Journey’s movers, shakers and newsmakers of 2023


The tip of the 12 months is commonly as
a lot a time of reflection as it’s for brand spanking new 12 months predictions.

Reflecting on the
previous 12 months on the planet of journey tech, we think about what an enchanting 12 months
it has been. We’ve seen each sector of the trade and corporations from
startups to legacy manufacturers wrestle with when and find out how to use generative
artificial intelligence
– an idea that was largely unknown only one 12 months in the past.
Business leaders have additionally caught our consideration on subjects akin to NDC, hospitality
, sustainability, digital id and extra. 

These are among the folks
PhocusWire has recognized as taking part in key roles up to now 12 months — and who determine
to be amongst these to observe within the 12 months to come back.

Sam Altman, co-founder and CEO, OpenAI

Altman could also be the obvious alternative on this checklist – and the one one who a 12 months in the past was just about unknown throughout the journey trade. A becoming juxtaposition for somebody who has turn into the face of one of the seismic developments in expertise – generative artificial intelligence – that has captivated the world up to now 12 months.

Altman helped co-found OpenAI in 2015 whereas he was president of startup accelerator Y Combinator. In 2019 he left that function to turn into CEO of OpenAI – which at that time transitioned from a nonprofit to a “capped” for-profit – and stays in that place at this time, following a five-day interval in November when he was fired after which reinstated.

Travel is, of course, just one of many industries that has been delving into the potential of generative AI, however adoption has been comparatively sluggish. Some corporations, akin to Trip.comExpedia Group (the place Altman was on the board from 2019 till June 1), Kayak and MakeMyTrip jumped in early whereas others – notably hospitality and airline manufacturers – have been comparatively quiet. As among the hype continues to die down and concrete outcomes emerge (see Tripadvisor CEO Matt Goldberg’s comments from the company’s Q3 2023 earnings), anticipate to see extra journey manufacturers discovering methods to place the expertise to make use of, each for inner and customer-facing functions. 

With Altman firmly again on the helm of OpenAI – and with others, notably Google, ramping up efforts to compete and even monetize their generative AI choices – he and his firm will proceed to be one to observe for the foreseeable future.

Aloke Bajpai, co-founder and group CEO, Ixigo

Bajpai co-founded India-based on-line journey company Ixigo in 2007 to enhance the journey reserving course of by way of expertise.

Whereas the corporate’s authentic focus was on flight metasearch, it moved into solving friction for travelers on India’s train system. It later expanded into prepare and bus ticketing platforms with the 2021 acquisitions of Confirmtkt and Abhibus, respectively. The deal with trains and buses was in line with an strategy Bajpai described to Web In Travel in 2021 when he stated “constructing the main journey firm in India will contain going to the smallest of cities and being related for journey there.”

After turning into India’s largest prepare journey reserving platform, the corporate reported turning a revenue for the 2023 fiscal 12 months. In August it introduced plans to launch its personal lodge reserving platform as an alternative of redirecting prospects to

“Coming into the lodge phase is a pure development for us as an OTA,” Bajpai told the Hindu Business Line. “Whereas we’ve been partnering with for lodge lodging, we consider it’s time to develop this phase on our personal from a enterprise economics perspective.”

Alix Boulnois, chief digital officer, Accor

Boulnois has achieved lots throughout her comparatively quick tenure at Accor. She joined the lodge large as senior vice chairman of digital and innovation in early 2020, with duty for the group’s digital transformation in addition to digital services improvement.

Boulnois added engineering and innovation to her digital transformation function simply over a 12 months later when she was named chief digital manufacturing facility officer and joined the corporate’s govt committee. Then in the beginning of 2023 she was appointed CDO, including distribution and loyalty to the combination, and joined the administration board.

Going ahead, she can be on the middle of Accor’s augmented hospitality technique to extend non-room income and “provide a bigger experience than just a stay.”

Boulnois’ CV was spectacular even earlier than she joined the lodge trade. She began out at consultancy McKinsey and later spent greater than six years in roles at Amazon in america and Europe. In product and innovation roles with the e-commerce large she was concerned within the launch of Prime Now and different tasks. It’s clear that with this expertise, Boulnois will assist carry a extra agile strategy to Accor because it additional develops its web sites, cell apps, loyalty program and wider digital initiatives.

Brian Chesky, CEO, Airbnb

Chesky has turn into one thing of a family title with the celebrity that comes with beginning a multi-billion greenback firm like Airbnb. However hitting that mark hasn’t slowed him down in any respect. The 42-year-old Airbnb co-founder and CEO has been an innovator within the area since he and his roommates based the corporate 15 years in the past.

This 12 months Chesky led the corporate by way of regulatory challenges – most notably in New York City – and to its most profitable third quarter within the firm’s historical past. On the Q3 name, Chesky promised extra to come back in 2024, together with worldwide progress, a brand new advertising marketing campaign, new options on the platform – and a conviction that the corporate might have double-digit revenue growth for many years.

And he is been speaking about some ways the corporate will integrate generative artificial intelligence, together with its potential to create “a complete new interface” that can make the Airbnb app like an “AI concierge.” That aim often is the motive behind the corporate’s November acquisition of for a reported $200 million. The startup’s founders have joined Airbnb to “deal with accelerating choose AI tasks and integrating their instruments into our platform,” based on an announcement. 

The transformative potential created by generative AI, the rising reputation of short-term leases and Chesky’s document of contrivance create an attention-grabbing combine that can little question maintain Chesky within the headlines within the 12 months forward.

Heather Dahl, CEO, Indicio

Dahl is a worldwide thought chief on on-line privateness and safety points. Since serving to to discovered Indicio in 2020, Dahl has served as CEO and positioned the corporate as a frontrunner within the creation of open supply, verifiable, decentralized id options.

This type of identity expertise allows people to regulate their very own digital IDs whereas additionally enabling others to confirm and belief these credentials while not having to test with any third events or to retailer personally identifiable data.

It’s a fancy matter, however Dahl is skilled at explaining it in simple terms – presumably a credit score to her early profession work in media.

Indicio builds these “Trusted Digital Ecosystems” for shoppers throughout journey, finance, well being care, logistics and extra. Its work with SITA and the federal government of Aruba began in the course of the pandemic as a way for travelers to share proof of a negative COVID test, however now the answer is rather more broad, enabling vacationers to go to the island without needing to show a physical passport upon arrival. Ultimately, Aruba’s “Completely satisfied One Go” will perform as a complete digital ID for vacationers helpful throughout a wide range of actions akin to lodge check-in or automotive rental. 

That profitable launch is drawing curiosity from different governments, airports and airways around the globe, so in August Indicio and SITA signed an agreement to speed up deployment of digital identities for journey. That, coupled with associated developments akin to 4 large-scale pilots testing the European Union’s Digital Identification Pockets and different initiatives in elements of Asia, Africa and North America, might imply decentralized digital identities will quickly be mainstream – a imaginative and prescient Dahl has been selling for a while.

Ben Drew, president, Viator

When Tripadvisor introduced
in 2020 that Viator would operate
 with Drew as its president, some trade
insiders speculated that Tripadvisor
would sell Viator
. That appeared like extra of a certaintly n early 2022 when Tripadvisor made a confidential filing with the
U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission
 that exposed it was
exploring a “promoting a minority stake of
the Viator enterprise to the general public market.”

then the tide turned, as underneath Drew’s management Viator became Tripadvisor’s
growth engine
. By Q3 of this 12 months the experiences on-line journey
company was posting revenues that nearly match that
for the rest of larger company
 and gross bookings of $1.1

Whereas Viator has benefited from the bigger development of experiences’ increasing role in driving travel decisions, a lot of the credit score for the corporate’s latest progress has gone to Drew, who got here to
Tripadvisor in 2012 as head of enterprise improvement for trip leases after
almost three years at Expedia Group. Now almost 4 years in as president of Viator, he’s one thing of a standard-bearer for
the sector. Early on, Drew led a push to improve the quality of
operator listings
, saying he noticed long-term success in having “each
the most important alternative but in addition the very best quality.” He’s additionally an outspoken advocate for getting
more experiences business online

“We’re speaking about ChatGPT and robots taking on the world,
and we haven’t even bought three out of 4 folks utilizing the web in tourism
experiences but,” Drew stated throughout at session at Phocuswright Europe in June. Trying forward, Tripadvisor CEO Matt Goldberg has said the Viator crew is concentrated on “driving app downloads and loyalty and has been testing a rewards program” – all attention-grabbing ideas and alternatives for Drew to steer Viator into new territory.

Steve Hafner, CEO, Kayak 

Hafner has helmed Kayak since he co-founded the
firm in 2004 and after almost 20 years, he’s nonetheless exhibiting a willingness
to experiment. Examples from latest years – some which have come and gone –
embrace being one of many first corporations to launch a
chatbot for Google Hangouts
in 2018, voice
capabilities for Alexa
, the opening of a Kayak-brand
hotel in Miami Beach
, the creation
of an in-house content agency in 2021
and turning into one of many first
corporations to create
a plugin for OpenAI’s ChatGPT last March

However Kayak’s entrance into enterprise journey could also be the perfect
instance of its tradition of innovation. The corporate launched Kayak
for Business in 2019
in beta with a free device for small- and medium-sized
companies, with the full
launch and addition of expense integration
and value prediction in 2021. In
the midst of that Kayak
began quietly working with Blockskye
, a PhocusWire Sizzling 25 Journey Startup
for 2024, to develop the reserving device for its new blockchain-based resolution for
company journey. The success of that resolution within the final 12 months with its inaugural
consumer PwC has prompted Hafner to push the corporate deeper into enterprise journey with
the launch
of Kayak for Enterprise
. At The Phocuswright Convention Hafner
announced the next two customers
for the Blockskye-Kayak resolution – Diageo and

Hafner has huge ambitions
about what the Enterprise product
can supply – together with the potential of
new blockchain-managed cost capabilities that “cuts out the bank card
corporations” –  and plans for a enterprise
journey product for corporations that sit between SME and enterprise segments. So search for the innovation to proceed. 

Vanessa Hudson, CEO, Qantas Group

Look round at just about any airline convention and what you see remains to be predominantly males in fits. So for the actual fact she has damaged by way of that alone, Vanessa Hudson is to be applauded. Nevertheless, that isn’t to take something away from the newly-appointed Qantas CEO who, in the case of airline enterprise, has coated a whole lot of floor.

Hudson has spent 28 years throughout roles together with distribution and buyer expertise at Australia’s nationwide service. Alongside that journey, she served as chief buyer officer overseeing much of the carrier’s distribution strategy, together with the launch of its distribution platform in 2018. Hudson rose additional by way of the ranks to turn into chief monetary officer in late 2019 and noticed the airline by way of the pandemic earlier than being announced as CEO in May 2023 and taking over the function in September.

Considered one of her first actions within the prime seat, a public apology to customers acknowledging that the airline “might have carried out higher,” is probably a sign of her need for change. She added, “We need to get again to the nationwide service that Australians may be happy with.”

The approaching months, and years, can be difficult for Hudson as she repairs reputational harm carried out to the airline over allegations it bought tickets for flights it didn’t intend to fly and can be accused of shedding staff whereas paying giant sums to its administrators. 

Robert Isom, CEO, American Airways

Discuss airways’ new distribution functionality has been ongoing for greater than a decade, however it was American Airlines and new CEO Robert Isom who made it a precedence in 2023 — with plans to maintain pushing in 2024. Below Isom — who assumed the function of CEO in March 2022 after serving as the corporate’s president since 2016 — the service applied a controversial shift April 3 to take away 40% of its fares from conventional Edifact channels after which began offering full NDC content through Sabre, Travelport and Amadeus.

Despite pushback from travel agents, travel management companies and others, American doubled down on the strategy. It seems to be paying off. Within the third quarter, greater than three-quarters of the service’s bookings got here from its web site, cell app and NDC-enabled channels, up from two-thirds the earlier 12 months. “These are essentially the most environment friendly distribution channels in our ecosystem, and we anticipate to see these tendencies proceed into the fourth quarter and past,” Isom stated throughout an earnings name.

And underneath Isom’s management, American is fighting back against complaints filed with the U.S. Division of Transportation by the American Society of Journey Brokers that American’s NDC technique is harming “journey companies and shoppers.”  American has requested the DOT to dismiss the criticism, calling it “a frivolous compilation of rhetoric and unsupported allegations.” The dispute will proceed into the brand new 12 months, as we proceed to observe how Isom and American advance the service’s NDC technique.

Ethan Lin, co-founder and CEO, and Eric Gnock Fah, co-founder and COO, Klook

Klook’s founders Lin and Gnock Fah haven’t been shy to adapt and embrace change. The buddies and enterprise companions with a background in funding banking, who met round 2007, have grown the corporate to $3 billion in annual gross reserving worth.

Early on within the pandemic the pair regarded on the wants of its markets and the potential for restoration and rapidly unveiled virtual, home-based activities referred to as Klook Residence and shifted to home experiences. Over the course of 2021 the corporate secured $200 million in funding and reached extra locations with its experiences.

Quick ahead to early 2022 and Gnock Fah and Lin determined that a rebrand was in order because it sought to develop its product providing to incorporate lodges, automotive rental and different journey components. It additionally unveiled Flickket, a software-as-a-service product offering expertise to retailers.

And now as 2023 attracts to an in depth, and after 9 years in enterprise, the founding crew has reached profitability and lately landed a further $210 million in funding.

What’s subsequent? On prime of the three-pronged technique laid out for the funding, Lin recently said it would be about “building a well-oiled engine” in addition to taking care of its folks and retaining a watchful eye on its influence as a company citizen.

Rathi Murthy, chief expertise officer and president of Expedia Product & Know-how, Expedia Group

Murthy has led expertise technique and improvement for Expedia Group since June 2021 – and has a long time of prior expertise as CTO for Verizon Media and Hole and in management positions at American Categorical, eBay, Yahoo and extra – however it’s not a stretch to recommend 2023 could have been her busiest 12 months ever. 

Expedia Group had three main expertise tasks in various levels of improvement in 2023: the reconfiguration of the corporate’s tech stack into a unified platform and the creation of the OneKey cross-brand loyalty program, each initiated in prior years however accomplished in 2023, and the integration of generative AI – one of many first main journey manufacturers to take action – throughout a number of merchandise. And as Expedia Group has highlighted its B2B work as a strategic priority, Murthy’s groups are additionally making AI options obtainable to companions throughout the trade.

Little doubt there can be new integrations of generative AI throughout the corporate in 2024, probably out of among the experiments at the moment operating by way of its new “EG Labs” program that invitations shoppers to check new services. That in itself is an revolutionary technique, and one which we applaud. 

With the unified tech stack and OneKey launch within the rearview, Expedia Group CEO Peter Kern said the corporate will deal with new methods to develop and drive income: “with a lot necessary platform work behind us … we’ll out-innovate within the area for a few years to come back.” That appears like Murthy will proceed to be busy.

Andreas Slettvoll, co-founder and CEO, Chooose

Andreas Slettvoll joins this 12 months’s lineup for the expansion the local weather expertise platform has achieved with him at its helm in addition to his function in elevating consciousness of the necessity for journey to cut back its carbon footprint.

Slettvoll has been outspoken on greenwashing within the trade and highlighting that carbon offsetting shouldn’t be the answer however certainly one of many. He has additionally urged warning due to the dearth of transparency round many offset packages and likened carbon markets to the “wild west.”

Chooose, a PhocusWire Hot 25 Startup for 2023, has managed to rack up quite a lot of spectacular partnerships since its launch in 2018. Airways together with Air Canada, Air New Zealand, British Airways and JetBlue are utilizing the corporate’s local weather packages. Extra partnerships with and American Express GBT can solely carry better deal with the carbon influence of journey selections. Alongside the Chooose crew, which he praises as “among the actually prime expertise throughout Europe and the [United States],” Slettvoll has additionally sealed funding offers for the corporate, together with an undisclosed investment from Amadeus final 12 months adopted by $15 million in funding introduced earlier this 12 months. Look out for additional strikes and progress from Chooose in 2024 as Slettvoll and the crew plan to construct an enterprise grade product suite.

Johnny Thorsen, vice chairman of technique and partnerships, Spotnana

Whereas Thorsen has discovered success in his present function at Spotnana, his influence on the journey trade has been within the works for a while, significantly within the area of recent company journey programs and sustainability.

Together with his expansive skillset – together with advertising and code writing – and greater than three a long time within the trade, Thorsen has worked with gamers together with GetThere, Concur, SAP, Travelport, Sabre, American Categorical Digital Labs and extra. A revered trade voice on subjects like sustainability, tech and company journey typically, Thorsen spoke at 29 occasions in 2022 – and isn’t shy about difficult his colleagues and the broader trade whether or not face-to-face or in his common posts on LinkedIn.

Since Thorsen joined Spotnana in 2021, the corporate has seen quite a few successes. Final 12 months, Spotnana acquired $75 million in its Collection B funding spherical meant to grow its cloud-based travel platform. In 2023, Spotnana partnered with Southwest Airlines and carried out a “deep integration” of Southwest into Spotnana’s platform. Additionally this 12 months Spotnana partnered with CWT. As disruption accelerates throughout company journey and considerations develop in regards to the well being of our world local weather, we anticipate Thorsen to stay within the highlight for a while. 

Richard Valtr, founder, Mews

A local of the Czech Republic educated at College Faculty London, Valtr bought his begin in hospitality by working as a night receptionist while home from school. That have, adopted by a stint serving to with a household challenge to develop a lodge in Prague, led him to develop an concept for a system that may take away the friction on the entrance desk and automate the again workplace.

The corporate he based in 2012, Mews, is simply that: a cloud-based property administration system supplier that works with extra 5,000 hospitality manufacturers around the globe. The Amsterdam-based firm has raised about $225 million because it has rolled out new services to streamline operations for hoteliers and to enhance the visitor expertise. Alongside the best way, Valtr and Mews have turn into symbols of innovation within the realm of hospitality. 

And Valtr, together with CEO Matthijs Welle, isn’t carried out innovating.

He sees lodge income administration getting ready to a revolution. By now not focusing solely on rooms however on all {that a} lodge can supply, Valtr argues, lodges can broaden their buyer base. From parking spaces to workspaces, event spaces to spas, the bounds for lodges are solely on what they’ll think about, he stated. Image pop-up venues for karaoke, film showings and even hairdressers.

“It’s actually about getting the a lot of the belongings you truly work with, the most people you truly work with and essentially the most for the company that you simply truly attempt to serve – it’s this idea of maximization of all of the various things,” he stated during an interview at the PhocusWire studio at The Phocuswright Conference in November.

Rose Yao, vice chairman of product administration, Google

Yao stepped right into a lead function for Google’s journey follow in July with the departure of Richard Holden, who had led the product administration crew for journey for seven years.

Yao has been at Google since 2017, engaged on merchandise together with Maps, Nest, Pixel and now Search – “serving to folks discover the world close to and much,” as she describes it in her LinkedIn profile. She has additionally labored at Fb and did 5 years at Google very early in her profession.

Now Yao is overseeing a crew of product managers to launch new options and enhancements for Google’s lodge, flight and vacation spot search choices. As a part of these efforts, she is concerned with the applying of latest synthetic intelligence capabilities that may assist potential vacationers discover inspiration and perceive their choices after they come to Google. Given the search large’s continuous updates throughout its journey merchandise – simply this 12 months we’ve coated its free price guarantee for flightsimproved browsing for hotels, a brand new social media content filter and price comparison for short-term rentals – in addition to further integration of its generative AI solutions for journey and the complete launch of its Gemini giant language mannequin, Yao is on our radar as one to observe within the 12 months forward.

PhocusWire Sizzling 25 Journey Startups for 2024 founders

It looks like annually it will get an increasing number of troublesome to select simply 25 journey startups to incorporate on this checklist. This 12 months we started with about 150 contenders – corporations positioned around the globe and creating options for each sector. Our choices for the Hot 25 Travel Startups for 2024, sponsored by Allianz Companions US, are led by women and men that we consider have the know-how, creativity and grit to succeed for a few years to come back. We’ll be monitoring their progress intently, and we urge you to maintain them in view as nicely.


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