We love to spotlight our Council Members and share brief insights into the person behind the role. As our Innovation Advisory Council spans twenty-three cities across three continents, we have an incredible and diverse group of Council members leading companies of all sizes and industries. In this spotlight, we caught up with Kristi Gole, VP, Head of Transformation at Global Hotel Alliance.
Global Hotel Alliance brings together a unique collection of independent brands, who together participate in DISCOVERY, the only multi-brand loyalty program of its kind, leveraging a shared technology platform. Through membership of GHA, brands expand their global reach and incremental revenue opportunities by sharing customer data, thus reducing dependence on OTAs, all while maintaining their management independence and individual positioning.
The alliance represents a collection of 35 brands with over 500 hotels in 85 countries serving more than 17 million members. The award-winning DISCOVERY program generates approximately $2 billion in revenue and over 8 million room nights annually.
Can you give us an abridged story of the journey through your career and how you got to your current role?
My career path was not entirely traditional. I had CPG and PR internships throughout college but studied Economics. After graduating, when peers with my degree were going into Investment Banking or Law School, I went into the Buying program at Neiman Marcus. I had no interest in fashion, but they had a strong Executive Development Program, and Buying interested me because you were essentially the GM of a business unit. I moved through sales and marketing roles there, and Marketing always spoke to me because it applies to so many aspects in business: identify the customer and align your offering and message to them.
I leaped over to the Hospitality Industry, joining a startup called Global Hotel Alliance (GHA). It was the best learning experience as I was able to launch the global loyalty program from scratch with our small team, then contribute to its growth over the years in roles that spanned Program Management, CRM and Direct Marketing, Ecommerce, Branding, Customer Strategy, and Insights. (That loyalty program - GHA DISCOVERY - has become our core product, recognizing and rewarding 17 million members across 35 independent hotel brands with 500 hotels in 85 countries.)
My current role is focused on revamping the program, from the value proposition to its delivery through systems and hotel operations to its promotion across channels (new branding/website/app/emails/collateral/etc.). My previous roles have given me understanding and insight into a range of areas, which has helped me be more efficient and effective in addressing opportunities for change.
Innovation means many different things to many different people; what does it mean for you?
I think innovation is as simple as doing things differently and better than before; what you strive for is to do something that hasn't been done at all (in that way or in that context), which is best achieved by connecting seemingly unrelated dots and applying them in unconventional ways.
How do you see the rapid evolution of technology impacting your industry in five years?
Hospitality is generally less tech-savvy than other industries but has made leaps in the last year, which has been great to see (largely due to necessity). I think the biggest shift will be the change to consumer-led operations through technology. It will no longer be one hotel-driven process with one SOP for hotel staff to follow; it will become a non-linear, multi-channel, multi-choice, consumer-driven flow, and hotels will have to focus on the infrastructure and framework to enable and respond to that.
What's on your radar for new trends and technologies that you think will accelerate innovation for you and your company?
The rapid development of new AI insights and applications will help deliver more customized experiences both for marketing purposes and hotel stays (such as personalized welcome amenities in the room or tailored recommendations at the front desk or restaurant).
What's been one of the most significant challenges you've faced over the course of your career?
Every project and task is reliant on the people contributing to it. A constant challenge - and a fulfilling one - is garnering stakeholders' understanding and support of initiatives, then keeping the momentum and motivation up during the implementation and delivery phase.
Setting and achieving attainable goals is an art as a leader. How do you set goals for your team?
As a startup, the YOY growth we achieved in the early years of our program was exhilarating. Our shareholders gave us growth targets which trickled down and drove the departmental goal setting, which always looked beyond ambitious, but we'd find ways to achieve them. When the program started to mature, growth stagnated, and goal setting became more of a YOY minimum expected increase. In the last year and a half, with business being critically impacted in our industry, we've focused on transformation and project-related goals, ensuring continual progress and readiness for when business returns.
The saying that culture eats strategy, technology, etc., for breakfast or lunch is well known. Do you agree with that? If so, how do you work on building a better culture at your company?
I think company culture absolutely sets the tone for innovation. I've worked in more stiff, formal settings (and innovation was very difficult) and in informal, scrappy settings where we made really cool things happen. Guess which one I prefer? At GHA, our founding CEO ensures we keep things light and fun, encourages and exhibits transparency, and pushes everyone to strive for more. I try to do the same.
What are you most proud of in either your work or personal life?
I'm proud of where I am in my career, which I've worked very hard for, and I'm grateful for the supportive bosses I've had and the opportunities that have arisen over the years. But I'm most proud of balancing that with my family. I have been with my husband for over 20 years, and we share two young boys, one with special needs. I've managed to focus on my work while increasingly being more active in my boys' schools and activities. It's a simple thing, but something I finally feel is more at balance, and I'm very appreciative to have both aspects in my life.
What kind of leader would you describe yourself as?
I'd say I'm an open and caring leader. I have high standards and expect the best from my team, but I try to work with them and support them to get things done.
What is one piece of advice you'd offer the next generation of individuals looking to grow within the technology space as a leader?
I'd suggest Management Consulting early on - if you understand the business, you can most impact it.
Do you build in time throughout the year for continuous learning? If so, can you speak to the value of continuously upskilling yourself?
Not formally, but when I'm procrastinating, I'll scroll through articles on LinkedIn or Ted to constantly be absorbing new learnings or perspectives, which informally helps form those connections that lead to innovation. Getting an MBA was invaluable in understanding some of the financial aspects of business that my previous roles didn't expose me to; that very much helped in crafting business cases and proposals to executive audiences.
What's your favorite non-professional activity that you love to do?
Traveling. I love seeing new places, taking in the scenery, hearing the language, watching locals, and picturing their lives. I think this helps with innovation, too - being open and taking it all in, which gives a fresh perspective and leads to those revelations.
Interested in joining our Council filled with amazing innovators like Kristi? Find out more here.