Daniel Finkel of TripActions: The Future of Air Travel in The Post Covid World
There will be a continued focus on cleanliness onboard an aircraft, including all aspects of service. For example, no cash allowed for in-flight purchases, complete sanitization after each flight and increased air circulation.
As part of our series about “The Future Of Air Travel”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Danny Finkel, Chief Travel Officer at TripActions.
Daniel Finkel is the Chief Travel Officer leading all TMC and travel-related activities and functions at TripActions, including supply, global expansion, the product & operational components of inventory and TMC services, such as consulting, VIP and M&E. While supporting TripActions as the #1 global TMC, Daniel is responsible for building and maintaining the company’s partner strategy and relationships while working closely with internal teams to ensure TripActions offers the best shopping and booking experience for travelers. Daniel holds a BA with Honors from Brown University and an MBA from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I have been a travel nerd my entire life. In my early years, while my friends were playing with GI Joes or Tonka Trucks, I played with die-cast metal airplanes on the floor of my bedroom, turning my stuffed animals into airport terminals and imagining the far off places these planes could go. This love was also innate: my father, uncle and grandfather were pilots. Growing up, I spent many hours at airports and on planes and always knew I wanted a career in or around travel.
In college, I did my undergraduate honors thesis on the airline industry and after graduation worked at an aerospace tech company that was transforming airport operations and air traffic management. This intersection between travel and technology was a lightbulb moment for me and I craved future opportunities that blended technology with travel. After business school, I entered the online travel industry, which is where I have truly found my calling. While I thought technology and travel meant focusing on the hardware, it has been at this intersection of ecommerce and travel that has become a true passion of mine. I consider myself fortunate to have spent the last decade of my career focused on this space and playing a small part in driving forward innovation within the industry.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
Working in the travel industry, I’ve been fortunate to visit and work in 50+ countries, and experience people, cultures, and cuisines. One memorable moment was when I was working for an aerospace tech company with a large manufacturing facility in the Czech Republic. We got word that the then president of the Czech Republic was going to make an impromptu visit to the factory and congratulate the team on the innovation that was being driven from a relatively small Czech town. I was still very early in my career and was put in charge of coordinating, planning and facilitating the event. Naturally, I had to fly to the Czech Republic, but more importantly, had to figure out protocols, safety, messaging and internal/external coordination. The event went smoothly, and it was a remarkable opportunity to spend several hours with a sitting national president.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Throughout my early career I was lucky to have had strong mentors and leaders who believed in me.. One of my first roles was to help lead the launch of a newly merged business at the world’s largest air traffic management conference in a small town outside of Amsterdam. It was my first international business trip, and my first time attending and managing a company presence at a large industry trade show. While I thought I had prepared for the trip, I made some inaccurate assumptions on last-minute details, language issues and that things would go as planned. I was wrong. On pretty much everything. When I showed up at the conference hall, there was no one to build the booth (because I didn’t fill out the right labor forms), equipment, such as plugs and refrigerators were not in the right place (because there was misinterpretation of the diagrams); and the only one print shop in town for our last-minute collateral had a very different interpretation of quick turnaround (24–48 hour hours versus 1– 2 hours). With the help of colleagues and conference staff (and maybe a few bribes of beer), I was able to pull together the booth and a successful conference . That experience made me more detail oriented and mindful of planning ahead and that with a positive attitude you can solve nearly anything.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”? Can you share a story about that?
As the cliche goes, if you do what you love, you will never work a day in your life. That is 90 percent true for me. It is impossible to avoid days or weeks where you feel like you are pounding the pavement and moving at a stand-still, but as I look back on my career , I can honestly say I have loved each step. The underlying passion for what I do has helped me avoid burnout. I find that many people in the travel industry, whether on the technology side or on the hospitality side are passionate about their jobs, which helps us all deal with the more challenging times — especially this past year.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
My first boss had the biggest impact on my career. He believed in me, challenged me, and gave the freedom to succeed, and fail, which showed me that you cannot be successful without humility and personal satisfaction. His leadership helped me find my own confidence, and it’s one of the reasons I enjoy managing and mentoring my teams. As a manager, it brings me much joy to watch people grow in their careers and help them nurture their own talent and skills.
Can you share with our readers how have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Outside of travel, I have been passionate from an early age about hands-on global service work. Throughout high school and college, I led community service groups focusing on child development programs for underprivileged families, and spent a summer in Vietnam building a curriculum for a youth homeless shelter. My trip to Vietnam was the most impactful travel moment in my life — it taught me the importance of sharing my time and resources to make an impact on the world.
Now, working in the travel industry, we have the opportunity to impact people around the world. I often remind my teams that working in travel allows us to ensure that these impacts are had by millions of people around the world. We bring the world closer together. We ensure that people have some of the most impactful and memorable experiences of their lives. We make global commerce happen. Travel is such a fundamental piece of the world as we know it — and everyone in the industry is integral to that. Ultimately, it’s one of the reasons that I know travel will return once we’re able to do so safely.
Thank you for that. Let’s jump to the core of our discussion. Can you share with our readers about the innovations that you are bringing to the Aviation and Air Travel industries?
The biggest thing TripActions is changing in the air travel industry is the experience that corporate travelers have when making their journeys. It’s strange, but when you think about it, corporate travel hasn’t had the same revolution that consumer travel has had in going from real-life travel agents to online agents. Right now, TripActions is leading that shift in consumerizing the corporate travel world. Until very recently, you often picked up the phone and called an agent for flight booking, support or anything related to travel. With technology and a very consumer-friendly user experience, we’re modernizing that process so that business travelers can book travel and get support in the same way that they source their leisure trips to Hawaii. Many people have this perception that airlines are merely a commodity product with very little, if any, differentiation between one airline from the next. That is simply not true. Airlines have actually done a pretty remarkable job investing in product differentiators that can dramatically change the flight experience from one airline to the next. The problem is that distribution channels have not built in the shopping experiences to show off those differences. This is why our investment in both NDC and our flight shopping UI have been so important. NDC allows us to bring in substantially differentiated content into our platform and our UX allows users to decipher this content in a way where they can ultimately pick the best fit flight/fare/seat/etc for their specific needs.
Obviously a lot of that is happening on the back end — one of the reasons that the corporate travel industry has languished is that it’s really difficult to link all of these inventory systems and technologies together. The really unique thing about TripActions is that we’ve been able to crack a lot of those codes.
Which “pain point” are you trying to address by introducing these innovations?
Historically, corporate travel created pain points for both business travelers and those who ran and managed the programs. For those travelers who are considered “road warriors”, the big thing that we’re re-imagining is the experience. Through technology, it’s now possible to change tickets online, get support over chat or search for personalized results in your favorite technology, all thanks to the code we’ve written. And the walls that we’ve broken down with that code have really helped passengers focus less on the booking experience and more on the journey.
From the manager’s perspective, that experience also comes through in our management and reporting dashboards, which take a visual, intuitive approach to managing travel — and which really treat our customers like humans. And because the whole thing is so easy to use, adoption goes up, which drives cost savings and program visibility. Travelers and managers leave happy while the boss saves money.
How do you envision that this might disrupt the status quo?
There will always be space for white-glove service, but in an era in which seconds can count when changing a ticket or booking a last second flight, the technology that TripActions is bringing to market is going to completely modernize the way that companies handle business travel. And by marrying tools like virtual cards and expense reporting to the travel experience, this technology should usher in a whole new era of corporate travel and spend management.
Are there exciting new technologies that are coming out in the next few years that will improve the Air Travel experience? We’d love to learn about what you have heard.
We’re really excited by the sustainability innovations that appear to be on the horizon, including carbon capture and carbon neutral fuel.
As you know, the Pandemic changed the world as we know it. For the benefit of our readers, can you help spell out a few examples of how the Pandemic has specifically impacted Air Travel?
The pandemic essentially brought all air travel to a standstill at the start, and while it’s definitely on a path to recovery today, non-essential work travel is still depressed, so I’d say just the overall volume change — and how that affects the industry and those who work in it — has been the biggest impact.
There’s been other changes to the air industry that are more positive: There’s been an increased focus on health & safety standards; we’ve had a bit of an environmental reset; and we’ve accelerated the adoption of touchless options, such as check-in and in-flight purchases (no cash).
Can you share five examples of how the Air Travel experience might change over the next few years to address the new realities brought by the Pandemic? If you can, please give an example for each.
- There will be a continued focus on cleanliness onboard an aircraft, including all aspects of service. For example, no cash allowed for in-flight purchases, complete sanitization after each flight and increased air circulation.
- Greater focus on efficiency and sustainability, with companies and individuals tracking their carbon footprint
- Touchless tech will continue to evolve and be utilized, this includes everything from digital check-ins to digital health passports.
- New levels of service differentiation (both to help win back customers but also because there are new things to think about with safety standards).
- Lengthier border processing to address vaccination/health requirements
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
On every trip, whether personal or business, do one good thing that makes the location you visited better than it was before you were there. That could be anything from picking up litter you see on the ground to spending a day doing a local service activity to choosing activities, lodging, meals, etc. / that have a smaller environmental impact.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Visit us at tripactions.com and follow @tripactions on social media.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!