aiTech Trend Interview with Fritz Oberhummer, Vice President, Travel & Hospitality at Intellias - AITechTrend

aiTech Trend Interview with Fritz Oberhummer, Vice President, Travel & Hospitality at Intellias

Can you provide an overview of your role as Vice President of Travel & Hospitality at Intellias? What are your primary responsibilities in this capacity?

I focus on driving digital transformation for travel and hospitality companies across the market. Within Intellias, lead the travel and hospitality vertical by designing a go-to-market strategy, developing innovative R&D projects, and delivering meaningful thought leadership content. 

In collaboration with the strategy and technology delivery teams, I also oversee business development activities, ensuring that our digital solutions meet the evolving needs of the travel and hospitality industry.

We aim to continually innovate and provide efficient solutions that drive growth and transformation in this dynamic sector. Therefore, I dedicate much of my day to monitoring industry and market trends. This continuous analysis helps drive our commercial and technology strategy and identify new business opportunities, ensuring Intellias stays ahead in the travel and hospitality technology space.

What inspired you to pursue a career in the Travel & Hospitality industry, particularly in the field of Digital Transformation and Consulting?

My roots are in a family of 3rd generation hoteliers with a history of hundreds of years of being in-keepers or in other parts of travel. I have worked in the technology field of travel in leadership positions for companies such as Expedia and HRS. I’ve always been fascinated by the potential of technology to revolutionize travel in every part of the journey, enhancing experiences for travelers and businesses alike. 

My vision has been to address and overcome the technological gaps that have historically limited the travel industry, which largely came into the world by technology being built in stacks over each other, disconnected, and never upgraded to a unified standard or for easy data exchange. I am driven by the belief that innovative technology solutions can unlock new possibilities and efficiencies in travel and hospitality by fluidly adopting the use cases and not rigid frameworks that are still the standard. 

This conviction led me to focus on making Intellias the trusted partner for building and implementing outstanding travel technology solutions, which they have proven for many other industries.

In your opinion, what are the key challenges and opportunities for digital transformation in the Travel & Hospitality sector?

The goal of digitalization in the travel industry is to future-proof the organization, which means fundamentally changing how it operates and delivers value to customers.

We face several challenging areas within the travel and hospitality industry, which build on each other like parts of a pyramid. As it is with a pyramid, they need to be in place on top of each other to make the building stand firm: 

1. Future technical debt (bottom of the pyramid)
The current technology state of travel industry companies is often a legacy IT stack where continuously new services are added on top over the years, often reaching the end of their lifecycle without being replaced, in many cases preventing further scalability and finally creating major issues around system stability. Leaders must decide today about this “future technical debt” coming tomorrow.

2. True platforming, end-to-end, online and offline (middle of the pyramid)
The next challenge is achieving seamless end-to-end service integration, both online and offline. The industry’s segmented structure, comprising suppliers, distributors, and travel technology, often leads to a fragmented view of the traveler’s journey. Each sector focuses on its domain, lacking insight into the overall experience. Particularly, integrating offline aspects remains a challenge.

While other industries have adopted IoT environments, the travel sector is still catching up in incorporating technology into the final stages of the travel experience, highlighting the need for a more unified approach across all travel segments. 

3. The human factor in travel as the unique centerpiece (top of the pyramid)
Travel often involves stress, much of which stems from the unknown. Reliance on professionals is crucial, from knowledgeable taxi drivers to skilled pilots and attentive hotel staff. This human element enriches the travel experience, ensuring safety and enjoyment, and can’t be replaced by automation or AI. 

Technology’s role is to streamline the process, removing unnecessary obstacles between travelers and industry professionals. It should work in the background to eliminate friction points, allowing for a focus on the most rewarding aspects of the journey. Human interaction, with its inherent trust and connection, remains irreplaceable, and our technological advancements should enhance, not bypass, this crucial aspect of travel. Thus, upskilling human talent with the help of AI will be one of the centerpieces for the years to come.

As an internal ambassador for travel domain knowledge, how do you foster a culture of knowledge sharing and expertise within Intellias staff in relation to travel integrations, builds, and environments?

At Intellias, we create an environment where everyone feels included. The collaboration between the development, sales, and marketing teams is crucial for sharing diverse perspectives and expertise, enriching the overall understanding of travel integrations. 

Our comprehensive internal knowledge base includes case studies, project learnings, and industry research. We also maintain channels for daily communication, sharing insights, asking questions, and discussing challenges related to travel projects. We exchange the latest updates, trends, emerging technologies, and best practices during the weekly meetings. This way, we keep our team updated and encourage continuous learning. Most importantly, we work on rapid prototyping to make the ideas come to life – and show proofs-of-concept to our clients to demonstrate our engineering prowess and keep our teams sharp.

What are some of the most significant challenges you’ve encountered in your role, and how have you overcome them?

I have centered my professional life around significant challenges as those provide the only valuable growth opportunities. Here are some key challenges I’ve faced at Intellias and the strategies I used to overcome them: 

Keeping pace with rapid technological change
The speed at which technology evolves in travel and hospitality is staggering. To keep pace internally, I’ve focused on fostering a culture of continuous learning and adaptability within our teams. Externally, I rely on my large-scale network of travel technology professionals and regularly update our skills and knowledge through training, workshops, and industry conferences.

Integrating advanced technologies into legacy systems
One of the major hurdles has been integrating new digital technologies with existing legacy systems. To address this, we’ve adopted a phased approach, starting with thorough assessments, followed by pilot projects to test compatibility and performance before full-scale integration. 

Balancing innovation with practicality
It’s easy to get caught up in the allure of cutting-edge technology. However, only some innovations are practical or necessary for some projects. We’ve overcome this by creating Design Thinking workshops with our clients to dig deep into their issues and determine which technical solutions make sense to solve them, when, and how.

It’s crucial to stay updated with the latest digitalization trends and leverage critical technologies for competitive advantage. Here are the main trends in travel and tourism:

Cloud adoption
Cloud infrastructure provides the flexibility, scalability, and operational efficiency needed for growth in digital transformation. But most importantly, it gives a cutting-edge ability to handle data, which is essential for harnessing AI and other advanced technologies.

Machine learning & AI
AI is already transforming customer service in travel, with AI chatbots like Sofia from TAP Portugal Airlines and Julie from Amtrak providing efficient assistance and personalization. Hotels use AI for tailored recommendations, enhancing guest experiences based on data from loyalty programs. But even more, we will now see a shift to “upskilling existing talent” via AI support programs, which helps mitigate the current problem of continued staff shortages in the industry.

Internet of Things (IoT)
The Internet of Things connects various aspects of travel, from vehicles to hotels, allowing for real-time monitoring and asset tracking. This, for example, includes using beacon technology in airports, sensors for passenger flow management, and intelligent hotel metering for energy conservation. But how do you bring the online supply/distribution/operations technology landscape into full live context with the “offline” IoT technology? It seems that this is the “holy grail of travel” and the final last leg to connect it all – and one of the answers is likely “digital twins.”

Digital twins
Digital twins provide hyper-realistic live models and simulations of travel experiences, combining data to create immersive 3D models of destinations. Digital twinning enhances smart tourism by offering real-time updates on safety, itinerary, and local specifics for a memorable experience.

Companies can simulate different conditions for data generation with the help of AI/ML and get a perfect view of long-term business development. Think of a hotel at different occupancy levels, weather conditions, staffing levels, and F&B outlet usage. According to automated planning, simulations will create an entirely new, in-depth business picture. AI will run most of this, offsetting the results with automatic energy and revenue distribution management.

Using digital twins as the beating heart to integrate all online- and offline technology, we can offer a more connected, efficient, and personalized travel experience. It also allows Intellias to stay at the forefront of the industry’s digital transformation.

Looking ahead, what do you envision for the future of the Travel & Hospitality industry in terms of digital transformation and consulting, and how does Intellias fit into that vision?

I envision a significant shift toward what I call “deviceless travel.” This concept is rooted in the understanding that mobile technology has revolutionized travel and introduced new anxieties and dependencies. I foresee a future where travel becomes a seamless, almost device-free experience, characterized by the emergence of The Digital Purist Traveler.

This Digital Purist Traveler seeks to minimize the use of personal devices, relying instead on an integrated network of IoT devices and AI systems. The journey of such a traveler would be a masterclass in digital minimalism and efficiency: 

Seamless integration with IoT
Travelers would navigate their journeys through facial and voice recognition, interacting with IoT devices, from taxis to airport terminals. 

AI-powered personal assistance
Embedded identity systems, like the NeoKe program, would help AI models anticipate and arrange all travel necessities by connecting digital IDs of travelers through a secure network with each other – flights, accommodations, dining – based on individual preferences and real-time data.

Personalized and predictive services
AI would respond to immediate needs and predict requirements, like arranging clothes as per the destination’s weather or scheduling meals and transportation. 

Edge AI devices
For those not fully embracing purist travel, a new generation of devices with integrated Edge AI – like bright notebooks and augmented reality sunglasses – would offer more subtle and sophisticated digital assistance. 

Intellias fits into this vision by being at the forefront of integrating and refining these technologies. We focus on developing solutions that bridge the gap between ambitious concepts and practical applications. This includes working on AI integration and IoT connectivity and creating user-centric platforms that cater to the digital purist traveler and those preferring a more gradual transition to deviceless travel. 

The journey ahead is ambitious but grounded in realities and technological advancements already in motion. Our role at Intellias is to be the architect of these transformations, ensuring that the future of travel is not just a dream but an accessible, enjoyable, and seamless experience.

Finally, what advice would you give to individuals aspiring to pursue a career in leadership roles within the Travel & Hospitality and Digital Transformation sectors?

It’s mainly the “traveler-first” approach that must be at the center of any technology design. Anything that is a traveler’s full benefit, liking, and experience-lifting ability should be built. Anything else that might only have an indirect influence should always be measured: “How does this make the journey less frictionless? How can travelers be surprised and delighted at those touchpoints when technology plays a role?”.

Furthermore, it would help if you continuously learn about the latest trends and innovations in the travel and hospitality industry and digital technology. There are great newsletters, LinkedIn groups, small-scale industry events, and online get-togethers, which can inspire you daily about what comes next.

Focus on strategic vision, adaptability, and the ability to inspire and motivate teams. Be open to new ideas and approaches and be ready to adapt to the evolving industry landscape and test principles by using the Amazon methodology of “working backward” by creating “press releases” of fictional products that solve real-life issues.

But most importantly, meet with people from the industry in person. A quick story of a cup of tea can unlock unique opportunities by allowing you to connect the dots that you otherwise might oversee.


Fritz Oberhummer, Vice President, Travel & Hospitality at Intellias

Fritz leads Intellias’s Travel & Hospitality division, driving global collaborations with suppliers, distributors, and travel technology players. With over 25 years of industry expertise, Fritz brings a wealth of domain knowledge in travel and technology to Intellias partnerships, helping companies in their digital endeavors. 

Fritz has held significant roles in organizations like HRS Group and Expedia Group, developing next-generation travel technology, driving forward supplier-related product strategy, and forming lucrative 3rd party travel technology partnerships across global regions. He is also a successful former startup founder, mentor of startups in the Expedia JumpStart program, online marketing specialist, and hospitality professional. 

Recognized with numerous awards, including being a part of the esteemed PhocusWright Young Leaders Summit 2016, Fritz has established himself as a leader who intricately melds visionary leadership, technology, and strategy to help organizations succeed in Digital Transformation and achieve outstanding business results.


Intellias

Intellias is a trusted technology partner to top-tier organizations and digital natives, helping them accelerate their pace of sustainable digitalization. For over 20 years, Intellias has been building mission-critical projects and delivering measurable outcomes that meet our clients’ business needs. We are contributing to the success of the world’s leading brands, among which are Technologies, Syngenta, TomTom, HelloFresh, and Travis Perkins. Intellias empowers businesses operating in Europe, North America, and the Middle East to embrace innovation at scale. 

We help organizations from across various industries create innovative digital products and experiences using deep expertise in emerging technology, domain knowledge, and high-performance product culture. Based on the business’s strategic objectives, we enhance the product vision, technology utilization, and production capabilities.  

Vice President, Travel & Hospitality at Intellias