How determination, loyalty, and flexibility are key.
By Aiden Jewelle Gonzales
While travel may broaden the mind, it’s clear that working in the industry keeps it sharp, as exemplified by Reena Manchanda Patel, a driven and charismatic woman who’s seen it develop for almost two decades. “Travel and technology evolve so swiftly that adaptability becomes a part of your life,” she tells me when we sit down to discuss how she keeps pace with the continuous innovations. “If I’ve learnt anything, it’s that you should always be willing to learn and adopt a growth mindset, be very flexible, and be willing to accept changing circumstances positively.”
Born in Nakhon Si Thammarat, Reena was cognisant from a very young age of the importance of assimilating into different cultures: “my parents always wanted us to learn the value of Thai manners and etiquette, yet understand the importance of our Indian culture,” she recalls. Despite pursuing her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Thailand – from Mahidol University International College (MUIC) and Assumption University, respectively – her early education years were in Shimla, India, at the Auckland House School. “Being educated in India turned out to be one of the most integral parts of my life,” she says. “The ability to read, write, and speak Hindi, English and Thai fluently was vital when I joined the workforce.”
Her appreciation for learning new things drove her to the travel industry and to Amadeus, a company that she’s been loyal to for 17 years, and that she’s only just recently left, to become an Enterprise Account Manager at MulesSoft – SalesForce Thailand. “Who doesn’t love travelling?” she answers with a laugh, when I ask her what she loved best about the industry. “And when you add the ever-changing technology to the mix, it’s exciting.” Travel tech, she explains to me, is the “use of IT applications and eCommerce in the travel, tourism, and hospitality industry, with the goal of automating the process; saving time and cost; and creating a seamless travel experience for consumers, including before, during, and after a trip.” Amadeus, specifically, is known for providing B2B IT solutions and comprehensive offerings across the board of the travel industry, from airport ecosystems, to business intelligence, and more.
The last two years, especially, have highlighted the importance of technology in mobilising the world, including the rise of vaccine passports, having to find flexible travel and hotel booking solutions, and even finding and booking testing facilities nearby. Reena is impassioned about these changes in technology, and lauds the world’s accelerated acceptance of these developments because of the pandemic. “Ten years ago, travel was so different,” she recalls. “Now, you can use AI and Chatbot- powered solutions to automate bookings and provide personalised services, and even AR/VR with the Internet of Things (IOT) to help streamline the travel experience.”
She sits down with Masala to talk further about the future of travel and technology, and her journey as a high-powered woman and mother in the tech industry.
Can you tell us a little more about your roles within Amadeus for the last 17 years?
I started as a Product Specialist and slowly climbed my way up the corporate ladder. Early on, my managers saw my potential and wanted me to expand the businesses in SEA. In 2007, I became an Application Consultant and part of the job was to be trained in Europe. So, I packed my bags, accepted my parents’ blessings and spent almost a year in Antwerp, Belgium, and Nice, France. Working abroad expanded my mindset and allowed me to learn more about people and how they perceived the world, and stepping out of my comfort zone allowed me to gain valuable attributes such as independence, maturity and adaptability. I grew profoundly as a person because the perspectives and values inherited from my homeland was challenged, and sometimes rejected, for a more holistic approach that encompasses different viewpoints, and for that I’m forever grateful.
I was then promoted to Team Lead, Head of Project Management in 2009 and eventually joined Business Development and Corporate Strategy in 2011. This is where I was exposed to C-level negotiations and public speaking. In 2012, I was awarded a Global Amadeus Excellence Award in the Customer Improvement stream for my work in the automation of Low-Cost Airline booking solutions. It was a very proud moment; a big achievement for my efforts and something I hold very dear to my heart.
Working directly with airlines gave me a new desire to learn more, so I moved into Airline Distribution Sales as Sales Manager in 2014. It was the same year I got married as well, and this was the time where my real travel journey began. Being responsible for Sales in the Asia-Pacific means you had to be on the road most time of the year – I was making almost 30 trips a year at one point – and at the time, my husband was travelling excessively as well. For the first six months of our marriage, we spent only a few weeks together, but despite that, it was a good experience, and I was happy to share it with him.
You’ve been with the company for 17 years. What about their vision and USPs attracted you to joining them, and has garnered your loyalty for so long?
17 years is a long time, but it boils down to the people and its culture. It’s truly multicultural and provides an international environment with lots of dynamics. Team spirit is high, and if I have an issue, I know I’ll find a strong collaborative hand across the departments that are willing to cross that bridge together with me. My mentor gave me a valuable piece of advice: he said, “be the kind of person who can get things done, yet you must love doing it, otherwise you won’t get the result you desire.” The company also offered a good work-life balance. Work from home became a norm during the pandemic, but Amadeus was already ahead of the game and provided these privileges to employees pre-COVID and that became essential in my journey through motherhood.
It’s increasingly rare for people in recent generations to stay with a company for a similar length of time, as most tend to stay in jobs for a few years at most. Why do you believe this is, and what advice would you give to current job searchers when picking a career?
People in recent generations grew up during an era of great technological advancements. Because of this, they have a lot of experience using ever-changing social media platforms, cloud-based software, and other tech-driven tools that result in more streamlined work. They also adapt quickly and adjust faster to new programmes, software, apps, and other forms of technology used in businesses. But I do believe when you join any new organisation, the first year is when you learn, the second year is your trial and error, and the third year is when you really make your impact. If the organisation is keeping you engaged, providing opportunities for career advancement and has an attractive retention strategy, then you may find people sticking around longer.
COVID-19 has hit many industries hard, but especially the travel industry. Can you tell us about your personal experiences of this, and how the industry has had to pivot? What kept you motivated throughout?
2020 was when we were hit the hardest, but the ongoing disruption made the industry more agile and able to adopt the business strategies needed to survive and turn this crisis into an opportunity. We saw travel trends and solutions which we thought would only be adopted in the future, for example, touchless solutions, biometric boarding, self-service boarding, self-service bag-drops, digital health passports etc., become an imminent demand. Prior to COVID, every organisation was at some stage of Digital Transformation but COVID made them achievable. We knew this crisis would be short lived, and we helped our clients react in decisive ways. As we move into the next phase, now is the time to seize the opportunities emerging in the recovery stage as stability returns.
Like many others, the tech industry is more male dominated. Do you feel like your experience as a woman in this industry has been different to your male counterparts? Any unique insights that you can give from a woman’s perspective?
The tech industry is very different now than when I started. I remember walking into a board meeting full of only male colleagues and I was the only female present in the room. I had to fight for a certain promotion which was about to be given to my male counterpart. When it gets down to the nitty-gritty, you must be nice and feminine enough to not come across as rude, while arguing for what you want, without making it seem like you’re selling yourself too hard. And the one thing you should avoid at all costs is giving up before you have to, just because society tells you to. Your tendency might be to cut back and not take a certain promotion because “you’ll have kids soon anyway”, or “you already have a kid”. Instead, go full throttle for as long as you can, seize the opportunity, give it a shot and by the time pregnancy or the kid comes around – you’ll figure out that one too.
You’ve recently been headhunted and are making a change in your career. Can you tell us about your decision to leave after so many years, and what you’re looking forward to?
It was the most emotional thing I have ever done. I cried when handing my resignation because Amadeus has been my family and my second home. But it was time to explore and use the experience I’ve gained and challenge myself. You need to be willing to step out of your comfort zone from time to time and see what’s available out there. My life is about to change quite drastically and I’m sure it’ll be a challenging transition, but I also know I’ll look back on this time and all the memories made at Amadeus fondly.
What or who have been your biggest inspirations?
My parents are my biggest inspirations. Very early on, my siblings and I were taught no matter what we did, we had to stand on our own feet and be financially independent. They also kept us grounded and rooted to our moral compass. Be humble, be kind, be independent, but at the same time be willing to fight and stand up for what is right. I think it’s a very important lesson and something I’ll be passing to my son as well.