100 years of business travel

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by: Kurt Knackstedt, President, Association of Corporate Travel Executives.

The corporate travel industry has a long and storied history. From helping economic migrants book steamship travel to America to chase their dreams, to jetting businesspeople around the globe helping close deals from Sydney to Seattle to Shanghai, business travel has been an enormous engine to the global economy.

2015 marks a significant milestone for one of the industry’s oldest and most respected brands, American Express Global Business Travel. This year Amex GBT celebrates 100 years in business, and what better excuse to ruminate on the past and try to project the future than celebrating a birthday?

To that end, I “sat down” (as best you can when one person is in Sydney and the other in Boston!) with Larry Restiano, Vice President Global Client Group from Amex GBT, one of Amex’s most tenured leaders with nearly twenty years at Amex and his entire career in travel. Larry and I chatted about seismic events that have changed our industry forever as well as trying to see what the future might look like, but we offer no guarantees that we have these predictions correct!

KURT: Tell us a bit about your travel career and why you’ve stuck with it all these years?

LARRY: I grew up within walking distance to Boston’s Logan Airport and the airport was a big, exciting place where people in my neighbourhood went to make a nice living. I worked the midnight shift at United Airlines as a ramp man while going to college during the day, eventually going into United Airlines’ Sales Executive program. From United, I went to Northwest Airlines for a short period and then to American Express where I have been for 18 years in supplier relations and client management. The funny part is I joined American Express to get out of the travel business and into the payments or merchant business but as everyone knows once you get into the travel business you can never get out, it gets in your blood! I have spent 31 of my 51 years on this earth working in this business, it is a crazy business for crazy people so I fit in just fine.

KURT: What do you see as the most significant event in the corporate travel industry during your career?

LARRY: Two things spring to mind actually: first was the elimination of commissions which completely changed the customer, agency and supplier dynamics. And the second was the arrival of the Internet and all that it has done to change travel.

KURT: Looking into your crystal ball, what do you think will be the most significant future event coming in the next 5 years?

LARRY: Again, two key things: first, the continued focus on mobility, and second the impact of the ‘sharing’ economy on technology and travel management programs.

KURT: What do you think the industry has done well over the years?

LARRY: I think the industry has proven to be able to adapt to change given that it’s a constant for us. I also think our industry embraces technology and adapts it well for our industry. Lastly I think that we also do an excellent job of making the world a smaller place for business and professional relationships and enable them to flourish.

KURT: What skill(s) do you think today’s corporate travel professional need to have that they didn’t have even just 5 years ago?

LARRY: A critical skill for any travel professional today is the ability to collaborate and influence around the globe. Most travel professionals don’t have direct control over resources in other countries, yet need to get them to align and work together to get the job done. This will only become more important over time.

KURT: What role does experience play in today’s industry? Amex is celebrating 100 years, while some start-ups are barely 100 days old. How do you leverage that longevity and depth of experience?

LARRY: I could not be more excited about Amex being 100 years old, as I see me now working for a “100 year old start-up company.” The power of the Amex brand combined with our experience, our people and our commitment to the travel business makes for exciting times.

KURT: What advice would you give someone wanting to join the corporate travel industry today?

LARRY: Join it! To me, the best part of the corporate travel business are the people, regardless of whether they are a corporate buyer, a TMC, a supplier…in all cases the people are great. They work hard, they play hard and you can have a few laughs along the way and the business is constantly changing as no two days are ever alike in the travel business. Trust me….you will never get bored!

Thanks for chattering Larry, and congratulations to American Express Global Business Travel on their centenary anniversary.

 

Kurt Knackstedt, President, Association of Corporate Travel Executives.

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