The Future of Travel Experience: Digital overhaul, from air to rail

Richard Anderson, CEO at Amtrak

In the Future of Travel Experience, Jeffrey Katz, CEO of Journera and founding CEO of Orbitz, goes one-to-one with fellow leaders to get their insights on how advanced technology and changing consumer expectations will shape the future of the industry. 

In this installment, Katz talks to Richard Anderson, CEO of Amtrak and former CEO of Delta Air Lines.

While you were at the helm of Delta, the airline became one of Fortune magazine’s “50 Most Admired Companies.” What does it take to help move an 80,000-person organization to deliver great customer service?

If you think about what it takes in an organization where you have 180 or 190 million customers all around the world, you really have to do that through your employees.

At an airline, you load up 300 people on a piece of equipment that costs $150 million, fly over the North Pole and do that safely, and you don’t have any management supervising any of that.

There’s just no manager on the airplane. There’s no manager at the gate. So, it’s really about how you treat your employees and how you train them and provide all the tools they need in the standardization process.

Tell me what you think the essential investments were at Delta?

The real investment was in the core reliability of the machines.

It wasn’t as much about putting more food on the airplane or adding more of the frills, it was about running an airline that doesn’t cancel flights, that runs on time, that delivers your bag, gives you a clean airplane with clean, functional restrooms and really good airport facilities that’s all enabled by really good digital technology.

What’s your view of what must be done by leading travel brands to reckon with changes that major technology companies like Google, Apple and Amazon will bring to the market?

Google’s going to take that over from the OTAs. It’s just a shame.

I think you’re seeing it happen in the hotel industry as a prime example, where the hotel industry early on gave up control over booking to third-party websites, and now, they’re working really hard to try to regain that control.

My view is that the travel industry should build its own search engine and take away its content – schedule data, fare data – and make that proprietary and only provide it if the third party meets a clear set of standards and pays you.

We believe we are leaving the Transaction Era of travel and are in the early stages of the Experience Era. How do you believe we will view “travel experience” differently in the future?

Ultimately, the entire journey from beginning to end ought to be easily managed for a customer through a mobile device, an application on their smartphone so that it’s an integrated and seamless experience from ordering a car service to managing the flight at the airport to checking into the hotel so that you have one continuous ability on an integrated basis.

We’re actually working on that at Amtrak.

As CEO of Amtrak, what challenges have been brought to your desk that were new or different for you as a leader?

It is really complicated. We not only operate this railroad – the passenger railroad with 400 trains a day – but we also own, maintain and invest the capital in the Northeast Corridor, which is the railroad from Washington, D.C. to Boston to Springfield.

So not only do we run a railroad, we run a big construction company. And doing maintenance on a railroad is far more complex than doing maintenance at an airport because the maintenance work is done while you’re operating the railroad.

Prior to joining Amtrak, you were named by Barron’s as one of the world’s best CEOs. Tell me what you see as the most important thing you’ve done to be the best leader you can be?

You’ve got to be a bit of a warrior and I think that’s fallen a little bit out of favor these days, where many CEOs, particularly out there on the West coast in the digital world, seem to want to please everybody, be on LinkedIn and get high scores on Glassdoor. 

The CEO job is not glamorous. It’s about grinding. You got to be grinding 100% of the time every day worrying about what’s it’s going to take to improve your business. It’s a million small details.

Give us your take about this moment in the travel industry?

I think where the opportunity really lies is with the population of the world growing to 10 billion over the next several decades.

For the travel industry, it’s just an incredible opportunity because the middle class around the world is growing so rapidly.

About the author…

Jeff Katz is CEO of Journera and founding CEO of Orbitz.


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