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Carlson Rezidor Connects Ecommerce, Social Media, Distribution

Riesterer Explains New Chief Commercial Officer Position

Suzanne Riesterer is the new chief commercial officer for Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group. The title is a new one for Carlson Rezidor and represents an integration of emerging disciplines including analytics; loyalty, online strategy and social media; revenue optimization; sales; distribution; and channel management. As part of the promotion, Riesterer will also oversee marketing and loyalty funds.

Formerly executive vice president, finance and administration, she has overseen finance, legal and strategic sourcing functions for the five brands of the Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group in the Americas. She talked to Lodging Hospitality about the position that was announced last week.

Why did the company create this new position?
There are so many things happening in the technology area. These were housed at different places in the organization. We brought them together in a holistic way. It’s really been a great thing to interact with all these groups, ecommerce, technology, guest-facing services. It brings everything together and helps us look at them one way.

The title – chief commercial officer – seems unique. Where did it come from?
We were trying to find a title that would fit. We already have a head of branding. That function builds the overall focus of where our brands are. This position is what we think about it as a commercial application for these areas in the marketplace.

Are there equivalent positions in other hotel companies?
Companies are doing it differently depending on how they’re structured. It might be branding or marketing. We’ve created this role, as our customers are part of the company’s strategy.

What are your responsibilities in the position?
My role is to bring these groups together and create a strategy for next year and longer term.

What do you hope to accomplish or change?
We don’t need to necessarily change at all. We have people in our functions who have expertise in areas like loyalty, ecommerce, et cetera. We need to make sure we’re integrated in our approach. For example, someone might be thinking about what they want to do in ecommerce, but they may not be connected to our distribution channels.

Consumers’ use of technology is changing so fast; we’re keeping an eye on it, thinking about those next steps.

It all wraps in this organization. We take all the information our customers give us, from the multiple ways they can give us input like our surveys and TripAdvisor. Then, we’re using a tool to bring them together at a hotel level.

You mentioned gathering input, how do you manage social media feedback?
At the corporate level we define systems and strategies, and then we bring those to the hotel level to make it easier for them. We try to develop our tools on a global basis and give that to the hotel. That makes it easier for people at our hotels to spend more time interacting with guests,

What people are looking for is to have a great experience and that we respond appropriately. We use Revinate at each of our hotels. Their program that goes out and pulls comments from the different channels and our hotels can look at the results in one place. Then, they can respond.

Is online strategy/social media a new focus for you?
We have done a lot of work in that area, but it’s new in many respects because everybody is learning what it is. We’re putting more focus on it as we see our customer base using social media more and more. We want to make sure we listen to our customers where they want to be listened t. And, that means much more focus on our customers in the online arena.

What do you see as your biggest challenge in this job? Biggest opportunity?
The biggest challenge is making sure we are out there, thinking broadly about what’s going to happen, that we take an integrated approach across all of our brands and geographies. Each guest is different and unique. We need to be sure we’re looking at things holistically and bringing programs that really respond to guest needs.

How did you get involved in the hotel business? Why did you join Carlson Rezidor?
I haven’t been in hotels a long time, but I’ve had a lot of really good mentors who have long-time careers in the hotel industry. I started with Carlson seven years ago. I had worked with now-CEO Trudy Rautio [at Josten’s Inc.]. I knew if I could ever work for her again, I would. And, I did. I became vice president, audit and business risk management, working on restaurants and hotels. Three years ago I became executive vice president, finance and administration.

What’s been the best part of your hotel career?
I love the people in the hotel business, especially the culture here at Carlson. Everyone is here to serve our guests and our clients. There’s a lot of passion around supporting our communities. I think the hotel business is one of those businesses where you automatically know what it is. You have a sense of what your guest is looking for because you’ve been in that same spot.

What’s been the most challenging part of your hotel career?
The economics that we’re dealing with, the downturn in 2008. The industry lost tremendous amounts of revenue in that time. The volatility is much more than it ever has been. You always have to be thinking about what we need to do to be resilient. That’s challenging for the whole industry.

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