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Covering the Travel Sector During the Pandemic

Skift had to give up its New York City headquarters in July 2020 due to the stay-at-home restrictions and a dramatic hit to revenue.

I am updating this personal site at the start of August 2020. It feels like six years rather than six months since Skift promoted me to Senior Travel Technology Editor. Our company has had to cover a sector struck by a meteor.

We responded by holding a series of online summits with industry leaders, such as the CEO of Airbnb and the top travel boss at Google. I did my part by interviewing top industry leaders live for the summits on travel startups and investors, destinations and marketing, business travel, and online travel.

In June, Skift held its first virtual paid conference. I interviewed the CEO of travel unicorn GetYourGuide, the managing director of private equity darling Hotelbeds, and a top venture capitalist at Lakestar (one of the world’s top investors in travel startups).

We also created a live blog, which we updated furiously at first but have since retired.

Most of my daily reporting in 2020 has been related to the coronavirus pandemic’s ravaging of the travel industry. I covered Travelport’s inside fight to avoid bankruptcy with bold financial moves, earnings stories from Booking Holdings (the world’s largest online travel company), Tripadvisor, and Sabre (the largest travel tech company in North America).

Technology and innovation are my beats. I tried to make back-office payments tech sexy. Same with airport tech going contactless to avoid spreading contagion. I looked at how an uptick in fraud complicated airline refunds for canceled flights and how the “black swan event” of the pandemic had put to the test the software that hotel revenue managers use to forecast demand and set rates.

Startups have been core to my beat. I’ve looked at how an Israeli startup wants to help hotels level up their booking game during the pandemic and how the crisis could offer an opening to clever startups like Life House and the unicorn Sonder.

My reporting made waves. My analysis on startups was quoted in Tech in Asia and The Real Deal cited my report on Selina.

I took a global view whenever possible. One of my fave pieces I worked on (with a colleague) was “How One Upscale Australian Hotel Group Used the Crisis to Rethink Everything.” I also covered how India’s second-largest airline, SpiceJet, helped champion major tech reforms affecting passengers on all airlines in India.

I tried to put a human face on the crisis with profile pieces, such as of a Parisian hotel general manager and an Italian manager of Google StreetView.

2019: Images and Video
From Public Speaking

Here I am in London interviewing Lisa Farrar, the chief digital officer of Nordic Choice Hotels. Above, that’s me interviewing Lindsay Nelson, a C-suite star at Tripadvisor. Below, that’s me at the Skift Short-Term Rental Summit talking to Francis Davidson, the CEO of unicorn startup Sonder. It was one of four interviews I did on-stage that day in New York City, including ones with Kayak CEO Steve Hafner.

Kayak CEO Steve Hafner, left, with the CEO of Lyric in the middle, and me.
Here I am in Washington, D.C., co-presenting Skift’s Megatrends for 2020 presentation with my rockstar colleague Seth Borko. One of our commentaries was that we didn’t think the coronavirus pandemic would be worse that SARS. Stop me before I ever become a forecaster.
Here’s a dangerous crew, posing after our presentation at a tourism conference in Abu Dhabi in December 2019: The Skift team, from left, Kate Irwin, me, company president Carolyn Kremins, CEO Rafat Ali, and Wouter Geerts.

I worked for three years for Skift before the pandemic struck. Here are some highlights from 2019, followed by some pictures and videos from the time when we used to do live, in-person events.

Covered breaking news. Provided same-day dissection of the ouster of Expedia’s CEO. Was first in the travel trade press to cover Sabre daring the U.S. Department of Justice to sue it over its merger of a smaller rival. I later went to the federal courthouse in Delaware to listen to the trial and cover the trial. The merger fell apart. Showed a command of my beat by covering Sabre’s purchase of Radixx, with analysis, before any rival media got there. (Techmeme noticed.)

Took readers inside companies and their thinking. Used extensive interviews and reviewed financial filings for my story on The Inside Story of an Activist Investor’s Fight for Travelport (reposted here on Yahoo Finance), after covering the news that private equity was taking it private (see Techmeme mention). Covered a story other ignored and that contained layers of surprises: why the startup Utrip collapsed (I was first to report that Royal Caribbean had backed out of buying it).

Did deep dives. For example, I co-reported a 5,000-word Deep Dive on Smart Airports with my colleague Brian Sumers. This followed on deep dives I did by myself on other topics , such as 9,000 words on India’s travel tech future.

Got scoops. Used sources for a scoop on Sabre kicking Finnair out of its system. Broke the news of Ctrip closing Travis Katz’s user-generated content project. Was the first to provide a full tally of Shiji’s acquisitions, based on financial filings.

Explored the big picture with telling examples. I addressed larger, abstract issues such as “Why do so many airlines suffer IT glitches?” — which followed on my one-time report about a study finding airport IT glitches once a month on average.

Wrote many stories with longer shelf-lives than the competition did. After beating rivals in covering online travel agency’s Amoma’s surprise collapse, I owned the follow-on stories about Spain-based Hotelbeds’ role in it and the broader industry impact (scooping even Spanish-language publications). Went long on colorful stories that the competition avoided altogether out of laziness, such as Datalex’s breathtaking implosion

Created ongoing franchises. Continued to build the Top Travel Startups franchise in its third year since I launched it. The Bold/Outrageous, year-end predictions franchise I pitched has rolled into a second year.

Did a weekly roundup of startup fund-raisings. Techmeme cited my startup coverage multiple times as the first/best, such as here and here.

Supported events on-stage. For the short-term rental summit, I did four on-stage interviews. At Skift Global Forum at Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York City, I interviewed the CEO of Amtrak and former CEO of Delta Richard Anderson (see YouTube video, here) and the then-CEO of Vacasa, on-stage. At Skift Forum Europe in London, I interviewed top folks at TripAdvisor and Nordic Choice.

At Skift Tech Forum (an event I co-created), I interviewed top execs from Carnival, Oracle/G6, Amadeus, and Shiji.

I participated heavily in the programming and speaker suggestions for STF. I co-hosted Megatrends 2019 in DC, Texas, and NYC. For ATPCO, I solo-moderated a startup pitch and a panel talk in D.C.

Traveled to a half-dozen conferences. Examples include Arival (tours and activities), ARC (airline tech), and VRMA (rental tech). Coverage included: United’s Scott Kirby discussing his career plans, ARC’s CEO change, and Marriott’s test of offering vacation rentals to consumers.

The pandemic turned out to be firehose of traffic for Skift’s articles (and even my LinkedIn posts about our articles). But I miss live, in-person events, like the kind we used to produce.

Me, above, interviewing the top bosses at travel at Google on the Jazz at Lincoln Center stage.
What a team!