Customer service. Hitting the right balance with your customer service is by far the most important thing for a successful travel experience. You want to ensure consumers feel welcomed and respected, but you don’t want to be overbearing and overtly concerned — not only will it make them uncomfortable, but they can tell it’s not authentic. Leading with empathy and being relatable is key — people simply want to deal with real people, who can help them in a clear, comforting, and anticipatory way.

As part of my series about “How To Create A Travel Experience That Keeps People Coming Back For More”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Pablo Henderson.

Pablo Henderson is the Chief Marketing Officer for XWELL, Inc. He is a senior lifestyle brand leader and digital transformer with 15+ years of proven success in global marketing, branding and digital innovation leading to exponential growth and award-winning results. Recognized for a highly creative and strategic approach in multinational, entrepreneurial and nonprofit environments, Pablo most recently served as Vice President of Marketing for Equinox Hotels and Global Brand Director for W Hotels.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Traveling and being on the go have always come second nature to me. Ever since I was little, I’ve had a deep curiosity for new places, near and far. I was constantly looking to push the boundary of everyday life, yearning to know what else was out in the world and testing the limits of my creativity. As I grew up, I began to fall in love with travel and how it allowed me to grow both personally and professionally. I saw the impact traveling to new places and experiencing new cultures had on me, and with my desire in helping others, I knew the travel & hospitality industry was where I could find the most opportunity to do just that.

My mother would book trips to exotic locations for our vacations and I am grateful to have traveled at a young age to destinations that were not yet “popular” such as Hydra, Istanbul, Beijing, Guyana, Algeria, and many others.

From my work in downtown Atlanta, helping it grow as a continued top-notch destination post-Olympics, to growing the multifaceted brand that is XWELL, I’m grateful for all the people and experiences in travel and hospitality that have brought me to where I’m at today.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

After a multi-billion-dollar merger/acquisition, the CEO of the acquiring company came to visit employees at the HQ of the acquired company, where I worked. Our company prided itself on being innovative and progressive, and a symbol of that culture was that nobody wore ties. The other company was equally innovative and progressive but recognized a more formal dress code. The CEO stood in the cafeteria and shook hands with every single employee as they stood in line and paid respects. I had been stuck in back-to-back meetings and came down towards the end of lunch making me one of the last employees to greet the CEO. As I approached him, I realized, to my surprise, that we were wearing the same tie and matching grey suit. I said hello, introduced myself, we shook hands, and as I walked away, he stopped me and said, “I’ve met about 700 people today, and you’re the only one that put on a tie…?”

That story might not seem so interesting but the transition during the merger ended up being one of the most formative experiences in my professional life. This experience was a good reminder, especially for those of us in marketing and branding, to always think about your target audience and how to best appeal to them. It will certainly pay off one day.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

On my first day on the job at W Hotels, we received several hours of extensive brand training. I ventured to find the restrooms during a break. I walked into the restroom and didn’t see any urinals, so I headed into a stall. A minute later, several senior female executives walked into the restroom, and I heard women chatting. I immediately realized that I had become so used to seeing “W” everywhere that I hadn’t paid attention to the large “W” on the restroom door I had walked into. I was so embarrassed. I waited until I couldn’t hear any more noise — it felt like forever, and then snuck out.

If I’ve learned anything from this, it’s that while branding is important, so is proper signage!

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

Every time that I’ve been picked for a promotion, somebody has had to believe in me. I’m grateful for all the people that have ever hired me, but one person has believed in me twice.

Anthony Ingham hired me to launch the Le Meridien Hotels & Resorts brand in the Americas under Starwood and he hired me again to serve as Global Brand Director for W Hotels under Marriott International. Each opportunity required completely different skill sets, yet he felt that I could adapt accordingly.

I’ve learned two key lessons from this experience. Relationships matter with those around you — you never know where you may land next and who may help you along the way. And sometimes, it doesn’t matter what the job is, rather it matters how you approach it. Anthony could see that I was a problem solver and that I approach my work with an open mindset, assuring him that I was the best fit for the role.

Thank you for that. Let’s jump to the core of our discussion. Can you share with our readers about the innovations that you are bringing to the travel and hospitality industries?

Today’s air traveler looks different than what they did a few years ago. They’re prioritizing their health and wellness more; they’re conscious of their purchasing habits; they want a stress-free travel experience. Unfortunately, airports can feel hectic and stressful for many people, making it challenging to create a better and more enjoyable experience.

This past year, we rebranded XWELL to fit today’s air travelers. We’re revolutionizing the way people experience wellness on the go by meeting travelers where they are, and providing the products and services they need to have an enjoyable travel experience.

We have more than 30 XpresSpa locations across the world that provide an “oasis” where travelers can experience a variety of massage treatments, nail care, and even rejuvenation services such as an anti-aging light mask and a heated chakra bed. We’re also tapping into the latest wellness and beauty advancements and are now offering fully autonomous massage chairs and even hosting the first-ever robotic manicure in an airport.

Which “pain point” are you trying to address by introducing this innovation and how do you envision that this might disrupt the status quo?

A true pain point that impacts nearly every traveler today is, simply, travel itself and the inconveniences it can bring. A flight may be delayed; it may be canceled; there may be unruly passengers. Travel can be unpredictable, and it can be uncomfortable. But, for many, the airport starts a vacation. It starts a special weekend for a couple. It is a decompression space after a stressful business meeting. XpresSpa proves that the airport doesn’t have to simply be a means to get to your destination — it can be an extension of your vacation.

As you know, COVID-19 changed the world as we know it. Can you share a few examples of how travel and hospitality companies will be adjusting over the next five years to the new ways that consumers will prefer to travel?

Certainly. I think more companies will embrace concierge service, including rewards incentives, as well as utilizing mobile applications to book appointments and purchase products, especially for pickup at the airport. Obviously, you’re seeing a lot of these trends escalate now across industries, but I think we’re just at the tip of the iceberg with its potential in the travel and hospitality space. At face value, I know the return of concierge service seems a little outlandish — but when you consider the amount of information that lives online regarding any one particular place, I think people will be drawn to speaking to a real person with expertise in the space. Plus, you can incentivize using the concierge service by adding rewards perks to your trip — making the whole experience more valuable for travelers.

Still, for simple things, or expediency, companies will need to use apps to make all facets of travel easier for consumers. If you’re booking an appointment for a massage, for instance, you should be able to do that from your phone, while lying in bed, or while you’re sitting poolside, rather than interrupting your vacation. Similarly, in the name of efficiency, app-based purchases for airport pickup will save consumers valuable time during an already stressful and time-intensive process. Looking for simple tweaks that address pain points by using existing technology will be a common theme to enhance the travel experience across the board.

You are a “travel insider”. How would you describe your “perfect vacation experience”?

My vacation begins the moment I step into the airport. I like to organize my vacations to be as seamless as possible and to achieve this, I make sure the airport is included in this planning. As we know, optimizing time at the airport is key to making it a more enjoyable experience.

Ideally, I like to maintain a few of my daily habits over vacation, like exercising. Whether it’s the hotel gym, an exercise class, or the perfect route for a long run, I always want to make sure I’m giving my body the exercise it needs to remain healthy. Plus, it’s a great way to clear my head even further and allow me to unwind.

Another essential part of my perfect vacation experience is the food. I enjoy trying the flavors local to that specific location, so I like to plan out visits to local hotspots and get a taste of what the community eats every day. Then, on the way home, I like to plan a massage at the airport as a treat, and it helps to accelerate recovery from jetlag by improving my sleep. It extends the life of the vacation a bit and helps me feel more relaxed on the flight home, which is naturally not as exciting since it signals a return to reality!

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a travel experience that keeps bringing people back for more? Please share a story or an example for each.

Customer service. Hitting the right balance with your customer service is by far the most important thing for a successful travel experience. You want to ensure consumers feel welcomed and respected, but you don’t want to be overbearing and overtly concerned — not only will it make them uncomfortable, but they can tell it’s not authentic. Leading with empathy and being relatable is key — people simply want to deal with real people, who can help them in a clear, comforting, and anticipatory way.

Efficient, but not rushed, experiences. Walking the fine line between efficiency and rushing is also critical. People want to move quickly when they are traveling, but when it crosses into rushing, it becomes overwhelming, and things can fall through the cracks. Whether this is in the actual travel experience of the airport, or the destination, you have to make sure the services and experiences you’re providing for people are delivered quickly but fully. A half-baked pie won’t cut it for anyone.

Embrace escapism. In my experience, most people aren’t looking for an escape just from their community or their workplace — they’re looking to detach from reality for a little while. So, finding ways to cultivate an environment where people feel comfortable putting down their phones, turning off the news, and fully immersing themselves in the moment with their loved ones is essential. Isolation is not the answer, of course, but asking questions like: do you have inviting activities? Do you have decompressing experiences? Do you have events that one literally can’t enjoy without being fully dialed in? Tailoring an experience around these types of principles will guide you toward that escapist mantra.

Understanding why someone is traveling. Of course, escapism is only helpful if those people want to escape from reality. Depending on the type of service you’re providing, you could be catering to folks who are traveling for the escape, for weddings, to introduce their kids to something new, or people who are on business. Offering a variety of fun experiences, alongside essential services, that can appeal to an array of travelers will help your organization be a top-flight destination. A one-size-fits-all approach simply doesn’t do the job anymore.

Thoughtful sourcing. I think this is where leaders can set themselves apart. As the ramifications of climate change become clearer, more people — especially younger generations, who will soon be the biggest customer base — are accounting for sustainability in their purchasing decisions. So, if you can operate an affordable, yet sustainable, business that provides meaningful experiences to people, you can stand out from the rest of the crowded travel community. It can be simple things like installing water dispensers for people who wield reusable bottles or banning single-use plastic. But, if you want to be a leader in the space, you need to evaluate your whole value chain — products and services — and find ways to provide the same results without damaging the planet. Consumers will catch onto fraudulent attempts to posture as an environmental leader (known as “greenwashing”), so it is crucial to approach this genuinely.

Can you share with our readers how you have used your success to bring goodness to the world?

Since the turn of the century, you see more people embracing experiences — travel, shows, festivals — and I’ve always tried to use my skill set to ensure people remember those experiences for the right reasons and want to come back because they loved it. We’ve all endured experiences we’d rather forget, whether it was a less-than-clean sleeping arrangement or a series of chaotic flight changes. So, I’ve strived to host remarkable moments for my guests throughout the years and have the properties I worked on be a memory of fun, love, and excitement — something they can always reflect on positively. And now with XWELL, I am fortunate to continue this journey by helping travelers find ways to reduce stress during perhaps the most unsettling times to travel in modern history.

While, of course, I’m proud of the relaxing products and services we offer, I’m very proud of our biosurveillance efforts as we continue navigating the fallout of the pandemic. Through this, I hope we can promote safer traveling and a safer world.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

That’s a great question. It may seem obvious, but my movement would be one where everyone is truly encouraged and empowered to explore new places. It’s one thing to encourage people to travel, and say “oh, you have to check this place out.” But, societally, I think we need to place more of an emphasis on actually doing it, and providing people with the time and resources to do so. I’m sure most people want to travel, but it’s costly, and securing time off from work can be difficult. So, I’d hope leaders around the world and across industries can collaborate to foster a society where people can take the time to fully explore the globe, without rushing experiences and without breaking the bank.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

They can follow me on LinkedIn!

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

My pleasure — thank you for having me!


  • Savio P. Clemente

    TEDx Speaker, Media Journalist, Board Certified Wellness Coach, Best-Selling Author & Cancer Survivor

    Savio P. Clemente, TEDx speaker and Stage 3 cancer survivor, infuses transformative insights into every article. His journey battling cancer fuels a mission to empower survivors and industry leaders towards living a truly healthy, wealthy, and wise lifestyle. As a Board-Certified Wellness Coach (NBC-HWC, ACC), Savio guides readers to embrace self-discovery and rewrite narratives by loving their inner stranger, as outlined in his acclaimed TEDx talk: "7 Minutes to Wellness: How to Love Your Inner Stranger." Through his best-selling book and impactful work as a media journalist — covering inspirational stories of resilience and exploring wellness trends — Savio has collaborated with notable celebrities and TV personalities, bringing his insights to diverse audiences and touching countless lives. His philosophy, "to know thyself is to heal thyself," resonates in every piece.