Davos and the travel industry: 5 takeaways

Davos 2023 –
the “who’s who” of world leaders – is now over. This year I was honored to be invited to
attend the annual meeting and participate in a panel on “Traveling Again Differently.”

While some
business and policy pundits had predicted a tone of pessimism and light participation
at Davos, it was immediately clear to me – whether in a session, participating
in the panel or
riding a shuttle bus with other participants – that those concerns were simply
not borne out.

If anything, there was a sense of optimism. Participation was diverse and incomparably
global. Even the snow fell eventually, transforming the small village into a
truly stimulating,
Swiss wonderland.

Here are my
five takeaways for the travel industry:

  • Travel
    needs to show up. Travel industry leaders were largely absent from Davos this year – with
    the exception being Uber‘s Dara Khosrowshahi. At the same time, the global
    attendees were a stark reminder of how increasingly complex, diverse and intertwined
    the world is. This year’s event was a cauldron of leadership from around the world
    (Europe, Asia, North America and the Middle East). Industry and financial
    leaders were there
    in abundance. They were joined by a vast cross section of entrepreneurs, NGOs and
    young “shapers” who are diverse, global influencers across many issues like food
    scarcity, climate and women’s rights.

    Travel is
    too important an engine for human connectivity and commerce to not be at the
    table. A stronger
    presence from travel leaders would enrich the forum’s conversations and better enable the
    collaboration necessary on our most complex challenges. Participation could
    also help
    advance our industry leaders’ most vital strategies, especially those
    associated with global scope and

  • We need a
    meaningful discussion of artificial intelligence. While AI was a common thread
    of conversation at Davos, from my vantage point, not a lot of substance was
    presented. That’s unfortunate since travel is but one major industry that needs
    the promise of AI to be transformed into practical solutions for everything
    from operational efficiencies and labor shortages to customer engagement and
    sustainability. While the hype at Davos around AI in general (and ChatGPT in particular)
    felt a bit “crypto-ish,” it is clearly very relevant in the near term for
    travel leaders.
  • We need to
    plan for a future that is better than “worst case” scenario. Despite the enormous
    complexity of the global environment, urgent challenges to peace and
    prosperity, and some
    clear economic headwinds, I was pleasantly surprised that optimism showed
    itself on almost
    every front. Central bank governors, for instance, spoke to a reduced fear of
    recession and of high
    resilience. That is reassuring news for an industry that has careened between
    crises. Challenges
    will not be going away, but we also might just be able to focus on some of the critical
    longer-term initiatives that will ultimately make travel better, more
    profitable and more sustainable.
  • Sustainability
    progress is being made, but it’s a systemic matter and one where industry siloes won’t
    suffice. As the lead agenda item going into the forum, engagement on sustainability
    was very high. Government commitments were visible nearly constantly and the scope of
    investment was huge: between Europe and the United States, nearly $1 trillion
    has been committed thus far.

    Similarly, technology advances for energy transition
    to clean sources were visible and arcane topics such as biodiversity
    management, space technologies, laser fusion, and even carbon markets were
    represented. On the panel in which I participated, the CEO of Heathrow
    Airport, as an example, called on the aviation industry to collaborate with governments
    and the agriculture industry to develop markets for biofuels to help meet
    carbon emissions goals as well as to stave off more draconian government
    restrictions that could harm travel. Each industry has a plan and travel is
    moving too, but this puzzle’s solutions are the epitome of inter-connectivity.

  • The travel
    experience matters. In my conversations at Davos with other leaders, I always paid
    attention to their stories about “how they got there” since the forum presented
    such a diversity
    of routes, modes of transportation and lodging arrangements for a uniquely
    global audience to
    descend on a relatively small mountain village.

To be
clear, travel brands have made vast progress in the last three years on
resilience, workforce
and in automating and innovating big portions of their businesses. But for
travelers, my fellow
Davos attendees included, travel today still consists of a Lego-like patchwork
of flights,
lodging, ground transport, events, meetings and the occasional adventure. It’s numbingly
complicated, and today, each traveler is personally responsible to be the
problem solver.

can fix this. And we need to fix this as travel becomes steadily and quickly
more global. To
do it, we need real collaboration that moves beyond the fundamentals that exist today
around safety, compliance, alliances, and even loyalty networks.

At the end
of the day, why does the World Economic Forum matter to the travel industry?
Simply put, in a few days at Davos, you are surrounded by an incomparable and highly
relevant mix of the brightest minds, from across countless sectors and a rich
diversity of leaders and voices that span the world.

If innovation is what
drives your company – like it does mine – being at Davos is fuel. If
understanding how global complexity needs to be harnessed to keep up with
global, non-first-world demand, then being at Davos can also accelerate growth.
In 2024, I hope the WEF opens its arms to the leaders who – quite literally –
brought them together in 2023.

About the author…

Jeffrey Katz is the founder and CEO of Journera.

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