November 2022, Virtual
21 November 2022, Hilton London Metropole
Marino Faccini, Carlson Wagonlit’s outgoing executive VP for the Mediterranean and Latin America, tells ABTN about his 43 years with the TMC.
How did you get your first job in business travel management?
I started in 1968 in Switzerland as a trainee. It's still the case there that when you reach 16 you can either continue with your studies, or take a part-time job with part-time studies, which I did for three years. So my first job was as a trainee.
At that time CWT was associated with Thomas Cook, so we were called Wagonlit Cook. In my first year I started with foreign exchange. Later I started with tickets. At that time they were hand-written. We used to do a lot of tailor-made trips, when people were asking us for train or air tickets, plus transfer at their destination, plus an intepreter, plus the hotel, plus, plus, plus... Everything was manual and was made by Telex. Email didn't exist, and neither did faxes.
And you have been with CWT ever since?
Yes. I remained in the company for the last 43 years, moving from city to city, job to job.
Tell us about some of those roles...
Well, I worked at the headquarters of Nestle in the early 1970s, in one of the first implants in Europe. In the past the largest companies used to want to have an in-house travel agency, because we had to print out the tickets manually, so it was easier to deliver them. With today’s technology, with electronic tickets, it doesn't make so much sense, so implants have become more a thing of the past.
Then in 1972 I moved to Geneva, working in what we call now the meeting and events department, but at that time it was the groups department. Then in 1980 in Geneva I opened the second business travel centre (BTC) in the centre, and stayed there for ten years. At that time BTCs were very popular, and large cities would more than one. Now they’re called full service centres, and we tend to have just one in a city as the technology is there.
In 1990 I was asked to manage all the implants and the business travel centres we had at that time in Geneva, which was the key city for CWT. Geneva is an international city, with a lot of EMEA headquarters for international companies and non-governmental organisations.
From 1996 I was general manager for Switzerland, until I was requested to move to Spain at the end of 1999, to restructure Spain and Portugal. Then I year after year I was give other countries to oversee, like Italy, Greece, Morocco and Egypt, and in 2007 I was given the six countries we have in Latin America.
What have been some of the favourite aspects of your career?
The experience in Latin America has been great. Because they are emerging countries, everything is still possible there and the people are really great. It doesn’t mean that they are not great elsewhere, but really the experience since 2007 has been extraordinary and has given me a larger picture about the world.
Also, when I went from Switzerland to Spain it was really a great experience, because of the difference of culture. In Switzerland everything works perfectly well and is strictly organised, but in Spain everything is possible. It looks like it is less organised, but you always find a solution, even if it’s at the last minute sometimes. I believe I learnt a lot from the difference in the culture and the way of working in both countries.
Having worked in different countries, how do they differ in the way they manage business travel?
The international companies more and more act the same, although there are probably less self booking tools in the south of Europe and Latin America. But, in Latin America the self booking tool is developing quite quickly.
There are more differences at the local level. Probably the local markets are much less matured in southern Europe. For example, in the UK companies are used to paying for service, when in south Europe and Spain in particular they don’t understand why they have to pay for something. They believe they can get everything for free. It’s still sometimes difficult to make them understand that to get an added value there is a cost. This is not the case for the international companies, because they are in the global picture and have contact with their headquarters elsewhere, so they understand that to get a service a provider has to be paid.
Do you see any changes in the way travel is being managed across borders?
Yes, absolutely. Taking the case of South America we have month after month more international bids. Sometimes it’s only regional and sometimes it’s only global. But, it’s still not the majority. We can see more regional or global bids for the meetings and events segment, but it’s still nothing compared to pure business travel. In Europe it’s definitely coming, and we have started with two or three customers in Latin America. Over the next decade the impact will be important there.
What do you see as a key challenge for TMCs in the future?
Definitely the online aspect. It’s the present, it’s not only the future. We as a travel management company have to make clear the added values we offer, and of course implement the technology. I am not afraid for the future of TMCs, even if I won’t be a part of it, because we deliver much more added value than an online booking tool. The programme managers are there to offer solutions to our customers, to analyse their total spend. But of course we have to bring added value, we have to invent new ways of thinking, and we have to be very close to the market and to the needs of our customers.
If you could offer one piece of career advice for business travel executive starting out, what would it be?
Probably understand the technology, learn languages, work in other environments and other countries, and be flexible.
You speak four languages. Do you think it’s important for TMCs to employ linguists?
Definitely, yes. I have been lucky to study in a country like Switzerland which is very small. When you live in a small country you have to speak other languages. In Switzerland we have four official languages and at school we have to learn at least two.
English is key. With this you can go everywhere. Nevertheless I am convinced that if you want to sell to your customer, if you can speak the local language it’s ten times better than always speaking in English.
What will you do when you retire in the New Year?
There are so many things. I like hiking, reading, the opera. And I have dual nationality – I was born in Italy, but I lived most of my life in Switzerland. I would like to go back to my roots in Italy from time to time, so the first years are already fully booked. My home is in Geneva, but I have a house in Italy as well, near Bergamo.