The leaders of the industry and their executive teams face an important 12 months ahead.
They are charged with ensuring their brands can take advantage of a wholesale recovery of the travel, tourism and hospitality sector, as and when it emerges at scale, as well as think about what their companies could become in the future.
The industry is at an important moment in its history as it unravels itself from a devastating two years since the onset of the COVID-19 global pandemic.
But also the sector has some big decisions to make, either collectively or as individual companies, with issues around climate change not going away any time soon and huge advances in technology (AI, machine learning, personalization, blockchain, etc.) that will either be used as part of the technical evolution of the industry or shunned.
The smart leaders of 2022 will be acknowledging both to varying degrees, knowing that climate change is the biggest crisis of our time (yes, bigger than the coronavirus) and must be addressed head-on, while having enough awareness that new technologies must always be considered and eventually utilized.
There are far too many companies and executives over the decades who have failed to understand that progress is not something to be avoided but embraced.
As part of our December theme month (2021 And Beyond), we take a look at the movers and shakers in the industry who may catch your eye in 2022.
Amanda Woo (CEO at AirAsia SuperApp)
- The rising star at the low-cost carrier, having joined the business in 2012 and working her way up through a number of marketing and commercial roles, Amanda Woo has landed arguably one of AirAsia's most important and strategic lines in the company in the guise of AirAsia SuperApp, formerly AirAsia.com. The airline, after spending many years trying to figure out what role in wants to play in a region that has embraced the concept of the mobile one-stop-shop (a partnership with Expedia ended in 2018), is now all in on the super app model, with users able to buy pretty much anything they like alongside their flight. With many airlines around the world eyeing AirAsia's retail strategy with a mixture of curiosity and envy, Woo's leadership will be crucial to ensuring the carrier is not only considered one of the most progressive in the market (it launched ride-hailing and biometric check-in and purchases during 2021, for example) but can bring about a healthy return on the investments made so far.
Ariel Cohen (CEO at TripActions)
- While the numbers of people traveling for work are still far below pre-pandemic levels, innovation by, and investment in, business travel companies has been happening at a brisk pace. Certainly one of the people mentioned in nearly every conversation about what is happening in that sector is Cohen, CEO of TripActions. In 2021 alone the company closed two huge funding rounds – a $155 million Series E in January and then a $275 million Series F in October. It made its first acquisition in May, buying U.K.-based travel management company Reed & Mackay for an undisclosed amount in May, and released several new products throughout 2021, including an integration with Lufthansa (following an investment by Lufthansa Group in January 2020) that has created a co-branded platform targeted to small- and medium-sized businesses. Prepare to see more activity in Europe in the next year, where clients now account for about 30% of TripActions’ spend under management. At The Phocuswright Conference in November (video below), Cohen talked with optimism about the company’s future as it continues on what he describes as a multi-decade journey to build “an Amazon for business travel.” Anyone interested in business travel will certainly be watching Cohen in the coming year, possibly with an announcement of an IPO for TripActions, and certainly with news of more product launches, acquisitions and customer additions.
Caryn Seidman-Becker (CEO at Clear)
- A quick Google search on Caryn Seidman-Becker and her achievements are obvious. The co-founder and CEO of biometric screening specialist has lived through a few crises and seems to have the ability to see beyond them. Not only has she steered Clear through those crises but also she has positioned it to take advantage of a travel industry striving to create a better and stronger future for itself with technologies such as biometrics. Seidman-Becker also took Clear through a $4.5 billion IPO earlier this year, with its share price climbing steadily in recent months. We expect to hear more from both her (check her interview at The Phocuswright Conference 2021) and the company as biometric technologies increasingly contribute to the security and overall experience of travel.
Francis Davidson (CEO at Sonder)
- Not yet 30 years old, Davidson has already racked up marquee-worthy list of achievements: Sonder, the tech-enabled, design-focused rental company he founded while in college in Montreal, now has more than 16,000 live and contracted units across 39 markets and revenue of $67.5 million in the third quarter of this year. Davidson now has plans to take the company public in 2022 through a special purpose acquisition deal with Gores Metropoulos II at a valuation of $1.925 billion. Sonder will receive about $110 million in capital from the deal and, according to its investor presentation, plans to prioritize growth with a goal of getting to 77,000 units and more than 30% property level profit margin by 2025. Also in the plans – expansion to Asia and within Latin America, diversification of property types to includes resorts, villas and residences and, in the longer term, franchise contracts for Sonder technology, brand and distribution and white-labeling Sonder technology for independent operators. It’s an ambitious to-do list, and Davidson, who doesn’t seem to be one to seek the limelight, will likely find more eyes turned his way. As Sonder – and by default Davidson – says in its investor deck, “Hospitality deserves an iconic, 21st century brand. This is our moment.”
Fred Lalonde (CEO at Hopper)
- As outlined in our Newsmakers of 2021 piece on Monday, fintech is having its moment in travel, and it’s not a stretch to say Fred Lalonde is the face of this growing movement. After several months of development, Hopper unveiled its first flexible travel options in October 2020 – giving users the option to pay a fee for things such as guaranteed refundability, the ability to change travel dates and flight delay protection. Then in March 2021 it went a step further – launching Hopper Cloud to make its fintech products available to other travel sellers, with Trip.com Group, Capital One, Amadeus, Kayak and MakeMyTrip now customers. Because of the success of these initiatives – Hopper says they now account for more than half of its revenue, which is pacing at more than 500% over 2019 levels – Lalonde has become the chief spokesperson on the topic of fintech for travel. In his session during The Phocuswright Conference, below, Lalonde made the case that if all travel sellers, across corporate, online travel agencies, suppliers themselves and loyalty providers, start offering fintech, they stand to capture $168 billion in unrealized customer spend. That’s a massive – and compelling – figure, and in 2022 we expect even more attention with turn to Lalonde as he continues to lead the charge on this topic and continues to demonstrate through Hopper’s initiatives how travel distribution is evolving.
Greg DeShields (executive director at Tourism Diversity Matters)
- Greg DeShields has steered the organization through a time when much of the travel industry has been seeking guidance on how to ingrain diversity and inclusion in their companies. As the executive chairman of TDM, which is less than two years old, he has shone a light on the many challenges the travel industry must face up to as well as the many benefits of a more inclusive industry. Travel has to be about experiencing new places and cultures for the enrichment of all. Voices like DeShields have contributed to a momentum around diversity and inclusion in travel tourism that is driving change.
Jamie Cohen (CFO at Vacasa)
- Cohen had no choice but to hit the ground running when she joined Vacasa in March as CFO, after two years in the same position at ANGI Homeservices. In early March, the vacation rental management platform announced plans to make its biggest acquisition to date, acquiring Turnkey Vacation Rentals for $618.8 million in a mix of cash and stock. Three months after that closed, Vacasa announced it would go public via a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) created through a business combination with TPG Pace Solutions – that deal closed in early December . Now the attention turns to how the company, and Cohen as CFO, will spend the $340 million it added to its coffers as part of the transaction. She says the priorities are to develop Vacasa’s product and technology and to add supply – Turnkey was just one of 22 acquisitions the company made in the first nine months of 2021, and we expect to see many more in the new year. And of course as a public company, Wall Street’s attention will now be on Vacasa’s stock and whether it can maintain robust growth in the crowded sector of vacation rentals – which no doubt keeps Cohen in the spotlight too.
Jeremy Sampson (CEO at The Travel Foundation)
- Sustainability has – thankfully – moved up the agenda for many companies in travel, tourism and hospitality, with several brands not just talking about it more but actually doing more to minimize their impact on the environment. Travel Foundation CEO Jeremy Sampson is one of the leading voices pushing for change. He sits in a unique position to make a difference as the head of an independent international organization that works with public and private sector entities to develop solutions aimed at developing the positive impacts of tourism while eliminating the negative effects. And he shared some of his suggestions for the industry during a panel discussion at The Phocuswright Conference in November (video here). In 2022, expect to see more activity as the Travel Foundation leads initiatives announced at the COP26 Climate Summit, including the development of “consistent, sector-wide approaches to carbon measurement and reporting” and continuing to partner with the United Nation’s World Tourism Organization. We hope and expect to hear more from Sampson – and with an even louder voice.
Julia Simpson (president and CEO at WTTC)
- The departure of Gloria Guevara from the World Travel & Tourism Council earlier this year paved the way for Julia Simpson to take over at what is a critical time for the sector. The former U.K. government advisor, including to prime minister Tony Blair in the 2000s, is no stranger to the industry having sat on the boards of British Airways and Iberia, before becoming chief of staff at their parent company, International Airlines Group. Recovery strategies for brands and destinations, lobbying for government and regional agency financial assistance and implementing health and hygiene protocols are just a few of the not insignficant tasks that Simpson will face (see Guevara's explanation in an interview with PhocusWire in February) as the industry wades through the guagmire of new rules, regulations and dreams associated with rebuilding once the COVID-19 pandemic is over... or at least contained.
Markus Vilig (CEO at Bolt)
- If managing one of only a handful of travel unicorns in Europe wasn’t enough, Bolt’s CEO Markus Vilig has also devoted time to wider industry issues. Estonia-based Bolt was a founding signatory company of the European Purpose Project set up as a joint effort to better regulate platform companies. Earlier this year, Bolt announced funding of €20 million to invest in mobility services in emerging economies and specifically to “empower women and improve their access to mobility.” The company, now valued at about €4 billion, having landed a whopping €600 million in funding in August, is going after super-app status adding grocery deliveries and other services to its existing mobility offering.
Michelle McKinney Frymire (CEO at CWT)
- Who would want to be the CEO of a travel management company in 2022, with plenty of uncertainty remaining as to how much and how quickly businesses will put their employees back on the road? The prospect clearly hasn't daunted Michelle McKinney Frymire, who was promoted from chief financial officer in May 2021 after the departure of the CEO who hired her in 2019. CWT remains a major player in the TMC space and her leadership will be critical as it attempts ressurect a sector of the industry that has been decimated since early 2020. As her In The Big Chair interview with PhocusWire indicated, McKinney Frymire understands there's more to the business travel experience than just booking a room and getting on a plane - she knows TMCs have that important part to play but her and CWT's role can also see her pressuring other elements of the sector to up their game as airlines, airports and accommodation providers figure out what the new travel world will be like for companies and travelers alike.
Nick Price (travel group chair at the Decentralized Identity Foundation)
- After nearly a decade as CIO and CTO at Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group in the early 2000s, and then founding hospitality software development and consulting firm NetSys Technology, Price has a deep understanding of the systems and strategies powering the travel industry. Now he is putting that knowledge to work as the informal chair of the Hospitality and Travel Special Interest Group (H&T SIG) within the Decentralized Identity Foundation, an organization developing the “foundational components” for an open, standards-based decentralized identity ecosystem. Price leads weekly online meetings for the H&T SIG, which is now developing initial use cases for decentralized – or self-sovereign – digital ID in travel, including possible applications for airport bag pickup and delivery, travel disruptions, loyalty and more. There will no doubt be progress on these efforts in the coming year, and we’ll be looking to Price to help share those updates – and maybe more importantly at this stage of development in this still emerging and rather complex solution, to bring his signature clear, succinct style of communication to the conversations.
Paul Abbott (CEO at American Express Global Business Travel)
- It would have been interesting to be a fly on the wall in Paul Abbott’s office when the pandemic hit. Abbott had been in the CEO role at American Express Global Business Travel for about five months, coming from a senior role at American Express. Fast forward almost two years and a string of announcements from GBT indicate he has been anything but idle. Significant M&A activity with the acquisition of Ovation Travel Group and more recently Egencia, have hit the headlines, defying the slow-moving travel agency stigma often attached to companies in the segment. The plan to take GBT public via a SPAC, announced in recent weeks, will generate buzz going forward that corporate travel might change but it will grow again.
Rami Zeidan (CEO at Life House)
- Just a year ago, Life House was - let's be honest here - just another of a number of lifestyle accommodation platforms. Founder and CEO Rami Zeidan had built a modest business, marrying design and convenience with a desire to improve the tech processes behind the scenes. Just a few months after recording our How I Got Here episode with him, Life House was a protagonists in arguably one of 2021's most intriguing stories: partnering with metasearch brand Kayak to create a branded hotel in Miami, Florida (CEO Steve Hafner's home city, nonetheless). The pair have other properties in the works and the agreement is a tantalizing illustration of how brands are seeking new roles outside of their usual comfort zones.
Rathi Murthy (chief technology officer at Expedia Group)
- One of Expedia Group CEO Peter Kern's biggest and most important hires since he took over in April 2020 (alongside ex Apple exec Jon Gieselman as president of Expedia Brands), Rathi Murthy arrives with a solid list of important items on her agenda. The former American Express, Ebay and Verizon tech exec knows that simply selling a flight, hotel, package or experience is no longer the mainstay of an online travel agency - digitalization is pushing the industry into exciting new areas and processes involving artificial intelligence, machine learning and personalization will no longer be nice-to-items in the arsenal of tools behind the scenes, but must-haves. Unifying a range of disparate brands, with their own systems and technical protocols, will be a tough ask but critical to Expedia Group's positioning as it - and others - attempt to crawl out of the mess of the last two years.
Willie Walsh (director general at IATA)
- The former British Airways, Aer Lingus and International Airlines Group boss has never been afraid to speak out for his companies or the wider industry. Taking up the role of director general of IATA has provided him with a platform to take governments to task over their handling of the pandemic - and he has not disappointed. Right from the get-go at IATA, Walsh praised the aviation industry for its ability to manage risk while lamenting the approach of governments for their approaches. It will be interesting to see how he steers IATA as the organization continues to drive its New Distribution Capability technology standard forward, despite considerable headwinds. Walsh will also need to set out his stall on far more significant issues such as sustainability, treading a fine line between the interests of aviation and the greater good of the planet.
The incoming CEO at Tripadvisor
- Steve Kaufer's decision to leave Tripadvisor after more than two decades since its formation shouldn't have come as a massive surprise - he was, after all, one of online travel's longest serving leaders and deserves some rest, some might say. But his departure leaves a sizeable hole in a business that, it would be fair to say, has lots of big ideas but has yet to totally nail one that can push the brand beyond the core review and metasearch platform that it is best known for. Some had pondered if chief experience and brand officer Lindsay Nelson was being lined up in recent years to possibly take over the reins at some point - but she's also leaving in 2022, too. Whoever does become CEO has an important but still as-yet unproven subscription service to grapple with (or scrap), the continued impact of Google's growing reach into travel information and services and many other challenges, technical and commercial. It is one of the most keenly anticipated appointments in years.
PhocusWire's Hot 25 founders
- PhocusWire picks its annual list, in part, because of the strength of the founding teams behind each startup. The 2022 collection is a intriguing and important cross section of brands in the industry, each with their own take on solving a genuine problem that exists in the sector. They enter the next 12 months with having survived and thrived during the COVID-19 pandemic (plus the obvious glory of having been selected among the latest cohort) but now the hard work really begins for them. Each will need to remain relevant in their respective marketplaces as other brands (attempt to) recover and make the most of a return to business-as-usual for both travelers and the industry. We wish them all well.