WIT launched its Hall of Fame in 2017 to honour individuals/ companies who have had the greatest influence on the progress and professionalism of the digital travel industry in Asia Pacific. Each year, it will recognise new inductees so that the Hall of Fame becomes the definitive body of who’s who in the digital travel industry in APAC.
HALL OF FAME 2017
Inductee: Robert Rosenstein, CEO, Agoda
Our first inductee changed the way people in Asia booked hotels. Set up in 2005, it was quickly snapped up two years later by the world’s largest seller of rooms.
From a base in Thailand, it’s grown into a global brand with operations across Asia and its presence can also be found in major cities across Africa, the Middle East, Europe, and the Americas. One of its founders remains the CEO of this accommodation powerhouse that’s become a shining example of how an Asian brand can go beyond regional shores and do Asia proud.
Inductee: Michael Issenberg, Chairman and COO, AccorHotels Asia Pacific
It has been hailed as the most interesting hotel company to watch right now as it transforms itself by acquiring and innovating from within. In Asia, it’s recognised as a digital leader in distribution and marketing. What makes it stand out though is its longterm commitment to Asia and the steady building of its network, business and relationships over long years. An industry of rapid change needs constancy of leadership and consistent team performance and with the same leader at its helm since 2003, the APAC region is today the biggest and fastest growing for this global hotel group.
Inductee: Tan Sri Tony Fernandes, Group CEO, AirAsia
The story of how this airline started is well known. Fed up of how his previous company was not responding to disruption, a music executive-turned entrepreneur bought a failing airline for a song as it were and decided to set up a business in an area he knew nothing of. All he knew was, he wanted “everyone to fly”. That was in 2001. Well, not only has it changed how people fly, it has also changed the way they book. It moved millions of travellers online with its pioneering digital initiatives particularly in the use of social media and it’s just now embarking on its most ambitious digital transformation yet.
Inductee: Shinichi Inoue, CEO, Peach Aviation Japan
When given the opportunity to set up Japan’s first low cost airline four years ago, he set out to do it differently. He famously told his boss, if you go east, I go west. Today, his airline has changed the lives of young people who want to experience Japan differently – 70% of his business is inbound – and particularly of young women – 60% of his flyers are women aged under 30, and digital innovation is at the core of how it has transformed flying for young Japanese and foreigners discovering this magnificent destination.
Inductee: Melissa Yang, Co-founder, Tujia
She always knew she liked mathematics more than art, so she pursued degrees in business automation, computer engineering and computer science. To gain experience in building platforms, she worked with Expedia and Microsoft in Seattle before returning to China to launch her own startup with two partners in 2011, and went on to build one of China’s first travel unicorns and changed the way Chinese people travelled and experienced their holidays. Ever since she spoke at her first WITX – Women in Travel, organized by WIT in 2012 in Bangkok, she’s been an active coach and mentor to our startups and is a role model for women entrepreneurs in China.
Inductee: Fritz Demopoulos, Co-founder, Qunar and CEO, Queen's Road Capital
He is a trailblazer in many ways. He left his native Southern California to study in Heidelberg, Germany and later the Chinese University of Hong Kong. It was in Hong Kong that he found his calling – he founded China’s largest sports portal and emboldened by the experience, started China’s first travel search in 2005. The acquisition of a majority stake in his startup by Baidu in 2011 is hailed as a major industry milestone. Today, he runs his own investment fund and continues to coach and mentor travel startups and remains an active champion and friend of WIT.
Inductee: Deep Kalra, Chairman and Group CEO, MakeMyTrip
He did not figure out what he wanted to do till quite late in life. He took up banking and then quit after 3 years. Then he took on the challenge of bringing an American bowling brand to his home country. After four years, he called it ‘a great entrepreneurial success but a financial disaster”. He stumbled into travel in 2000 and founded a company in the US to help his overseas compatriots travel home. The rest is, as they say, history. His startup was the first from his country to go IPO in Nasdaq. Today he remains at the helm of the company that’s the dominant player in its home market and for him, it’s all just beginning.
Inductee: Jane Sun, CEO, Ctrip
Born in Shanghai, our next recipient built her early career in the US, working as an audit manager for KMPG in Silicon Valley, moving up to become head of the SEC and worked with Applied Materials. After her return to China, she joined a then-small travel service company in 2005 as CFO. Last November, she became CEO and now runs China’s largest travel company with more than 33,000 staff with a valuation exceeding $25 billion. Coming in at a time of its declared mission to go global, her influence on the development of travel in Asia and around the world will be profound in the years ahead as this powerhouse expands its wings.