How Do Hospitality CMOs and CTOs Work Together? Read the Research

Hospitality chief marketing officers (CMOs) and chief technology officers (CTOs) were brought together this past year by HFTP and HSMAI for two think tanks on the strategic integration of marketing and technology.

By definition, a think tank is a group organized for interdisciplinary research with the objective of providing advice on a diverse range of issues through the use of specialized knowledge and the activation of networks (Britannica).

Participants discussed their challenges, priorities and experiences during these sessions, including how the two roles can better collaborate. Their discussions were guided by five questions that directly addressed strategic industry challenges, as well as the relationships between CMO and CTO counterparts.

The first event took place amongst Europe-based hospitality CMOs and CTOs during HITEC Europe 2019 on April 11 in Mallorca, Spain. The second was held for their North America-based counterparts during HITEC North America 2019 on June 20 in Minneapolis, Minnesota USA.

The events produced a number of interesting observations and analyses which were presented in a special report offering potential solutions to improve the relationships between CMOs and CTOs. The following is an overview of the insights that were divulged during the think tanks. Access the full report, which includes an aggregation of direct quotes and comments from the industry professionals who took part.

What is the #1 strategic challenge facing the hospitality industry?

The predominant answers at both think tanks lined up closely on this question: data analytics for North America, personalization for Europe. In both cases, the discussion centered on using data to customize and refine the guest experience.

North America: Insightful data
Europe: Personalization
Cited by both groups: Distribution, compliance, data, Airbnb

Attendees in both North America and Europe made suggestions for integrating technology into marketing campaigns to apply data analytics and personalization:

  • Identify small targets along the way and cut the goal into “operational pieces.”
  • Focus on customer experience to help break down departmental silos with a common goal.
  • Think of the guest first.
  • Base KPIs on customer experience, in contrast to standard practices.
  • Do not oversell it. Instead of making impossible promises, simply tell your guests, “Come stay with us. We’ll take care of you.”
  • Think about the future. Emerging technologies like keyless entry and check-in kiosks are going to change the definition of personalization.

What is the #1 strategic challenge faced by hospitality CMOs?

On this question, the two groups split, with North American participants giving equal weight to talent acquisition and brand relevance. While in Europe, the discussion focused on consumer behavior — especially the extent to which the industry is not keeping up with it.

North America: Talent, brand relevance
Europe: Consumer behavior
Cited by both groups: Data, talent, technology

Their solution to talent acquisition was simple: a change in attitude and mindset. How to elevate brand relevance? Get to know your customer and foster loyalty. And how to overcome the primary challenge of consumer behavior? Consider all aspects of consumer behavior before moving forward with big plans and costs, and try to consider/predict how that behavior will change in the future.

What is the #1 strategic challenge faced by hospitality CTOs?

For participants based in North America, CTOs are most challenged by the volume of requests they receive from marketing and other departments, with all of them being equally important. While in Europe, CTOs are grappling with systems integration.

North America: Prioritization
Europe: Integration
Cited by both groups: Integration, talent, data privacy, outdated technology

What did the CTOs have to say about these challenges?

About personalization: “I think people don’t realize that when you build A, you can’t build B. And, for some reason, they want A and B to be built in parallel through some kind of magic.”

About integration: “Hotels are working with legacy systems, which leads to a ‘tail wagging the dog’ dynamic in which systems dictate processes.”

Go to page nine in the full report for their proposed solutions to these challenges.

CMOs: In one word, how would you characterize your relationship with your CTO counterparts?

At both events, while CMOs acknowledged their relationship with CTOs is not ideal, they sought to put a positive spin on the dynamic — and both also described it as a partnership.

North America: Improving
Europe: Challenging
Cited by both groups: Partnership

What are some of the solutions they proposed? The first would be to involve CTO counterparts in the team decision-making process right from the start. Also, hold regular meetings with the IT department so that everyone has a chance to follow the roadmap — determine priorities, get project status, and work towards an understanding from the technology and IT perspective.

In Europe, the CMOs proposed a change in company culture, breaking down traditional paradigms in which IT is seen as introverted and “back of house.”

CTOs: In one word, how would you characterize your relationship with your CMO counterparts?

CTOs in both North America and Europe were more straightforward in evaluating their relationship with CMOs, acknowledging that it can be thorny.

North America: Collaborative/combative
Europe: Complicated
Cited by both groups: Strained

What do the CTOs need to improve their relationship with CMOs?

One CTO said, “The important thing is as long as everyone’s aligned to make the business better and to give the guests the best experience possibly, you’ll ultimately get to where you need to be.”

“IT needs to have a place at the table — meaning the executive table,” said another, “which right now they are excluded from in many companies.”

So, how can CMOs and CTOs can work together?

The think tank participants gave three ultimate suggestions for improving and maximizing the CTO-CMO relationship, including:

  1. Set IT free. Along with making sure IT has a place at the executive table, consider changing up who the IT department reports to. Instead of the finance department, perhaps it would be better for them to report to the commercial department so that decision-making is not always about the money. Make sure the marketing and IT departments meet regularly and work closely together in a more synergistic and collaborative way. In other words…
  2. Get to know one another. CMOs and CTOs should spend time getting to know each other’s challenges and looking at business from the other’s perspective. Cross-train and spend more time with IT to better understand their decision-making process. Consider informal team-building exercises and joint innovation sessions. Finally…
  3. Focus on the big picture. A strained relationship could be indicative of a company culture of silos and counter-production. Step back and think about what the entire company wants to achieve. What are your collective goals and priorities? What are the individual department goals and priorities? How can individual departments support the company and each other? Change that company culture from counterproductive to collaborative and cooperative.

Read the full report on PineappleSearch for a complete list of think tank participants, direct quotes, solution details and more.

Briana Gilmore is the HFTP Communications Coordinator.
Briana can be reached at or +1 (512) 220-4017.

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About the Author: Briana Gilmore