your career?
What I like most about this industry is the people. This is not just a nice thing to say, it’s true. There is something in this industry which, simply, attracts a lot of very kind people. The way of talking to each other is respectful, there is a lot of passion around, and people are used to and willing to go the extra mile constantly. And if we do our job well, we can positively influence the lives of people around us. What more could you wish for?
If you could pick one other brand to work for, who would it be?
As you know I just became CEO of the Oetker Collection on May 1st. So please forgive me, but while there are a few other brands that I like, I cannot think of anything else other than the Oetker Collection right now.
What do you think makes people’s desire to travel so strong despite global uncertainties?
Well, you can sit at home and watch the news but a lot of things that you see you are not going to like. Or you can get up from the couch and see the world with your own eyes, discover it with your own senses. The journey will make you realise that the world is a pretty amazing place and full of very kind people that care a lot.
What do you see as the key responsibilities of the luxury travel industry to the communities they operate within?
The players within the industry need to be good corporate citizens. As such, they need to integrate themselves into the local communities and make sure they are not considered foreign objects.