Annette Kreczy knows the travel industry inside out. Before moving to Switzerland, she spent several years at Amadeus in France, Lufthansa City Center, and as manager in charge of corporate strategy at Lufthansa Systems in Germany.
Annette’s outstanding talents and interest in deep strategic thinking become immediately clear in any discussion about the current state and future development of the travel distribution business.
Since November 2014 the eloquent, thoughtful manager has led Kuoni’s retail operations in Switzerland, including through some exciting and turbulent times. Umbrella met her for a highly interesting interview at her charming office at Hardbrücke in Zurich.
Annette, thank you so much for your time. In your current role, you are obviously experiencing some fundamental changes in the travel distribution industry. How will the travel agency of the future operate? What will be its core added value?
Travel agencies have always stood for and always will stand for excellent personal service and expertise. I do not expect this to change. We are trustworthy, competent and reliable partners. However, as in almost all other aspects of our lives, the means of communication are rapidly changing. Our travel consultants already use all kinds of contemporary communication channels: Whatsapp, Chat, Skype, Facebook Messenger.
Do you see new opportunities to prove the added value of travel agencies from this development?
Absolutely. At Kuoni, we are able to give our customers immediate access to a huge network of 550 travel experts with outstanding destination knowledge.
This sounds very interesting. How exactly does that work?
Our travel consultants add their personal experiences, tips and tricks from any private or business trip to our destination database. It is immediately clear and transparent who knows a certain area or hotel particularly well. This database is an indispensable tool for us to give our customers outstanding advice on their holiday plans.
I love the fact that we are also able to offer all this expert knowledge for anyone visiting our website at kuoni.ch. We are going to see a substantial increase in traffic there.
What role will travel tech providers play in the coming years?
Travel-Tech is an essential contributor to the success of our industry. Simple, redundant processes need to be automated for cost reasons. State-of-the-art technology really helps us to underline our position as a modern service provider. Specialists like Umbrella will definitely see increasing demand for their products in the coming years.
Automation – this is a wonderful cue! Earlier this year Kuoni almost completely automated its invoicing processes in the business travel area. How happy are you with the results of this project and what will be the next steps?
We are extremely happy with the results in our business travel department. The project was fairly simple and straightforward. We actually even had to implement artificial delays in order to gain our consultants’ confidence. They had some concerns about automated processes. But these concerns turned out to be completely unfounded. Umbrella.net operates perfectly reliably around the clock.
Are you going to automate other areas besides Business Travel?
Yes, absolutely! We are actually pretty far forward in doing this for our online-business. Automation of the entire system for the processing of bookings is absolutely key there because of the slim margins and the intense competition.
With Umbrella.net, it is fairly easy to automate. But we had to redesign some of our processes upfront so they were actually “automatable”. This required some solid change management and I am very proud of how we executed that.
Would it make sense to carry out similar automation exercises at your stationary travel agencies?
We have carefully evaluated this area and come to the conclusion that it would bring little benefit at the moment. We would have to significantly change the well-established work routines of our 550 travel consultants. Those routines are complex and heterogeneous, just like the needs of our customers at stationary travel agencies.
In addition, the actual savings potential is quite limited. You need a certain minimum of employees in each location. Real cost benefits from automation are therefore limited to very few large agencies.
Kuoni’s retail operations were taken over by DER in 2015. What has been your experience with the new ownership?
We all are absolutely positive and energised. There are plenty of things we can learn from DER. But that’s also true the other way around: Kuoni is adding plenty of ideas and best practices to the entire DER organisation.
I think it helped a lot that Kuoni’s company culture was traditionally very open, very welcoming to new ideas.
What are your biggest challenges at the moment?
Well, we obviously have to consolidate processes and organisations in order to be able to benefit from synergies. The big challenge is to implement all these changes while continuing to run our operations. A great analogy for that is to change the setup of a plane in flight.
For that, we need a bullet-proof masterplan, flawless execution and an extra portion of motivation and diligence. I am super proud of how well our organisation is handling this.
What are your thoughts on Umbrella?
Umbrella certainly adds a lot of value to Kuoni’s retail operations. We know each other very well and we definitely speak the same language – in every way. I get this feedback from all corners of our organisation – users, management and IT. In fact, our users are very happy because all our Umbrella tools are so nice and intuitive to use.
I like your proactivity, speed and thorough industry expertise. This is an extremely valuable combination for an industry that is so dependent on innovative partners. This is the reason why I have repeatedly and with great pleasure recommended Umbrella.
Annette, thanks so much for your time and also for your kind words. We wish you lots of fun and success for all the challenges ahead.