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Tomas Bäcklund, CMO Elite Hotels
Emil Björnius2023-11-27 10:496 min read

The time when you could save the year with a campaign feels a bit dated

With a background from the agency world, Tomas Bäcklund has been leading Elite Hotels of Sweden's marketing and digital development for three years now. In CMO Insights, he shares what it takes to succeed in the role of the CMO, the hotel industry's challenges and opportunities and much more.

Tomas Bäcklund has many years behind him in the agency world and most recently came from Head of business developer at River the agency, where he worked with clients such as Klarna, Nike and Mazda. For three years now, he has been working on the customer side, leading Elite Hotels of Sweden's marketing and digital development.

A role that, according to Tomas, is incredibly exciting and includes equal parts marketing, digital development and R&D. Not least, it is exciting as the hotel industry has gone through a steel bath with the pandemic and, generally speaking, less travel.

– Like most people, I have been shaped by the contexts in which I have worked. Working as a consultant is an inspiring and fun environment. It's high and low, always exciting and full speed. There is, of course, more to say than there is space here, but if I highlight a couple of things I think are an advantage of having one's background on the agency side, it is solving challenges with limited time and budget.

According to Tomas, the experiences from the agency world, not least when it comes to the somewhat hectic pace, are invaluable.

– When the basis of the relationship is not an employment but a contract, it is drawn to its tip. This means a breakneck pace and that, at times, you have to work way too much to reach your goals. It is convenient to have that routine with you today.


“If the marketing does not align with the business goals, you will have a hard time explaining what benefit you contribute”


The challenges that a CMO faces today have both become more numerous and more complicated. As more and more importance has been placed on profitability, marketing and sales have been welded together in many companies. Tomas emphasizes the importance of market and top management speaking the same language:

– I saw a survey from Kapero and Sweden's advertisers that showed that almost 2 out of 3 (62 percent) in the market think that there are clear reports that show how they have influenced the business goals. CEOs, on the other hand, do not share that view at all – only one in four CEOs (23 percent) agree with the statement. Meanwhile, McKinsey studies show that 80% of CEOs don't trust their CMOs.

Tomas continues:

– First, the marketing manager's role can be divided into two camps. A part that is purely operational and deals more with the execution of marketing campaigns and another type that is genuinely strategic and works with the entire direction of the company's development. The same survey by McKinsey showed that many CEOs needed to believe that CMOs understood the connections between the company's finances and marketing. To be successful as a CMO today, you must both contribute profoundly to the company's business goals and actively drive that work forward. If the marketing aligns with the business goals, you will have a chance to explain what benefit you contribute.

The importance of being constantly available

Tomas believes that the digital customer journey and marketing will merge more and more in the future.

– The time when you could save the year with a promotion feels a bit dated. You must be able to satisfy your customers' wishes at all times today. This means you must be constantly available regarding technology, communication and branding. In practice, this means that the work is "always on" and that development must be continuous.

– It's the same approach that digital has had for quite a few years now. No one builds a website, thinks "clearly", and leaves the development behind. On the contrary, it is in continuous maintenance and improvement. The same applies to your brand and your communication. It is nothing new. Byron Sharp wrote about this in his book "How Brands Grow" in 2010, and it is just as relevant today. The key is to translate it into the reality you and your company find yourself in right now.

There is a clear distinction, a clear breaking point that everyone in the hotel industry recognizes before and after the pandemic.

2019, before Tomas started, was the hotel industry's best year ever. Revenues boomed for almost everyone. 2020 would be the year when all records would be broken. And 2020 started in the best possible way. A couple of months into the new year, the pandemic came, and Elite's revenue dropped to almost zero in a few weeks.

– I came in towards the end of 2020, which may seem like funny timing.
Elite had the privilege of doing better during the pandemic than their industry peers. It depends on several factors, but an incredible commitment from Elite's employees, initiative and creativity are part of it. Elite created long-term accommodation, collaborated with Blocket and rented hotel rooms at cost price to nurses, doctors and teachers.

– Another part is significantly increased revenue (digitally) from marketing. Historically, hotels in Sweden have made their money from business travel. Companies whose employees who went on various service assignments made up the majority of the revenue. That has slowly changed, and today, it is private individuals who make up a more significant part of the income pie.

The trends in the hotel industry

Tomas tells us that Elite is a company that has a 100-year perspective on its business. This means that, to a relatively small extent, they try to latch on to short-term trends. Instead, they try to create a company that is genuinely nice and has the best service in the industry. In that way, they will have a unique position in the market compared to their industry colleagues. Tomas elaborates:

– There are a couple of things that have happened in recent years that affect both the hotels we invest in and how we shape our existing ones. The first is that Swedes (and others) vacation in Sweden more often than before. It is amusing from a sustainability perspective, and this was accelerated during Covid. To get a share of that cake, you must, of course, have a good hotel with good service that captures that offer.

– The second is that our target groups today are increasingly looking for experiences. A hotel, in its simplest form, is a room with a bed and breakfast. Our latest hotel, Ad Astra by Elite, is an overall experience where the hotel is the destination rather than the area itself. Given that Ad Astra by Elite has a cinema, spa, restaurants, karaoke, shuffleboard, various restaurants and bars, as well as a piazza and outdoor pools, you have reason to visit the hotel many times as well. It is a considerably more advanced experience than what is called a B&B.

– These two factors mean that today, we are rebuilding many of our existing hotels and will also open new hotels with significantly increased opportunities for experiences. Among other things, we are spreading a new hotel in Kiruna next year. The whole city of Kiruna is being moved at the time of writing, and in the new part, there will be a new Elite hotel with a restaurant, bars, spa (inside and outside) and the opportunity to do lots of cool things in the immediate area. The fact that Kiruna is also easily reached by the night train does not make matters worse.


Emil Björnius

Emil works as a senior content marketing manager at Aimfor. Get in touch with him if you want help with moving your brand with storytelling.