Five Years Later – Where Are Our Industry’s Heroes?

Last week my family attended a funeral service for my father-in-law at Arlington National Cemetery. He had a great life, and passed peacefully at the age of 91.  He was a highly decorated Navy pilot in WWII.  To honor him, the Navy sent a jet squadron to fly over us during the burial service. There are a lot of heroes in our armed services.  I’m proud to have known one of them.

My non-compete with TRX expired on Monday, five years after I sold Travel Analytics. This week I’ve been thinking about heroes in our industry. Who might I want to work with? Which firms are working hard to solve the worthy problems?  By heroes, let’s talk about companies, not people.  So –  where are the heroes in corporate travel?  Let me think for a while.  Hmmm….

OK, that didn’t take long.  My answer, like it or not, is that there aren’t many. Too critical?  Ask yourself what major improvements – game-changers –  we’ve seen in the last five years.  I’m drawing a blank – other than my all-time favorite TripIt, but it didn’t begin as  a corporate travel tool.

Think about the major segments of our industry – TMCs, OBTs,  airlines, hotels, rental cars, GDSs, credit cards, expense reporting, data reporting, consultancies.  What player, in any of these segments, has seized the high ground on the critical fronts of fundamental innovation, high growth and stellar customer satisfaction?

Not that it’s an easy hat trick, but heroes don’t do easy.

Where are the Apples, the Googles, the Amazons of the business travel industry?

More importantly, which firms have a chance to be our industry’s heroes five years from now?

8 thoughts on “Five Years Later – Where Are Our Industry’s Heroes?

  1. We are trying to be a Hero at contTgo; certainly focused on disrupting things around mobile services focused on corporate travel

  2. Good points, Scott. I agree with you on TripIt, but I think what Concur did over the last five years on the OBT side is worthy of consideration as well.

    I forget who wrote the article, maybe it was a Tnooz post, but the lack of low-cost access to all of the various data in the industry makes it really hard to innovate. You need to look for revenue from dollar one to afford to maintain API licensing and transaction fees. Or maybe there’s not enough VC money flowing into the sector?

    There are certainly a lot of powerful and flexible platforms out there that have great potential…but it always seems that there isn’t a company with the vision, resource, and funding to exploit that potential.

    At one point, a certain GDS was kicking around the concept of creating a travel industry think tank with representatives from Google, Apple, MS, etc. to “stir the pot” around innovation and technology development, but as far as I know it never got off the ground.

    • Agreed, Jay – Concur comes close, but has room for improvement on the customer satisfaction criteria. Then again, in an industry that serves such personal experiences to millions of customers, who doesn’t have some work to do in this area?

  3. Hi Scott
    As you said GAME ON.
    I’m not going to plug our company, rather say that you change the game from innovation.

    Gamification was stemmed from an insight when you put the challenge up on linkedin. We were the only company that took up the challenge, the result true gamification in travel.

    Now recognized all over the world ! Recently endorsed as the most innovative software product in the hitech industry.

    Convincing people that change can come from areas they have not yet looked into. 1bn later and I bet the rest wish they had taken up your challenge! 

    Keep shaking up the industry Scott ,  well take up the challenge :)

    Hope all is well at this time.

    Regards at this time

    Darrin Grafton

    • As any innovator knows, the ideas are usually the easiest part – it’s the execution that really matters. Congratulations, Darrin, on taking the idea to reality. Can’t wait to see – and blog about – what your shop comes up with next!

  4. I think some people place too much emphasis on high tech these days. All the companies listed in your post are tech in nature. Other forms of innovation exist, but often get overlooked. Meg Whitman’s (endless) talk at GBTA is a prime example. Are we saying that high tech companies have a monopoly on innovation?

    • Yes, Mark, I think – unfortunately – that we are saying that innovation is equated to clever technology. Look at GBTA’s 2011 Travel Innovation Awards – Hertz’s NeverLost direction assistant, and HipMunk’s flight display.

      Maybe it’s because cool technology gets more press, or is more visible, than a service-oriented breakthrough, like this one. And who is going to get excited about a back-room manufacturing innovation, even if it ends up facing consumers, like this one ?

      Maybe what it comes down to is that to have high impact, innovation needs to change a whole lot of users’ experiences – and so much of our user experiences today are technology-based.

      It’s a fascinating debate. What other innovations, that are not grounded in technology, come to mind?

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