The travel industry is proof that
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