Posts by: Nakita Mason

Leading The Way With Timo Gruenert Of The Oetker Collection

Leading The Way With Timo Gruenert Of The Oetker Collection

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.

Travel & Tourism: The Global Employer

Travel & Tourism: The Global Employer

Currently, the world is all sat in a waiting room of sorts, eagerly awaiting the green light of free movement to be switched on while simultaneously glaring at the receptionist who’s so far refused to acknowledge we’re here, or that we’re well-past our appointment time.

With the worry of COVID-19 on our shoulders and the frustration of its imposition on our everyday lives, it’s little wonder we’re collectively daydreaming of sandy shores and sandal-appropriate weather. Not only that, but we now have the added pressure of juggling our newly-amalgamated domestic and work lives. Our valiant attempts to work while our children find new and ingenious ways of testing our patience is no easy feat.

Of course, many people are dealing with much harder circumstances than simple disruption to their routines. For some, this crisis has been cataclysmic at both a personal and industrial level, bringing to the forefront not only how interconnected we all are but how vital each role we play is too.

Undoubtedly, one of the hardest-hit industries is travel and tourism, with its core ways of operating being obliterated almost overnight. The consequences of this, however, are far more intricate than just the worldwide economic loss, it’s also heavily impacting people at a micro-level in terms of employment.

ILTM’s 2020 white paper which focused on the Global Luxury Travel Universe discovered that across the top 50 most visited nations, 105.9m people were directly employed by the travel and tourism industry. These are people who run hotels, work in travel agencies and manage our flights, people for whom travel restrictions are far costlier than missing a trip.

Amid this crisis then, the value of the travel and tourism industry has come into increasingly sharp focus. Its undeniable role within communities and countries can no longer be downplayed as merely a second string to superior economic contributors. If we consider Italy as an example, one of the countries hit hardest by this crisis, the necessity of travel and tourism to its economic health is unquestionable, not only broadly but for individuals too. As the fifth most visited country in the world, recorded at close to 59m visitors a year, Italy’s symbiotic relationship with the tourism industry is no secret. Putting aside tourism-related industries like food and drink or sporting events, Italy’s prime benefit from tourism is through direct employment. Of those who are employed in Italy, which stands at 23.4m, a significant 1.54m are directly employed in travel and tourism.

The Philippines is yet another stark instance of this trend. Ranking 48th in the world for international visitors and welcoming a substantial 6.6m each year, travel and tourism is easily one of the most prolific sectors it has and generates an estimated 25% of GDP. Compared to its next largest sector, being the financial industry, the GDP contribution attained there is significantly lower at only 15.4%. Even more tellingly, however, is that a 2018 study revealed that there was an estimated 13% of the Philippines’ population, roughly 5.5m, who relied on travel and tourism for employment.

Italy and the Philippines are just two examples of travel and tourism’s role in employment, but many more exist. Recent employment data suggest that other countries within the top 20 countries in the global top 50 most visited destinations are just as reliant on this global employer, including Croatia, Greece, Portugal and Spain. It’s estimated that Croatia for example, is second only to the Philippines within these top 20 countries and has 12.5% of its population directly employed within the travel and tourism sector as you can see in ILTM’s 2020 white paper.

The figures from all over the world then indicate that travel and tourism is a formidable friend to employment. This global employer is the cornerstone to many livelihoods, and without it, there are vast swathes of people without income or a clear path for the future. As it stands, an *ITUC survey that considered 82 countries (including fifteen G20 countries) have found that 82% of them have implemented travel bans that, while necessary, have choked the lifeblood of many individuals who are employed within this industry.

Further, the domino effect of these travel bans on employment doesn’t only touch those who are directly involved within it. As ILTM have highlighted recently, there is also an associated Global Luxury Travel Ecosystem that, while not as significant in terms of contributions, still has a relative role to play. The restaurant owners, wellness instructors and museum staff, not to mention countless others, will also, to lesser extents, feel the bite of travel and tourism having its wings clipped.

COVID-19 has touched us all in one form or another. For some, the disruptions are an annoyance, for others, disastrous. As for the travel and tourism industry, it has been a swift right hook from nowhere and the hits seemingly keep coming. Now, some weeks on from the initial worldwide alarm being sounded, we’re all left wondering when this odd stalemate with nature will end.

Until then, we all remain in the waiting room together. As we do though it’s worth remembering that necessity is the mother of invention and if we’ve learnt anything at all in this strange interlude it’s that we need travel and tourism back to being the global employer it has shown itself to be. How and when we get there is still up for debate, but get there we will and when we do it will be with more knowledge, more pride and more power than ever before. Travel advisers and fellow wanderers, keep a weather eye on the horizon.

* International Trade Union Confederation