The most dangerous person in online travel

By | October 17th, 1996

Who’s the most dangerous person in the interactive travel business?

To peg a monopolistic chief executive like Microsoft’s gazillionaire boy wonder Bill Gates, or even a Sabre or American Express executive, would be easy. But think again.

It’s not that these people aren’t dangerous. Their efforts to reshape the industry present a formidable threat to those of us who don’t fit in their tidy version of the future.

It’s that there are others out there who one-up these interactive autocrats. How? By being ignorant, that’s how. You want me to name names, I’m sure. But that would be no fun.

Instead, let me describe one person whose attitude is particularly pernicious. Not only have his provably false comments about the interactive travel business gone unchecked for years, but people have actually believed him.

He’s been running around conferences and trade shows, breathlessly bragging about how he “just checked my e-mail on America Online” that very morning, as if the fact that he can log on qualifies him as an expert. Then, in almost the same sentence, he downplays the Internet as a booking tool, likening the “sudden” interest in cyberspace to a modern-day gold rush.

People with any knowledge surely recognize the fallacy of such statements as “the Internet won’t affect travel agents.” Yet that’s what this fossil is saying, in as many words, and to a doting crowd of nervous travel agents who want to hear just that.

I wouldn’t make a fuss about these misrepresentations if he were only poisoning the agency community with them. Unfortunately, his leadership role in the travel industry has landed his words on television and in newspapers.

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“There are no clear trends and there are no real experts,” he told a publication recently, when asked about the future of interactive travel. “No one really knows where this will end up.”

He’s right about one thing: as far as he’s concerned, there are no experts on the Internet. If he knew just one, then that specialist would urge him to stay quiet.

I had an opportunity to meet him in 1993. I told him that I thought the Internet would be the next thing. He laughed.

So who is this person? It doesn’t really matter. He’s one of dozens of respected industry role models who are fundamentally ignorant about the business and are spreading their half-truths to the unsuspecting masses. Call it the blind leading the blind.

The point is, the most dangerous person in interactive travel could be your supervisor. Or you.

Keeping your head in the sand, turning a blind eye to the facts, and urging others to do the same will only slow the imminent and unprecedented changes that must take place for the travel business to thrive.

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