Champions of travel: Who won 2018 according to the TD team

How is it already the end of 2018? I’m certain we only just had Easter. Trump and Kim Jong-un met in Singapore a fortnight ago, and football nearly came home last week, right?

Sadly, my mind deceives me and my calendar insists that it is indeed New Year’s Eve and that I should probably start to look ahead to 2019. However, allow me to indulge in one last moment of nostalgia as we celebrate the best of the best this year, and congratulate those who won 2018 in the world of travel, as reasoned by my trusty teammates:

Leadership

TD CEO Brett Henry thinks: “To break out in 2018, companies required leaders that are fast, fresh, and fearless. The Czech boys at Kiwi.com came from nowhere to be the OTA story of 2018. Their speed, innovation and disregard for how things have traditionally been done have earned them customer love and hyper-growth.

“Klook has raised a sick amount of capital – USD 300 million – and have been rapidly growing the team and in-market model. They are already deep into key market ecosystems and building the future of the tours and activities model.

Oliver Dlouhy, CEO of Kiwi.com

“Both these companies have amazing founder stories. For example Oliver Dlouhy, founder of Kiwi, basically just thought, ‘I was on holiday with my girlfriend and I was like, ‘OTAs suck’ – so I made one!’.

“As we learned in an interview with Klook cofounder Eric Gnock Fah in August, he and his partner Ethan Lin went from humble Hong Kong boys to unicorn bosses in a few short years. What’s also interesting is that none of these leaders are from the USA or western Europe – could that be a sign of the times?”

Hospitality

OYO founder Ritesh Agarwal

“What’s not to like about OYO?” asks hospitality editor Christian Tolentino. “The fast-emerging brand was founded (as Oravel Stays) in 2012 by then 18-year-old Ritesh Agarwal, who stayed in over 100 properties in three months.

“Fast-forward to this year and the company has raised a whopping USD 1 billion for global expansion and partnered with huge names, such as Travelport, MakeMyTrip and Tencent. OYO Rooms, to use its full name, continues to make waves in India, and expand in Asia, while making entry schemes into the UK and the UAE. Watch out for an OYO near you.”

TD’s Mumbai-based sustainability editor Mili Semlani also notes that “2018 has been a huge year for hospitality dark horse-turned-behemoth Zostel – India’s first notable hostel chain, with a choice of destinations in India and Nepal. The company is collaborating with local home-owners and helping the domestic economy – which is a very smart way to expand in the sub-continent and Southeast Asia”.

Aviation

Alastair Newport, our aviation editor, says: “I really rate Singapore Airlines’ bold move to bring back the world’s longest flight. It is this kind of confidence in the face of nay-saying pragmatism which has always been at the heart of aviation – since before the days of Howard Hughes.

“SIA may not be facing death-defying odds like the industry’s trailblazers back in the early 1990s, ‘out on a wing’ and ‘flying by the seat of their pants’, but something of that pioneering spirit is still very much there.

IATA director general, Alexandre de Juniac

“When thinking who else dominated the industry this year, it is hard to ignore the annual announcement of the world’s best airlines by Skytrax, but the story of 2018 for me is NDC (New Distribution Capability). Whether it has been with Sabre, Travelport or Amadeus, airlines have been signing up left, right and centre to distribute their products through the rich content tool.

“Thus, it is not an airline which takes the aviation title for me. IATA (International Air Transport Association) has not only provided a much-needed rubber stamp for air retail standards but has more importantly prompted NDC suppliers to open dialogue with carriers, to address concerns about the tool,” assuaging industry fears over what is, essentially, little more than an upgraded GDS.

Tech

Some of the Traveloka team

TD’s tech editor Kristin Mariano thinks that two companies have bossed it this year – one in hospitality and one in transport: “Traveloka saw immense growth in 2018 after becoming SEA’s first travel unicorn, partly thanks to USD 350 million funding from Expedia. The company has expanded to Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand and has added other services on such as restaurants, spas and payments.

“Grab, the Asian transport company that defeated the American giant Uber, is now aspiring to become a super app, similar to WeChat, where everything you need for your daily life is there.” Currently, the company offers rides, delivery, and payment. However, opening the app to external developers and other start-ups will open a lot of possibilities.

Cruise

For me, in 2018 headlines in the cruise industry have been dominated by maiden voyages but two in particular stand out; first, Celebrity Edge, Celebrity Cruises’ first Edge-class ship (with three more planned) and the first ship in the world with a – completely bonkers – moving deck concept.

The ‘Magic Carpet’ slides up and down the side of the ship and does just about everything a ship – or building – can do, including operating as a restaurant, nightclub and (dis)embarkation point.

The racetrack on board Norwegian Bliss

The second is Norwegian Bliss – NCL’s gargantuan 4,000-guest ship which is more like a floating theme park than anything else. It features a Laser Battle, the Ocean Loops waterslide – that overhangs the edge of the vessel almost 50 metres above the water – and a colossal racetrack with go-karts that reach up to 30 mph.

To get some perspective on the sheer size of this thing, the track is not just the largest racetrack at sea, it’s the same size as the land-based racetrack in my hometown (Worcester, UK).

Recruitment / HR

Damien Cummings
founder and CEO, Peoplewave

Ken Li, director of TD jobs thinks: “Peoplewave is a really interesting upcoming HR tech company. I like them because they’re utilising data and blockchain technology to bring a transparent and employee-centered approach to people management.

“They are data-driven and use key metrics to provide anonymous feedback in the appraisal process, employee probation period and on-boarding process – and the platform is both desktop and mobile app ready.”

Social media

Agoda’s facebook page

Mizraim ‘Yem’ Lazaro, head of social media, thinks that Agoda has social media and marketing down pat: “Agoda is the epitome of a great modern marketer – it solves a traveller’s pain points, backed by customer data and it focuses on channels that are beneficial to them. Their website and mobile app are very intuitive and offer a great user experience.

“I have personally used Agoda since 2016 and I’ve never had a problem with their customer service. The only thing that’s bothering me is that they don’t seem to respond to customer complaints on Facebook. It’s something that I believe they should focus on next because a great product with bad customer service is a bad product.”

Design

Traveloka CEO Ferry Unardi (second from left) and team

Ispol ‘Thoe’ L-Khan, TD’s head of design says: “I like the approach of Traveloka. It’s fresh and colourful and their branding fonts and images are fun and relaxed. Once you’re on their site, you immediately feel those sky blue vibes which automatically relate to travel.

“The look and feel is simple, relaxed and clean, and easy to understand – especially the booking engine and promotions; these features kill all the distractions and focus you on booking only.”

Your call – and all the best from TD

What about your thoughts for 2018 – who were the biggest winners this year? Comment on our social media channels: facebook.com/TravelDailyHQ and twitter.com/TravelDailyHQ to let us know.

Let me please also take this opportunity to thank you all for reading TD this year, and to wish you all the very best for 2019. Happy New Year!

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