CHRIS GRAYLING, SECRETARY OF STATE FOR TRANSPORT
In July 2016, following Theresa May winning the Conservative vote to become prime minister, Chris Grayling was named transport secretary, replacing Patrick McLoughlin.
One of his first major acts was to overhaul an outdated UK rail network, with plans to join up the operations of tracks and trains. He also wants the country’s first fully-privatised rail line, linking Oxford and Cambridge. Not surprisingly, with the words ‘rail’ and ‘privatisation’ he faces a battle with the unions.
There is also the small matter of airport expansion, with Grayling confirming last year that Heathrow had won the long drawn-out process – but promptly announced a year-long consultation process, allowing MPs and the public to voice their concerns. This will expire towards the end of 2017, so expect Grayling to feel the wrath of the sector if he kicks this political football for longer than necessary.
CHRISTOPH MUELLER, CHIEF DIGITAL AND INNOVATION OFFICER, EMIRATES
In 2015, Christoph Mueller was charged with turning round Malaysia Airlines, which was on the verge of bankruptcy following two major disasters with flights MH370 and MH17. However, a year into his three-year tenure Mueller quit, citing personal reasons. A few months later he was snapped up by Emirates as its chief digital and innovation officer, with the Gulf carrier embarking on a ‘digital disruption’ programme.
At a recent event, Emirates CEO Tim Clark said Mueller’s role was to look at escaping the constraints of legacy distribution systems after warning that the GDSs are no longer “fit for purpose”. For 2017, Mueller will also be expected to drive Emirates’ ‘open architecture’ platform, which will be driven by blockchain technology – the ‘distributed database’ that underpins and records all Bitcoin transactions.
BJORN KJOS, CEO, NORWEGIAN AIR SHUTTLE
At the end of last year Norwegian finally got its long-awaited application for a foreign carrier permit approved by the US. This enables the airline to establish a subsidiary in Ireland to grow its low-cost transatlantic model – something it has been fighting for over the last few years. It comes at a time when its long-haul traffic figures jumped significantly – a good indication of the long-term success of the airline. Less than 24 hours after the decision, Norwegian announced a tranche of new daily routes from Cork and Shannon to the US east coast with the promise of expanding the transatlantic routes in the “near future”.
Many have tried to offer options such as low-cost and all-business class on the lucrative UK-US routes, but few have succeeded. Bjorn Kjos has been praised across the industry with the direction he is taking Norwegian, and its rivals will be watching closely as to how this model will unfold this year.
VIOLETA BULC, EUROPEAN COMMISSIONER FOR TRANSPORT
In the weeks after the historical vote on the UK leaving the EU, business leaders across the industry were fielding question after question on Brexit and, as regards the aviation market, all queries were met with more-or-less the same response: “We will carry on as normal.”
However, there is one issue that still does concern certain airline chiefs, and that is air traffic access across Europe. Easyjet CEO Carolyn McCall recently warned: “Currently we have a very liberal and deregulated aviation agreement. We can travel freely across 28 states and so can everyone else. No-one really knows what’s going to happen with that.”
And this is where Violeta Bulc has an important role to play. She is also deeply involved in the EU’s Aviation Strategy, which was rolled out last year and covers airport congestion, passenger rights and restrictions on foreign ownership and investment.
FLORIAN TINNUS, VICE-PRESIDENT OF TRAVELLER EXPERIENCE, SABRE
A recent survey from GBTA showed 77 per cent of business travellers prefer using self-service technology to manage their travel; but also, on average, they use nine different apps to cover air, hotels, car and restaurant bookings.
Sabre has addressed this issue with the launch of its new Traveller Experience Platform, which aims to bring together all aspects of travel management into a single mobile app – combining the online booking capabilities of Get There for air and hotel, the itinerary management and messaging features of Tripcase, and the e-payment solutions of Sabre Virtual Payments.
Sabre also introduced a travel risk management solution to the platform: Safepoint, which helps travellers check-in with their employer via a GPS location and request assistance in case of emergency. It’s for these reasons that many of our readers nominated Florian Tinnus, who helped lead the roll-out.
ALEX CRUZ, CEO AND CHAIRMAN, BRITISH AIRWAYS
This is the second-year running Alex Cruz has featured in our Hotlist. He was on the list last year as he had just been made executive chairman of British Airways after a number of successful years running Spanish airline Vueling, and we predicted he would be making a few changes to the national carrier. We weren’t wrong – his big move was to start charging for short-haul food and drink after striking a deal with Marks and Spencer, and causing company expense issues for buyers and travellers.
This, along with the airline changing its layout to the controversial 3-4-3 in economy on its B777-200s, has led to accusations of ‘Ryanair-ising’ BA. Cruz also oversaw an important deal with Concur that allows buyers to capture bookings made direct with the airline via Triplink. But, as the price war on short-haul European routes shows no sign of slowing, Cruz could be making a few more contentious decisions before the end of the year.
STEVE HAFNER, CEO, KAYAK
The chief executive of travel metasearch engine Kayak – operated by travel giant Priceline – received a number of nominations from our readers, who cited the company’s recent tie-up with British Airways as proof it is going to be an important player in the corporate travel space. The deal saw Kayak integrating BA in its booking path by using the airline’s already developed new distribution capability, meaning travellers can directly book BA flights through Kayak websites.
Steve Hafner has years of experience in travel – he co-founded Orbitz, now a subsidiary of Expedia, in 1999. He made the decision towards the end of last year to end Kayak’s relationship with ITA Software by Google as a supplier of flight data, instead using data sources from the global distribution systems, online travel agencies and other suppliers. Speaking at a recent conference, Hafner said his goal is to “make a better product than Google and to advertise so that people come directly to Kayak”.
GARETH WILLIAMS, CEO, SKYSCANNER
Travel giant Ctrip definitely saw something in Gareth Williams and his co-founded business, Skyscanner, as it bought the company in November for £1.4 billion and kept the same management team in place.
Skyscanner has been slowly making inroads into the business travel sector, striking deals with British Airways as early as 2015 and signing a recent partnership with merchandising content platform Routehappy, which allows Skyscanner app users to see and compare amenities by flight and cabin.
One of our readers said in their nomination of Williams: “With API [application programming interface] connectivity and NDC [new distribution capability] at the heart of their development, the metasearch’s move into the business-travel space has been stealth-like. It is a smart, focused company with a CEO who ‘gets’ airline distribution and people.”
GEHAN COLLIANDER, PRESIDENT, GBTA EUROPE
Gehan Colliander has an impressive background in travel and the aviation sector, counting KLM and Air France as previous employers. This experience undoubtedly helped when she took up the position of president for GBTA Europe in early 2016 for a two-year stint.
In an interview with BBT, she said one of her main tasks was to make GBTA “the partner of choice for buyers”. So far she has spoken out for more transparency in the airline sector and voiced concerns over suppliers replicating the relationship they have with the leisure traveller in the corporate environment. For 2017, Colliander has promised to expand GBTA’s education and resources within the business travel industry and push for greater cohesion between buyers and suppliers.
As head of global travel at The Boston Consulting Group, she understands the latest concerns of the sector and can use her position at the GBTA to help address these.
In 2014 we featured Airbnb in our Hotlist, saying at the time that “the whole of Airbnb may seem a long way from the world of corporate managed travel, with its negotiated rates and strict travel policies... but could have an impact on how accommodation is booked”.
It’s fair to say the sharing economy provider is now a major player in the accommodation sector. The disruptor successfully launched Airbnb for Business and, despite reservations from many global buyers, it has tapped into the needs of the younger business traveller and the leisure/business trip crossover.
Now Airbnb is expanding with its Trips option – calling it the most significant development in its eight-year history. The key area for this sector and why many in the industry are sitting up and taking notice is its move to add flights and services to the platform this year, effectively offering something similar to the OTAs.
Last year, we included Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson due to the then-impending acquisition deal with Starwood. This year we’ve included the recently-merged company due to the concerns from many in the industry that this sort of consolidation will lead to higher prices in the sector, as well as reduced power for buyers in the request for proposal (RFP) process. The deal means, a total of 30 brands now fall under the Marriott umbrella to create the largest hotel chain in the world with more than 5,800 properties and 1.1 million rooms in more than 110 countries.
At the end of 2016, HRS chief executive Tobias Ragge said the “whole market structure” had changed on the back of a “consolidation drive” following the recent Marriott/Starwood deal as well as Chinese firm HNA acquiring a 25 per cent stake in Hilton. Buyers will undoubtedly be watching closely to see if consolidation will have an impact on negotiations that many have been predicting.
Read the Ones To Watch