Once again, the Skift Global Forum is on, this year in a location slightly less convenient for everyone traveling from my Brooklyn apartment. For two autumn days in 2016, a handful of the travel world’s biggest thinkers have converged on 65th and Broadway, inside Manhattan’s Alice Tully Hall, the part-time home of the New York Film Festival. It’s an impressive, distinguished space, dressed for added resplendence in Skift yellow. After the first day of sessions, it appears that the “TED of travel” has raised the bar again.
- “Online Travel at 20 Years Old” with Brad Gerstner (Bloomberg’s “online-travel king“), Jay Walker (founder of Priceline), Rich Barton (founder of Expedia), and Dara Khosrowshahi (President and CEO, Expedia) — By far the most fascinating session of the day, and one that any other travel event will be hard-pressed to top. Four giants of online travel shared stories that took a spellbound audience for a limo ride to Barry Diller‘s house and into an internet-fearing American Airlines boardroom in which Jay was told that it would be best if he were hit by a truck. Along the way, insights into the future of online travel, AI, big data, and more were generously shared by some of the people most qualified to share them.
- Aaron Donald, CEO, Carnival — Spoke with Skift’s Jason Clampett about the unique challenges (there are only so many building yards) and opportunities (inventory can literally be relocated to meet demand) of cruising from Carnival’s perch atop that world. Also discussed Cuba, cleverly utilized vegetable analogies, and used “cruise” as a singular noun.
- Brett Tollman, CEO, The Travel Corporation — Discussed package travel in the current travel climate, which he emphasized as being of contextualized importance in 2016, with Skift’s Hannah Sampson.
- Benjamin Smith, President of Passenger Airlines, Air Canada — Shared a bit on Air Canada’s rise from a near-second-bankruptcy to “the best-kept secret in the US” and its history of innovation in the industry (the black box, the airport kiosk, the airline alliance, etc.). There are also apparently espresso machines on most Air Canada aircraft.
- Roger Dow (President and CEO, U.S. Travel Association) and Meryl Levitz (President and CEO, Visit Philadelphia) — Early dialogue around the Project: Time Off initiative energized a crowd eager to celebrate vacation days. Later, Roger talked about sitting down with both presidential candidates to share views on American tourism, Meryl spoke colorfully about Philadelphia, and both credited Brand USA for doing the country good.
- Brian Kelly (founder of The Points Guy) and George Hobica (founder of Airfarewatchdog) — Two masters of the online travel game alternated taking umbrage with the other’s stance on credit card churning and airline loyalty programs, which George compared to smoking cigarettes. Chase’s Sapphire Reserve card, with its unprecedented 100K bonus, also received attention.
- Ije Nwikorie, CEO, Wolff Olins — His name is a slice of a phrase meaning “a traveler has no enemies,” something of a doctrine for his refugee father forced to travel his way out of war-torn Africa (I wish I could recall the specific part of Africa). Good guy.
- Fredrik Korallus, CEO, Generator — Opened my eyes to a “new vertical in hospitality,” as moderator Greg Oates put it, in Generator’s hostels.
- Arne Sorenson, President and CEO, Marriott — Talked relatively openly about the deal with Starwood and the preceding bidding war against Chinese parties, and shared memories from a trip with Obama to India, a trip with Obama to Cuba, etc. A really stand-up guy.
You can tune in live for all of day two (September 28, 2016) here. Thanks, Skift!