Conversations with Shannon Kong

By Low Min Yee and Ng Shu Hui

Shannon Kong is an Account Manager (Strategic Partners) at Expedia Group. In this article, she shares how her experiences led her to the travel and tourism industry, her thoughts on different roles and functions within the industry, her positive experiences with the working culture in Expedia Group, and some advice for young people in general. Shannon has been with Expedia Group for five years. Prior to that, she majored in Marketing at the Nanyang Technological University.

I am part of a global multinational corporation, Expedia Group, founded in the United States. It is publicly listed, and we have thousands of employees. I have been with Expedia Group for almost five years now, and it is my first company. My previous roles are in account management within Expedia Group’s Travel Partner Group, and today I am an Account Manager (Strategic Partners).  

I got a Business degree back in Nanyang Technological University (NTU), where I majored in Marketing. Prior to Expedia Group, I have embarked on different internships, including brand management with L’Oréal and a Japan-based management consulting firm.

Here at Expedia Group, I manage global hotel chain partnerships. This requires me to plan strategically, look at data, and make concrete business insights, which involves having partner-facing calls or interactions and aligning with internal stakeholders. These are some of the typical things I do.

Taking a step back, studying business and marketing in NTU was very rewarding of course. I think that being exposed to a university education is very beneficial.  One benefit would definitely be learning to communicate with different people. While managing your education — tertiary education especially — you will need to learn how to communicate differently with your group mates and manage their distinctive working styles in your projects and elective modules.  That was honestly a big learning experience. I also learnt how to prioritize my time in university. Studies will always take first priority for students, but you have to ask yourself: “What are the other things that drive me?” Taking part in extracurricular activities will help you uncover your interests and passions, and you will then learn to prioritize these activities while balancing your studies. I remember jamming in a band and volunteering in RC events, and they helped me figure out my likes and dislikes which eventually influenced my career choice.

Communication and time management are generic skills, whereas some marketing-specific skills that I learnt specifically were really about presenting myself. For example, I practiced impactful communication which helped my business case presentations be succinct yet memorable.

I do not think there is necessarily a clear link between what I like doing and my choice of company. If we take a step back from looking at the company, we need to think about the kind of things I enjoy doing, what kind of skills I relish developing. My interest in travel never waned even though I ended up majoring in marketing in university, and I love working with teams in problem-solving. 

This self-awareness eventually fostered my interest in being part of a large and complex organization in a large industry where there are many different stakeholders and interests to manage. I eventually found that job opportunity with Expedia Group, and got a positive response after applying on LinkedIn. 

Ultimately, I think you have to know what sort of topics energize you and be very conscious of that. Make a mental note and do not do things for the sake of doing it. Try to find that area of interest to help you identify the potential industries where you might make a career for yourself.

A first career is a huge milestone for a graduate. There is always that feeling of uncertainty, as though we do not entirely know what we have signed up for. At that time, nobody in my personal or wider circle was involved in the travel industry. 

I wish I had known to find out, as much as possible, what prospective managers are like; how they operate; and the company’s dynamics. Ask these questions, where possible, during your job interview. As much as you are the interviewee, doing so will help you feel more comfortable while allowing you to learn more about the company from people who are directly involved. Most importantly, understand the company’s values and principles — and this can usually be found on corporate websites. Being able to align with your company’s values helps to build your culture fit with your colleagues.

Close knit, in touch with local communities, and working and playing hard. People who do not know our company always see us as a travel company,  a multinational corporation, and a tech company.  Our mission is to bring the world within reach to communities, and we practice what we preach: it is a big office, but everyone puts in the effort to get in touch and be open about understanding each other’s backgrounds.

As you progress in your career, you will have different mindsets and priorities at each point in time. When you first start out, it might be something like “I want to learn as much as possible about the travel industry.”  At that time, it made sense for the function I was performing. As we evolve, however, we develop different views. One thing I would strongly recommend is always choosing the job that interests you — do not do it for the title, for the pay, or any other factors that seem appealing, no matter how disinteresting the job is to you.

The travel industry has always been very diverse and competitive. It is the same for many other industries out there. One good thing is that Expedia Group wants to be the world’s travel platform. To do that, we are always innovating and improving.

Regarding my job scope — when working in account management, stakeholder management and creating more value in our partnerships, I learn skills that are applicable across many companies and industries (and even within Expedia Group, across different departments). However, you always need to upgrade yourself. Always be aware about how you can contribute now and in the future.

My daily tasks have not changed much, but it is not exactly standardized either. If we look at key skills, this includes adapting to changes in a heartbeat. Being aware of the latest change and news in the industry also helps me to look ahead, switch gears, and multitask in a fast-paced manner. This is particularly relevant to the travel industry where it is very competitive and fast-changing.

Before I start the week, I always ensure that I have three goals to achieve before the work week ends. Always be intentional with what you are doing. Do not waste time starting on tasks without a clear objective. If I cannot complete those three things in a week, then it is less fulfilling; if I do, that is great because I have completed the goals set for myself that week.

If there is one tip I can give, it would be to always stay curious and do not shy away from asking questions. To be able to navigate new industries which are relatively unknown to you, stay curious. Never stop asking.  There may be many times where we might shy away from asking because we fear our questions are not ‘good’ or that people may judge us, so why not ask and be more informed than you were before? Ask your managers and teammates to ensure you understand. Not asking is an opportunity missed out. Never tell yourself that you know everything and have nothing more to learn. There is always that higher ceiling where you can reach by improving yourself. Even when you rise in seniority, you need to find ways to stay relevant.

I definitely see myself in the industry that I am passionate about – travel and/or technology. I see myself working on scalable initiatives, being in a position to strategically manage stakeholders and make decisions. Ideally, I would like to keep these interests open instead of narrowing into very specific industries.