American Express Travel President Talks About the Post-Pandemic Vacation Boom - Kanebridge News
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American Express Travel President Talks About the Post-Pandemic Vacation Boom

By Shivani Vora
Tue, Sep 26, 2023 8:40amGrey Clock 3 min

Audrey Hendley, as the president of American Express Travel, is attuned to how trips have evolved in recent years and what vacationers are seeking on those getaways.

The organisation is one of the largest travel and lifestyle networks in the world and spans 7,000 travel consultants in 23 countries. Its global footprint includes 1,400 lounges in 140 countries and more than 1,500 properties in its collection of Fine Hotels + Resorts.

Business at American Express Travel is bouncing back from the pandemic slump: In the second quarter of this year, bookings through the network across 138 million American Express cards that are currently in use reached pre-Covid levels.

Hendley, who lives in Westchester, New York, speaks to Penta about the most in-demand travel destinations, the new movement of traveling with a purpose, and her top advice for maximising any trip.

Penta: What are some travel trends you’re seeing this year?

Audrey Hendley: We have seen a notable shift in people’s interests driving travel decisions. Travellers are booking “set-jetting” trips that are inspired by shows like The White Lotus and Emily in Paris because they are increasingly inspired by pop culture.

Food also continues to impact booking decisions, with people building entire trips around reservations at incredible restaurants like Noma in Copenhagen or blocking off afternoons to do a taco tour in Mexico City. Travel has become less about the “where” and more about the “why.”

Which destinations are the most popular and what’s up and coming?

We put out a Trending Destinations list every year that highlights the places our card members are traveling to; 2023 is a mix of perennial favorites like Paris and the Florida Key, and some lesser-known destinations like Woodstock, Vermont, and Montenegro. While people are still revisiting the cities they love, we are also seeing an increase in trips to places that are off the beaten path. And as borders have opened post-pandemic, we’re seeing more trips being booked to places like Asia and Australia.

How do you think the rising cost of travel will impact decisions in 2023?

Our 2023 Global Travel Trends Report found that 80% of travellers would rather take a dream vacation than purchase a new luxury item. Our values have fundamentally shifted since the pandemic, and now, people want meaning in everything they do—travel included. They’re more purposeful.

Pre-pandemic, travel was about checking off a list of destinations you wanted to see. Now, it’s about really exploring and seeing a place in depth. Travellers will go to fewer places but see more where they do go. And they’re willing to spend on experiences and memories—what better way to create those things than travel?

How are younger generations shepherding the travel trends that we are seeing today?

As they continue to gain independence and financial freedom, millennial and Gen Z travelers are putting their stamp on modern travel trends. They want experiences, especially ones that look good in photos on social media. We are also seeing that they are extremely conscious of the impact their trips have on the environment and the communities they visit. They are pushing the industry to be more purposeful—they want hotels that prioritise sustainability, support local economies by employing locals, and value inclusion and diversity.

Can you speak to the hallmark of a great hotel and a great hotel stay?

It’s a property that knows you when you’re there. The staff addresses you by name and makes you feel at home. They offer exceptional service, a luxury that’s relaxed and infuses your stay with personal touches. I was in Paris on a recent work trip, for example, and stayed at the Maison Delano, one of the newest properties in the city. I walked into my room and found a charger that worked in France waiting for me as a welcome gift. It was such a simple gesture but meant so much on a work trip.

The Centurion Lounge Network has been regarded as one of the most luxurious airport lounge experiences. What sets it apart from other airport lounges?

I think it’s the quality of the product. We try to offer elevated food and local flavors. The lounge at San Francisco Airport, for example, features wines from nearby Napa Valley, and in Seattle, home to a big coffee culture, we have a coffee and espresso bar. With cuisine, we try to use chefs from that location to create menus, and they’re all different by location. We also try to use as many local producers as possible.

In addition, we offer high-touch services like chair massages and manicures in some lounges.

As a globetrotter yourself, what are some of your best travel tips?

I like to travel like a local, especially to touristy destinations. I always look for the small shops and restaurants that give me the true flavour of a destination rather than the big names where all the tourists go.

I also enjoy visiting popular destinations during the so-called off-peak season. I was in Venice [Italy] in February where the weather was glorious, and there weren’t nearly as many crowds as there are during the summer.

On business trips, I love carving out some personal time to balance the intensity of long workdays. I also start the day with some form of exercise whether it’s a run or jog—this also gives me an opportunity to see the destination.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.


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Leaders with epic hobbies seem to squeeze more hours out of the day than the rest of us

By Callum Borchers
Fri, Jul 19, 2024 4 min

Many of us can barely keep up with our jobs, never mind hobbies. Yet some top executives run marathons, wineries or music-recording studios on the side. How can they have bigger responsibilities and more fun than we do?

It can seem like ultrahigh achievers find extra hours in the day. They say they’ve just figured out how to manage their 24 better than the rest of us.

They also admit they take full advantage of the privileges of being a boss—the power to delegate and the means to do things like jetting to Denmark for a long weekend of windsurfing.

Dan Streetman trains as many as 20 hours a week for Ironman triathlons in addition to his job as CEO of cybersecurity firm Tanium. It’s a big commitment for anyone, never mind a corporate leader who travels to meet with customers every week. He pulls it off by sleeping fewer than seven hours a night and waking around 5 a.m., planning his exercise sessions months in advance, and switching his brain from work mode to sport mode almost as fast as he transitions from swimming to cycling during a competition.

“I tend to work right up until the day of the race,” says Streetman, 56 years old. “I remember being on a board call on a Friday night, and Saturday morning was an Ironman. That’s just part of it.”

Ahead of business trips, he maps running routes in unfamiliar cities and scouts nearby pools, often at YMCAs. He rides stationary bikes in hotel gyms and, if they’re subpar, makes a note to book somewhere else next time he’s in town.

Leaders who eat, breathe and sleep business can appear out of touch at a time when employees crave work-life balance and expect their bosses to model it. Today’s prototypical CEO has a full life outside of work, or at least the appearance of one.

Their tactics include waking up early, multitasking and scheduling fun as if it were any other appointment. When you’re a top executive, hobbies tend to disappear unless they’re on the calendar. One CEO told me he disguises “me time” as important meetings. Only his assistant knows which calendar blocks are fake.

Ben Betts calls himself a “spreadsheet guy,” which is a bit like saying Michelangelo was a paint guy. With Excel as his canvas, Betts creates cell-by-cell checklists for just about everything he does, from cooking Christmas dinner to building a coop for newly hatched ducklings.

Betts, 41, is CEO of Learning Pool, a professional-development software maker. The duck home is part of his ambitious effort to restore an 18th-century farmhouse in England. He’s been renovating for about five years and aims to finish this fall.

On a recent Saturday, Betts’s spreadsheet called for stripping overhead beams by 5 p.m. so he could refinish them. Otherwise, the task would have to wait until the following weekend, throwing off his whole timeline. His vision of the home as a cozy enclave—completed in time for the holidays—can only come true if he sticks to a precise plan.

“Sometimes I stand in the doorway, and my wife probably wonders what I’m staring at,” he says. “I’m picturing us on a corner sofa with our two kids and the dog, watching a film in front of the fireplace I installed.”

Back in the swing

John Sicard , president and CEO of supply-chain manager Kinaxis , got back into drumming many years after he let go of his dream to become a professional musician. He practices almost every day, but his sessions sometimes last only 20 minutes. He rehearses with bandmates two or three times a month. That’s enough to prepare Sicard, 61, to play Foo Fighters and Led Zeppelin covers at occasional charity gigs.

He also built a studio in his house, where he records up-and-coming artists. He finds time by sticking to this management philosophy: “The most successful CEOs do the least amount of work.”

For Sicard, that means letting his lieutenants take charge of—and responsibility for—their divisions. Many corporate leaders work harder than they need to because they micromanage or hire poorly and pick up the slack, he says.

Thomas Hansen , president of software maker Amplitude, is back to windsurfing, a sport he competed in as a teenager. He lives near the ocean in California but gets out on the water only about once a month, when the waves are just right. Hobbies don’t need to be daily activities to be fulfilling, he says, especially if they require training regimens.

To stay in shape for windsurfing, he rises at 4:30 a.m., seven days a week, for an hour of exercise. Hansen, 54, also guards his Saturdays and Sundays like the crown jewels of Denmark, his native country, limiting himself to two working weekends a year. Things that feel urgent can almost always wait till Monday, he contends.

‘Like a badass’

When Christine Yen isn’t calling the shots at work, she’s circling a racetrack at 80 mph on her Honda CB300F motorcycle. The co-founder and CEO of Honeycomb, which helps engineers diagnose problems in their software, took up racing a few years ago.

Prepandemic, her motorcycle was strictly for commuting in San Francisco—and making an impression. She loved pulling up to investor meetings in her hornet-yellow helmet and leather riding suit.

“It fits me like a glove, and it makes me feel like a badass,” says Yen, 36.

The keys to spending full days at the track are planning and being willing to work at odd hours, Yen discovered. Her favorite track publishes racing schedules in 10-week batches. As soon as a slate is released, she circles the dates when she expects her workload will be lightest, aiming to participate in roughly half of the events.

“I have also been known to bring my laptop to the motel and get some work done in the evenings,” she says. “It sounds boring to say hobbies can be scheduled, but that’s how I protect my time.”