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During the 2017 Skift Global Forum in September in New York City, we heard from a host of the travel industry’s top leaders from across every sector. And after first speaking to them on stage in front of an audience of more than 1,100, we took another few minutes with them to get more insight in our backstage Skift Take Studio.
In our behind-the-scenes conversation, JetBlue Technology Ventures President Bonny Simi spoke about the potential of blockchain, the innovations that will be most noticeable to travelers, and why the airline wanted to invest in and partner with startups.
“The reason that JetBlue decided to set up a venture arm is for us to really think beyond the horizon,” she said. “There is so much happening in technology that is disrupting travel; you can think back to how much Airbnb and Uber have disrupted travel, so we want to get ahead of it.”
Simi said the company focuses on innovations that are still two to five years out, though some investments can be more near-term or long-term. She expects blockchain to have an impact on travel, though the technology is still in its early days.
“Blockchain will be to travel what the internet was to travel,” she said. “Right now, we are in like the 1990s for the internet, where people are like, ‘Uh, what is this?'”
Customers will likely notice the biggest changes in artificial intelligence and biometrics, Simi said, especially with the facial recognition component of the latest iPhone.
Simi, who is also a JetBlue pilot, said one of her favorite investments is in Zunum Aero, a hybrid-to-electric aircraft manufacturer. She called it “one of those 10-year-out investments.”
“We believe that electric propulsion is going to change aviation for regional travel,” she said. “Think of Tesla for air.”