Think Big: What I Learned As Expedia's CMO (And Beyond)

with Melissa Maher

Together with

Melissa Maher helped build Expedia over 20 years into one of the biggest companies in the world of travel and hospitality as its Chief Marketing Officer, and today, we’re learning the career and leadership lessons she learned through that experience - as well as how she planned and navigated her transition into the work she's doing today.

You’ll get practical advice you can put to work today to make you a more effective hospitality leader and reach the goals you have for yourself and your organization.

We’re also learning about:

  • Learning

  • A design case study

  • Goals

  • “Influence house”

  • The future of club lounges

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Think Big: What I Learned As Expedia's CMO (And Beyond)

with Melissa Maher

Melissa Maher

Melissa Maher, the former Chief Marketing Officer of Expedia, joins us today to share her insights and experiences on her career journey so far. With over 20 years of experience in building Expedia into one of the world's largest travel and hospitality companies, she provides practical advice for hospitality leaders and discusses her transition into her current work.

Why Work In Hospitality and Travel?

When I asked about the reason to work in the hospitality industry, Melissa emphasized the importance and joy of helping others travel and have fun.

I remember once I said to an old professor at UNLV that we're not saving lives. And he stopped me dead in my tracks and said, Melissa, we are actually saving lives in travel. And I never forget that.

Melissa believes that the hospitality and travel industry offers so many opportunities, especially with the rise in global wealth and the growing trend of people valuing experiences over material possessions.

Starting with Expedia

Melissa began her journey with Expedia after working with them as a client during her time at the Las Vegas Hilton. She initially managed the Las Vegas hospitality market, gaining a comprehensive perspective on various types of hotels.

I was very curious about technology.

Melissa’s career at Expedia evolved as she took on roles in strategic accounts, technology, and marketing, always driven by curiosity and a desire for personal and professional growth.

When I asked her about what she attributes Expedia’s growth to, she shared this:

One of the things that made me successful in marketing was really focusing on scale. The other area that I focused on was try to not have too many products that you're focusing on. And then when you have those products that you're promoting, be very specific with your messaging.

In-Person Meetings Are Critical

When I asked Melissa about how she started and led initiatives like Expedia's diversity and inclusion program, she told me how important getting people in the same room to discuss and align is.

One of the things that I've always done is get people in a room, talk, bring data, and bring the personal touch. To create our DEI program, I got all of our senior leaders in one room and told them they can't have their laptops and we're not going to have a PowerPoint.

Why does in-person matter so much?

I needed everyone's full attention. I wanted everyone in person to see emotions. I saw two senior leaders cry when we were talking through some of the topics. That would not have happened on Zoom. So that in-person connection and us being able to pull out of them what that emotional connection is. And ironically, those two gentlemen that were emotional in the meeting became the biggest advocates for the program. And it was really because we were in person and having those open discussions.

Building a Strong Business Case

Another key theme for Melissa was creating strong business cases to get buy-in and drive programs forward. She saw a lot of proposals during her time as CMO and gave this advice on building strong business cases:

Don't exaggerate. That's the advice that I always share: don't exaggerate the numbers. Don't overestimate the opportunity.

The other piece of advice would be do your homework, know your business case inside and out. Know it so well that if the PowerPoint crashes, you can talk very intelligently without looking at any notes. Be prepared.

Finally, the way that you present really makes a difference. So not only be super prepared and know all of the points of your business case, but be able to present it with confidence, with ease, be able to answer questions, push back when you need to appropriately.

Transitioning and Taking Risks

After spending over 20 years at Expedia, Melissa took a year off to reflect on her next career move. She advises individuals to take risks, explore different roles within a company or across industries, and build a diverse range of experiences.

Credit: Melissa Maher

The “Portfolio Approach”

Today, Melissa’s work involves a portfolio of roles, including executive coaching, consulting, advisory board positions, and involvement with organizations supporting women in hospitality.

Melissa’s journey at Expedia and her transition into her current work provides valuable insights for all hospitality leaders. Her emphasis on curiosity, learning, and taking risks is something we can all learn from on our growth journey.

I highly recommend listening to our full conversation for all the details:

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