How Travel and Hospitality Companies Are Learning from Amazon’s Culture of Innovation
Since publishing this post, we have learned of the passing of Philip Wolf. We extend our heartfelt sympathies to his family and friends, colleagues, personal and professional acquaintances. He will be missed.
Delta Air Lines plans for all of its pilots to be back at work this fall as it prepares for recovery in travel. Countries like Singapore and Australia are rumored to be exploring travel bubbles, so that travelers who have received the COVID-19 vaccine don’t have to quarantine. As someone who is optimistic about the long-term resilience of the travel and hospitality industry, these examples are encouraging. So when Philip Wolf, founder and former CEO of the travel industry research firm Phocuswright, asked me to join him on the virtual stage for ITB Berlin NOW, the largest travel trade show in the world, I was happy to accept. Philip led conversations with executives from around the world, including the CEOs of Booking Holdings, Despegar, MakeMyTrip, and TUI Group, all AWS customers.
Although Philip and I could have spent our time looking back at the past 12 disruptive months, he was curious instead about Amazon’s approach to innovation and whether travel and hospitality companies could find inspiration in our example. Amazon’s approach to operationalizing innovation and the pace at which we innovate is fascinating, but it’s gratifying to see how AWS customers are using our services to innovate on behalf of travelers and guests at this difficult moment for the industry.
Keys to Reinvention
Just a couple of months ago at AWS re:Invent 2020, our CEO, Andy Jassy, talked about the keys to reinvention. It’s a topic that’s relevant right now. He noted the importance of leadership that is willing to invent and reinvent. He also talked about solving real customer problems with builders. At the heart of Amazon is our mission to be Earth’s most customer-centric company. Our founder Jeff Bezos said:
“Customers are always beautifully, wonderfully dissatisfied, even when they report being happy and business is great. Even when they don’t yet know it, customers want something better, and your desire to delight customers will drive you to invent on their behalf.”
As the world—and customers’ expectations—change around us, we must stay customer-focused and innovate. That’s why Andy emphasized not just inventing, but reinventing. As we’ve grown our business, we’ve tried to figure out how to operationalize innovation.
Amazon culture is oriented toward innovation. We use 14 Leadership Principles to guide decision-making, problem-solving, brainstorming, and even hiring. During my discussion with Philip, he focused on three principles in particular and how some AWS customers are now applying them to their own businesses.
Given our mission, our foundational leadership principle has to be customer obsession. It’s the idea that leaders start with the customer and work backward. Consider our retail business. We understood that customers wanted their products delivered as quickly as possible, so we figured out how to achieve that. In 2007, Amazon Prime was launched as a premium shipping service. It was a radical idea at the time, but it’s hard to imagine Amazon without it today.
Look at what Carnival Corporation has done with its OCEAN Platform. Because people spend months planning vacations, Carnival wanted their guests to have the best experience imaginable while off the clock. They built their OCEAN platform on AWS using the Internet of Things to remove friction from the vacation experience, increase personalization, and deliver touchless payment, dynamic wayfinding, shipmate locators, personalized itineraries, and keyless access to your stateroom. Now that is customer obsession! It’s a great example of how to use technology to enhance customer experience. I’m sure that the OCEAN Platform will play a vital role in Carnival’s return-to-service plans too.
At Amazon, we say thinking small is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Leaders create and communicate a bold direction that inspires results. They think differently and look around corners for ways to serve customers. When you want not just to improve but radically transform the customer experience and your operations, you need to think big.
Airbnb really embodies this leadership principle. They are always thinking big. They were ahead of the curve in their use of technology and went all-in on AWS. That decision enabled them to scale to the iconic global brand they are today and to focus on innovating on behalf of their customers and hosts around the world.
Star Alliance is the very definition of big. Before the pandemic, it supported 400,000 travelers a day across its network of 26 partner airlines. Over the past year, using AWS, Star Alliance launched an entirely new connections service to ease the experience of connecting between member airlines. It took vision and it will play a big part in removing friction from travel for years to come.
Invent and Simplify
This leadership principle goes back to what Andy Jassy said about leadership having the will to invent and reinvent. You’re never done with the process. At Amazon, leaders expect and require innovation and invention from their teams. They always find ways to simplify.
Here’s a good example: A few years ago, Amazon.com started to reach the limits of its legacy and contact center technology. It was starting to get in the way of delivering quality customer service and support. We created a modern, flexible, scalable contact solution that scales up to support peak shopping days like Prime Day, and then scales down when required. AWS makes that service, Amazon Connect, available to customers around the world with machine learning and AI tools to improve agent efficiency, automate routine tasks, and (of course) delight callers. Customers like Best Western, Priceline, and Subway are using Amazon Connect to invent a new way to improve customer service and guest experiences.
Innovating for Your Business
Our leadership principles provide a common DNA and language that our diverse and global community of Amazonians can use every day. Yet there are other things that contribute to our unique culture. It’s the strength of that culture that differentiates Amazon—and I’m sure the same is true for companies across the travel and hospitality industry. The women and men in our industry, around the world, who serve tirelessly to make travelers and guests feel welcome, valued, and appreciated are any company’s most valuable asset. By knowing customers better than anyone else and by embracing technology, we’ll see innovation that transforms the way we fly, stay, eat, and experience the world.
This leads me to my personal favorite Amazon leadership principle: Learn and Be Curious. The journey never really ends. In many ways, it’s just getting started. I’m so excited to work with the industry to discover and build what’s next for travel and hospitality.
Learn more about how AWS is helping transform that travel and hospitality industry at aws.com/travel.