INTERVIEW: Christiane Sieveking, VP Business Development & Partnerships – RateGain Europe
Posted by Vero
Christiane Sieveking, Vice President, Business Development & Partnerships – Europe, is a passionate professional with a strong focus on results and customer service. In this interview she talks about her pandemic experience, how she sees the future for the travel industry and RateGain's long standing partnership with TravelgateX.
What are some of the biggest challenges for your sector right now?
This shouldn't be surprising, but accelerating recovery has been a constant challenge for the industry. 18 months have passed since the world went into restrictions of some form. The revival of travel in America this summer was a breath of fresh air, but Europe and Asia remain volatile. Predicting demand and selling inventory are leading challenges that revenue and distribution teams face every day. The past data has been rendered ineffective. Covid remains a threat impacting traveler's optimism. There is pent-up demand, but right now, everybody is in "wait-and-watch" mode.
What do you think are some of the biggest opportunities for the travel industry in 2021?
There are still clouds of doubt over international travel. Many countries are experiencing restrictions due to covid, and some countries are taking a very cautious approach. This new shift is further encouraging "local travel". People would focus more on destinations that are not too far from their native place.
We might see hygiene and cleanliness become the themes for the 2021 travel season – for obvious reasons. Hotels should gear up for contactless payments, check-in, and check-out if they haven't done that yet.
For the hoteliers, I foresee there is still time for corporate travel to bounce back. Leisure travel will drive demand. "Staycation"; and "workcation"; are the new buzzwords. Hotels should focus more on user- generated content that would help spread the word via social media and content. Data, as the cliche goes, will be the key enabler. It is already helping revenue managers make informed decisions. Real-time pricing intelligence will be the need of the hour to predict demand patterns.
What is a crazy or out-of-the-box product or technology that you would personally like to ?
There is volatility around travel at the moment. It is pretty tough to predict demand. It's have been ideal for hoteliers if they had a crystal ball to indicate the source and place for upcoming/future demand. It would give hoteliers a fair chance to promote their property aggressively from where the demand is predicted. I have news for you! At RateGain, we have been working on an exciting innovation called Demand.ai, which provides answers for questions like:
How many travelers are coming to every locality? What type of traveler is expected to arrive? Where are the travelers coming from? For what dates is the demand high? Demand.ai helps uncover trends based on forward booking insights and top search keywords potential travelers are using to find their dream destination. Using its intuitive dashboard, you can instantly see the average hotel rate per night, Covid index, and other leading indicators impacting demand in a particular geography.
What is your favorite thing about working in hospitality/Travel/Tourism?
It’s diversity. I love conversing with people around the globe – traveling to unique destinations and hotels. The world of distribution seems to be connected to everyone in one way or another. New trends are coming out every year, whether in consumer behavior, new travel products, or technology. It is so much fun to work in this industry, and it never gets monotonous.
What is your favorite thing about actually travelling?
Travel is a way of life for me. The pandemic may have limited us indoors, but it is in human nature to explore, find, and be curious about the unknown. Travel exposes me to different cultures, cities, landscapes, people, and food that I would never know had I not traveled. My work and profession have taken me to so many places -- and this is what motivates me to keep going.
How else have you seen people traveling differently this year?
Definitely there have been tectonic shifts in the traveling etiquettes. I have seen people preferring personal cars over flights or trains. There is so much emphasis on reading reviews online and consuming content before they make a booking. People prefer hotels that provide last-minute cancellation options. Locally, people are embracing domestic over international destinations -- and have become more mindful of the sustainable ways of travel.
How is this moment affecting you personally?
The last 18 months have been tough on everybody. I am no different. Being in sales, I always enjoyed attending in-person industry events, tradeshows, and leadership summits that haven't just broaden my knowledge and horizon but have also allowed me to meet the brightest minds in the industry. The current times have limited our mobility -- and this opportunity. I am very optimistic that we all will be meeting soon without any fear. I am excited to collaborate with my colleagues and exchange ideas that are only possible in person.
Can you talk more about solutions you think will be most impactful in the next 12 to 18 months as travel begins to recover?
"In every crisis, there is an opportunity." - Albert Einstein. I firmly believe in the quote.
During this crisis, I've realized the travel and hospitality industry has proven to be very resilient. But, there are lessons we all can learn. The industry needs to adopt technology at a brisk pace. The world we live in is no longer the same post-Covid. The customer expectations are evolving. Hotels that can provide a smooth, contactless check-in and check-out experience would be popular among tourists and travelers.
I can't emphasize the role of 'content' in the hotel technology mix enough. The demand for descriptive, visual, relevant, device-agnostic, and accurate content has never been more critical to achieving faster conversions. It will only escalate. Now is the time to invest in it.
Parity is a billion-dollar revenue problem. As more digital touchpoints emerge, managing parity on all channels continues to be a challenge for teams. I can safely predict a platform that can detect the number of violations, violators, and fix those violations would be in high demand. Distribution, in my opinion, continues to be a worthy challenge for hoteliers. I strongly feel the industry needs to take a relook at its current distribution tech stack. Channel managers aren’t new to the scene, but how many of them can discover untapped demand opportunities from new source markets? Do they help you in connecting to new channels faster? These are just a few critical questions you need to investigate before you onboard a vendor or a channel manager.
What advice do you have for startup founders today?
Solve some of the problems nobody has solved before in the industry – and there are plenty of them. Recently I started collaborating with a local RMS company specializing in leisure hotels; their tool makes price recommendations and solves some of the key distribution problems for hoteliers, especially with tour operator connectivity. Partnering with prominent companies with complementary solutions might help both of us gain added visibility in the market.
What have been the surprise benefits to not traveling?
In an ideal world, I would always be more happy to travel. Still, under these extraordinary circumstances, I'd say I get more time to spend with my family and new hobbies that I have started engaging in. I have also started to explore nature around where I live, which has been very rewarding.
What are the plans for 2022?
I plan to travel a lot. My gut feeling tells me that 2022 will be an exciting year both for RateGain and me. I expect our industry to revive. I am equally excited to be a part of a company where innovations and customer-centricity take precedence.
Specifically on machine learning and automation: How much potential do you see there with things like chatbots?
The concept of chatbots in the industry is fascinating. I see them as the extension of sales and customer support teams at the hotels and travel companies. They bring in much-needed automation -- and can answer the repeated set of questions without the need for human intervention. Especially during these times, when the volume of queries has increased remarkably regarding last-minute cancelations, reservation status-related questions, discount on stay, etc. Customers appreciate it if their questions are answered on priority and in a personalized manner. I feel a bot can't substitute a human, but they can attend the visitors on the website when humans are not available in their preferred language.
How are you feeling overall about the global economy given everything that’s going on right now as it relates to travel?
According to United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, the world GDP could suffer a potential loss of $4 trillion due to the impact of Covid on the industry. The global economy wouldn't fully come out of this once-in-a-lifetime crisis until we standardize vaccines for every human on earth. While the developed world is advancing vaccination programs at scale, many countries are still waiting for their turn to come. This position could potentially deflect us from the path of complete recovery.
Looking ahead to the next year, what are you top two or three priorities?
RateGain has always invested heavily in R&D. We constantly strive to develop new products and innovations that challenge the status quo in travel and hospitality. In 2022, we would undoubtedly bring fresh ideas in the form of SaaS solutions to the market. We are equally thrilled by the idea of welcoming a highly ambitious company like ours to our family.
How does TravelgateX add value to your business? What suggestions/challenges do you have for TeamX?
With channel manager, RezGain being one of the software products from RateGain, we understand the challenges of connectivity. There are diverse channels that hotels want to connect to; it seems almost impossible to integrate with all. TravelgateX is a vital partner helping us connect to new partners more efficiently and offers innovative solutions to our customers.
What advice do you have for young people just entering the travel technology space?
Contrary to popular belief, I would highly recommend young people to join the industry at this point. Pre-Covid travel and tourism accounted for 10% of the global GDP, according to the IMF. The pandemic would eventually subside given the accelerated vaccination programs across the world. There is pent-up demand. The consumer optimism is slowly coming back – we had a fantastic summer in the Americas recently. The VC funding scene is looking promising – as travel and tourism-related start-ups closed around $4.8 billion in funding in 2020 alone. We might see a new high for the industry once markets open for business. This is the best time to join a travel or hospitality tech start-up.