Kristie Goshow's vision for Viceroy—and how she is shaking up the industry along the way

Kristie Goshow’s title, SVP of commercial for Viceroy Hotel Group, might sound unique, but once you get to know her, it makes perfect sense. From the get-go, she’s gone against the grain. Growing up in Reading, England, just outside London (the town sometimes described as England’s “Silicon Valley”), she was always fascinated by travel and claims to be one of the first students in the UK to study travel and tourism. “It was a new direction at that time,” Goshow, who joined Viceroy last November, said. “People called it a fluffy qualification. They couldn’t understand why someone wanted to try that.”

It’s all worked out for Goshow. After getting her start in the freight forwarding business, she moved onto airlines, before her eventual arrival into hospitality. One of her early jobs was with Scandinavian Airlines, where she credits then CEO Jan Carlzon as an inspiration, in particular due to his book, “Moments of Truth”, which, among other things, puts square focus on the needs of the customer and eliminating vertical levels of hierarchy, thoughts that might sound hackneyed now, but the book came out in 1989. This was seminal thought. “He understood the importance of designing touch-point experiences years before we all knew what CRM meant,” Goshow said of Carlzon.

After six years living and working in Dubai for Jumeirah Group, Goshow joined Viceroy, where she picked up that peculiar, if not arresting, title.
What does it mean? In its most simple form: sales & marketing 2.0. “We decided to rethink the role, because we believe that the consumer and how they engage with brands has changed,” Goshow said. “They move from channel to channel, on and offline, using multiple sources for research and to buy. We don’t think in silos, so took those traditional assumptions—marketing, revenue management, e-commerce, etc.—and brought them all together as a commercial entity. The intent is to drive commercial success for our owners and the management company.”

Game Time
Listening to Goshow, one quickly realizes that she is not your average hotel executive. At May’s HD Expo show, in Las Vegas, she joined three others on a panel entitled, “Living the Lifestyle: Experiential Brands.” While the others on the panel discussed their brands rather formulaically, Goshow showed just why Viceroy brought her on board. At one point she referred to herself as an “engagement engineer,” which all ties in with a concept called “gamification,” or taking technology and creating immersive experiences. This, Goshow said, is part of the future of Viceroy, and for the hotel industry as a whole.

“As we go forward, we are investigating opportunities where we can take the concept, which is about bringing the consumer into a world they can create,” Goshow said. No one is really doing it today. Imagine walking [into a hotel] and a wall is an immersive experience. It’s no longer just a wall; it is a piece of real estate that can serve multiple purposes. It might become a video or film screen, connect guests to a retail shop down the road or become an enchanted woodlands geared to children. It allows you to be more playful and inventive with spaces. Technology allows us to bring floors and walls—surfaces—to life with points of engagement.”

The idea of transformative space goes beyond engagement, too, and into revenue streams. Goshow said it’s about “looking at real estate and rethinking how to use it.” She imagines high-end restaurants embedded with leading retail stores. And, for instance, how the Hotel Zetta in San Francisco, part of Viceroy’s Urban Retreats collection, has a Playroom perched above the bar area with such amenities as a Ping-Pong table and retro Atari systems. For the hotel, which serves a diverse, if not slightly young techie crowd, the Playroom can also be taken and used as a progressive meeting space. “There’s only so far you can move rates,” she said. “You have to consider additional value and understand commercial ramifications.”

It’s no stretch to call Goshow opinionated. But her unique perspective is why Viceroy presumably brought her onboard. Much of what she does spills over into other facets, including design. She is in frequent contact with Michael Paneri, Viceroy’s SVP of hotel development, whose function includes overseeing design of Viceroy’s hotels.

“If I’m observing changes in what customers are buying, or a trend in room-type category or composition of guests coming in and spending time, I will talk to Mike,” she said. “That’s data he needs to share with designers and developers and architects.”

Consider this nifty polemic on kids and waste disposal. “Outside of Disney, I don’t know of any resort that if I was to book a family suite with a connecting room, that has thought through the realities of bathing a child,” Goshow, who is a mother, said. “How they use a bathroom, the mini-toilets…you must think through those elements. What do the customers need that they don’t get today? If we want to be meaningful and relevant, we must observe how people live. Those details can differentiate our product from the rest.”

Viceroy is going well beyond survey and focus groups to figure out their guests—and those who have never been a Viceroy customer. “There’s not enough dialogue with the actual people staying with you—customers and non-customers together,” Goshow said. In order to reveal their true wants, Goshow said Viceroy looks at using trained psychologists to uncover needs and desires that exist.

On Deck
Viceroy is now 16 hotels strong with the recent opening of Viceroy New York (Goshow describes Roman and Williams’ design as “what is old is new again”). The group has future openings scheduled for Dubai (three hotels), two in Turkey (Istanbul and Bodrum) and one in Cartagena, Colombia. Goshow said that Viceroy is currently on track to celebrate a portfolio of 24 hotels by 2019.

By then, the Viceroy brand may have changed some. “We are extremely proud of our consistent individuality—an oxymoron that provides a level of confidence in our quality and integrity as a brand, yet allowing each hotel to interpret the ‘Viceroy Vibe’ in a unique manner,” Goshow said. “That said, the eclectic nature of our portfolio is causing some degree of cognitive dissonance amongst our customer and guest community today.”

Without giving too much away, Goshow said that Viceroy is looking across industries for brand defining help. One particular, Goshow noted, is the luxury automotive industry. “It’s a great role model in how to celebrate the differences within a portfolio, all united by a common brand,” she said, pointing out, for instance, Mercedes, with its C-Class through S-Class.  “So, without spilling all the beans, we will be undertaking a re-architecture of our brand,” she said.

As Viceroy continues to grow, Goshow never loses sight of what the brand means now. “Put simply, it is pride,” she said. “Pride in our details, design, our purpose. We are proud of what we do and how we do it and relentlessly strive to ensure that our guests feel proud of their choice when staying or visiting with us. Pride generates wealth—both emotionally and financially. It is also hard to copy.”