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5 questions for Nick Vournakis, Chief Customer Officer

January 05, 2022

Nick Vournakis was recently promoted to his role as Chief Customer Officer. He is responsible for the health of, and relationship with CWT’s entire client portfolio. A CWT veteran, Nick has held a variety of commercial roles in his 20+ year career including overseeing CWT’s top 250 largest clients and managing several business units including global consulting arm CWT Solutions Group and the US Military & Government accounts.

We chat to Nick about changes in the business travel management landscape, the fundamental challenge of TMCs to help customers achieve new objectives and the benefits of early morning meditation.

How has the travel industry changed since you started your career at CWT, and what trends are you seeing?

When I started at CWT online booking tools were about to proliferate. Back then we saw a material and structural shift in the business as an entirely new channel was created that had not existed in the past – at least not for business travel.  

We worked very closely with our clients to help them use technology to their advantage and lower their total cost of ownership. Interestingly, the fundamental principle of using technology to drive improvements in travel management and travel experience is still the core of our business. I do not see that changing in a post-pandemic environment. Now, however, we will be leveraging technology to solve for things like understanding travel requirements, jurisdictional and governmental regulations, vaccination restrictions, testing facilities, and overall ensuring traveler wellbeing. These are the elements of the travel decision making process that are necessarily changing the landscape of business travel management.

What is the best thing about your role?  

No doubt the people. If there is a single thing that has kept me engaged at CWT for over 20 years, it’s the people I’ve been fortunate to work with. This holds true of our CWT employees, our suppliers and our customers as well. I feel incredibly fortunate to have been consistently surrounded by people who are supportive, good natured, curious and fun. I can attribute much of my own personal growth to the relationships built over that time and the congruence with my own personal values is incredibly rewarding.

How do you maintain a work-life balance?

Life balance is of paramount importance to me.  Achieving that requires some discipline and structure. First and foremost, I tend to be quite an early-bird. I’m early to bed and early to rise.  I use the dark morning hours specifically for my mental and physical health: reading, doing a daily crossword, exercising, meditating. I’m in the office (generally) by 8am. Second, and of equal importance, I don’t leave the office until I’m ’done’ for the day. This means when I’m home, I’m home and engaged with my family. The same holds true for the weekends. Finally, I’m fastidious about my calendar. I do not allow each day to be consumed by calls and back-to-back meetings. These three things mixed together has been a great recipe for me.

Is there a quote or person that motivates you in your professional and/or personal life?

Maybe less a quote and more a mantra: ‘Always leave something better than you found it’. I like the idea of creating legacy and the responsibility that comes along with that. I’d like to believe that people, systems, etc. can live well beyond the time in which we devote ourselves to them. So it is infinitely rewarding to see people who I have worked with closely succeed in their personal and professional careers and to see businesses that I have been a part of continue to grow and thrive.  

How will travel management evolve in the next 5 years?

Travel management companies are going to be challenged to help corporates understand the real value of any individual trip and whether or not travel is necessary versus an alternate means of connecting - like video conferencing. We’ve learned a whole new way of working in the last 18 months and while I believe there is tremendous pent-up demand for sales organizations to get back on the road, we also need to understand the juxtaposition of corporate savings, traveler health and well-being and corporate social responsibility. What was perhaps considered lip-service in the past will no longer be the case going forward. TMCs will have to fundamentally challenge our core competence to help customers achieve new objectives like carbon neutrality. There’s an exciting future ahead and I’m thrilled to be part of that kind of transformation.