Last October, Tristan Smith was named VP of global transportation at corporate travel company Egencia. While her current role may not put her in direct contact with the company’s hotel clients, she nevertheless plays a surprisingly strong part in overseeing the direction of Egencia’s lodging business. Prior to October, Smith spent two years as the organization’s head of strategy and business development, where she focused on mergers and acquisitions and, subsequently, Egencia’s lodging business. Here, Smith talks to HOTEL MANAGEMENT about her position at the crossroads of transportation and hospitality at Egencia, as well as her own experiences as a woman business traveler.
1. HOTEL MANAGEMENT: Your new role requires you to have a holistic view of where Egencia's transportation business intersects with other segments like lodging. What are the challenges you face as a woman executive when your role requires you to strategize with a high-level view of other facets of the business?
Tristan Smith: It’s less related to gender and more about having the experience to build that skill set and influencing others. Women tend to have a slightly different influencing style, and that’s worked well for me; I tend to be more consensus-driven in bringing people along with me.
In my current role, I manage all of our transportation supplier relations: airlines, rail, car and [global distribution system] relationships. But I also run our global supply analytics team, which covers both lodging and transportation. So, I oversee lodging as far as strategic and tactical analyses of what we’re doing in lodging. Previously as head of strategy, I oversaw Egencia’s acquisitions and mergers. Hotels are a key line of business for us and played a big role in how we thought about our strategy with Orbitz, how we would bring Orbitz into Egencia and how we would optimize that hotel business. So I have a strong understanding of the sector and I also started my career working in five-star hotels.
2. HM: How do business travel services and amenities currently differ for women over men?
TS: At Egencia, we’ve done studies on business travelers and when we mine through the data, there’s not much difference between men and women at the holistic level. The differences are more in what the individual traveler wants; if they love running outdoors, we can provide them a list of nearby places to jog nearby. Some say the hotel gym is very important to them or they want healthy roomservice options or they only care about loyalty points. Mining that data to serve up the best, most relevant recommendations is where we need to go and we’re on our way to doing just that, but there’s always room to do more. So, it’s more about personalizing the experience as opposed to comparing men and women.
3. HM: Can women make better use of loyalty reward programs, and if so, how?
TS: Taking a high-level view, women make the majority of leisure-travel decisions and so women business travelers have the ability to build up points that they know they’re going to spend on a leisure holiday. But personally, I don’t earn enough points to book my family’s holidays. I always intend to earn and track my points, but I often forget to sign up for the programs. So I should be earning more points, but I’m not. I think my husband may be better at it.
4. HM: What are the greatest challenges for you personally as woman business traveler and executive?
TS: I also find business travel to be more stressful than my husband does because of the pressure of leaving home and needing to know that everything is sorted for everyone at home; that the fridge is stocked and school forms are signed and the kids have a birthday present for the party that they’re going to next week. My husband goes on a trip and he doesn’t worry about any of those things. So I find that anything that can be done to make my business trip easier is usually beneficial. I was staying at a hotel in Berlin recently and for the life of me, I couldn’t get hold of an iron because they were all out. So I went to an event with an incredibly creased shirt. Those are the little things that create more stress.
Speaking as a woman with a young family and being in and out on maternity leave, it can be harder to keep the momentum going in your career—than it is for your male counterparts—when you’re in this stage of life. I’ve been quite lucky and part of that has been having good mentors and sponsors who have been there to advocate for me within the organization when I’ve been in and out on maternity leave. I’ve been fortunate to be promoted while I was eight months pregnant. So the key to keeping your career going is having those people in the organization—past managers and colleagues who have witnessed the quality of your work—and with whom you have a good connection and can build a trusted relationship.