Phocuswright Europe 2020 preview: Out of Office with… Timothy Hughes

Timothy Hughes, vice president of corporate development

Timothy Hughes is vice president of corporate development at
Agoda, a Booking Holdings company that is one of the world’s largest online
accommodation reservation companies with nearly three million properties in 200 countries and territories.

In a series of interviews with executives participating in the online event in September, PhocusWire finds out what they have learned from the COVID-19 crisis.

Knowing what you know now, if you could go back to the start
of the crisis, what would you do differently? 

Hypotheticals are hardest at the best of times. This one
could be hardest of all – the ultimate back to the future/time travel question.
We had prepared for downturns and crises. Many of us at Agoda have experienced
and worked through SARS, MERS, 9/11, 2008, Bali Bombs, European volcanoes and
on and on. Meaning we had a playbook or plan for how to respond to a crisis.

this was and is beyond anything we planned. It has been longer and will be
longer than any other crisis in travel since WWII. It is affecting the globe –
every country – which no other crisis has done since WWII. So, we can’t dwell
on the hypothetical.

Rather we have to look at the right here and right now, which
means supporting the domestic demand in the countries where that is rebounding,
have customer care in place that can react quickly when countries experience
second wave outbreaks and be connected to and supportive of our staff and
partners, many of whom are really hurting. 


What have you learned from this time about the way you’ll
manage and communicate with your team moving forward? 

We have all just gone through a massive video conference
(Zoom, BlueJeans, Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts) “boot camp,” where we went
from newbie/rookie users to master sergeant/experts through three months of
constant usage. So at a technical level, we learned how to write better,
present more clearly and to put across a message in a way that overcame the
challenges of distance.

These skills of clearer, crisper communication, done at
a distance, will have a lasting effect on the business world. I know that
business/corporate travel will be back. Equally, I suspect we will see a long-term, potentially permanent, change in the amount of business travel for
internal meetings.

But that is not the biggest change I saw in communication. The
biggest communication change I saw is that people asked and answered the
question, “How are you?” with more honesty, empathy and genuine care. In my
work and social circle, the question “How are you?” changed from a perfunctory
phrase, quickly tacked on after the phrase “Hello,” to a genuine expression of
concern and a desire to engage.

I have had video calls with travel industry
colleagues and “conference mates” that have been purely for the purpose of
connecting and seeing how someone is – not just for a goal of getting a deal
done or generating an incremental booking. I hope that connection, that
increase in empathy, is a lasting, positive impact of this madness.

What do you miss the most about travel? 

Everything! I miss the food, the different cultures, the
different speeds, the different environments, the cultural surprises. I miss
being cold (six months nonstop in Bangkok makes you miss a cold rainy day in
Amsterdam). I miss flying, I miss hotel rooms, I miss beaches, I miss mountains.
Heck, at this point I may even miss being profiled by the TSA for an extra
screening! I miss it all.

I joined the travel industry on the 20th of March
2000. So on the 20th of March 2020 I “celebrated” 20 years of travel. On
probably the worst day for travel in those 20 years. Damn! I miss all of it!
But, if forced to choose one thing, I miss people. I miss the accidental
bumping into people at airports. I miss travel industry people. I miss meeting
new people whose language I don’t speak. I miss people I don’t even know yet. I
miss my nephew that I haven’t even met yet – born in the middle of “zona rossa”
Milan in late-May. And I really miss my parents (they live in Australia). 

What have been the surprise benefits to not traveling? 

I got a dog – a COVID-therapy dog rescued from streets of Bangkok. So, the
personal upside was getting the chance to be a stay-at-home dog dad. 

What lasting changes will there be to you personally from
this time? 

Never take any of this for granted. For 20 years I have
watched the apparently unstoppable march of online travel. This virus took the
entire industry of travel and turned it to near zero, if not worse, which teaches
us all to not take anything for granted.

At a practical level I have learned
that I cannot rely on travel for my networking. I relied on my business travel
and the resulting “accidental networking” to keep me connected to existing and
new contacts. I have had to learn to do a lot more outreach networking. By
that I mean setting up regular calls and catch-ups with people that I just used
to bump into. I learned that for virtual networking to work, it requires more
routine and regularity than real-life networking.

What’s been your one guilty pleasure during lockdown? 

I discovered a lot of amazing music. I am not talking just Spotify
or Apple Music. During the lockdown so many creative musicians, DJs and artists
switched to live streaming incredible sets. I got hooked on Questlove – lead
musician from the Roots (the Tonight Show band).

I got hooked via a four-hour
retrospective set he did after the death of soul legend Bill Withers. Google
“Questlove Bill Withers” and you’ll find it.

Also look for sets by Sam Divine
of Defected Records. And Google “LNTG Bless the Rains” – one song, available on
SoundCloud, that is guaranteed to make you smile and forget this mess for nine
minutes and 47 seconds.

Tim Hughes will appear in the following session: Pockets of Recovery

Clearly, it is first in the markets with domestic travel possibilities. What are the trends being seen and where are the pockets of opportunities being seen for travel brands, suppliers and startups across markets in Asia?

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