Globetrotter. Ultimate extrovert. Industry wingman.
March 23, 2021
Having developed hands-on expertise over the last three decades in the industry, Greg Land came to IBM with the skills and expertise to serve and prepare the company’s travel industry clients for the next era of doing business. Land was selected to be part of the Industry Academy’s inaugural class of Distinguished Industry Leaders, prestigious thinkers who are globally recognized for their industry-transforming work and leadership.
The travel and hospitality industries were hit hard by the pandemic, finding themselves in existential fights for their lives. What do you make of your role in this time and place?
It's surreal. I mean, I was at Sabre, the travel distribution company, during 9/11, and we thought that would be the biggest disruption we'd ever see on a global scale. This is 10 times that. When you look at the fact that 10 percent of the global GDP is travel and tourism, that is significant.
It's an interesting time to be in a role like this. Companies are completely rethinking their business models. I’m able to go in with our client teams and work with them to pivot from crisis management to recovery. So much of that boils down to keeping up with the pace of technological change and implementing new technologies across their organizational structures, service models — all of it. These companies have got to rethink their approach to business.
Do you think the experience of walking into an airport look different to a consumer once Covid-19 passes, simply because of the hastened digital evolution?
You know, airlines really started embarking on their digital transformations about 15 years ago. When we implemented electronic ticketing and did away with paper tickets, that enabled the kiosks, websites, and mobile apps to deliver a lot of the services that you're used to today. And because of that, airlines have about an 85 percent adoption rate on their mobile apps. AI was the secret sauce when the airlines embarked on these changes 15 years ago, and it will be for them and other travel companies going forward.
When you look at hospitality, and cruise, and car rentals, they don’t have that same level of adoption yet. Hotels, for example, at most, have a 25 percent adoption rate of their mobile apps. So those other travel providers have a little bit more work to do to get those types of technical capabilities in place to make their processes more contactless and more about self-service.
Those service tools—for clients and consumers—have been pretty popular, right?
Yes, absolutely. This makes me think of our partnership with Apple that happened over the last five years. That partnership was all about taking what Apple had learned with user experience for the consumer, and translating for enterprise apps. The travel industry rushed toward that, working with us to develop 15 different apps for airline employees — the pilot, flight attendants, baggage handlers, and gate agents — and we've had those in place now for five years. We were one of the first to really grab that and run with it because there was a need for it. Now our research teams have developed something called mesh networks, which allows device-to-device peer connectivity even when there isn't WiFi. This will make entire the process even more touchless.
With these new tools in hand, it seems like the experience of traveling will change.
As an example, just think about the current operating environment in an airport. Right now, we all gather at the gates — which is not great for social distancing — because that's where the screens are and that's where the announcements are made. If we can be dispersed until our row is called for boarding, and we can get the same information pushed to our devices from the gate agent, and send queries to the gate agent, then we won't need to cluster around the gates. They could even rearrange the furniture at the gate to allow for better social distancing. This is all going to change how airports are laid out, it's going to change the way we hang out in airports before we board our flights, and it could completely change the boarding process, as well.
How else will IBM technology reshape how travel works in this rapidly-changing world?
We talked earlier about how airline and travel companies are having to push the reset button. Take for example the data modeling these companies have long used for pricing, scheduling, data revenue models, etc. It's all based on historical information on consumers. Well, what happens when consumer behavior drastically changes after the pandemic? The way they shop, the way they buy, what they buy, what they're willing to pay a premium for — all of that is going to change. Companies have to hit the reset button on how they analyze those patterns of behavior. To do that they have got to be using AI and machine learning. They've got to basically learn how to walk again.
You've been named to IBM's first class of Distinguished Industry Leaders. I'm curious what your thoughts were when you first found out?
I was excited. I'm a 30-year travel industry guy. I worked in an airline for seven years, in a travel technology company for 11 years, and then I was a senior executive for one of the large hotel companies for five years. I think the fact that this program was even started renewed my interest and my passion for why the work is important.