IN THE H T SEAT
Since Orbitz founder Terry Jones formed
WayBlazer last October, the start-up has
generated plenty of industry interest but
has revealed little about its projects. This
week, though, Trisept Solutions, the creators of Vax Vacation Access, became the
first company to announce a partnership
with WayBlazer — doing so as it unveiled
Xcelerator, a platform that will use WayBlazer’s and IBM Watson’s cognitive computing technology
to enable travel agents to
more easily book tailored
vacations for clients. Senior
Editor Robert Silk spoke
with WayBlazer CEO
Felix Laboy about the
Q: Can you explain
how Xcelerator will
make it easier for a
travel agent to find the
A: Basically, WayBlazer and IBM-involved
deeper discovery in the travel offering
So in the case of Xcelerator, the agent
will be able to go deeper in discovery of
the data for cruise, hotel and tours by
using tools that can do a natural language search.
Q: What is a natural language search?
A: It’s the ability to interact with the system as if you were talking with a person
or a travel agent. So, for example, you
might write, “
Looking for family-friendly vacation,”
whereas now you
have to go and ask
for a particular part
of that information.
An agent might
look for “Mediterranean cruises” or a
“luxury hotel in Madrid” or “adventure
tours in South Africa,” but they can’t do
it all at once.
Q: So, Xcelerator’s natural language
search isn’t just looking for a search
A: We will be injecting all this data that
Xcelerator will have in terms of cruise,
hotel and tour. Then the agent will be
able to go into that system and ask a
question in natural language, and the
system will be able to spit it back out.
For example, it can answer a ques-
tion about family friendly, but it’s not
looking for the search terms. You have
a hotel that might have a pool. It might
have a kids club. But if you
were looking at the search
terms, it doesn’t say “fam-
ily friendly.” But we’ve
created this technology
that says, “kids clubs;
that’s related to fam-
ily friendly.” It thinks
like a human would.
Q: How much detail
can IBM-Watson and
bring to the itinerary
A: One example is
perhaps you use an
agent who is well
versed in the Caribbean. You’ve used
that agent, and now you say, “We want
to go to Europe or Asia.” Perhaps that
agent doesn’t have the expertise with
Europe and Asia that they have in the
This system will allow the agent to
be able to become an expert on a much
greater area of the world than they
might have otherwise. The way it will
do that is if you look at the client’s trip
to the Caribbean, you could use that
info, and you can
go into the system
and use some of
those things that
they liked from the
Caribbean trip and
put it in for the new
What we’re saying is that an agent can put a search
into the system and get many more
ideas for their clients. Otherwise, they’d
have to do much more exhaustive trip
They’d have to go to the specific
countries in Asia and get those tours.
They couldn’t do it across all the countries and across all the data.
WayBlazer He’s especially enthused about the Dive-In burgers
served for lunch at the Terrace
Grill on HAL ships, but he’s
a connoisseur off the ships,
too. His favorite spot in New
York, for example, is a bit unexpected: The Burger Joint,
hidden away in the lobby of
the Le Parker Meridien Hotel
on 56th Street.
TC was happy to see that “The Tonight
Show” host Jimmy Fallon looked genuinely enthusiastic last week as he
used the show to announce that
beginning in 2017 he’ll have his
own ride at Universal Studios
“Race Through New York
Starring Jimmy Fallon” will be
fun, scary and exciting, Fallon
Still, Fallon, being Fallon, couldn’t
help making at least one quip about the
“The best part of the whole thing. On
the way out there’s a gift shop. You can
buy a T-shirt for $200,” he said.
Anthony Bourdain, the chef who
became a household name thanks to
his televised travels to eat local cuisine
around the globe, shared some of his
best travel tips with Ensemble Travel
Group agents at Ensemble’s conference in
Orlando last week.
The keynote speaker said that to truly
experience local food, they should eat
whatever the locals are offering.
That tenet undoubtedly has something to do with his traveling essentials, which an agent asked him
about: “Comfortable shoes and
Imodium will get you far.”
Bourdain wasn’t the only
notable conference attendee
to divulge personal tidbits.
During a panel, Bob Somers,
the vice president of global sales
for Delta Airlines, gave Ensemble
agents some insight as to why he wanted
to work in the airline industry in the first
place. “I wanted to date flight attendants
and travel the world,” he said.
FRIENDS & COLLEAGUES
f you want to see Orlando Ashford’s face light up, ask him
about burgers. The Holland America Line prez is a big fan.
‘We’ve created technology
that says, “kids clubs; that’s
related to family friendly.” It
thinks like a human would.’
Lindblad Expeditions Holdings,
a global provider of expedition
cruises and adventure travel
experiences, announced it has
named John McClain as its CFO.
He will join Lindblad on Nov.
10. McClain brings a long history
of leadership positions, most recently serving as the chief financial officer of the Jones Group until its sale to Sycamore Partners in
Small Luxury Hotels of the World
(SLH) hired longtime hospitality
executive Filip Boyen (pictured)
to succeed Paul Kerr as CEO.
Boyen’s experience includes
work with what
was then Ori-
tor of SLH
Goodridge & Associates in July.
Kerr, who has headed SLH since
1991, is retiring.
Travelport named Stephen Shurrock its executive vice president
and chief commercial officer, effective Jan. 4.
Shurrock is currently manager
of Telefonica’s consumer division.
He has been with the broadband
and telecommunications provider
since 2001 and has held positions
as CEO of O2 Ireland and CEO of
Telefonica’s new digital business
and innovation division.
Shurrock replaces Kurt Ekert,
who will leave the company at the
end of the year as the position relocates to Travelport’s global headquarters in Langley, England.
Destination Hotels appointed
Steve Santomo senior vice president of destination rental management.
Santomo boasts more than 30
years of experience at midscale
suburban properties and luxury
resort destinations throughout
the U.S. Most recently, he held
the role of area managing director of operations for Destination
Hotels’ 400 condominium rentals
and nine homeowner associations in Snowmass Village, Colo.
Joel Freyberg has returned to
Gansevoort Hotel Group as managing director of its Gansevoort
Park Avenue hotel in New York.
Freyberg was previously general manager of the Chatwal New
York, and also had management
stints with the Waldorf Towers,
the Carlyle and other hotels. He
was previously manager of Gansevoort Meatpacking when that
property opened in 2004.
4 NOVEMBER 2, 2015 WWW.TRAVELWEEKLY.COM
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