Secret Agent Shannon Knapp? If Knapp, who became president and CEO of The Leading Hotels of the World (LHW) several months ago, followed the path she started on in college, her career could have turned out much different.
“I studied international relations at Colgate University and, during that time, I was exposed to a variety of experiences that compelled me to aspire to a career in the CIA,” she said. “Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on your context, I never did become a CIA officer, but in the process, I discovered another passion that turned into a rewarding career in hospitality. That passion was uncovered and honed during the eight years I spent in the consumer travel division at American Express.”
Knapp was responsible for the program, marketing and customer experience strategies for several Centurion and Platinum Card member travel benefits, including the Fine Hotels & Resorts program. “This experience introduced me to the possibility that I could have a career in travel and hospitality, and I never looked back,” she said.
She worked at American Express for nearly 15 years, and it was where Knapp learned a lot of the skills she is using to this day.
“It was an incredible learning experience,” said Knapp, who worked her way up to the VP of marketing, American Express Travel & Lifestyle Services. “The most enduring impact of my time there is what I learned about successful leadership through both the formalized leadership development programs and, as importantly, the amazing leaders I had throughout my career.”
Today, she heads a 91-year-old luxury marketing organization representing more than 400 hotels worldwide. Knapp was elevated to her current position following six-plus years as the company’s SVP and CMO.
“The transition has been going very well. I spent several months as interim CEO, which allowed me to take time to finalize our business strategy and priorities and develop the plan to operationalize that strategy,” she noted. “I also had the opportunity to spend ample time collaborating with our executive committee and my global colleagues, as well as traveling around the world to meet with many exceptional hoteliers. At the same time, I was able to accelerate the momentum of the company in several critical areas, including the completion of the critical migration to [CRS] Sabre SynXis and the development of the growth strategy for the global sales organization. I also directed the evolution of the company’s hotel product strategy and clarified the criteria for the curation of our prestigious LHW collection.”
She added, “Perhaps the most surprising part of the job is just how much I enjoy it. I am passionate about this company; I am passionate about our hoteliers; and I am passionate about our employees. I truly believe in our vision and strategy, and I am so motivated to lead this important organization into a new future.”
Knapp replaced Ted Teng, who had been in the position for a decade. “One of the most important things I learned from Ted was the importance of being comfortable to challenge yourself in the pursuit of finding the best possible solution,” said Knapp. “Being willing to examine your own assumptions and challenge what you think you know as you work through a problem is difficult, but critically important to avoiding confirmation bias in decision-making.”
Knapp stood out as the most qualified successor because of the many accomplishments she had as CMO.
“I take great pride in the work my team did to transform the marketing foundation at LHW. It started with the repositioning of the brand five years ago to increase our awareness and relevance among our Curious Traveler design target,” she noted. “At the same time, we built out a new marketing analytics and customer insights organization to increase our understanding of our guests and prospects, and improve the effectiveness of our marketing activities. And, finally, we invested significantly to re-architect our entire data and marketing technology infrastructure to enable personalization across channels and to create a flexible platform for future innovation.
“One of the most important things we accomplished during this time was the successful redesign and relaunch of our loyalty program, Leaders Club. We co-created this program with our most loyal members to ensure we continued to offer the amenities they love while also introducing new features and benefits they expressed were most important to them,” she added. “The program was designed as a club for curious travelers who seek remarkable, authentic experiences and the hoteliers who craft them. Leaders Club elevates this relationship and delivers truly differentiated on-property experiences and rewards. Additionally, it ensures that at any Leading Hotel of the World property Leaders Club members visit, they are recognized for their membership and can unlock richer rewards with greater loyalty. Since the September 2018 relaunch, the program has been recognized with several Loyalty360 Customer Awards.”
The CEO pointed out that 2019 was a record-setting year for LHW, exceeding $1 billion in same-store hotel revenue generated for its members. She said that the focus is on continuing the momentum throughout 2020 and the years to come.
“We will also continue to strategically expand our footprint. In 2019, we have welcomed the most prestigious and exciting new properties around the world to LHW,” she said. “Our steady growth can be attributed to our strong foundation and continued investment in the success of our hoteliers.”
She continued, “I am incredibly honored and humbled for the opportunity to lead this iconic, member-owned institution. Created by hoteliers for hoteliers more than 90 years ago, LHW has remained dedicated to empowering the success of its independent hotel members and ensuring this extraordinary segment of luxury hospitality continues to thrive. I am passionate about this mission and inspired to collaborate with the amazing 430 hotels in our collection and the extraordinary LHW employees to carry that mission forward.” HB