Club 33: The most influential people in the travel industry (11/20/2007)

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Travel Weekly’s list of the 33 most influential people in travel is not populated by folks with fancy titles who pull the right strings and make the industry behave as it should.
It’s not about that sort of influence.
It’s filled with people who, often working in isolation, had ideas that veered from the status quo and succeeded so spectacularly that the industry jumped out of its rut and followed. They’re the ones who, when they set their own agendas, set ours as well.
We didn’t give people much credit for their great deeds of yesteryear. If they’re on this list today, it’s because they’ve influenced the course travel is taking in 2007, and we think they’ll be just as influential in 2008.
Though this list is a celebration of accomplishment, we also note with some discomfort that most of those who effect the greatest changes in travel are still surprisingly homogenous: mostly male and disproportionately white.
Brad and Van Anderson, co-presidents, America’s Vacation Center/American Express
The brothers Anderson reinvented the way hosts and independent contractors do business. They developed technology to maximize commission opportunity, deliver qualified leads to contractors and push appropriate offers to clients. The result is a formula that enables AVC to keep 70% of commissions but still retain the loyalty of its best contractors, many of whom earn six-figure incomes. Their formula also earns AVC the undivided attention of cruise lines: In 2006, it was agency of the year for three of them.
Adam Aron, senior operating partner, Apollo Management Co.
Aron, whose career has landed him in senior positions at United and Hyatt, on the board of Starwood and at the helm of NCL and Vail Resorts, is now scouting travel companies for Apollo, a New York-based equity firm. Following Aron’s guidance, Apollo not only became the first equity group to become a major cruise industry player, but quickly became a certified powerhouse cruise conglomerate, acquiring Oceania Cruises, half of NCL Corp. and (any minute now) Regent Seven Seas — all in 2007. With Apollo’s $12 billion equity fund backing him, Aron certainly has the rapt attention of the cruise industry’s reigning giants, Carnival Corp. and Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd.
Bobby Baldwin, chief design and construction officer, MGM Mirage
After meeting the colorful Baldwin, a World Series of Poker champ, in a card game in 1982, Steve Wynn was so impressed that he offered Baldwin a job as a consultant for gaming. Baldwin quickly became Wynn’s top protege, assigned to open the Mirage, Treasure Island and the Bellagio for his boss. Baldwin migrated to MGM Mirage when Wynn sold that company his properties, and MGM Mirage has now given Baldwin the biggest development project in Las Vegas (and, for that matter, the entire U.S.): CityCenter, the $7.4 billion mid-Strip campus. In a city accustomed to high-stakes gambles, there is none higher.
Lisa Bauer, senior vice president of North American sales, Royal Caribbean International
Bauer has been with Royal Caribbean since October 2002, but she arguably made her biggest mark by signing her name to the letter stating that Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. would no longer do business with so-called “card mills.” We don’t know who at RCCL actually made the decision, but Bauer became the public face of the stance. The move caused an outcry of love and hate for RCCL and continues to shake up the industry. Just last week, Perillo Tours ceased doing business with YTB, a multilevel marketing travel agency banned by RCCL, and IATA cancelled affiliation with four U.S. agencies for what may be similar reasons.
Richard Branson, founder and chairman of Virgin Atlantic Airways and Virgin Group
In 1984, Virgin created a niche in the hotly competitive New York-London market with fun and flair. And unlike any other airline brand before or since, Virgin spread beyond national boundaries, operating in Australia, Nigeria and the U.S. (coming soon, outer space). Branson was the first airline exec to go green, and today the powerful Virgin brand combines business acumen with a sense of style and social responsibility that has spread to 200 companies around the world in entertainment, travel, leisure, finance, communications and other fields — and there is no doubt that it all flows from Sir Richard.
Pier Luigi Foschi, chairman and CEO, Costa Cruises
Foschi is not well known in the U.S., but he’s a global powerhouse, the man behind Carnival Corp.’s international expansion plans. He heads the first major cruise line venture in mainland China and obtained the first license to base an international cruise ship in Beijing. (He also was the first to homeport in Dubai and Mauritius.) He’ll be at the helm of Carnival’s new joint venture in Spain, and he had been pegged to run the TUI joint venture in Germany before that project ran into regulatory difficulties. Costa is already king of the Mediterranean, the most profitable cruising area in the world, and Foschi has five additional ships on order for Costa. With Foschi running the show, his rivals are left scrambling to try to keep up.
Jerre Fuqua, president, First Choice Expeditions
Shortly after First Choice Holidays (Travcoa, TCS Expeditions, International Expeditions, Country Walkers and Intrav) merged with European travel conglomerate TUI to form TUI Travel, Fuqua became the U.S. front man for one of the largest tour operator roll-ups worldwide. He then laid out some aggressive expansion plans for the stateside division. Student travel, international escorted tours, adventure travel and online content companies are all on First Choice Expeditions’ acquisition radar, and he’s signaled that there may yet be some announcements in the waning weeks of 2007. Tour operators tend to hold their cards pretty close to their chest, so it’s unusual, and refreshing, to hear him tout such bullish expansion plans. We suspect we’re not the only ones paying close attention to what comes next.
Terestella Gonzalez Denton, executive director, Puerto Rico Tourism Co.
There’s no question that Gonzalez Denton holds her own among the macho men on her island (and the Caribbean in general). She got the ear of the governor by confronting tough issues, such as dengue fever, worker walkouts and soft stayover and cruise visitor numbers. “Explore Beyond the Shore,” the tourism mantra, is her credo and she pushes it hard, and with success, to send visitors outside the city limits of the capital, San Juan.
Al Gore, former U.S. vice president and Nobel Laureate
The Norwegian Nobel Committee said it best: In the effort to raise awareness about global climate change, Gore “is probably the single individual who has done most to create greater worldwide understanding of the measures that need to be adopted.” Gore did not start the green movement, but his film, “An Inconvenient Truth,” turbo-charged it, and green travel seems to be the focus of global travel conferences in 2007, from the World Travel and Tourism Council summit in Lisbon to the International Luxury Travel Market program in Cannes, France. Most travel CEOs seem committed, or resigned, to a green course. Though not all yet agree on the cause of global warming, they’re convinced that the change in the social and business climate is real.
Peter Greenberg, commentator
Love him or hate him, you can’t ignore him. Greenberg is everywhere: on television, on radio, blogging, writing magazine articles, publishing books, speaking at industry events. If he likes you, you’re blessed with glowing coverage. But get on his wrong side, as EasyGroup CEO Stelios Haji-Ioannou did earlier this year, and you’ll find yourself blasted in every medium Greenberg has at his command. His gig at NBC’s “Today” show launched him to industry prominence, but he has shown himself to be a master of the travel punditry game, moving his eponymous brand into new territory at every oppor
Kate Hanni, founder, Coalition for an Airline Passengers’ Bill of Rights
Hanni, a passenger stuck on the tarmac on an American flight for nearly nine hours last December, channeled her anger to create and grow a 17,000-member coalition via the Internet and media publicity. Airlines hate her, but she’s shown the power of an aggrieved passenger, particularly in the networked Internet age, and has become a familiar face in the national media and on Capitol Hill. Her efforts put passenger rights on the congressional agenda and forced the Transportation Department and airlines to respond.
Bjorn Hanson, principal, Hospitality and Leisure Practice, PricewaterhouseCoopers
Hanson is the go-to guy when media seek knowledgeable commentary on lodging. If you haven’t read what he’s saying, you must be trying hard to ignore him. He has been quoted in more than 275 articles in the past 15 months, from the Wall Street Journal and New York Times to insider publications such as Commercial Property News, Real Estate Forum and, of course, Travel Weekly. His quotability is based on the extensive research he oversees on hospitality trends, and his presentations at conferences play to packed houses because his forecasts of industry performance are unerringly on target.
Henry Harteveldt, vice president and principal analyst, Forrester Research
When travel web-heads mention the name “Henry,” there’s no doubt to whom they’re referring. Harteveldt’s insights and the data generated by Forrester, coupled with his extensive insider contacts, give him a voice that is not only heard but respected. His recent call to arms over falling online travel bookings and a need to revamp how Web sites market travel was the most widely discussed commentary among online travel agencies and their suppliers this year.
Steve Kaufer, co-founder, president and CEO, TripAdvisor
Before the label “blogosphere” ever appeared, Steve Kaufer had already defined its potential with TripAdvisor. The 25 million monthly visitors who read, opine, whine, praise and rant on his multiple sites make it the largest online travel community in cyberspace. And its power has all other travel sites and suppliers trying to manipulate ratings and land atop his link positions, and quaking in their boots that they’ll be royally flamed.
Sol Kerzner, chairman and CEO, Kerzner International
This straight-talking hotelier and entrepreneur’s story continues to be about carving out a niche and wowing guests. The tagline on his home page states, “Core value #1: Blow away the customer,” and he certainly does his best to live up to it. He has pumped billions into expansions and upgrades for his powerful flagship brand, Atlantis, whose Paradise Island property in the Bahamas will soon have a sister on a palm-shaped island in Dubai. And as the pair of Atlantises delivers the wows en masse, the elite enjoy a rarefied version in the nine One&Only locations, a brand whose stated ambition is to be no less than the