Why We Started the Travel Disruption Summit — and Why You Need to Be There

The other day, someone asked, “what’s the point of Voyager HQ?” By now, this is a pretty familiar question — one that I and the team have answered hundreds of times in the past two years. It’s an answer that remains the same, even as we’ve grown and expanded the community and its offerings. Put simply, Voyager HQ exists to support startups as they innovate the next generation of solutions for the travel industry. It's our belief that this support leads to an improved travel experience that allows more people to travel more easily. To achieve this vision, we must meaningfully connect as many travel startups, enterprise travel companies, and investors as we can, to give founders the resources they need to make these solutions. That scale of connection can only be created through a community.

As we near the second iteration of the Travel Disruption Summit, the question reminds me just how important our mission is -- and how this event is a living and breathing beacon for that mission. “The Summit,” as we call it, is the symposium for travel tech leaders and innovators - a curated gathering bringing together the travel industry’s “doers” for a day of atypical programming and frank conversations. It’s a convergence of all Voyager’s most involved partners across all sectors of travel, and this year we tripled the size of the event to include a wider sample of the industry. The event is application and invitation-only, to allow us to carefully curate the right blend of decision-makers, innovators, and travel professionals in the room.

As I reflect on where we’ve been, this seems like a perfect time to share more about the Summit, and what you’ll gain from joining us in New York City this May.


The genesis of the Summit

TDS emerged originally from conversations between Voyager HQ and Amadeus. We asked: How do we get the best and brightest of Voyager HQ’s community in a room together for one day, and maximize the connections they are striving to make throughout the year? Creating a conference was the natural answer.

“Groan. Not another conference!” That’s most people’s response when facing yet another industry event. Budget constraints require careful diligence, and since there’s never enough money (or time) to attend every gathering, we all carefully calculate the cost-to-benefit. Events must be demonstrably useful — and we knew that ours would be no different.

We saw that Voyager HQ was uniquely positioned to evolve the standard formula for industry events. Rather than the typical keynote/panel/networking break structure, we wanted to build the event around meaningful interactions that go deeper than quick chats over breaks or with seatmates at lunch. In an industry driven by relationships, it’s the deeper conversations — often had over drinks long after the event has ended — that move us ahead. The only way to navigate the disruption experienced across all parts of the travel industry is through serious collaboration and conversation.

What makes the Summit special

The programming at the Summit is made to be interesting and thought-provoking. Rather than fluffy platitudes, it offers incisive information that can be applied immediately in your work. So many conferences leave you feeling "meh" or, worse, ripped off. After attending TDS, you should be in a better position than when you arrived. We know the event has to be chock-full of value — and reasonably priced for our community of serious change-making travel startups, who are often priced out of industry gatherings. We’re committed to a realistic pricing tier for startups less than 4 years old with less than $5 million in funding.  

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What to expect during the Summit

For events, structure is everything. Predictable structure leads to predictable thoughts. To reflect Voyager’s community-driven mission, we decided that themed roundtables would be the ideal framework for attendees to directly engage around important industry issues. Rather than superficial chats, roundtables encourage deeper conversations that inspire action.

We start the day with roundtables over breakfast. Geared towards kickstarting thoughtful discussion, the structured, collaborative conversation at each table centers around one topic within the travel industry that attendees can self-select. The casual nature of these breakfast conversations is the perfect foundation to start the day energized and intrigued, with guards low and curiosity high.  

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This year, we’re orienting the content and networking around broader tracks: hospitality, tourism, and aviation. The track format enables us to discuss the topics most relevant to travelers in each phase of their travel journey and how it relates to the different segments.

  • Aviation: We’ll explore the future of aviation technology through multiple lenses, including distribution, in-flight experience, and the path to driving internal innovation.

  • Hospitality: In this track, experts will share perspectives on emerging models and infrastructure, the post-sharing economy business landscape, creative uses of infrastructure and inventory, optimizing technology in the guest experience, and working within a nuanced ecosystem of property owners, management companies, and brands.

  • Tourism: Some of the topics we’ll cover in this year’s Tourism track include the recent trend shift towards experiential travel, sustainability initiatives in popular destinations, and innovations in the logistical side of visiting a new place.

At lunch, we return to the roundtable format to explore the topics and themes raised from the stage earlier. Each roundtable is focused on a particular aspect of the end consumers’ journey, and the conversation will be led by a moderator with experience in this particular topic. This keeps the discussion on track and relevant, with the moderator pushing and probing to engage the entire table. Each roundtable is deliberately filled with four industry professionals, four startups, one investor and one media representative. Last year, we had one startup tell us that he activated Proof of Concepts with all four partners at his table! The format works.

The afternoon is all about startups. Have you ever wondered what corporate innovation programs are looking for when engaging with startups? As a startup, have you interviewed investors to also make sure they’re the best fit for your company? This is the focus of the reverse pitch session. It gives leading corporate innovation programs the opportunity to share their views on innovation -- and to simmer in the hot seat with live questions from travel startup founders. And yes -- we will crown a winner from among the presenting corporates!

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The startup pitches close out the day, offering a view into the latest innovations from emerging companies. Startups apply on the website with a 45-second video pitch, and anyone can vote on which startups they’d like to see pitch live on stage for a top prize! All founders receive feedback on four criteria (business model, pitch, fundability, and product market fit) from both the panelists and audience members.

Who participates in the Summit

Last year, we welcomed 147 professionals from 97 companies across all segments of travel. This year, we’ve graduated to a larger venue and tripled the attendance. While our capacity has expanded, our focus on outcome-driven connections remains.

It’s an important event to attend if you’re a startup trying to break into the industry. It’s valuable for enterprises looking for new ways to innovate in the space, as well as investors monitoring the latest opportunities based on the needs of travelers and knowledge of the industry.

We’re keenly aware of the gender and diversity imbalances of many industry event lineups. When we set out to plan Voyager’s marquee event, we committed to representing the richness and depth of diversity that makes the travel industry so progressive and powerful. In selecting speakers, we prioritized proper representation that accurately reflects our global industry. Here are a few highlights of our speaker lineup:

  • Sam Jain from Fareportal

  • Kerri Zeil from Amadeus

  • Javier Egipiaco from Arlo Hotels

  • Alex Shashou from Alice

  • Geetika Argawal from VAWAA

  • Daniella De Stefano Pachon from Trip Loop

See our full program here, as well as a breakdown of all of our speakers.

How to join the Summit

Voyager HQ has always been about curated community. It’s about being introduced to someone who could move your business (and your ambitions) forward, at the right time and place. It's about a community that shares, supports, and uplifts.

It’s that mindset that drives the Travel Disruption Summit to be a hyper-focused embodiment of the Voyager HQ community. It’s a place for knowledge sharing and fruitful connections that extend far beyond the event itself. It’s intimate, it’s fresh, it’s a lot of fun. I hope my enthusiasm is infectious. After last year's inaugural event exceeded expectations, we’re are stepping it up. We've secured a larger venue right in Midtown Manhattan, just a few blocks from Voyager HQ. We're so excited to deliver a marquee event that earns its place on your annual conference calendar. Let’s TDS!

Convinced? Good. Apply here. It’s an event like no other! We appreciate the support of our sponsors Amadeus, Fareportal, Affirm, Uplift and JetBlue Technology Ventures.

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