Leaders in Global Travel Discuss Technology, Generational, and Government Disrupters

travel panel

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On April 5, five distinguished business leaders explored the relationships between the global travel business, technology, generational shifts, and government policies in an event at Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business sponsored by the Office of Alumni and External Relations and the Global Business Initiative. The panel was moderated by Ricardo Ernst, Baratta Chair in Global Business, professor of operations and global logistics, and director of the Global Business Initiative.

“As an internet company, anything that affects the internet affects our company,” said Susanne Greenfield, vice president of global strategy at Booking Holdings. From the ability to search via voice technology to “wearables,” technology that changes how people search for travel will require a company like Booking Holdings to adapt accordingly.

Mark Del Rosso, CEO of Bentley, Inc., sees technology not as a disrupter, but as an opportunity. “The consumer has never had more power in the marketplace than today,” he elaborated. “Gone are the days that led from manufacturer to business to consumer; now, there is collaboration, cooperation, and input. Technology provides the ecosystem to allow businesses and consumers to co-create.”

For Nancy Shumacher, head of travel and tour operations at National Geographic Partners, new technologies are an opportunity to minimize the company’s impact on the environment. Shumacher added that with changing technology comes a need to alter certain techniques: “For products targeted at younger audiences, like our student expeditions, technology has transformed our marketing strategy.”

Millennials are looking for experiences in which they feel that the company or the product is reaching out to them, according to Leda Chong, senior vice president of government programs and sales at Gulfstream. “We don’t just sell you the product. When you purchase a Gulfstream, you are part of the family.”

Del Rosso agreed, explaining that millennials want to not only engage with, but be part of a company whose values align with theirs. “We are not trying to ‘target’ millennials,” he said. “Rather, we want to invite them to experience our story.”

As global companies with headquarters in the United States, National Geographic, Airbnb, and Gulfstream in particular are incumbent to both national and international laws and policies. For example, before travel to Cuba was relaxed, National Geographic was one of the few companies to provide travel opportunities in the country. Once the Obama administration relaxed the restrictions, people began to travel there individually and no longer needed to travel in a group. Now that the Trump administration has tightened restrictions again, travel there will once again look different.

Similarly, both Airbnb and Gulfstream officials meet with government leaders to develop a mutual understanding of laws and goals. Chong and former CFO of Airbnb Laurence Tosi (C’90, MBA’94, L’94) agreed that it is imperative that their companies partner with local governments to best serve their clientele.

The future of global travel needs diversity and inclusivity in thought leadership, according to the panelists. “Acknowledge that this takes a tremendous amount of creativity because of the pace of change,” Tosi advised to students interested in pursuing a career in the industry. “But if you do your job and you do it right, it will give you meaning every day.”