Hot Seat – Neha Parikh

Neha is the President of Hotwire, a leading innovator in value creation and discount travel based in San Francisco under Expedia Group, a global travel technology company. Prior to her current role, Neha was Senior Vice President of Global Brands and Retail for Hotels.com, driving brand marketing activities, overseeing financial plans and operations and leading merchandising, business development and partner marketing globally. Neha has been with Expedia Group since 2008, amassing experience in roles across the business from product development, to customer relationship marketing (CRM), to pricing to strategy, in both the U.S. and Europe.

International Women’s Day is this month – First let’s talk about this year’s theme: Balance for Better – what does this mean to you?

Making deliberate decisions about where you want to lean in and not second-guessing yourself. ‘Work-life balance’ is not a term I subscribe to because balance implies that two things can be equal. It’s really hard for work and life to be equal. I do believe you should be definitive about where you want to lean in at certain points in your life. There might be moments where it’s more important to lean into your life and family. You should make that choice and do that. There are other times when you should lean into your career. It’s important to be intentional about where you want to lean in and don’t second-guess yourself. Make a decision, do it, and move forward.

Does the travel industry do a good job of diverse representation at all levels?

It’s definitely improving. We’re starting to see more balance in terms of background, gender, etc. But (as with many industries) we have work to do. I realize I’m often the only (or one of a few) female, ethnic leader in the room when it comes to travel, so I don’t think we’re there yet, but it’s getting better.

How do you incorporate balance in your leadership and in Hotwire?

It’s not an equation. It ebbs and flows. I’m deliberate about booking workouts which forces me to leave by a reasonable hour (because I pre-pay; this is key 😊). I can shut down, work out, go home, spend time with my husband, and check-in on work again later (but only if I have to!). I realized a few years ago that the world doesn’t end if I sign off at 5pm. And by the way, work never gets done. There’s always more to do than is possible to get done. If I stay until 8 o’clock every night, I get a little bit more done but then my personal life suffers. Whether it’s my relationships or personal health, there are always tradeoffs.

If there’s a particularly light workload day, I might leave early to spend a few hours with my husband that I wouldn’t normally have. You have to take advantage of those far and few moments. I also believe in mental health days. I think people can take a day off for their own sanity and that’s a really good thing because you come back stronger.

What advice to you have for aspiring female leaders?

Number one, ask for feedback. Studies have shown women get less feedback than men, and that can be a hinderance in our careers. Managers tend to water feedback down (in an effort to be “nice”), and not give it to you straight, if they give it to you at all, whereas with men they’re more direct. I encourage all women to seek out feedback. Make people comfortable giving you honest feedback.

Women also need to raise their hands for opportunities even if they feel they’re not ready. I have seen it time and time again where women don’t  —  including myself. The fact is, you’re never going to be 100% ready for the next step. If you wait, you’re just holding yourself back. I once read that “men apply for a job when they meet 60% of the qualifications, whereas women apply only if they meet 110% of them!”; women need to raise their hands, even if they’re uncomfortable.

Thirdly, build a network. There’s a saying: “like likes like” which means that people who are like each other tend to bond. So people with similar backgrounds, ethnicities, genders, hobbies and so on. By default if there aren’t as many women at a company, the women who are there may miss out on the bonding and network building with the majority of the company, so you have to be more deliberate in building out your network.

What sets Hotwire apart from other OTAs?

I honestly didn’t realize just how much value a customer could get on Hotwire! I mean, just last week we had a 3.5-star hotel on the Vegas strip for $7! That’s including free parking and free internet, when the lowest published rate found elsewhere was over $100!

Another thing that sets us apart at Hotwire is the level of focus we have: on providing a great deal, on our primarily North American customer base, and on mobile/last-minute travel. The focus we have is exciting because we can really build a product that’s super customized which is great for customers and partners alike!

On the supply side, one thing that excites me is the clear role that Hotwire plays in the distribution strategies for our partners. We help partners fill last-minute inventory that would otherwise go unsold. Our value proposition to partners is very clear. I also like that we tell partners – use us when you need us. Let us help you fill the gap – that’s what we’re here for. We have a partner-centric approach. Their goals are our goals.

If you could communicate one thing to supply partners what would it be?

Use Hotwire. (laughs) We’re here to help them and we want to know how we can best partner together. Tell us how we can be better. Tell us how we can help you more. The most valuable thing in meetings with partners is when they give us honest feedback – it only makes us better.