Executive Conversations: Building Resiliency with Marco Corradino, Chief Executive Officer, lm Group
Marco Corradino, Chief Executive Officer of lm Group including lastminute.com, joins Massimo Morin, Head of Travel and Hospitality Solutions at AWS, for a broad-ranging discussion about the recent disruption faced by travel and hospitality companies – and his company’s response to that disruption. lm group is a publicly traded multinational Group, among the worldwide leaders in the online travel industry, and operates a portfolio of well-known brands including lastminute.com, Volagratis, Rumbo, Weg.de, Bravofly, Jetcost and Hotelscan.
This Executive Conversation is one of a series of discussions held with industry leaders, where we seek to learn more about their resiliency, tenacity, and capacity for innovation. The series follows the publication of the AWS Travel and Hospitality E-book: “Building Resilience For The Long Run.” Filled with strategic observations, hints, and tips, the E-book provides guidance for building a more resilient organization, potentially serving as a useful resource as travel and hospitality companies address both current challenges and those yet to come.
Massimo Morin: While your business is recognized publicly by many, what’s one unique characteristic or feature that is either lesser known or understood about your company?
Marco Corradino: That’s a great question. I think it’s probably a surprise that we’re actually a tech company at our core with a sharp focus on travel. I think our capability to combine different products, suppliers and technologies with multiple, and very different international brands, is something that sets us apart. Of course, the lastminute.com brand is very famous, but we also have other brands across Europe we share expertise with. Our mission is to be the most relevant and inspiring travel company committed to enriching the lives of travelers. And we will do this by supporting our customers through their entire journey. We’re not just a booking engine – but a brand with a technology base and a customer-centricity heart. This, I believe, is what sets us apart.
MM: Many companies across travel and hospitality have been managing through a period of unprecedented disruption. What have been the biggest challenges you’ve faced during this recent period and how have you managed through them?
MC: Well the number one thing we, and I would think every company, prioritised was maintaining the operation of the company – keeping the day to day up and running. We literally went into start-up mode — if a start-up had around 1,400 people in more than ten different countries from Italy to India. Getting our crucial customer services team set up from home with remote access to the contact centre and systems was huge. From people to the procedures the emergency put the systems under huge stress: we’re talking going from 3,000 customer cancellations per month to 300,000. We were built as a booking engine and overnight became a cancellation engine and of course this exposed technical issues. We had to scale up an area we’d never planned to do, so some processes couldn’t cope so we had to review everything. And of course, then start to work out the next phase of demand, can we build a better model for the future that can scale up, scale down and be flexible for this new way of working and travelling. These are challenges we’re still working on, especially with countries being opened and closed overnight.
MM: As we all prepare for the next phase of traveler or guest demand, what are some of the changes your company has taken (or plans on taking) to adjust to the current operating environment?
MC: Well, I think I touched on this in the question before, essentially we have to prepare for a “patchwork” effect, with countries coming in and out of quarantine and worst-case scenario a “second wave” of COVID-19. We are running fast with our technology team to build processes to support this new way of working. The good news is that we have managed to remain productive and operational despite the entire workforce being at home, and we are working on plans to see how we balance remote working going forward.
The other crucial issue is controlling our costs where we can. In fact, the work we are doing with Amazon Web Services is helping with this. We are migrating a piece of our platform, which was previously in an “on premise” solution, onto AWS’s cloud environment. Before that infrastructure was a fixed cost, now this is a more elastic environment where we only pay for what we use. In a time when things need to be more flexible, these are the kind of decisions we’re looking at as a business.
MM: In the face of the current disruption to the travel and hospitality industry, we’ve observed incredible innovations coming from across the industry. How has your company innovated through these challenging times and what are you most proud of?
MC: Like I said before, we’ve gone from an established multi-brand group to essentially back to a start-up in a matter of months. But this is in our DNA so we’ve just got on with doing what needed to be done. The fact we are working remotely hasn’t harmed the development of the company. We’ve innovated in the products we sell, such as flexible bookings, to how we sell our products, diverting marketing spend to work harder where it could work. We’re innovating by focusing on more local tourism, pivoting the business to where people can actually travel too and what technology can support that. We’re investing in automating processes where we can, implementing more scalable models and looking at new ways of checking out, such as shopping cart processes. We’ve pressed the reset button and this fosters innovation. I’m really proud of our people. Despite it being challenging in their personal lives they’ve over-committed, really understanding the nature of the situation and getting on with it. Constantly coming up with ideas to not only keep the business going but to get the business growing.
MM: The travel and hospitality industry is incredibly resilient. As you look toward recovery, what role does technology play for your company moving forward? How do you see technology enhancing the customer experience and improving operational efficiency?
MC: Well, I already mentioned how we are working with AWS on operation efficiency, but for me, technology is at the heart of supporting this adaption to a new way of working. We’re already seeing green shoots of recovery as after all, everyone needs a holiday, but what kind of holiday. We have to ensure our digital properties are built to help our customers with their newfound needs. This might involve different segments of the market. Before if you wanted to go away, you could go anywhere in the world. If a flight went and there was a place to stay, you could go. Our dynamic packaging can throw up millions of holiday permutations in minutes. So tech will now support the customer in finding the best solution, which currently is the flexibility of booking and potentially rebooking. Already we’ve done some amazing work with machine learning for our destination algorithm, which works out the best places to go using the latest data, matching safety with availability.
MM: There’s much talk at the moment about how the travel experience has changed and there will be a “new normal” going forward. What does this “new normal” look like to you and how do you think the travel experience will look three years from now?
MC: Well if you think about the changes in the last ten years in travel, the next three years are very hard to predict. I think the real impact will be, as I said before, in deciding “where to go” as people will always want to travel. We’ve seen this as a fundamental human right almost. So we potentially move from pricing to place, and how safe is it. as a determining factor. We will maybe see more upper-funnel content inspiring people and more details about a destination and hotel. We even created a travel safety hub and worked with hotel partners to tell customers what steps they had taken to keep them safe. We will be working on new travel “package” holidays – with new ways of building a holiday, with flexibility at the core. The last 3 years had been record-breaking for us, so getting back to near there in the next 3 years is a target to aim at.
MM: What makes you excited for the future of travel and hospitality? As a traveler or guest, where are you looking forward to visiting next?
MC: This has been one of the most challenging times of my life, If you asked me in our record-breaking January I would be back to managing a business like I did when I founded Vologratis 15 years ago in March I’d have said you were deluded. But it’s kind of like we reset the market in March which is exciting. And when you get into that start-up mode, innovation will flourish. This is the essence of our company, we are working together to transform travel, and while it just got a whole lot harder, we have the people and spirit to get there. And in terms of travel, well this year I haven’t done as much as I normally do. But I think this could be the time to see some part of my home country, Italy.
Learn more about the new Travel and Hospitality E-book: “Building Resilience For The Long Run.”
See more Executive Conversations and industry insights on the AWS Travel & Hospitality Blog.
Marco Corradino is the Chief Executive Officer of the lm Group, including lastminute.com. Marco holds a degree in Political Science from the University of Genoa and a Masters Degree in marketing, communication and sales management from Publitalia (Milan, Italy). In 2004, Marco co-founded, with Fabio Cannavale, Volagratis, the first search engine for low cost flights in Italy setting the foundation for what was to become Bravofly Rumbo Group and subsequently lastminute.com group. Marco is an entrepreneur and business angel, has been the CEO as well as Executive Board Member of the Company since 12 February 2016 and has appeared recently on the BBC, BBC World News, Bloomberg, CNN and Reuters as a travel and business expert.