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Simone Wu Talks Choice’s Entrance into Cuba

Simone Wu Talks Choice’s Entrance into Cuba

Simone Wu has worked with a number of consumer-facing brands, from AOL to MCI. But when she joined the Choice Hotels team in 2012 as senior vice president, general counsel, corporate secretary and external affairs, she was introduced to hospitality for the first time. Wu sat down with LODGING to discuss how her background lends itself to the hotel industry, Choice’s strides in Cuba, and the industry issues that concern her most.

How does your unique background lend itself to hospitality?
Across my experience, there are a number of factors that shape who I am and how I approach business. One aspect is strictly customer experience. When I was at XO Communications, I was very involved in the customer experience side of the business, which is of course synonymous with hospitality. It’s how you treat people, how you welcome them, and how you make them feel good about their experience. I also have the strong background in technology. That’s a big driver these days in hospitality—everybody is talking about technology and innovation, from what guests use at the hotel to the back-office systems and the distribution systems. I think my combined background really helps give me a unique perspective in how I approach the hospitality world.

Can you tell us about your involvement in Choice’s efforts to break into the Cuban market?
Earlier this year, I was part of an exploratory trip to Cuba and it was fascinating. It’s a beautiful place with an amazing culture and history. We really appreciated the opportunity to go and meet with different folks there and talk about the possibilities. Since that time, other Choice teams have been down there to further the relationship, and we’re really looking forward to developing our business down there. Our guests love the Caribbean. Our systems and our franchise support system are also unique models, which really allow us to support hotels in Cuba. We look forward to the progress.

What industry issue concerns you most?
Our relationship with online travel agencies (OTAs). OTAs are an important partner, we welcome them as a channel, but we do want to make sure that everything is priced appropriately and that we have a relationship that makes good business sense for us and for our franchisees. Right now we’re all dealing with the issue that too many guests don’t realize the best way to make sure that they have the best deal on hotel rooms, is really to go to hotel company sites and not necessarily with OTAs. That’s why a number of players in the industry, ourselves included, have launched book direct campaigns.

What advice would you give up-and-comers in the industry?
It’s really important to be open to opportunity—to not limit yourself by thinking, “Oh, I’m not sure I can do that,” or “I’m not sure that’s the right thing for me.” When opportunities come along, try to embrace them, because those are some unexpected ways in which you can grow and develop. It’s also really important to build good relationships in the industry, because you learn the most from people. There’s only so much you can learn through other means, but to find the right mentors and to help other people as well will expand your ability to affect your career. That’s how you can really make a contribution.

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