Tricky Business

The travel in­dus­try is proof that

Business Traveler (USA) - - TALKING POINT -

Let’s ad­mit it: Even the smartest guy in the room needed a lit­tle luck to get where he is. Some of us who aren’t so smart need a lot of luck just to stay in the room. So it is with no lit­tle amount of awe that I fre­quently find my­self in the higher ech­e­lons of the travel in­dus­try, rarefied air where some very smart peo­ple live and work.

We may not al­ways ap­pre­ci­ate the com­plex­ity of the in­dus­try we’re all par­tic­i­pants in – ei­ther as providers or con­sumers – but there’s lit­tle doubt that the men and women in po­si­tions of lead­er­ship in th­ese busi­nesses not only un­der­stand the prob­lems, but ac­tu­ally rel­ish the chal­lenge of‘cracking the code.’

At this mo­ment, I’m sit­ting in an air­port some­where, wait­ing to board a flight. I’ve got about three hours to kill, be­cause a de­lay caused me to miss a con­nec­tion.

The de­lay this morn­ing was caused by an equip­ment prob­lem, which, if you think about it is some­thing of a rar­ity in the US avi­a­tion sys­tem, ac­cord­ing to FAA data. Given the me­chan­i­cal mar­vel that is a typ­i­cal com­mer­cial air­craft, I con­sider that statis­tic mildly as­ton­ish­ing.

Get­ting where I need to be took re­book­ing on another car­rier, a process that took lit­er­ally 45 seconds (I timed it). In the days of il­leg­i­ble red-car­bon tick­ets, that might have taken 45 min­utes. On the ground at the other end, the car ser­vice driver al­ready knows I’m late, and with a cou­ple of texts, knows what my new ar­rival time is. And my ho­tel’s al­ready up to speed as well.

A three-hour de­lay used to mean an air­port lunch of a fat, greasy chili dog and a bag of chips. Now, I’m not knock­ing fat, greasy chili dogs – they’re still one of my fa­vorite things. But for to­day’s repast I was able to or­der fresh spinach, fresh sliced straw­ber­ries and grilled chicken. (Granted, the chicken was clearly no spring chicken, but tasty enough nonethe­less.)

So why does a sys­tem that is this in­ter­con­nected, this in­tri­cate, this global, work? And work bet­ter and bet­ter day in and day out? Well, part of the an­swer is you. Business trav­el­ers are the back­bone of the sys­tem, and you de­mand noth­ing less. It’s nice when the flight to the fam­ily’s Dis­ney World va­ca­tion departs on time, but when it’s your business on the line, it’s vi­tal.

So you’ve con­stantly pushed the in­dus­try to get bet­ter, faster, more re­li­able.

Another part of the an­swer lies with some in­dus­try lead­ers who spend their days (and some­times their sleep­less nights) fig­ur­ing out how to make it hap­pen.Yes, there are head­line grab­bers – deadly dis­eases trav­el­ing across con­ti­nents or the

threat of ter­ror­ist at­tack. But no as­pect of your travel safety, con­ve­nience or com­fort is too small to make it onto the radar.

Each month, Business Trav­eler brings you an ex­clu­sive One on One in­ter­view with an in­dus­try leader. The in­sights are en­light­en­ing, per­haps more for what they re­veal about the in­di­vid­u­als who helm th­ese en­ter­prises as for what they say about the en­ter­prises them­selves. This month we go One on One with Te­wolde Ge­bre­Mariam, CEO of up-and-com­ing Ethiopian Air­lines ( Up­front, page 8). Other travel lead­ers have had their time in the spot­light, and in the months ahead there are more to come.

Not all the prob­lems con­fronting travel are eas­ily solved; in fact, some of them are down­right in­tractable. And not ev­ery business in the travel in­dus­try has the tal­ent at the top to sur­vive; but don’t worry – they prob­a­bly won’t be around long.

How­ever hav­ing spent some time One on One with many of th­ese folks over the years, I can say this much: There are those who are mak­ing a dif­fer­ence for all of us, be­cause they’re the ones with the smarts, the drive and the vi­sion.

And more than a lit­tle bit of luck. BT

— Dan Booth Ed­i­to­rial Di­rec­tor

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