The Internet Travel News Exclusive Interview: Hal Rosenbluth chairman and ceo of Rosenbluth Internat

7th Mar 2003

Recognised as an unconventional and visionary leader, Hal Rosenbluth joined Rosenbluth International in 1974, becoming the fourth generation to lead the family business, taking it from a $20 million to a $6 billion company. Recently named a 20/20 Vision honoree, Hal Rosenbluth is amongst the top brains in the travel industry. He has been noted for his ability to recognise, deploy and shepherd technology ideas that have impacted and continue to impact our industry.

Applying technology to simplify complex processes in the travel industry, Hal has used IT to become a leader in the corporate travel management business—but his source for innovative ideas is customer experiences rather than new offerings from technology vendors.

We consulted Hal Rosenbluth
about the uncertainty that now faces the travel industry and his latest initiative put in to place to alleviate some of the strain felt by the industry. Unconventional and to the point, it was instantly evident that Hal has a mind of quicksilver.

“I came into the travel industry kicking and screaming” He began, starting as he clearly meant to go on, “each generation in my family has done their best to stay out of the travel industry but for one reason or another, we all ended up in it!”

This is hardly surprising, as Rosenbluth International
(RI) has evolved from a modest company in 1892, to the second-largest presence in travel management with corporate-owned offices in 27 countries. Despite a weak travel market of historic proportions RI recently reported a remarkably successful year for 2002. Among its most recent accomplishments, under Hal’s leadership, RI has led several initiatives to overhaul the business travel and airline industry, developed new products to better meet customers` needs, restructured its global operations and brought in numerous new clients to the business.


Aside from the ‘chaos’ and ‘indecision’ that we now face, Hal has detected a major flaw at the root of this turmoil: “a lack of coming together of different constituencies to make it a better industry” and he strongly believes its time for each segment of the industry to come together for the good of all.

RI recently joined forces with Galileo International, United Airlines and US Airways in an effort to ultimately reduce airline distribution costs by some 20%, whilst increasing airline web-only fares.

Participants in this new program
, Momentum, “give a little to gain something greater.” Rosenbluth will sacrifice 50 cents per segment in incentives paid to it by Galileo, while Galileo must also lose 50 cents a segment, for a total of $1 per-segment savings for the carriers.

Hal comments “We all give a little, removing some cost from the process and in return, bring something to the public that is in the own best interest”.

The Momentum programme builds on Galileo’s Preferred Fares Program announced last October, which offered airlines 10% off booking fees in exchange for web fares.

In exchange for benefits, participating Galileo agencies will agree to a reduction in financial incentives for bookings made on participating airlines.

As part of Momentum, which began March 1, enrolled airlines will benefit from a 3 year price lock, which will mitigate the effect of Galileo’s 2003 price increases.

Momentum should, in effect, provide a three year platform, removing costs from the system, improving the process and preserving the long term vitality of the industry, ultimately benefiting all constituents - airlines, GDS providers, corporations and travel management companies.

Hal is certainly confident that Momentum will successfully spread. “We’ve been in discussions with carriers that are receptive - we think it’s good for the industry and sometimes we do things that are good for not only for RI, but also in the interest of the industry” He added “especially when it is in the quagmire that it is in today”

Regardless of the current travel environment, RI consistently adapts, optimising its core capabilities in response to the ever-changing economic playing field and exploiting interaction potential with suppliers, customers and employees. Although Hal admits that responding to this change has been his biggest challenge, he has nonetheless made volatility his friend:

“My biggest challenge has been constantly changing business models around the world to reflect the marketplace, and doing it swiftly, because they are different in every part of the world. This has meant dealing with a lot of different governmental regulations and labour laws in different countries.”

Previously noted for taking a unique approach to customer service and ‘swimming against the current,’ Hal is certainly a pioneering spirit. Still determined to utilise technology to address critical issues, Hal informed me of his key priority for the next 12 months:

“We’re going to continue to put in technological processes to remove overhead costs around the world because we believe that the marketplace is ready for a new way of doing business that will allow us to deliver a product and a service at a far lower cost than exists today, especially in the European Market where there are very high costs of infrastructure and overheads - we don’t believe that you can keep passing the cost from one group to another.”

True to character, Hal reveals his honest, but pessimistic predictions for the airline industry in 2003: “for the immediate future it’s going to be disastrous - everyone is attacking costs, which is only half of the equation.”

Hal predicts that international carriers will cut back on Domestic rounds and move towards the trans-atlantic and trans-pacific where they will see a greater return as they get out of the way of some of the low-cost carriers.  He does not for-see carriers trying to compete with low - cost carriers.

Hal also predicts a merging of carriers that will influence some of the US laws: “Hopefully they will relax their laws to allow foreign ownership of US carriers to increase up to 49%.”  Hal believes this will be necessary to create a more vibrant, sustainable and profitable industry, but in the short term, he suggests fuel prices will continue to rise.

Hal adds “Until the uncertainty of the war is over, economic conditions will not improve and the depression on travel will continue. There either needs to be a war, or not for confidence to return”. Continuing to thrive despite these troubles in a constantly changing business environment RI proves its status as a worldwide leader every day.




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