When Johan Öström (LinkedIn, Instagram:@johanostrom) did an MBA in hospitality management at Les Roches, he experienced a glorious Eureka moment, an ‘ah-ha!’ that helped to clarify his career goals and to plan how to get there. His aim: to become Marketing Director for a top-tier hotel. His golden ticket there: digital media expertise.
Research shows that digital media is key to the consumer experience before, during and after a travel and tourism experience. As illustrated by Les Roches infographic, consumers use digital media to explore their destination, to talk about it when they are there, and to recommend or criticise it afterwards.
You’d think hotels would go all out on their social media customer engagement strategy. Not so.
In this interview Johan Öström talks about his career plan and the employment and entrepreneur opportunities at the profitable intersection between digital marketing and hospitality.
- So, in a nutshell, what is a hospitality-MBA graduate doing in a digital marketing firm?
It was during my MBA, that I saw there was a lack of understanding in the hospitality sector about the value of IT and vice-versa. It has created a huge gap and valuable potential at the intersection point between the two industries.
- Can you outline some key differences between hospitality and IT? Aside from the obvious!
The core foundation of hospitality is tradition; everything is built on tradition. Most of the luxury brands are founded on tradition and pride in their craft. They have perfected their craft over years, are so exceptionally skilled and deliver amazing service. On the other hand, in the IT industry, if you don’t update your software regularly, you are obsolete.
In hospitality, everything is oriented around the customer, perfecting everything you’ve done over a long time. In the IT industry, you just have to be first or as fast as possible. You don’t have to do it well (at least at first). You just have to do it fast.
In hospitality, you see hundreds and thousands of dollars spent on the perfect couch or flowers. But to get $10,000 for a technical system, you need to break through barriers and argue your case as to why you need it. The industry can’t automatically see the use for it.
- But it’s not just the hospitality sector that can learn from IT?
No. There are too few service-minded people in the IT industry, as businesses focus more on budgets, hardcore sales figures and financial gain. Everything is short-term, monthly cycles. Hospitality takes a quite different view with a longer perspective.
In the IT industry, big money is spent easily, especially in technical Research and Development. If these two industries did more business and joint-ventures together, it would benefit them both, not just financially, but in quality, in character and in making customers happier. The hospitality industry could make customer service so much better in the IT industry.
- So, there is an intersection between the two industries?
Yes, two profitable parts of the market. Profitable is a key word.
- Can you give a concrete example?
Yes. From when I was working at Six Senses /Soneva (www.sixsenses.com, www.soneva.com) after Les Roches. Here, guests pay a lot for a product they haven’t seen. We don’t create a relationship with them before they come. We do it when they’re at the hotel. After they leave, how do we keep that relationship and engage with them so they visit us again? That’s where digital marketing comes in.
- What hospitality advantage do you bring to your digital specialist job?
In my work as Key Account Manager, hospitality skills fit in very well. It’s not just a process following a client for a week, or one year even. You have to nurture long-lasting relationships.
Here at Jajja Communications, they call me ‘the hotel person’ and this reflects my interests and passion for luxury hotels. My colleagues know I have good relationship-building skills with people across the world. This, combined with my general competency, gives me a professional advantage.
- And how will your work give you a comparative advantage back in the hotel industry?
The work I do as digital marketing specialist today with well-known brands, across several industries, using several tools in the digital toolbox, is giving me a skillset that is unique. I aim to take this skillset into a marketing director role at one of the leading hotels of the world brands www.lhw.com.
No matter what industry you are in today you have to keep abreast of the the digital eco-system, and how it interacts with business values and customers. I would even say that today, every marketing manager must have at least a basic knowledge of digital marketing tools. Without proper understanding, a well-thought out strategy and a results follow-up system, hotels can waste a lot of money.
To be in the top league you have to learn from the best, and that is why I’m here.
- So you see yourself forging new territory?
I plan to be able to go back into the hotel sector with this specialist knowledge. My end game is to not put myself in between these industries, which are superior at what they do, but to link them. The connection between them is not yet maximized. And herein lies a vast ocean of business potential.
- What did Les Roches teach you that will help your career?
I don’t see my career pre- and post-Les Roches as a change, but a continuum. I had been working in the hotel industry, mainly within sales, for some years before going to Les Roches. During the MBA, I realized so many things. I connected so many dots from the past and present and got an understanding of how you can really bring value to future ventures from your past experience.
It taught me about working cross cultures, with a team of different nationalities. If you understand people of different cultures, it becomes easier to work with them, to know which levers motivate and inspire. If you always push the wrong buttons, you will not get the results you want.
All in all, Les Roches taught me how to understand culture, business and networking at a global scale. In most hotels you have at least 60 nationalities and you have to motivate your team, understand where they come from and what makes them tick. At Les Roches, you learn the hard (and fun) way. Hard, when you work together in class. Fun, when the class ends and the parties begin.
- What one word would you use to describe your time at Les Roches?
I’ll choose four words.
- Ok. That’s allowed.
Community, fellowship, potential, and family.
It’s difficult to explain. It’s almost intangible. Here’s an example: I went to Dubai last year. I wrote on my Facebook page ‘I’m going to Dubai in 24 hours’. Within two hours, I got a couple of responses – invitations to go and have lunch or dinner. I’m an only child. These are my friends, yet closer than friends. Maybe I just exchanged a couple of words with them when we were on campus, but if I call them up two years later, we have a close and trusted connection. It’s something you experience together, but can’t explain to someone outside. A mystery connection. A special bond. Like family, yet more professional. The Les Roches experience doesn’t stop when you graduate, it goes on.
Les Roches is a really special place. You don’t realize this beforehand. There are a lot of schools in Switzerland with good reputations, but Les Roches had something else. A difference that is hard to explain to outsiders. Something that is not in the curriculum. This family thing.
As the brass sign in the doorway says; “Les Roches is not just a school. It is a way of life. A spirit that animates daily your life in Bluche. The spirit of team-work. The spirit of solidarity. The spirit of service.”
What his reflections show, is that hospitality is no longer the exclusive reserve of hotels and restaurants and that other sectors, nearly every other sector, recognises that graduates of hospitality have unique skills that graduates from other subjects, do not necessarily have.