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Executive Conversations: Building Resiliency with Bonny Simi, President, JetBlue Technology Ventures
Bonny Simi, President of JetBlue Technology Ventures joins Massimo Morin, Head of Travel and Hospitality Solutions at Amazon Web Services (AWS), for a broad-ranging discussion about the recent disruption faced by travel and hospitality companies – and her company’s response to that disruption. JetBlue Technolgoy Ventures is the venture capital arm of JetBlue Airways. Their mission is to invest in and partner with early stage technology startups improving the future of travel, transportation, and hospitality.
This Executive Conversation is one of a series of discussions held with industry leaders, where we seek to learn more about their resiliency, tenacity and capacity for innovation. The series follows the publication of the AWS Travel & Hospitality E-book: “Building Resilience For The Long Run”. Filled with strategic observations, hints and tips, the E-book provides guidance for building a more resilient organization, potentially serving as a useful resource as travel and hospitality companies address both current challenges and those yet to come.
Massimo Morin: While your business is recognized publicly by many, what’s one unique characteristic or feature that is either lesser known or understood about your company?
Bonny Simi: JetBlue Technology Ventures’ (JTV) primary function is to support our parent company JetBlue Airways, and we do this by connecting the airline to innovative startups that are improving the future of the travel industry. What many people may not realize is that our reach also extends beyond JetBlue the airline and includes the end-to-end customer travel experience as supported by JetBlue Vacations. This includes technologies to support lodging and in destination activities. Additionally, we have partners across the entire ecosystem of the travel sector who are interested in working with emerging technologies to enhance the industry at large.
MM: Many companies across travel and hospitality have been managing through a period of unprecedented disruption. What have been the biggest challenges you’ve faced during this recent period and how have you managed through them
BS: Like many travel-focused companies, our team had to quickly pivot from “business as usual” to adjust to a new normal. Our focus right now is twofold: the majority of our time has been spent helping JetBlue and our partners manage through the current disruption by seeking innovative solutions to address the unprecedented challenges faced by the travel industry. We’ve also been prioritizing our portfolio companies and their continued success through providing financial, operations, network, administration, and marketing consultation.
MM: As we all prepare for the next phase of traveler or guest demand, what are some of the changes your company has taken (or plans on taking) to adjust to the current operating environment?
BS: In addition to placing a greater emphasis on contactless technology solutions, we’ve continued to maintain our focus on sustainable travel. We’re looking for startups with advanced methods of measuring and reducing emissions, technologies that improve environmental protections and encourage sustainable tourism, and game-changing transportation powered by alternative propulsion systems. As JetBlue charts a sustainable path forward through reducing and managing its carbon emissions, we will continue to find the latest and greatest technology to ensure the airline’s success.
MM: In the face of the current disruption to the travel and hospitality industry, we’ve observed incredible innovations coming from across the industry. How has your company innovated through these challenging times and what are you most proud of?
BS: Our biggest initiative this year has been supporting JetBlue’s “Safety from the Ground Up” program. We recently concluded a six-week “innovation sprint” to source startups specializing in contactless travel. The goal was to examine each stage of the travel ribbon to determine how and which technologies can be used for a safer, touchless experience. I’m incredibly proud of the JTV team for their ability to shift gears and quickly conduct due diligence on over 300 potential solutions, something that many larger organizations may not have the resources to do.
MM: The travel and hospitality industry is incredibly resilient. As you look toward recovery, what role does technology play for your company moving forward? How do you see technology enhancing the customer experience and improving operational efficiency?
BS: JTV supports JetBlue’s innovation programs by staying ahead of rapid changes in technology. We do this by prioritizing investments that align with our five themes:
- The seamless customer journey
- Reimagining the accommodation experience
- Next-generation aviation operations and enterprise technology
- Innovation in loyalty, distribution, and revenue
- Sustainable travel
Several of our portfolio companies have quickly adapted to the changing environment by pivoting operations as needed or capitalizing on new marketing opportunities:
- Bizly began as a solution to streamline the planning process for in-person events, and the startup recently added the capability to plan and conduct virtual or hybrid events on their platform as well.
- ClimaCell, a micro-weather intelligence platform and forecasting app, published a Coronavirus Environmental Resource Data Center that aggregates the latest research, events, and tools to help the public better understand the connection between COVID-19 and environmental variables.
- Volantio offers a SmartAlerts platform that allows individuals to set flight alerts and receive messages that match their preferences.
MM: As you mentioned, there’s much talk at the moment about how the flying experience has changed and there will be a “new normal” going forward. What does this “new normal” look like to you and how do you think the travel experience will look three years from now?
BS: While travel and tourism have been heavily impacted by COVID-19, I expect that the resilient nature of our industry will pave the way for companies to come out even stronger than before. The reduction in movement (and subsequently, carbon emissions) over the past few months has further demonstrated the need for sustainable solutions as we look toward the future travel experience. Joby Aviation, one of our JTV portfolio companies, is building a fully-electric, vertical take-off and landing vehicle optimized to deliver air-transportation-as-a-service. The startup has the potential to both revolutionize short-haul travel and deliver sustainable transportation that is safe and affordable for everyone.
MM: What makes you excited for the future of travel and hospitality? As a traveler or guest, where are you looking forward to visiting next?
BS: As someone who is very busy, I’m excited about the trend towards individualized, unique travel options. It would be awesome to have a curated experience served up to me personally. My dream is to see the Seven Wonders of the World—so far I’ve only been to Machu Picchu, so I have six more to go!
Learn more about the new Travel & Hospitality E-book: “Building Resilience For The Long Run”.
See more Executive Conversations and industry insights on the AWS Travel & Hospitality Blog.
Bonny Simi is the president of JetBlue Technology Ventures, the venture capital arm of JetBlue Airways that invests in and partners with early-stage startups improving the travel, hospitality, and transportation industries.
Bonny joined JetBlue in 2003 and has held several leadership, operational, and financial roles. In the last year, she was named one of Silicon Valley Business Journal’s Women of Influence and Business Insiders’ 100 people transforming the world of business.
Bonny remains an active JetBlue pilot and is also a three-time Olympian in the sport of luge. She graduated from Stanford University with three degrees, including MS Management, MS Engineering and a BA in Communications.