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The Future of Travel: “Artificial Intelligence that can accurately recommend an entire travel package” With Josh Galun of Excella

Personalization has been incredibly beneficial to hospitality and travel customers. It’s great to get tips for destinations and trip types that are right for you. But after that, there’s still a huge amount of work to plan the trip. This is the next step in personalization, where the customer gets an entire package bundled up […]


Personalization has been incredibly beneficial to hospitality and travel customers. It’s great to get tips for destinations and trip types that are right for you. But after that, there’s still a huge amount of work to plan the trip. This is the next step in personalization, where the customer gets an entire package bundled up for them that’s precisely what they want to do, at the time they want to do it, at the cost they want to pay. Whoever gets there first is going to revolutionize the industry, and travelers are going to wonder how they ever lived without it.


As a part of my series on “The future of travel” I had the pleasure of interviewing Josh Galun, Hospitality & Travel Lead at Excella. Josh has has been at Excella for over 8 years and most recently joined the Excella Leadership Team in 2018. Josh has wide-ranging experience in project management, custom software development, process definition, IT security, data warehousing, and digital analytics. He currently focuses on the Hospitality and Travel sector, and leads teams at multiple industry clients. Josh also organizes the DC Hospitality Tech Meetup and is co-chair of the HEDNA Hotel Analytics Working Group.


Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Dumb luck! I had been working in federal government technology consulting for many years and for the first time in my career, I found myself unstaffed between projects. By chance, a hospitality company asked my firm for help with digital analytics during this time. At first, the client wouldn’t even consider me, because I had no experience in hospitality. But they finally gave in and gave me a chance for a quick trial period, and I must have passed the audition. I fell in love with the hospitality industry right away and never looked back.

 Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

I worked with a client that had spent huge amounts of time and money on a new system. When launch day came, the system did not work. I mean, not a single thing worked. The client knew it, but they had made such a hoopla that they were too embarrassed to admit it. So they launched anyway! When you clicked a button, all it did was send an email to an employee to have them do the task manually. It was like the Wizard of Oz — pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. But hey, as far as the outside world knew it was a huge success.

 Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

In my first-ever consulting engagement, I was immediately thrown into a phone meeting with the client and other firms. People kept using an abbreviation that I didn’t know, and I finally asked what it was. The deadpan response: “That’s the name of the project.” I died of shame. Sometimes it’s best to save your questions for later!

 What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Our consultants at Excella have the most incredible mix of skills, and they really can handle anything our clients need. There was a business analyst on my team who has his master’s degree from UChicago in “contemporary French discourse.” One day, a client needed someone to work on a predictive model. This business analyst raises his hand. It turns out he’s also been learning data science! He takes over the model, makes a ton of enhancements, and the client is thrilled. People like that are incredibly rare. To have a company filled with them makes my job easy and allows us to do incredible work for our customers.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”? Can you share a story about that?

Don’t put the weight of the world on your shoulders. It happens all the time in consulting because people feel like the entire project will fail if they make a single mistake.

But if you burn out from all that pressure, you’re not helping anyone. Trust your colleagues to do their part. And frankly, have some humility! I always think of the quote attributed to Charles DeGaulle, “The graveyards are full of indispensable men.” Believing that it’s all on you is, frankly, a little out of touch and will only cause you extra stress in the long run.

Plus, you have to keep it all in proportion. Early in my career, I was freaking out because we had discovered some bugs in a system I was building, and we were going to have to delay the product launch. I was afraid to tell my boss. When I worked up the courage, he asked me, “Will anyone die because the system is late?” The answer, of course, was no. So he said, “Then I guess we’re going to be late.” Thinking back to that has helped me many times since.

 None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

So many people have helped me along the way that it’s hard to pick just one — so I’ll choose the very first person out of many. In my first job after college, I was paired up with Ira, who had come back to work out of retirement. Ira looked at me and saw this 22-year old punk who didn’t know anything about how to build a system. I looked at him and saw a 78-year old who stopped keeping up around 1990. We were both right! But once I opened my mind, I got an incredible amount from Ira. It was like an accelerated course, as he imparted five decades of insights and experience faster than I could keep up. I think that got me a huge head start in my career. Plus, we came to really love working together, which was a great lesson in keeping an open mind towards your teammates!

Let’s jump to the core of our discussion. Can you share with our readers about the innovations that you are bringing to the travel and hospitality industries?

We are bringing cutting-edge artificial intelligence (AI) that can accurately recommend an entire travel package to the customer, from flights to activities to hotels to dining and everything else in between. Think of it as a travel agent on your phone.

Which “pain point” are you trying to address by introducing this innovation?

It doesn’t matter if you’re a leisure traveler planning a family vacation or a business traveler who needs to meet with seven different firms in three days; travelers are being overwhelmed by choices. Let’s say you’re going to New York City. There are 270 hotels to choose from. On top of that, you have AirBnB and numerous home-sharing options. Alternatively, you could stay in New Jersey and travel in, but then what’s your game plan for transportation? Are you going to stay close to the train? Are there good bus options? Will you rent a car? Of course, as you’re doing all this, you’re researching on multiple sites to make sure you’re not missing anything and to make sure you’re getting the best rate. In fact, the average traveler visits 38 websites before booking a trip, according to Expedia. It’s no wonder that the average traveler is spending weeks planning their trips across dozens of websites. That’s a huge amount of time that most people would rather spend elsewhere.

 How do you envision that this might disrupt the status quo?

Personalization has been incredibly beneficial to hospitality and travel customers. It’s great to get tips for destinations and trip types that are right for you. But after that, there’s still a huge amount of work to plan the trip. This is the next step in personalization, where the customer gets an entire package bundled up for them that’s precisely what they want to do, at the time they want to do it, at the cost they want to pay. Whoever gets there first is going to revolutionize the industry, and travelers are going to wonder how they ever lived without it.

 Can you share 5 examples of how travel and hospitality companies will be adjusting over the next five years to the new ways that consumers like to travel?

I see five trends that I think will have ever-growing impacts on the industry:

1. Customers are only increasing their expectations for a seamless experience across all their travel apps and social media accounts. The bar keeps getting higher and travel, and hospitality companies can’t rest on their laurels.

2. Similarly, customers continue to increase their expectations for personalized travel and trip offers. They’re getting more concerned about what data they share, how that data is being used, and how their information is being protected. Striking the right balance and convincing customers to share their data will be a major challenge in the future.

3. Loyalty programs are going to need to keep adding more and more partnerships to be attractive to travelers. As a result, customers will increasingly be able to use hotel points with airlines and airline points with retailers and retailer points with app stores. Eventually, I think that will lead to a shift away from traditional loyalty programs altogether, and the rise of loyalty programs that are truly cross-industry.

4. A lot of travelers already care about their environmental impact and how to mitigate it. That consideration is only going to become more widespread, and companies are going to have to figure out compelling answers to it.

5. In the past few years coming out of the financial crisis, the industry has noticeably shifted to focusing on luxury travel and travelers. That’s where the growth has been. Over the next few years, I expect the pendulum to swing back and put more emphasis on mass-market, attainable travel.

 You are a “travel insider”. How would you describe your “perfect vacation experience”?

I’m easy. Give me a beach, a drink, and a babysitter for my kid and I can be very happy.

Can you share with our readers how have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

Americans are wildly overworked. We start with less paid time off than workers in other countries, and then many of us don’t even use the time we do get. More than 700M vacation days go unused every year. It’s an epidemic of stress and it’s not healthy! One of the great things about being in the hospitality and travel sector is supporting initiatives that help people use that time to refresh and find enjoyment. I’m not saying it’s the same as solving world hunger, but it’s definitely bringing some goodness to a lot of people!

 You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I’d like to get people competitive about how much they give back to the community instead of how much they make.

Think about how much attention we pay to professional success. We look at our peers and try to figure out how much they make, what schools their kids are attending, and what kind of neighborhood they live in. People show off with fancy cars and other forms of conspicuous consumption. And as people move higher up, this becomes a matter of public discussion. We rank CEOs on how much they make and rank wealthy people on who has the most billions. It’s like a game to see who’s winning.

Meanwhile, most people don’t like to boast about how they give to charity or give back to the community. It feels gauche, so they keep it a private matter. But imagine if that was what we were competing about. We could channel so many resources into helping people. All of our natural competitiveness and jealousy would be put to a good purpose!

How can our readers follow you on social media?

I have a very addictive personality, so I’ve stayed away from most social media to protect myself! But I have been known to post my thoughts on hospitality and travel technology to my LinkedIn feed at https://www.linkedin.com/in/joshgalun/, because I can pretend that’s work.

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