AWS for Industries

Travel and Hospitality at AWS re:Invent 2021 – Industry Recap

Massimo, SriHari, and Steven were fortunate to join 20,000+ in-person attendees and more than 600,000 virtual participants at this year’s annual AWS innovation conference – re:Invent 2021. Customers and partners alike shared the overwhelming feeling of conducting business in-person again. Ian-Michael Farkas of Local Measure stated, “Making connections in-person has accelerated my ability to form partnerships, arrange meetings, and learn about all the innovation that surrounds AWS.”


This year’s re:Invent delivered 85+ new service and feature releases (learn more about the top Travel and Hospitality announcements), alongside opportunities to hear directly from leading Travel and Hospitality organizations. A must see for any Travel and Hospitality practitioner was Linda Jojo, Executive Vice President, Technology & Chief Digital Officer at United Airlines sharing the stage with AWS CEO Adam Selipsky for the keynote address.

Linda JoJo, EVP & CDO at United Airlines at re-Invent 2021

United named AWS as their “preferred cloud provider,” and Linda followed up with an interview on Silicon Angle-TheCube.

A common theme of the Travel & Hospitality sessions emerged around using data to improve customer engagement and increase operational efficiency. Attendees learned how data is at the core of the travel and hospitality industry and the Digital Transformation agenda. Using it as an asset requires changing how it is collected, stored, and distributed, as well as treating it more like water than like oil: data should be considered plentiful, accessible, and reusable as opposed to stored away and tightly controlled. To understand how data is being used, read on…

Hospitality Leadership Session

View the full On Demand session.

At full capacity, this session featured Rajesh Naidu, VP, Starbucks and Michael Leidinger, CIO, Hilton. The session focused on sharing how data is driving future growth. Starbucks and Hilton have experienced a radical transformation in how they are managing data as a result of the ever increasing volume, velocity, and variety of data they manage collectively across 19 brands and 40,000 outlets worldwide.

Rajesh indicated that Starbucks has over 24.8M 90-day active loyalty customers; “data is the cornerstone to connect with our customers.” He presented how Starbucks built a data lake in AWS with data from retail and non-retail customers to support the business. This was done not only to better understand the customers and their habits, but also, during the pandemic, by bringing in infection, vaccination, and regulatory data that had to be processed and distributed across every cafe in real-time. They used this data, alongside insights, such as if the restroom was open and available to the public to define cafe working hours, staffing needs, and inventory levels. Today, Starbucks is running their digital order and pay and loyalty platform in AWS.

Michael revealed that Hilton required a real-time data ecosystem that is both responsive and predictive. Hilton’s desire is to facilitate consistent data use across the global enterprise in order to deliver a richer, more precise, and tailored experience to their customers. This platform ensures that data is accurate, consistent and secure across the organization, and saves Hilton more than $1M annually. The platform has improved availability and uptime, reduced planned outages, and scales up and down to respond to real-time business demands. Furthermore, it simplifies operational management, reduces risk, improves the company security posture, reduces deployment time from months to days, and automates repetitive tasks such as ingesting new data sources in days as opposed to months or even years. This resulted in improved customer engagement via a consistent use of a single source of truth for tools such as Amazon Connect for the contact center, as well as the Chatbot system that has increased automated responses by 34% and provided more robust and tailored FAQ content delivery. The Central Reservation System (CRS) was modernized, enabling it to process more than half a billion reservations a day (+230% increase). The redesign facilitates content distribution, enabling Hilton to create new packages and offerings, real-time continuous pricing for their inventory, and the ability to implement fine grain incremental pricing based on real-time customer demand.

Travel Leadership Session

View the full On Demand session.

This session was about building what’s next in travel and how flagship airlines, such as Air Canada, the largest airline in Canada carrying 52M passengers in 2019, and United Airlines, the 3rd largest airline in the world with 162M passengers carried in 2019, are leveraging their data for customer engagement and operational efficiency.

Mel Crocker, CIO, Air Canada presented how the acquisition of Aeroplan, their loyalty program, has been the cornerstone of re-imagining customer engagement. They leverage an abstraction layer with back-end systems, such as Passenger Service System (PSS), Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system, the loyalty system, and others, cross-referenced data, and made it accessible via API to websites, mobile apps, analysts, data engineers, and machine learning (ML)/artificial intelligence (AI) practitioners. This improved website conversation by over 60% and reduced transaction handling time by 32%. Exposing  middleware API to third-parties has also enabled the integration of retailers such as Uber, Starbucks, and others into the program. Now, retailers can use the Air Canada mobile app to provide promotions, treats, and takeaway food purchases at the gate, giving customers the option to pay with money, miles, or a combination of both. This increased reward upsell by 19% and 27% higher margin payment selection.

Next, Jason Birnbaum, SVP, United Airlines presented how they instrumented Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) with over 20,000 IoT devices and cameras to monitor equipment locations. This included tow trucks, catering, cleaning, fueling, plane, as well as on the ground equipment such as wheelchairs, personnel, and passengers. This saved United more than US$120M in ground equipment purchases and 1.3M+ hours of personnel “search time”. Additionally, it enabled United to communicate with customers about gate distance, crowding at the lounge, long lines at the gate, check-in, and security areas. This has improved operations by enabling better scheduling of resources and staff (e.g., gate agents, security).

More Hands On with Customers

Customer led sessions let participants dive deep into specific industry use cases, solutions, and business outcomes, including:

  • Hawaiian Airlines shared details of a modern cloud-based call contact center using Amazon Connect, with Accenture
  • Expedia Group shared how machine learning and artificial intelligence are powering global travel
  • Slalom and Rigado’s Smart Kitchen grabbed attention during the partner keynote
  • Brinker (Chili’s Grill & Bar, Maggiano’s Little Italy, It’s Just Wings) optimized scheduling and boosted guest satisfaction with Teradata
  • Taco Bell discussed how to build next-gen applications with event-driven architectures
  • Starbucks explored architecting for sustainability
  • Rappi discussed how it leverages Amazon DocumentDB to handle surges in deliveries
  • Panasonic Avionics revealed their monitoring and security hub
  • United Airlines shared how to deliver positive cloud outcomes with architecture best practices – highlighting that the pandemic accelerated innovation as “we made 10 years progress in less than one” – and start tackling the most critical applications running on their 50 years old mainframe and moving them to AWS native solutions
  • Delta Air Lines presented how they chose Amazon Connect for their 20+ years old contact center to manage thousands of agents around the world, supporting 9+ languages, and serving over 200M customers per year. “Amazon Connect was a game changer for our business” – serving customers with streamlined routing, prioritization, getting them to the right agent at the right time, and standing up a working contact center in just 10 minutes.

Included in the 85+ new service and feature releases was QSRSoft, launch partner for AWS Amplify Studio – which enables the rapid production of mobile/web apps.

AWS Travel and Hospitality Competency Partners were featured with recognition for partners NLX, Local Measure, and TCS. NLX received recognition for Conversational AI Partner on the main stage; Local Measure was awarded the Global Service Delivery Partner for Amazon Connect for their leadership in contact center expertise; Tata Consulting Services (TCS), with over 8 demonstrated competencies, including Travel and Hospitality, and 5 service delivery validations, has been awarded AWS’s 2021 Rising Star Partner of the Year (GSI) – US.

The Expo floor was filled with demonstrations of innovation, all of which were powered by caffeine. The Serverless team demonstrated a Serverless Point-of-Sale (POS), and published the code on GitHub. Vistry demonstrated Computer Vision (CV) for full observability of a Café operation running on the just released Amazon Outpost Servers (2U and 1U form factors). And the builders lab showed how IoT can be used to scientifically mix the perfect cocktail. After 5pm, this was a great way for re:Invent participants to truly enjoy the opportunity to socialize.

SmartBar - re-Invent 2021 Expo floor

We look forward to hosting you next year!

Learn more about news from AWS re:Invent 2021 from this recap of top Travel and Hospitality announcements, and review the full list of announcements, keynotes, leadership sessions, and experience to Catch Up with re:Invent 2021.

See more industry insights on the AWS Travel & Hospitality Blog.

Steven M. Elinson

Steven M. Elinson

Steven M. Elinson is the head of worldwide restaurants and food service, the global industry practice for Amazon Web Services (AWS), with a charter to support customers as they accelerate cloud adoption. As a trusted adviser, Steven uses his broad knowledge and 32 years of experience to drive guest experiences and to increase operational efficiency.

Massimo Morin

Massimo Morin

Massimo Morin brings 20+ years of experience in the airline and hospitality industry as a developer, analyst, product designer, and business development. His core expertise is in airline pricing, distribution, revenue management, and ecommerce. Based in Boston, MA, he is now responsible for AWS engagements globally in the travel/airlines space for AWS. He graduated in Software Engineering from the University of Venice and acquired a MS of Transportation / Airline Business and Management from MIT. He is Italian by birth with a passion for cooking and has traveled the world extensively.

SriHari Thotapalli

SriHari Thotapalli

SriHari is the Worldwide Technology Leader for Hospitality at AWS with the charter to support and help travel and hospitality customers innovate using AWS cloud to enhance customer experience and improve operational efficiency. SriHari leads the technical field community for Travel & Hospitality that enables internal AWS teams, ISVs, and GSIs creating technical assets, reference architectures, and solutions. Prior to joining AWS, he spent over 20 years in Hospitality, CPG, Retail and Healthcare industries leading digital strategy, data & analytics strategy, and enterprise architecture roles and built products for bookings, hotel operations management, revenue management & distribution, customer master data management, Healthcare AI and supply chain optimization. He holds a M.S. in Computer Science from Northern Illinois University.