Q&A with Chief Travel Officer Danny Finkel

Q&A with Chief Travel Officer Danny Finkel

The Navan Team

13 Aug 2020
8 minute read
Blog Image // Q&A with Chief Travel Officer Danny Finkel

We’re delighted to share that Danny Finkel has been promoted to the role of chief travel officer, where he will lead global strategy for the travel management company (TMC) side of the Navan business, managing supply and demand to provide value and support our customers. He will work to ensure that Navan delivers the best shopping and booking experience for travelers while also overseeing all of Navan’s supplier content strategy, relationships, and operations across air, lodging, car, and rail to give users continued unrivaled inventory choices.

Prior to Navan, Danny led the global air strategy for Expedia and the lodging strategy for Egencia. Danny brings a passion for travel and technology and 14 years of customer-focused experience to his new role. We sat down with Danny to learn more about him, his love of travel, and his new role at Navan.

Navan: How did you first hear about Navan?

Danny: In 2018, I saw a Navan speaker on a panel at a conference and was interested in learning more. I’d been with Expedia for a number of years, but I’d never heard of Navan. I looked Ariel Cohen up on LinkedIn and learned he went to the Kellogg School of Management, where I went to business school. I reached out to him to make a professional connection. One thing led to another, and I found myself working at Navan as Vice President of Booking Experience and Supplier Strategy. During my time here at Navan, I’ve supported the overall disruption that Navan is bringing to the travel industry on behalf of travelers so they can focus on where they are going, not the process of getting there.

In support of this, we aim to take a different approach to supply and create a global agency. Instead of thinking about supplier relations as merely dividing a pie of resources, we look to grow value and be true partners in a win-win-win equation for suppliers, travelers, and companies. That's how I built my career, working with partners, suppliers, and the industry to come up with the best traveler-centric solutions. This new role is a natural fit for me, as is being part of Navan's mission-driven company and culture.

Navan: What do you plan to focus on as chief travel officer?

Danny: Navan combines three core components. First, we are an amazing tech platform as an OBT (Online Booking Tool). We’re also an amazing payments and expense platform. And third, we are a TMC (Travel Management Company). My role is to make sure that we continue to be the best TMC and that we meet our clients’ needs from a service perspective, from a global inventory and core services perspective, and from a point-of-sale perspective -- doing all of it in true Navan form by challenging the status quo and constantly raising the bar to deliver the best experience for our customers, partners and travelers.

Another focus will be to further expand our travel supply footprint, continuing to ensure that we have the best breadth and depth of content, including access to all the rates for a given room, for example. Essentially, we want to expand on what we’re already doing to deliver that unrivaled inventory choice for business travelers.

We want to ensure we’re exceeding our clients’ expectations, which requires a robust global presence--by going to market and making sure that we can meet the needs of our global customers and travelers, wherever they may be. My team will also continue working with our product team to ensure that we have the best shopping and booking experience for all travel verticals--air, lodging, car, and rail.

Finally, many operational components to travel are necessary to meet and exceed our clients’ expectations around fulfillment. Things like the back office and the mid-office, and making sure that we have all the data flowing and connections optimized between our suppliers and us. We are ensuring it’s functioning properly while also thinking about ways that we can modernize and revolutionize it with technology to create efficiencies and automation that haven't been possible before--for example, launching the ability for companies to track and automatically use unused tickets, which alleviates a major sore point for many travel managers.

Navan: What are the opportunities you see in business travel today?

Danny: One is consolidation. Travel managers use many disparate systems for many enterprises to manage their T&E programs. By using that many systems, they miss out on the efficiency of automation, data integrity, and the ability to scale and effect change within their organizations quickly. Bringing those systems and solutions into one platform will enable travel managers and companies to meet their needs for efficiency, cost savings, and duty of care while simplifying policy and program management.

It’s also going to be important to create travel experiences that employees like and want to use. Travel is a big part of life for many employees, myself included. For a long time across the industry, the traveler experience was an afterthought. In the past, decisions were based on cost and efficiency. While those things continue to be important to the business, it’s also important to have an experience that people want to use and feel happy about because it’s making their lives easier. There is going to be a continued focus on the experience of everything from shopping through booking to safety and well-being throughout the trip.

Lastly, we see personalization as a really big opportunity. In the past, very little personalization was built into travel programs and travel, especially legacy solutions. Navan has worked to leverage machine learning and AI to create personalized platforms, and we’re seeing that spread throughout the industry. Things like direct connections with our suppliers enable further offer-level personalization. It’s about making sure travelers are seeing the types of inventory they want to see at the point of time that they want to see them. Traditional legacy technical connectivity hasn't allowed that to happen, but now we have NDC and direct connections that are allowing for that personalization to take place in a way that has never been done before. I'm really excited to see what we can continue to do in that space.

Navan: How has Navan grown and evolved since you first joined in January 2019?

Danny: It has been amazing. We’ve grown significantly over the past 18 months with new customers and the volume of travel we manage. We've delivered product after product, technology after technology, and innovation after innovation in rapid succession as I've never seen before. I've worked at fast-moving tech companies before, but the sheer volume of customer-focused enhancements in my time here has been amazing.

What I’ve seen is an increasing focus on growing as part of the travel ecosystem, which means fostering relationships and innovation in all parts of our marketplace. Regarding partnerships, we work to fulfill the promise of creating value and moving the industry forward. We are building processes and finding the right balance between fast-paced growth and scale.

We’ve done a great job with that, along with developing our ability to react to changing market dynamics. Because we have a strong startup mentality, we can pivot on a dime, even at a thousand-person company. It’s terrifying and exhilarating, and exciting all at the same time. We've proven it, even as we’ve launched Navan Expense, which supports payments and expensing beyond travel.

Navan: What do you enjoy about travel?

Danny: Every. Single. Part. Of. It. During the past few months, when travel has been restricted, I even contemplated driving to the airport and sitting in a garage to feel the buzz of being at an airport. I love seeing people go to different locations. I love experiencing different cultures, food, activities and ways of life. I love the diversity of interactions that travel brings. Travel is the most important piece of everyone's life; whether it's for business reasons or personal, you have the most memorable experiences on your trips. In my career in travel, including at Navan, I love being part of making somebody's life a little bit different. A little bit better. I love bringing the world closer together. That's one of the really beautiful parts of being in travel.

Navan: Favorite destination?

Danny: If we're talking about food, I love Japan. If we're talking beaches, I love Hawaii. If we're talking about a city, I love Sydney. If we're talking about culture, I love Spain and Italy. The world is multifaceted, so it's so hard to find just one that is a favorite. In fact, for my honeymoon, we went on an around-the-world trip because I couldn't pick one.

Navan: Window or aisle?

Danny: Window.

Navan: Best book or another pastime for a long flight?

Danny: When you’re traveling, it makes sense to dive into a great travel book. I have loved every single Bill Bryson book. He's a travel writer who brings destinations to life. I've been on many flights to a location where I've been reading his books. It’s fun to do before you get to where you're going.

Navan: What haven’t we asked that you’d like our audience to know?

Danny: I’d like to add that I'm excited about the future of travel and about what we're delivering. We're actually delivering on our promise to change the industry. And we have such a focus on our users--for my role, that’s focusing on the supplier side, customers, and travelers--but as a company, we’re focused on all our users. We're changing the T&E experience through our products,e technology, and innovations, down to the conversations we're having. I'm excited about this journey, and I'm really excited to see what’s coming next.

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