The 25 Most Influential Executives of 2010 is Business Travel News' 26th consecutive
annual effort to identify the executives who most directly drove those changes,
who forced the industry to take notice of and react to their decisions. The
list of those executives is not a ranking; BTN
is not measuring their relative influence against one another. An appearance on
this list is not necessarily an honor; influence, after all, can be perceived
positively or negatively, and this list over the years has hosted its share of
disrupters alongside its visionaries and innovators.
Developing this list—the first compiled under the aegis of BTN's new parent, the Business Travel
Media Group—began last autumn with multiple solicitations for nominations from
the industry, of which we received quite a few. Director of research and media
strategy David Meyer and BTN editors
vetted each nominee, in many cases speaking directly with the person, to better
identify and assess their impact on the industry. The list was finalized during
a lengthy and occasionally raucous mid-December meeting of the entire Business
Travel Media Group editorial staff. As always, measuring influence is a most
inexact science, and we hope you let us know with which executives' inclusion
you agree and those you think have been overlooked.
Business Travel News
thanks all those who participated in creating this list including everyone who
pitched a nominee to those who participated in the vetting process.
Please click here to download a pdf of this year's Top 25,
or click on each individual's name to read their entry.
The 25 Most Influential Executives of 2010
Last year brought little in the way of meaningful capacity
additions to domestic air travel markets. JetBlue Airways' vigorous growth in
Boston was an exception. Also considering a more aggressive stance in the
corporate market and an enhanced global distribution system presence that grew
stronger last year as the carrier upgraded to a new reservations system,
JetBlue has given many corporate travel buyers, particularly those traveling to
and from Boston, a new supplier option.
"Seven years ago, we weren't in Boston," Barger
told BTN. "But then you look at
this March, we're going to be over 100 trips a day and the largest airline at
When JetBlue came to Boston in 2003, it offered only 11
daily flights from two gates, but the carrier since has built up the largest
operation there among all carriers, with available seat miles growing 30
percent last year alone. By last summer, JetBlue operated about 75 daily
departures from Logan to about 35 nonstop destinations, including Chicago O'Hare,
Charlotte, Pittsburgh, San Diego and Washington Dulles. The carrier
subsequently added service to Phoenix, Sarasota, Fla., and Washington National.
Expansion continues this year, with Boston-Newark service planned for a May
launch, competing head to head with the new United-Continental.
Though Barger said corporate flyers generate no more than 20
percent of JetBlue's overall business, corporate traffic from Boston "is
well north of that."
Meanwhile, JetBlue during 2010 pursued more corporate
agreements. Aiding that effort, the airline early last year upgraded its
reservations system to SabreSonic, which not only provided real-time
connectivity to the GDS, but also the ability to enact interline agreements,
codeshare partnerships, more expansive revenue management capabilities and
further merchandizing opportunities.
JetBlue quickly took advantage of SabreSonic's features and
last year embarked on what Barger called an "open architecture"
partnership strategy. The airline during 2010 announced interline agreements
with American Airlines (centered on routes in New York and Boston, later
augmented with frequent flyer reciprocity), El Al, Emirates and South African
Airways. Barger expects more such partnerships this year. Though he noted that
its partners include members of both Oneworld and Star Alliance, Barger does
not expect to formally join a global alliance, preferring for now to maintain a
rather promiscuous strategy.
— Jay Boehmer
Managing director of
distribution and merchandising strategy
No airline distribution topic last year was more polarizing
than the question of where and how thoroughly carriers should offer their
services. A set of proposed rules still being mulled in Washington, for
example, includes requirements for airlines to provide through any global
distribution system in which they appear all optional services and associated
fees. Comments on the proposal demonstrate the divide: Airlines do not want to
be compelled to file through all GDSs such information, while business travel
advocacy groups and the GDS lobby want a government mandate along those lines.
As the U.S. Department of Transportation collected
information on the proposed rulemaking and industry coalitions formed on both
sides of the debate, American Airlines during 2010 began to aggressively push
its new distribution model, which favors direct channels and withholds optional
services from indirect ones. In the works for a few years, the idea is to
migrate indirect volume, including corporate agency bookings, to an XML-enabled
direct connection built with assistance from Farelogix. That plan became ever
more contentious with AA's distributors; at press time, the carrier had ended
participation in Orbitz, disappeared from Expedia consumer sites and made its
argument in two courtrooms—in one case against Sabre and another brought by
In February 2010, AA's Bridget Blaise-Shamai inherited the
approach when she became managing director of distribution and merchandising
strategy, overseeing a combined group of 20 people that is in part responsible
for developing and implementing optional services. She told BTN that she brought with her the
experience from working with the carrier's loyalty program and many of its big
partners. "I did a lot of deal-making in that role, so I can apply some of
my learnings and thought leadership to this role, given what we have on our
near-term horizon, which is our GDS contracts expiring in the summer of 2011,"
Blaise-Shamai explained. "Agents are extremely important partners.
Obviously the technology to deliver our content to those partners, and the
costs alongside that, are not immaterial. It is very appropriate to have
someone of my level focused on it, given the ongoing financial challenges of
The direct connect, Blaise-Shamai said, would "allow us
to use customer data today that we couldn't in yesterday's world." The
aim, she added, is to "join advanced companies like Amazon and Dell in how
they interact with customers" while making distribution processes more
"Now we have a technology provider that is between us
and our agency partners but we strive for it to be just us and them as much as
possible," Blaise-Shamai continued. "We're going to have one way to
distribute our product and we certainly see a role by all current participants
in the distribution chain to continue in that."
The skepticism and opposition from some corporate travel and
travel distribution circles was not unexpected. "When you are looking to
change something," she said, "one has to expect that there may be
some participants who are not excited about what change means to them."
When asked if AA's direct-connect strategy merely is meant
to provide negotiating leverage in GDS discussions, she said, "That's
myth." When asked if the real issue between AA and GDSs relates to the
economics around optional services, she responded, "It's not entirely
Given the opportunity to debunk what she sees as other
myths, Blaise-Shamai said, "American is a proponent of transparency. The
customer must have the ability to make a fully informed decision at the point
of sale. American is a believer in efficient workflow for our agency partners.
We do not believe our direct connect drives the accused fragmentation."
AA officials have said that a group of unnamed travel
agencies has adopted the direct-connect program. That some around the industry
are not convinced, however, explains why AA collected detractors as 2010
progressed. On this front, 2011 promises to be no less interesting.
— David Jonas
Announced this month, Concur's acquisition of TripIt will
end the emerging phase for a technology firm whose easy-to-use online itinerary
aggregation service first begged the question, perhaps inadvertently, "Whose
data is the itinerary?" TripIt co-founder and president Gregg Brockway,
slated to take a senior role running the TripIt By Concur business unit, always
advocated travelers' rights to and power over their trip data, and it has paid
off through the business travel market's most successful startup story in
TripIt's core service—enabling users to build better
itineraries simply by forwarding to TripIt those they received by email from
travel agencies, online booking tools and consumer services—rattled a
traditional sense of enterprise-level controls over traveler info and helped
usher in a new era of traveler independence, starting three years ago when
TripIt had fewer than 10 employees. It now has 50.
Having initially claimed that TripIt was "not authorized"
to import data from Sabre itineraries, the global distribution system giant in
2008 invested in TripIt—not that it mattered in terms of cementing TripIt's
impact. Brockway asserted that the data is indeed owned by the travelers, and
no one objected. TripIt simply counted users as the service grew exponentially.
Meanwhile, it became clear that mobile apps and social media were going to be
huge in corporate travel and TripIt was all over both—again with naysayers,
particularly on the social side.
"Who wants their friends and colleagues in social
networks to know every detail of one's travel plans?" some corporate
travel pros asked. Tons of people, the people said.
"I like to think we helped shape the way people think
about what travelers want," said Brockway. "Our starting point was,
why are travelers always complaining about the state of things? There was an
attitude in the industry that you don't have to pay attention to that and the
companies are the real customer. We have always liked to think the traveler was
the real decision-maker and we were part of helping the industry become more
TripIt also tapped into the platform concept, making
available to third-party developers the trip data—always with the traveler's
permission—that could power new apps and website services from expense
reporting to flight information. Brockway believes this approach holds even
more promise for new, traveler-centric developments than do TripIt's base
products. "Sharing the data will unlock a whole lot of value for the
ecosystem," he said.
TripIt was everywhere in 2010. Its penetration into the
corporate market was underway with not only thousands of corporate traveler
users, but also through a travel management company program that started with
BCD Travel and continued with dozens more. Forget the traditional paper
itinerary; even the following generation of email itineraries faced their
In March, TripIt made its first formal entry into the
corporate market with its free Groups service, which within two months grew
from 1,000 to 10,000 company users—that is, companies with TripIt users, if not
also companies whose travel management pros chose to use TripIt. At Google,
where travel manager Michael Tangney has taken an active role in the use and promise
of TripIt, there were 4,000 TripIt users as of September. That service since
has evolved into a fee-based offering with administrative controls.
TripIt also started signing up third-party tech firms like
Cornerstone Information Systems. By August, TripIt had "arrived" so
dramatically that it drew sniping from Rearden Commerce CEO Patrick Grady, who
chided it as naturally a "feature" rather than a company and, to his
credit, predicted TripIt and its ilk would be acquired by bigger players.
Along the way, TripIt's competition also grew as WorldMate
tweaked its products to incorporate an email-forwarding option while the likes
of Concur, Sabre, Rearden and others updated their itinerary, mobile, social
and platform offerings. American Express and Carlson Wagonlit Travel by
mid-2010 announced their own mobile itinerary partnerships with some of those
Taking TripIt into its next stage, Concur announced it "intends
to fully support and continue TripIt's offerings."
— Jay Campbell
U.S. GSA Federal
Acquisition Services Office of Travel and Transportation Services
The U.S. General Services Administration in 2010 began a
massive solicitation effort for the latest version of its E-Government Travel
System, entitled ETS2, expanded its FedRooms lodging booking tool to include
groups and meetings, and improved reporting of federal travel spend and carbon
emissions. Under the guidance of GSA Federal Acquisition Services Office of
Travel and Transportation Services director Tim Burke, the travel team brought
together several travel management components to wrap its arms around
approximately $14 billion annually.
Serving as the executive program manager for E-Gov Travel,
Burke was an integral part in GSA's ETS2 request for proposals, which incorporated
several forward-looking initiatives. According to the document, "ETS2 is
positioned to incorporate and leverage, for the benefit of the federal
government, emerging offerings of future cloud computing that include on-demand
self service, ubiquitous network access, location-independent resource pooling,
rapid elasticity and measured-service performance."
"Mobile technology has certainly emerged in the last
decade. It hasn't taken over the travel management environment yet, but it is
actively moving forward in a progressive way," said Burke. "One of
the key elements for the government is to be extremely mobile in the upcoming
years. Imagine over the next five to 10 years having a more mobile system,
whether it is iPads moving more effectively or smarter phones."
Additionally, the RFP asks bidders to provide a version of
ETS2 that would be available on mobile platforms, access non-global
distribution system content and support the government's "go green"
initiatives by tracking and reporting "carbon footprint details." In
order to go green, bidders would have to enable bookings for "telepresence
alternatives to travel" and provide "the ability to compare the cost
and emissions of travel with the cost and environmental impact of telepresence
and capture this data for reporting and analysis."
"Tim is trying to make the process better and more like
world-class commercial travel management. That's what the goal is: To improve
the processes and make government function more like a corporation," said
Rick Singer, executive director of the Society of Government Travel
The contract would span 70 federal agencies and have a base
period of three years with three optional four-year extensions, potentially
resulting in 15-year relationships. Burke anticipated that responses would be
received this month and contracts would be awarded to one or two vendors later
in fiscal year 2011.
In September 2010, GSA announced a plan to cut by fiscal
year 2020 its greenhouse emissions by 30 percent, including a 25 percent
reduction in "emissions from employee commuting and business travel"
and a 30 percent cut in fleet petroleum consumption. The plan stems from an
executive order signed in October 2009 by President Barack Obama "to
establish an integrated strategy towards sustainability in the federal
Along with GSA FAS program manager Jerry Bristow, Burke
helped to implement a TRX data intelligence solution tool, branded Management
Information Services, which is capable of reporting an agency's carbon emissions
through TRX's TravelTrax software.
"When we establish a mobile integrated travel
management platform, we are doing that under the context that we want to meet
the flexibility of the goals that we have around managing sustainability,"
said Burke. "MIS integrates the information of traditional travel
management along with the sustainability goals that the administration
established. We have really uncovered a lot of information on how to manage our
data strategy differently than maybe we had anticipated."
SGTP's Singer said: "You can't have world-class travel
management unless you have a reporting tool. Now that they are getting data
from so many places, and they can analyze the data and begin to give that back
to the agencies to manage their travel better, they never had the data before."
Last year, GSA also installed 11 telepresence systems,
powered by Cisco, in regional headquarters offices, costing approximately $18
Meanwhile, Burke along with GSA lodging program managers
worked to expand the FedRooms program to allow agencies to book meetings.
FedRooms is managed by Carlson Wagonlit Travel and provides negotiated rates at
or below per diem for federal travelers at more than 11,000 hotels worldwide.
Powered by Cvent, the meetings tool similarly allows GSA agencies to book their
sleeping rooms needed in conjunction with meetings at or below per diem. In
most cases, sleeping rooms during 2010 were booked $35 to $40 below per diem
saving the government roughly $280,068, according to Burke.
"In 2007, we were doing under 100,000 room nights
[through FedRooms]. In 2011 we are probably going to do 700,000 room nights,"
said Burke. Booking meetings through FedRooms is still "in its pilot
phase," but about 100 confirmations have gone through the tool.
"The government is big and bureaucratic, but it does
not lack will," said Burke. "This has been one of the most enjoyable
things I have done in my career. What has been most enjoyable is the amount of
collaboration that exists across the federal agencies, their willingness to
come together as a community and thus being able to pursue both innovative as
well as transformational goals."
— Lauren Darson
secretary for transportation affairs
U.S. State Department
By the time he retired from the U.S. State Department in
October last year, John Byerly had played a role in negotiating about
three-quarters of the roughly 100 Open Skies agreements the United States now
holds with other nations. Capping off more than a decade of influence in the
aviation industry as deputy assistant secretary for transportation affairs,
Byerly in 2010 oversaw the conclusion of two of the most fruitful and
challenging negotiations of his career: the Open Skies agreements with Japan,
signed in October, and the finalization of the two-stage agreement with the
In addition to cementing 2007's first-stage agreement with
the EU, a pact that helped launch a new era of joint ventures now dominating
airline transatlantic competition, Byerly in March 2010 initialed the
second-stage deal. That pact, among other things, gave U.S. airlines greater
night-flying rights in Europe and lifted some restrictions imposed by the U.S.
Fly America Act, which had limited the carriers government contractors could use.
The deal, officially signed and enacted in June, changed neither U.S. foreign
ownership rules nor prohibitions on European airlines serving intra-U.S.
routes, a disappointment to some in Europe.
Meanwhile, the United States and Japan last fall officially
lifted restrictions on air service between them, thanks to an agreement inked
by negotiators in December 2009. The deal enabled two competing
antitrust-immune joint ventures—one between Oneworld partners American Airlines
and Japan Airlines, and the other between Star Alliance carriers All Nippon
Airways and United Airlines—to move forward.
Byerly passed the reins as chief aviation negotiator for the
United States to Kris Urs "right in the middle of an administration when
there's not a political transition going on." After completing two
landmark deals, it was a good time to move on, he said. "We just finished
the second-stage EU talks and signed that in June, and I was in Tokyo on Oct.
25 [when] our ambassador and the Japanese transport minister signed the
U.S.-Japan Open Skies agreement, which was sort of a miracle of an agreement,"
Byerly said. "No one, including me, thought that was going to happen any
time soon, but the commercial reality is airlines want to position themselves
for a global future. That's really what set the stage for negotiations, which
were tough. That was a neat way to go out."
— Jay Boehmer
You may not like what he has to say. Actually, if you are a
corporate travel buyer or travel management company official—and if polls among
your peers about change in airline distribution are to be believed—you almost
definitely do not. But even Jim Davidson's opponents have to admit that the
Farelogix CEO and former GDS company executive is pretty creative in how he
says what he says, not to mention voluminous in how much.
No one in the industry during 2010 was more effective than
Davidson and his team in using social media and riding Internet memes to carry
their message. That message, if you haven't heard, is that airlines need
substantial technological change in distribution to capture potentially
billions in ancillary revenue.
Yet with all those guest columns, blog posts, online videos
and slick presentations comes a little risk. The inclusion of Farelogix in the
FairSearch.org lobbying group, which calls for the government to challenge
Google's proposed acquisition of ITA Software, just weeks after Davidson in a
September column in BTN sister
publication The Beat slammed calls
for new airfare and fee regulations raised an eyebrow. He had picked on people
for playing the G-card of government intervention, then turned around and did
it himself. Hypocritical?
"It would be a bit hypocritical," according to
Davidson, "if we simply stayed on the sidelines and only spoke out when
events had direct impact on Farelogix. On the surface, it sure looks like we
are keeping some strange bedfellows by supporting FairSearch, and frankly I
even have to smile when I see Sabre and Farelogix agreeing. But Farelogix has
always been vocal about maintaining system openness and product choice, and
fostering innovation throughout the travel industry. And when we see a trend,
merger or significant industry event that may limit or restrict those core
industry requirements, we need to voice our opinion."
Davidson fully admits that he wants the media campaign he
has waged to mean greater use of Farelogix's "pipes." Farelogix last
year added to its roster of airlines that use its application programming
interface, launched a new agent desktop—now in use, testing and development by
a small number of agencies—and freely offered its XML schema to power the new
Open Axis airline association. Open Axis itself gave carriers disillusioned
with the OpenTravel Alliance an alternative, and the follow-on to that was the
launch this month of the ASTA-, BTC- and GDS-backed Open Allies for Airfare
Transparency, which Davidson of course immediately mocked.
— Jay Campbell
Rearden Commerce CEO Patrick Grady said he is "nothing
if not consistent." But even he would probably admit that persistent is
more accurate. And so it must have been eminently satisfying to him when in
2010, Rearden lined up two partnerships that put more money where his mouth had
Ever since the fits and starts of Rearden's early years,
Grady has stated that the days of the corporate booking tool as we knew it were
numbered, and that online commerce technology really is about platforms rather
than tools. Deals last year with Carlson Wagonlit Travel and Travelport, in
which the former sunset its existing booking tool and the latter essentially
acknowledged its tool's limitations, added to the list of major corporate
travel distributors buying into Rearden's platform and helped further validate
Topping the list of Rearden's previous major partners is
American Express. After a year in which the card and TMC giant deepened its
relationship with Concur, one might have thought that Rearden (like Concur,
part-owned by American Express) had become the lesser child. However, not only
was Grady able in 2010 to partner with Amex's largest TMC rival—then make
statements about how great CWT is, getting him into a bit of hot water with
Amex and resulting in a follow-up commentary espousing the merits of the Blue
Box—but Rearden also deepened its partnership with Amex, which included Rearden's
booking tool-agnostic mobile services in its major mobile launch.
Meanwhile, at a time when airlines and global distribution
systems battled over the cost and processes of distribution, Rearden in 2010
landed a direct connection with Southwest Airlines and lined up to process
American Airlines bookings through Farelogix should client demand warrant it.
It separately partnered with IBM for end-to-end travel and expense management,
even though Rearden also owns an expense solution.
Grady thinks Rearden's acquisition of procurement platform
Ketera Technologies, near the end of 2010, also will prove prescient as travel
technology and procurement technology converge.
— Jay Campbell
Dr. Rüdiger Grube appears in this year's Top 25 primarily
for an innovation that will not happen until 2012 at the earliest—and more
likely 2013. Yet he makes the list because the impending arrival of
international high-speed competition from German rail operator Deutsche Bahn
already is making a difference for travel managers.
"I have been in touch with sales representatives from
Eurostar and Thalys [the high-speed operator from Brussels to Paris, Amsterdam
and Cologne]," one Belgium-based buyer told a European travel managers'
roundtable interview for BTN last
October. "They are becoming conscious that their market situation is going
to change soon, so they are no longer communicating they are the only ones in
the market and we have to take it or leave it." A second travel manager
agreed. "Thalys and Eurostar have understood competition is coming, so
they are getting ready for it," he said.
The starting point for this story was deregulation of the
international rail market within the European Union. On Jan. 1, 2010,
competitive cross-border services for the first time became possible. Deutsche
Bahn to date is the only operator to take up this challenge. First up was
service from Munich through Austria to the Italian cities of Bologna, Milan,
Venice and Verona, despite some resistance from the Italian government. More
ambitiously, Deutsche Bahn in 2012 or 2013 plans to run coupled high-speed
trains three times daily from London to the French town of Lille and then
Brussels, where they will be decoupled. One train will continue to Rotterdam
and Amsterdam, with total elapsed times from London of three hours and four
hours, respectively. The other will proceed to Cologne and Frankfurt from London
in four hours and five hours, respectively.
An engineer by training who joined DB from Daimler in 2001
and became CEO in 2009, Grube is driving his company's international expansion.
He has a reputation for more consensual leadership than his predecessor,
Hartmut Mehdorn, but Grube ruffles feathers by going cross-border, not only in
Italy but also in the United Kingdom.
If DB's Channel Tunnel service is successful, it could also
prove influential in extending the range of rail journeys business passengers
are willing to tolerate. Grube is confident. "I am truly convinced that
especially business travelers will be won over," he said in a written
response to BTN. "With travel
times from city to city of just four hours, an ICE [DB's high-speed train]
journey from Amsterdam and Cologne to London will take no longer than a journey
by plane. Taking the ICE means your overall travel time is roughly the same,
but your journey will not be interrupted by long hikes to find your gate,
take-off and landing procedures plus baggage claim."
— Amon Cohen
This time last year it appeared quite possible that Japan
Airlines would abandon its position in the Oneworld alliance, jilting partner
American Airlines in favor of an antitrust-immune joint venture with SkyTeam
member Delta Air Lines. Following more than two months of indecision—during
which JAL filed for the Japanese equivalent of bankruptcy and installed a new
management team—JAL chairman Kazuo Inamori announced the carrier would stick
with Oneworld and forge even deeper ties with American.
The two carriers promptly filed for antitrust immunity so
they could more closely align schedules, set fares and negotiate with corporate
clients for transpacific services. Following regulatory approval last fall,
American and JAL this month announced they would officially launch the joint
venture on April 1.
For decades a captain of Japanese industry as the founder of
Kyocera Corp., which produces semiconductor parts and ceramic consumer products,
and telecommunications firm DDI Corporation, now KDDI Corp., 78-year-old
Inamori in the past year also has overseen key aspects of JAL's
reorganization—the largest such restructuring in Japan's history.
Under Inamori, JAL has worked to become a leaner, more
nimble competitor by cutting roughly 30 percent of its global workforce,
retiring more than 100 aircraft and "completely" eliminating
unprofitable routes, which so far number in the dozens. The company also last
year unloaded its hotel portfolio, which included the luxury Nikko Hotels
International brand and the business travel-focused Hotel JAL City brand, to
Tokyo-based Hotel Okura Co.
— Jay Boehmer
Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly entered 2010 at the helm
of a carrier whose growth had been stunted for the first time in its history.
By the end of the year, however, he was poised for something more than a
typical growth spurt—a pending acquisition of AirTran Airways, the nation's
seventh-largest airline. Expected to close early this year, the deal would send
Southwest down a heretofore untapped international expansion path (AirTran
operates to Mexico and the Caribbean) and provide a sizable presence at the
nation's largest airport, Atlanta.
Kelly in September cited a "struggling economy"
and stagnant demand as catalysts for the $1.4 billion deal. "AirTran
provides us a unique opportunity and that is to strategically expand our
network by 25 percent, and to do that profitably," he said.
The deal would distance Southwest from its competitors as
the largest operator in the domestic U.S. market. "From a domestic U.S.
perspective, they're the new dominant player," Advito vice president Bob
Brindley told BTN last year. "Carriers
like United-Continental, Delta and American have de-emphasized the domestic
market, as they've shifted a lot of domestic flying to regional feeder
carriers, and that's opened the door for Southwest and other carriers to grow."
While the deal would significantly expand the Dallas-based
carrier's route network, it also would serve to gut AirTran's more
business-friendly practices: AirTran offers business class but Southwest does
not; AirTran has fuller participation in global distribution systems than
Southwest; and AirTran offers assigned seating, while Southwest is known for
its "cattle call" boarding. To maintain the hallmarks of the
Southwest brand and business philosophy, Kelly said he expects to dispense with
those attributes of AirTran's operation.
— Jay Boehmer
U.S. Department of
During a year in which government regulations and
initiatives grabbed headlines, the U.S. Department of Transportation under the
guidance of Secretary Ray LaHood challenged airlines to display their fees more
transparently, created an airline task force joining public and private
industries, and allocated millions in funding to begin building high-speed rail
According to a DOT official, LaHood also "has been
involved in a number of significant negotiations" toward Open Skies deals
with other countries "and has signed some of these agreements."
LaHood has "brought an energy to DOT and has focused on
addressing the issues that travelers are facing," said Shane Downey,
director of public policy for the National Business Travel Association. "He
has really stepped it up on the consumer side."
In 2010, concern about airline fees swept through the
corporate and leisure travel worlds, creating intense media coverage and
industry discussions that placed airlines practices under the microscope. As
such, DOT and LaHood proposed a rule that would require airlines to disclose
ancillary fees and provide global distribution systems with information about
those fees. In September DOT finished collecting public comments.
Spearheaded by LaHood, the proposed rulemaking also included
an initiative to expand a DOT rule prohibiting U.S. airlines from keeping
enplaned passengers on airport tarmacs for more than three hours. DOT
formulated clauses that would increase compensation to passengers involuntarily
bumped from flights, allow passengers to make and cancel reservations within 24
hours without penalty, prohibit price increases after a ticket is purchased and
mandate timely notice of flight status.
LaHood rejected requests by American Airlines, Continental
Airlines, Delta Air Lines and US Airways for exemptions to DOT's tarmac rule. "This
is an important consumer protection, and we believe it should take effect as
planned," according to a LaHood statement. He also challenged an agreement
between Delta and US Airways to swap slots at New York LaGuardia and Washington
National airports, requiring them to surrender to competitors 14 National slot
pairs and a 20 LaGuardia slot pairs before approval. Delta and US Airways
agreed to transfer to four airlines some slots at the two airports, but said
they "do not intend to go forward with the transaction on the conditions
stated [by DOT] if the original transaction is not approved."
LaHood in April commissioned a task force of public and
private industry experts to compile aviation industry recommendations. The
panel reiterated the importance of implementing NextGen technology, asked
officials to investigate taxes that it claimed choked the aviation industry's
profitability and sought additional transparency for ancillary fees and
In January 2010, President Barack Obama announced that $8
billion in Recovery Act funds would be set aside for high-speed rail during the
course of five years, of which LaHood dispersed $2.4 billion to California,
Florida, Illinois, Michigan and other states. Ohio and Wisconsin refused
funding, so LaHood reallocated those funds to other approved states.
Under LaHood's leadership, DOT officials worked with the
State Department to hammer out the second stage of the EU-U.S. Open Skies deal,
which promises greater choice in service and fares to travelers and greater
commercial freedoms and flexibility to airlines. The agreement, however, came
under scrutiny in Europe, as it did not loosen foreign ownership restrictions
on U.S. carriers. LaHood also signed Open Skies agreements with Colombia, the
United States' 100th such deal, and Brazil.
"Where we would give Secretary LaHood great credit is
in his willingness to push the envelope," said U.S. Travel Association
senior vice president of public affairs Geoff Freeman. "The secretary has
his work cut out for him, but his willingness to ask the tough questions, to
seek private sector input and to push the bounds in some areas is quite
welcome. America should set out to create the world's model for the most
efficient traveler-friendly aviation process. We are not there, and that will
certainly be the secretary's greatest challenge."
— Lauren Darson
The balance of power between travel buyers and airline
suppliers shifted perceptibly toward the seller in 2010, and not only because
of rising demand. Central to growing airline strength has been the
consolidation of the supplier base through a wave of mergers and joint ventures
across the world.
No individual or airline is solely responsible for this
trend. However, when Wolfgang Mayrhuber retired on Dec. 31 after 40 years'
service—the last seven as Lufthansa chairman and CEO—he could claim to have
been the king of international airline consolidation. Not only does Lufthansa
own most or all of four other major European airlines (Swiss, Austrian
Airlines, British Midland and Brussels Airlines) plus its own Lufthansa Italia
start-up, it also is a dominant force in the world's largest airline alliance,
Star Alliance, and the Atlantic Plus-Plus transatlantic joint venture,
including United/Continental and Air Canada. Lufthansa, for example, is the
airline that loads the fares for Atlantic Plus-Plus.
Lufthansa increasingly is joint selling through all these
forms of consolidation. In October 2010, officials told BTN that two-thirds of its North Atlantic contracts were
multi-airline deals; the carrier expects to hit 100 percent by the end of 2011.
Whether they like it or not—and many do not—buyers are finding it harder to mix
and match individual carriers in preference to these consolidated entities. One
European travel manager participating in a roundtable interview with BTN last October said, though not
specifically about Lufthansa, that "the joint ventures and mergers have
one P&L, and that becomes a totally different discussion—and there you
obviously don't have that much choice any more. It is 'you use us or you don't
use us,' and 'you work with us or you don't work with us,' so we will have less
Driven by executive vice president for sales and marketing
Thierry Antinori, Lufthansa last year also demonstrated enormous power in its
home market by introducing controversial contracts requiring clients to repay
any upfront discounts if they failed to meet targets. German travel managers
protested that the clauses were unfair because Lufthansa was not offering
last-seat availability in return, often making it impossible for corporate
customers to book tickets that would contribute to contract performance.
Even if Mayrhuber was not showered with retirement gifts by
corporate clients, he certainly left shareholders well-satisfied. Strong,
prudent management enabled Lufthansa to expand during the last decade as other
competitors struggled, and the core airline on an annualized basis remained
profitable throughout the recent recession. It also can be argued that one or
two of its acquisitions would no longer exist if Mayrhuber had not bailed them
out. There may well be more purchases to come. Lufthansa continues to be the
first name on the list of potential buyers for European carriers; both SAS and
LOT Polish Airlines are among those tipped to become Lufthansa assets by the
end of 2011.
U.S. Department of
The U.S. Transportation Security Administration took center
stage in 2010 with its intrusive pat-downs and its aggressive rollout of "naked"
body scanners. Although TSA endured much congressional and media heat,
Department of Homeland Security secretary Janet Napolitano pushed for these
changes to airport security screening along with other measures, such as Secure
Flight, that heavily influenced the travel community.
Napolitano "has a huge amount of authority because
Congress [has] given [DHS] that blanket authority without much accountability
back to Congress," said consumer advocate and former presidential
candidate Ralph Nader. "She is probably the single most powerful secretary
over her department, over any other department, including the Department of
Using Recovery Act funding, DHS accelerated the rollout in
more than 75 airports of 500 advanced imaging machines or full-body scanners
that generate images of passengers as they pass through security. Spurring
controversy across the country, travelers voiced concerns about the dose of
radiation received when passing through the scanners, and travel managers began
conversations about whether these scanners should be addressed in duty-of-care
"Where we are always asking questions is whether we are
being as efficient as we can be, as effective as we can be and whether there is
a better way," said U.S. Travel Association senior vice president of
public affairs Geoff Freeman. "Domestically, we think there is. The current
security-screening process is not the most efficient process that America can
build, and a majority of Americans believe that too."
In 2010, DHS completed a 9/11 Commission recommendation that
"100 percent" of passengers on flights from, within or bound for the
United States be screened against a terrorist watchlist. The recommendation
called for passenger names on tickets to be identical to those on
identification documents. For travel agencies and global distribution system
operators, this meant their systems needed to be updated to process Secure
Flight requirements. For travelers, it meant providing at the time of booking
or within 72 hours of departure their full name as it appears on their
identification, their date of birth, gender and DHS redress number, if
Facing steep fines if they did not comply by the Nov. 1
deadline, airlines and GDSs pointed fingers, claiming the other was responsible
to ensure travelers' itineraries were not canceled if their identification did
not match their ticket.
In 2010, DHS expanded the Visa Waiver program, eliminating
paper arrival and departure I-94W forms for travelers from participating
nations. DHS maintained it is able to receive "basic biographical, travel
and eligibility information of travelers prior to their departure to the U.S."
in order to expedite the customs process. DHS also increased by more than 200
percent enrollment in the international Global Entry registered traveler
program and introduced a campaign whereby local TSA agents traveled to
corporations to enroll employees.
DHS also came under scrutiny for its travel costs when the
House of Representatives Committee on Homeland Security highlighted conference
spending it claimed DHS could not prove was "legitimate." During
fiscal 2005 through 2007, DHS spent $110 million on conferences but was unable
to transparently track and report spend, according to the committee.
— Lauren Darson
Avis Budget Group
Neither Avis Budget Group nor Hertz in 2010 succeeded in
finalizing a deal to acquire Dollar Thrifty Automotive Group, but Avis Budget
begins this year poised to do so after helping to thwart what seemed to be a
done deal between Dollar Thrifty and Hertz.
After Hertz last spring reached an agreement to acquire
Dollar Thrifty for about $1.2 billion, Avis Budget chairman and CEO Ronald
Nelson sent and made public a letter to Dollar Thrifty president and CEO Scott
Thompson questioning why the company also had not considered a bid from Avis
Budget. Nelson soon followed with a counteroffer, which led to a bidding war
for the once-struggling Dollar Thrifty.
Hertz ultimately made what it called its final offer at
$50.25 per share, which Avis Budget later topped at $53 per share. Dollar
Thrifty's board recommended the Hertz deal, and analysts said it made more
sense and had a better shot of federal antitrust clearance—since Hertz has no
large, established midprice brand while Avis has Budget. Nevertheless, Dollar
Thrifty's shareholders rejected it by a margin of about 13.8 million shares to
Whether an Avis Budget/Dollar Thrifty deal happens depends
largely on whether the U.S. Federal Trade Commission grants antitrust approval,
a decision expected within the next several months. Either way, both public and
private negotiations under Nelson's leadership clearly edged Avis Budget into
the driver's seat.
— Michael B. Baker
United States of
The business travel industry in 2010 lauded and loathed
President Barack Obama's initiatives. Sensitized to the size and scope of the
sector in 2009, Obama attempted to support the growth of travel and tourism as
an economic stimulator.
To industry accolades, Obama in late September announced a
comprehensive plan to renew and expand the nation's rails, roads and runways.
The six-year plan would rehab 150 miles of runways at U.S. airports where the
long-delayed NextGen air traffic control systems finally would be implemented.
The $50 billion plan also would rebuild 150,000 miles of roads and construct and
maintain 4,000 miles of rail. Obama has to work with Congress to fund the plan.
Earlier in the year, the president signed the hard-fought
Travel Promotion Act that established the nonprofit Corporation for Travel
Promotion, a funding mechanism expected to provide $200 million to attract
overseas visitors to the United States and other resources to promote travel as
a means to boost the economy.
Appointed by Commerce Secretary Gary Locke in September, the
11-member CTP board incorporated in October, launched a website and hired a
search firm to find its first executive director. On the first board are
executives from Amtrak, Sabre Holdings, United Airlines, hotel firms, a
restaurant chain and tourism offices.
In a move hardly applauded outside the United States, the
government in September began collecting a $10 fee from foreign visitors who
aren't required to secure visas as part of the funding for the CTP. Officials
said $22.5 million was collected as of early January as collections were at
$350,000 a day. Thousands of dollars of in-kind contributions also were
To the industry's dismay, the White House targeted a 13
percent reduction by 2020 in greenhouse gas pollution "from indirect
sources, such as employee travel and commuting." The National Business
Travel Association called the move "misguided," and the U.S. Travel
Association branded it "short-sighted."
But the administration appeared to be intent on cutting
travel costs as Obama's fiscal advisory commission in November recommended that
lawmakers prohibit "each federal agency from spending more than 80 percent
of its fiscal 2010 travel budget" annually through 2015. "Despite our
record deficits, government expenditures for travel have grown by leaps and
bounds," from $9 billion in FY2001 to $14 billion in FY2006, according to
The National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, which encouraged
more teleconferencing use to achieve a $400 million cut in travel expenditures
by 2015. The commission also recommended a 10 percent reduction in the federal
— Mary Ann McNulty
Senior vice president
of worldwide sales
While most buyers still prefer fixed, negotiated hotel rates
to dynamic pricing models in which a negotiated discount is applied to the best
available rate, many now are more open to the idea thanks in large part to a
comprehensive sales effort developed by InterContinental Hotels Group.
After aggressively pushing dynamic pricing in the
Asia/Pacific region two years ago, IHG began an effort to urge large-market
buyers to adopt the model. That effort was led by senior vice president of
worldwide sales Stephen Powell, who told BTN
that the goal was to put dynamic pricing "in the proper box, wrap it up
and put a bow on it." The approach included training for the sales team
and buyer education regarding the potential advantages of adopting dynamic
IHG this month still is finalizing agreements, but Powell
said he expects the company will reach its goal of converting 20 percent of
corporate buyer contracts to some form of dynamic pricing.
At the same time, IHG's strategy helped contribute to an
overall shift in buyer attitudes toward dynamic pricing. Five years ago, the
model was enormously unpopular among buyers, especially as some hotel companies
took an all-or-nothing approach. Now, even among buyers who do not adopt
dynamic pricing—and Powell concedes that the model will not work for every
buyer—many at least are willing to consider it, he said.
"Where we originally were, people wanted to shut the
door and didn't even want to breach the subject at all," Powell said. "Now,
whether they're converting to dynamic pricing, we are seeing a turnaround in
— Michael B. Baker
Although no one doubts Amadeus' global clout, the phrase "Amadeus
Americas" traditionally solicits laughter from travel distribution
observers. "Pfft," they say. "What's their U.S. market share?
Ha!" It's still true that Amadeus is by far the smallest global
distribution system in the U.S. market, but who would have predicted that it
would sign deals with BCD Travel and Travel Leaders Corporate, two of the
nation's biggest travel management companies, to replace the traditional GDS
interface that large groups of their agents use? Vic Pynn is who.
Revamping the agent desktop has been a dream of Pynn's since
his days at TRX, which nearly 10 years ago launched, evidently ahead of its
time, a product called Selex to get between the agent and the GDS, take in
booking and inventory data from multiple sources and reduce the training costs
and limited capabilities of cryptic GDS formats and codes.
Pynn is particularly keen on changing "the concept of
requiring talent with specific GDS format knowledge. We have told agencies that
with technology today, you should have the freedom to not have to worry about
that and instead run your business accordingly. That has been a big eye-opener."
He's also interested in moving away from PNR-centric data management.
"I do believe that he who owns the desktop wins the
war," said Pynn, although he is careful to avoid suggesting that Amadeus
One, the product in question, will change the core GDS model. For example, he
said, the product was not specifically built to interact with direct
connections, although it is capable of doing so. This could come in handy if,
say, American Airlines can't be found in Sabre come September. A bit of
protection for TMCs amidst so much airline-GDS conflict and posturing can only
be a good thing.
— Jay Campbell
For Innovative Finance For Health
Cooperation among rivals is a rarity in the hypercompetitive
travel industry. It therefore was impressive to watch the Millennium Foundation
for Innovative Finance for Health persuade all three global distribution system
providers—along with several other travel industry players—to apply resources
for a global charitable initiative.
Conceived in 2007, the Massivegood program raises funds for
health care in impoverished parts of the world via "micro-contributions"
(usually suggested as $2 or €2) from travelers when they book air, hotel or car
reservations online or through agents. The program aims to provide up to $1
billion in funding for Unitaid, a World Health Organization-hosted group.
Under the leadership of managing director Bernard Salomé,
there was plenty of development work to be coordinated by the Millennium
Foundation ahead of the March 2010 Massivegood launch at the United Nations and
the June 2010 launch of the corporate travel component.
Amadeus is credited as the foundation's technology partner,
building the Massivegood donation engine for agent-assisted global distribution
system bookings and corporate donation management tools. Sabre and Travelport
also joined the effort. Aligning the GDS operators, Salomé told BTN, was "by far the best part"
of the development. "It was great," he said, "because they are
normally quite stiff competitors and they decided to join forces with us."
Coordinating with the many other travel industry players and
navigating country-specific regulations made the task all the more challenging,
But by March, all three global distribution system operators
began offering U.S. subscribers the option to facilitate donations. In the
corporate travel sector, American Express Business Travel, BCD Travel and
Carlson Wagonlit Travel pledged their support, including promotion to and
donation tracking for corporate clients, and coordination with online booking
tool providers. The companies also kicked in donations of their own.
Marathon Oil was the first company to contribute a lump sum,
donating $50,000, or $2 for each of its 25,000 business travel bookings
completed in a typical year. Other program supporters include Accor, Mondial
Assistance and Sabre's Travelocity, which includes donation information in
booking confirmation emails.
Globally, Massivegood by early January 2011 collected about
$300,000, Salomé said. Moving forward, he said the program would be implemented
in a growing number of countries and relaunched soon in the United States. He
explained that a task force including representatives from GDS operators and
corporate agencies intend to develop solutions "by February" to boost
participation and more effectively measure corporate travel's contribution.
He also said that "there is a whole lot more that can
be done with the online travel agents and the airlines," and added that he
expects the program to achieve the $1 billion goal within the next three to
After two years at the Millennium Foundation, Salomé at the
end of 2010 announced plans to "move on to other adventures."
Previously the foundation's chief corporate officer, Henk Mulder on Jan. 1
replaced Salomé as managing director.
— David Jonas
Director of global
Universal Air Travel Plan in 2010 for the first time added a
non-airline supplier to its merchant network: La Quinta Inns & Suites. This
pioneering deal came about largely at the urging of longtime UATP customer
Wal-Mart Stores, led by director of global travel Mary Sharp.
Wal-Mart previously paid hotel invoices manually but sought
a more efficient method. Early negotiations resulted in buy-in from UATP and La
Quinta, one of Wal-Mart's major preferred hotel vendors. The deal also required
cooperation from American Airlines, whose UATP account Wal-Mart now uses to
centrally bill payments to La Quinta.
"When you look at your computer, you have the Intel
sticker," UATP CEO Ralph Kaiser told BTN
last year. "We're like that: We're the ingredient brand. We make things
run, but we're not the main driver. This came from Wal-Mart and American coming
to us and asking, 'Can you do this?' We said, 'Of course.' "
The deal potentially will do more than make Wal-Mart's hotel
billing process more efficient. The behemouth retailer itself has indicated it
would like to get other preferred hotel suppliers on board. UATP similarly said
it's seeing interest for centrally billed hotel programs, both from other
corporate clients and hotel suppliers.
—Michael B. Baker
Once known only as an expense management technology
supplier, Concur in the past few years has expanded its product and service
offerings to travel booking, analytics, payment reconciliation and mobile
travel features, an evolution that CEO Steve Singh said has let Concur "drive
the agenda in the corporate travel market." He called that Concur's "single
As it seeks to further grow its customer base—from about
10,000 at year-end 2010 to 20,000 by fiscal year 2012—Concur has outlined
growth into new geographies, the small and mid-size markets and new product
segments. The company in 2010 also announced a series of new partnerships and
expanded its relationship with American Express to include its business travel
unit, as well as the commercial card division. "It's been a fantastic
source of new customers," Singh said of Amex.
But Amex has not been the only source of customer growth.
Concur expanded its own sales force, which typically delivers 75 percent to 80
percent of new customers, and also forged a multi-year global alliance with
Amadeus. The companies last year integrated Amadeus' eTravel Management booking
tool with Concur Expense and Amadeus' ticket reissue service and fare search
engine into Concur Cliqbook Travel.
To reach the small and midsize market, Concur also
introduced its new Breeze solution that customers can download from the Web or
mobile application stores from Apple, BlackBerry and Google. Amex also is
marketing Breeze, designed for companies with fewer than 250 employees. Concur
also plans to introduce a new version of its direct-connect platform and
application programming interface, which will allow third-party developers for
the first time to connect to the Concur platform.
Singh has headed Concur for 15 years and makes his seventh
appearance on this list. Though 2011 is less than one month old, he's already
making a bid for an eighth appearance with Concur's Jan. 13 announcement that
it plans to acquire TripIt for at least $82 million.
— Mary Ann McNulty
United and Continental in October officially merged into the
world's largest airline. Now CEO of the combined company, Jeff Smisek played a
leading role in formulating the deal, selling it to employees and other
affected parties, defending it in Washington and assembling a well-respected
senior leadership team.
This latest episode in U.S. airline consolidation picked up
steam in 2008 when United pressed Continental to make a deal, but Continental
instead opted only to bow out of SkyTeam and join United's Star Alliance.
Smisek, then Continental president, helped advise Continental's then-CEO, Larry
Kellner, to put off a merger.
"The reason I didn't want to move forward in 2008 had
nothing to do with the merger partner," Smisek told BTN, citing high crude oil and jet fuel prices, severely
constrained capital markets and poor liquidity and financial performance for
both airlines. "Fast forward to 2010 and all those things had changed,"
and the carriers in May announced the merger.
By that time, Smisek had succeeded Kellner as Continental's
boss and was thrust into the spotlight during congressional hearings on the
proposed tie-up. There, along with Glenn Tilton—then CEO of United and now
non-executive chairman of United Continental Holdings—he argued for the merger
in front of some skeptical, if not outright opposed, lawmakers. Citing his
experience in the "deep, dark past" as a mergers and acquisitions
lawyer, Smisek was confident the deal quickly would win regulatory approval
without major roadblocks, given the complementary nature of the carriers' route
networks. He was right. "The regulatory process worked as it's supposed
to," Smisek said. "It ignored the politicians and was a smooth and
quite accelerated process." Indeed, just five months after announcing it,
the carriers on Oct. 1 closed the transaction.
Key for corporate travel buyers is the make-up of the new
United's sales, marketing and distribution leadership teams. Smisek scored
points by appointing to crucial positions fellow former Continental executives
who had earned respect in the corporate travel sector.
For example, Continental chief marketing officer Jim Compton
retained that position at the merged airline, while Continental's Dave Hilfman
and Mark Bergsrud took over as senior vice presidents of worldwide sales and
marketing, respectively. Chuck Crowder, previously Continental's senior
director of sales programs, now serves as United's managing director of
worldwide sales resources. Other appointed senior vice presidents include a mix
of Continental and United executives.
"I wanted to make sure that I got people who were
passionate about the business, who knew their stuff and who understood and
would embrace the culture of the new company that we are building," Smisek
explained. "I ended up with a team that is far better than the team I had
at Continental and far better than the team that was at United."
That team quickly rescinded a controversial pre-existing
policy that denied access to United's credit card merchant accounts for at
least 28 agencies, drawing praise from agency advocacy groups.
Meanwhile, Continental and United first as stand-alone
allies, then as a merged entity, during 2010 also progressed on transborder,
transatlantic and transpacific joint ventures with foreign partners.
Moving forward, the company will "continue to focus on
capacity discipline" as a means to maintain profitability, Smisek said. "We
are not interested in proving we have a longer runway than the next guy."
— David Jonas
Marriott International is known for tradition, but under the
leadership of president and COO Arne Sorenson, the company in 2010 adjusted its
approach to group customers and shattered a long-standing stereotype of luxury
Hoteliers long have cautiously watched remote conferencing
technology as a potential siphon to group business. Rather than fight the
technology, Marriott chose to embrace it. The company began the year by opening
studios using Cisco TelePresence technology at hotels in New York and Bethesda,
Md., beating Starwood Hotels & Resorts to the punch by a matter of weeks;
Starwood opened its own studios in February.
During 2010, Marriott opened 12 TelePresence studios around
the world, Sorenson said, with plans to open at least eight in the near
future—and possibly more. "It's not going to replace conventions or
meetings, which take place over a number of days," he said, "but for
a regular set of discussions which might include management teams, we find it
works exceedingly well."
While hoteliers assess the impact remote technology has on
travel, Marriott now is poised to benefit either way, Sorenson said. "If
the threat's there, we can make sure we're participating in that space,"
he said. "Personally, I believe these technologies allow for more travel
rather than less."
Marriott in 2010 also changed its approach to loyalty. In
September, the company's luxury Ritz-Carlton brand for the first time launched
a rewards program, a relative rarity in the luxury tier. "Historically, we
asked the luxury customer whether they need points, and the response has
typically been, 'No, we don't need points. In a sense, we're above points,' "
Sorenson said. "When asked differently—would you appreciate points or some
benefits for your stays at Ritz-Carlton—the answer is overwhelmingly positive."
While Ritz-Carlton Rewards maintains the luxury mindset with
such high-end rewards as Neiman Marcus shopping excursions, the program also
ties into Marriott's rewards program, meaning frequent Ritz-Carlton guests now
can even get free in-room Internet access as a perk, another rarity among
— Michael B. Baker
There are few new ideas in travel management, which is why
it's noteworthy when someone implements a handful even if it seems others would
be hard-pressed to copy them. Better yet is when they share their new ideas
publicly, and Google global travel manager Michael Tangney has done plenty of
that. Tangney's innovative program, which gives travelers more latitude with
the company's money thanks to a rate cap system that rewards them when they
spend less with the ability to spend more another time, has been discussed on
the conference circuit for a couple years. But Tangney also has emerged as a
rare travel professional who understands travelers, gets the travel industry
and is attracted to new technologies, all on top of his intimate knowledge of
The Google program leverages technology the firm built for
itself but, even so, a number of industry professionals have reconsidered their
own approaches in light of it. A big reason is that it simplifies policies and
empowers travelers. For example, while Google has a travel management company,
it doesn't require employees to book through it. The company retains a key
element of control because travelers still must enter trip details into a
proprietary trip-management system to obtain an identification number, without
which they are not reimbursed.
Tangney's ideas about more open and traveler-friendly
management do not stop there. For example, he advocates the possibilities of
using of a tool like TripIt and its Groups function to consolidate booking data
from multiple sources and potentially enhance support for safety and security.
"What I see as a great opportunity in this industry at
the moment is to figure out a way to take agency information and take
non-agency information and to group that together," Tangney said at an
NBTA event in September. Travel managers could use the data, he argued, to
watch for noncompliance patterns and engage travelers through social media
platforms to uncover why they didn't follow travel policies.
Tangney also said, "There is great potential for
replicating or replacing what the traditional TMCs do in terms of tracking data
and sharing that information with suppliers." Perhaps seeking to avoid an
anti-TMC label, Tangney also said agencies do retain fundamental value in terms
of supporting complex itineraries, being "an easy way" to book trips,
and offering a channel for the corporate negotiated rates.
Luckily for the new ideas camp, Tangney is more likely to
elaborate than to keep his remarks to himself.
— Jay Campbell
Every cloud has a silver lining. In the case of the ash
cloud created in April 2010 by the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull, the big
winner was conTgo, a United Kingdom-based mobile services integrator that
specializes in traveler tracking and assistance.
The ash crisis convinced such key corporate customers as
Microsoft and travel industry companies like American Express that conventional
global distribution system-based tracking systems are not enough. ConTgo relies
on what is in many ways a simpler technology—SMS mobile texting. Its Mobile
Travel Assistant product enables a company to send automated text messages to
all its travelers' mobile devices and ask them to respond to basic questions,
such as whether they require emergency assistance.
"ConTgo was the first to offer the concept of
bidirectional intelligent communication, and that is very important in a
crisis," said Michel LaBianca, American Express vice president of global
IT strategy for business travel. "SMS is the lowest common denominator,
and you don't have to install any software on travelers' mobile devices. This
is the way crisis management will be handled in future."
That was not the only reason SMS carried the day during the
ash crisis. One major shortcoming of GDS-based systems, which became evident
after 48 hours, is that they are only effective if travelers are where they are
supposed to be. When they started to find their own ways home—some by such
alternative means as ferries and buses—they dropped off the radar.
"If someone makes a change to their itinerary, that
change is not reflected," said, Microsoft director of global security
operations Mike Foynes. "We found one of our security partners providing
incomplete, inaccurate data because travelers had moved out of the GDS
At the time of the ash crisis, Microsoft under the aegis of
its travel department was trialing conTgo in four countries. Following the
crisis, the security department took over and has now rolled out conTgo in 60
countries. Microsoft has also helped conTgo to develop a new tool, launched in
January 2011, which color-codes travelers' SMS responses on a map so that
security managers can see, for example, clusters of where travelers have or
have not requested assistance.
ConTgo head man Johnny Thorsen, based in Denmark, started
work on the idea in 2003 and launched it in 2007, but he has a lengthy track
record in travel technology. After working for travel management company
partnership Business Travel International, he switched in the late 1990s to
GetThere and later jumped ship for Travelport, where he served as director of
corporate solutions for both Asia-Pacific and Europe, Middle East and Africa.
ConTgo during the last couple of years expanded from five
staffers to 17 and will recruit further for an anticipated quadrupling of
transactions in 2011, although Thorsen hopes to keep conTgo small by working
mainly through reseller agreements with TMCs.
— Amon Cohen
In 2010, after five years of trying on his part, and 14
years by his employer, British Airways chief executive Willie Walsh finally
signed a long-coveted transatlantic joint-venture with Oneworld partners
American Airlines and Iberia. For good measure, he agreed to a merger with the
Spanish carrier, scheduled to be consummated Jan. 24.
Looking back, the decisive event that secured antitrust
immunity for the JV probably was the 2008 Open Skies agreement that opened up
to competition BA's gold-plated fortress at London Heathrow. However, once the
JV started in September 2010, its influence was profound and fast. Within six
weeks, Virgin Atlantic, a fierce competitor that has helped many a corporate
buyer leverage a better transatlantic air deal, revealed its future as an
independent carrier was under strategic review.
The news from Virgin appeared to confirm the worst fears of
some buyers that airline consolidation stifles competition, but Walsh takes
issue both with Virgin's stance and with this line of reasoning. "Virgin
raised the white flag on its independence many years ago because it is 49
percent owned by Singapore Airlines, which some people have conveniently
forgotten," he told BTN. "There
are also other airlines in the Virgin group which participate in code shares.
It highlights the hypocrisy of Virgin that it is jumping up and down about
this. What Virgin does not like is that there will be more competition, not
Walsh argues that BA's JV will prove a positive influence on
corporate buying because it will act as a robust third competitor to the two
existing transatlantic JVs based around Star Alliance and SkyTeam members. The
next year quickly should show whether he is right, and whether the newest JV
will offer a genuinely different approach to corporate customers. Last November,
BA's U.K. sales chief Richard Tams said the JV partners will be more flexible
than their rivals, allowing buyers to choose which carriers to use without
being forced to use all of them.
Walsh gives the nod to the $9 billion merger with Iberia as
his most influential achievement of 2010. Both that and the JV were
strategically important, he believes, but the merger was more critical in terms
of securing financial stability. Walsh also told BTN the airline coped well with severe disruptions from 22 days of industrial
action plus heavy snow and the volcanic ash crisis. "I am pleased I was
able to take a leadership role in getting Europe open again after the
unnecessary closure of European airspace," he said. "There was no
need for a blanket closure."
— Amon Cohen