Travel veterans Kaufer, Lugli, Misunas on GenAI, social media, diversity and more

Collectively, Kathy Misunas, Flo Lugli and Steve Kaufer have more
than 100 years of experiences in roles across the travel industry.

Misunas began her career at American Airlines in 1973 and became chief information officer of the airline, followed by roles as president and CEO at Sabre and CEO of
Reed Travel Group. Lugli started at People Express Airlines in 1983 and then
spent 20 years at Travelport, rising
to become the commercial leader for the Americas, and was an executive vice
president at Wyndham Hotels and Resorts. And Kaufer co-founded Tripadvisor in
2000 and led the company for more than two decades before stepping down in July

At The Phocuswright Conference in
November, Lugli and Kaufer were inducted into Phocuswright’s Hall of Fame.
Misunas was inducted in 2022.

And while all three are now out of formal
day-to-day operational roles in travel – Misunas and Lugli have founded
consulting firms and Kaufer has created a nonprofit – they are still very tuned
in to what is happening across the industry.

The three industry veterans came
together for a wide-ranging discussion in the PhocusWire studio at the

One thing all three agree on: While
the industry has made great progress, there are still many opportunities for
improvement, such as in removing the complexities in trip planning.

“With all of the new inventions,
with all the technology there’s still quite a lot of effort that one has to go
through – for no obvious reason given that pricing is generally available,
logistics are well known. But it’s been hard for any company to pull it all
together and make it truly easy for a consumer,” Kaufer said.

Misunas said part of the problem is a lack of customer focus
when new products and solutions are created. “They don’t really [consider] … the
way the consumer thinks about booking or planning their travel.”

Regarding hospitality, Lugli cited fragmentation of
ownership and technology as impediments to innovation. 

“That may be something, if we were able to look at some of
the economic models and maybe adjust those, that might help things. But I don’t
have a lot of confidence that that will ever happen,” she said.

On the topic of generative artificial intelligence, all
three expressed concerns about false outputs and about companies inadvertently sharing
intellectual property, but in general they see more positive potential than

“When you look at what you can do by way of feeding it very
structured information that is absolutely reliable in the aggregate and the logistics
about what is near what – which is, again, completely reliable – and real-time
pricing and inventory. The ability for the system to make recommendations that
a great travel agent could make but now on the fly and be able to iterate through
that – I think, and I’ll put it in a five-year time frame, has an ability to really
change how you plan a more complex trip,” Kaufer said.

Lugli also noted the potential for AI
to help the industry use data more effectively.

“So much of the industry’s information is unstructured. So being
able to actually digest that unstructured information and understand it is going
to be a great big opportunity,” she said.

And Misunas cited an example of using AI to understand opportunities
for improvement by analyzing queries coming in through customer service
channels. “It is a gold mine of what you should be looking at and always has
been,” she said.

The three also shared thoughts on how
the industry is doing in terms of progress on diversity. The consensus: The
attention and efforts today on how to attract and promote a diverse mix of
people into leadership roles is a vast improvement over the way the industry
operated even a decade ago – but there is still much work to be done.

And they offered advice for young
people starting their careers in travel  – including suggestions to prioritize
networking and to invest in continuous learning.

Watch the full discussion below.

The Phocuswright Conference 2023 Executive Interview: Pundits and predictions

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