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On September 27 to 28, nearly 1,000 of the travel industry’s brightest and best will gather in New York City for the third annual Skift Global Forum, the largest creative business gathering in the global travel industry. In only two short years it has become what media, speakers, and attendees have called the “TED talks of travel.”
This year’s event at Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center will feature speakers including the CEOs of Marriott International, Carnival Corp., Expedia Inc., TripAdvisor, Etihad Aviation Group, Club Med, and many more.
In preparation for the event we are featuring articles and insights from some of the speakers that touch on big-picture issues that begin in travel, but also impact businesses and industries beyond the sector.
Aaron Gowell’s first job couldn’t be more different to his current one. Fresh out of high school, he signed up with the U.S. Army where he rose from the lowest rank to become the youngest Sergeant in the elite 82nd Airborne.
After leaving the army, he studied for a degree and joined General Catalyst in 1998. When General Catalyst bought National Leisure Group, Gowell became co-CEO and helped transform it into a $1 billion business.
Gowell founded SilverRail in 2009 alongside Will Phillipson with the aim of developing a fully-integrated rail platform.
Gowell will be speaking at the Skift Global Forum on Wednesday September 28.
Below is an edited interview with Gowell.
Skift: What will you be talking about at the upcoming forum?
Gowell: If you look at the last 20 years of online line travel we’ve been spending all of that time basically wiring up the big products to the Web so that people can find this stuff and book this stuff.
That’s chapter one. The last big product in that market that’s not been wired up is rail and that’s what we’re doing.
Chapter two, and we straddle some of this, is most of what we’re seeing now for investments and new companies, where the innovation is not the infrequent big ticket purchase items of air and hotels, it’s high frequency day-of on-demand products of Uber, Lyft, BlaBlaCar, Citymapper even Google Maps.
I think that the next wave of innovation we’re going to see is not just about the Ubers of the world but it’s going to be how we think about planning and transacting across the multiple modes.
Skift: How far away is that from happening?
Gowell: We’re doing some of it. There are people who are thinking about multi-modal both from a search point of view and from a transactional point of view.
Skift: Do you think it will be possible to do that? Will different companies work together?
Gowell: That’s the question and the challenge.
Every single one of these companies is basically a walled-off garden. How do we think about not just handing off somebody to Uber, which is what Citymapper is doing today, but how can I allow somebody to book both the car and the train?
Skift: Why do you think rail was so slow to become wired-up online?
Gowell: Because there were no marketplace standards. The reason the air industry works is because the airlines got together early on and created the standards.
Once you have systems in place and the data’s the same then it’s easy for a tech company to come in like Amadeus, and once you get the technology and the booking capability then you get an Expedia. But there is no Expedia without Amadeus and there is no Amadeus without the standards. And the rail industry just never did that and the reason that SilverRail has uniquely been making some progress is that we actually wrote all of the standards for the entire rail industry and basically copied what the air industry had done but rather than waiting for the rail lines to do it we did it.