Laura Meyer plans
travel sustainably

Journalist: Editorial team ceo magazine | Photographer: Markus Bertschi | Magazine: Bigger, better, stronger – December 2023

Laura Meyer took over the reins of travel company Hotelplan Group as CEO in the midst of the the Corona pandemic, and she was always optimistic that the travel industry would recover quickly.

“Digitalisation will advance extremely rapidly, and with it the demands of our clients.”

We have just lived through a summer of extreme high temperatures. There were extensive fires in Europe, and some places had temperatures of over 40 degrees for several weeks. So are the cooler Nordic countries the holiday destinations of the future?

Personally, I’ve just spent a holiday in Iceland with my family. The landscape, the vastness and the colours made a deep impression on me. We’re getting more and more bookings for northern countries at our specialist subsidiary travelhouse in particular, and we are continuing to expand our offering. We are also seeing growth in holiday regions such as Denmark or Scotland at our subsidiary Interhome.

What about Switzerland?

Switzerland has now become a year-round destination, though the Mediterranean still remains very popular. Because of the high temperatures, many clients are extending their summer and also travelling to Mediterranean countries in spring and autumn. This extended season leads to occupancy levels being better distributed throughout the year and reduces the backlog of bookings in the summer.

You became CEO of Hotelplan Group at the beginning of 2021, in the middle of the Corona pandemic. The company had to cut several hundred jobs, almost half of its turnover was lost and it made a loss of over CHF 100 million. How did you remain resilient under such stressful circumstances?

The pandemic was a huge blow for tourism. We have never experienced such a long and complex crisis before. When I took over as CEO, it was a matter of creating a long-term perspective and of finding the right moment to ramp up our service and our offerings for clients again. The staff did an excellent job. Knowing that the Federation of Migros Cooperatives offers support and financial security was and still is a great privilege. I was always confident that the industry would recover and quickly return to the way it was before. We managed to compensate for part of the losses as early as last year, and this will also be the case this year.

“Being successful can also mean keeping turnover steady in a shrinking market’’

What do you think is the cause of this growth in turnover?

People have a huge need to travel, especially during or after times when things have been uncertain and stressful. People need to relax, learn about the world and broaden their own perspectives at the same time. I always like to quote the German Minister for Economic Affairs, Robert Habeck, who said: “There’s actually no better counterweight to war than tourism.” Because of their travel experiences during the pandemic, many people are again looking for reliable partners to organise their travel instead of booking it themselves. At the beginning of the lockdown many people had to travel back to Switzerland, which was sometimes a chaotic experience, or they couldn’t leave certain countries at all. We were always able to offer solutions to our clients, and now we are reaping the benefits of that. Our clients trust us and we are also appreciated by our partners abroad.

The pandemic is over, but there have been fires on Rhodes and earthquakes in Greece. Doesn’t that scare off your clients?

It’s precisely because of events like these that tourists want more services and more security. They need a contact person who can give them sound advice, make all the arrangements, provide 24/7 support and, if necessary, get them out of crisis areas. It’s not just private travellers who are increasingly booking through Hotelplan, bta first travel and Finass Reisen again, but also business travellers – the Corona pandemic has shown many people that they need reliable partners who act quickly and take the lead when there’s a crisis.

You have seen growth in private travel since the end of the pandemic. What about the business travel sector?

During the pandemic we all learned to work together virtually. Meetings are often held online, plus more and more companies have sustainability goals to achieve. When it comes to business travel we mainly focus on SMEs. This is the area that has recovered the fastest because most SME travel is not planned for internal meetings, but for direct contact with customers. We’re creating new offerings with opportunities to help combat climate change or to buy sustainable aviation fuel. In addition to this we provide support with the definition of in-house travel policies, which among other things, help to achieve climate goals – for example by requiring travel to be done by train.

To what extent is sustainability an important issue in business travel?

Sustainability isn’t just an important issue for business travel but also for leisure travel, and it’s an important goal of our strategy. We take ecological, economic and social aspects into account at the same time. We are constantly expanding our sustainability offering, e.g. through certified accommodation or train packages, and we’re increasing transparency with new filter ranges on our websites. The issue of sustainability affects all departments in our company and is everywhere.

Part of the sustainability and growth strategy includes investments and loans in key tourist destinations. You have just invested in a sustainability project in Turkey.

We can only reach our goals and achieve growth by working together with our partners and co-financing or pre-financing sustainability initiatives, for example in countries bordering the Mediterranean. We make a total of CHF 10 million available for these kinds of projects. In Turkey, for example, we are supporting two hotels in setting up solar plants to produce sustainable electricity. At the same time, we are helping them as well as other hotels in the region to obtain the necessary certifications as a sustainable tourism destination. For example, we offer advice on laundry services, water consumption and reducing food waste. We work with the hotels in order to be successful and meet the needs of the clientèle.

How important is growth for you to be successful?

Sales growth means that more clients are enthusiastic about our products and services – and that is our goal. By growth, I don’t just mean financial figures, but also achieving environmental targets, for example. Being successful can also mean keeping turnover steady in a shrinking market, depending on the business.

“I’m fortunate to have a job that I’m truly passionate about.”

What about personal growth?

Personal growth comes with curiosity, a willingness to do new things and therefore to step out of your own comfort zone. This also requires perseverance, especially when things don’t work out. Self-reflection is also very important. Keeping the right balance between different aspects of my life – work, family, sport, friends, travel – is also important to me but a big challenge as well, because there are only 24 hours in a day.

You have overcome a lot of challenges in recent years. What issues will the travel industry face in the next few years?

Digitalisation will advance extremely rapidly, and with it the demands of our clients. Artificial intelligence (AI) will automate even more areas, not only in customer service, where we are already working with chatbots, but in a wide range of applications. The demand for sustainability will also change the travel industry. As in all industries, the challenge of finding, retaining and developing the right talent will continue to increase. So we certainly won’t find it boring! The travel industry has always been changing, though – adaptability is a core attribute shared by all travel companies. No industry is as greatly affected by world events as ours is, but that is also what makes our work incredibly exciting and intense. 

“Knowing that the Federation of Migros Cooperatives offers support and financial security was and still is a great privilege.”

The Hotelplan Group is an international travel group headquartered in Opfikon-Glattbrugg near Zurich and a subsidiary of the Federation of Migros Cooperatives. Its international brand portfolio comprises 14 brands and travel companies in the areas of city breaks and beach holidays, specialist travel, holiday home letting and business travel. The Hotelplan Group is the largest Swiss travel group with a full range of services. The company employs around 2,000 people.

Laura Meyer studied law at the University of Zurich and the Universidad de Deusto in Spain, after which she completed her Master of Business Administration (MBA) in Singapore and France at INSEAD. From 2014 to 2015 Laura Meyer worked for the NZZ Media Group as Head Key Account Management, Sales Strategy and Processes before joining UBS in 2015 as Head of Digital Distribution & Analytics. From 2018 to 2020 Laura Meyer was a member of the Board of Directors of the Hotelplan Group, and since the beginning of 2021 she has led the travel group as its CEO. Laura Meyer has also been a member of the Board of Directors of the NZZ Media Group since April 2022.