The late Steve Jobs once said, “Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.” And we couldn’t agree more.

From our award-winning booking tool Neo™ that harnesses pioneering technology to elevate the user experience to our Peer Travel Insights™, the first peer benchmarking solution of its kind in the industry (that we are aware of), American Express Global Business Travel (GBT) has established itself as a leader of innovation in the corporate travel management industry.

But here’s something you may not know: For the past three years, we have been hosting a companywide competition to spur innovation and ingenuity among our workforce and help turn imaginative ideas into tangible results that will benefit our clients and partners.

Hackathon 2019, which is open to all GBT employees as well as contractors, has become a highly anticipated event at our organization. Initially open to a maximum of 20 teams, this year’s competition drew so much interest that we decided to expand it, with 30 teams and a total of 151 entrants participating.

So that the teams are solving for real-time business travel issues, we assembled a 12-member Hackathon advisory committee that solicited input from leaders across GBT about the kinds of projects participants should devote their time and energy to. From their feedback, three categories emerged.

The first invites teams to devise solutions that will improve the traveler experience, with special attention on boosting travel counselors’ effectiveness. The second zeroes in on supplier relationships and expense management. And the last focuses on technological innovation with an emphasis on artificial intelligence.

Employees have had the last few weeks to organize themselves into groups of up to six, brainstorm ideas and prepare for the Hackathon showdown. Starting today, April 29, they will converge in Phoenix, where they will have two days to work on their prototypes.

During this frenetic phase, each team will race to build their models and presentations, working around the clock to create a high-quality demonstration. Members of the Hackathon advisory committee will be on hand to help teams stay true to the mission of solving for relevant business travel issues.

Because our employees are spread across nearly 120 countries, some teams will be collaborating with their colleagues in other parts of the world, managing their tasks in different time zones. Others will be huddled together in conference rooms, writing code, testing and working on their business case and presentation material.

At the end of the 48 hours, many of the groups will have a fully operational prototype. Then one by one, they will present their demos to a panel of six judges, all GBT executives, who will select a winning innovation based on four criteria:

  • Functioning prototype/demo
  • Presentation
  • Innovation/creativity and relevance
  • Feasibility to commercialize cost-effectively

First-, second- and third-place winners will be announced at a special reception on the final day of the event. But the group that walks away with the grand prize will have more than a shiny trophy and office bragging rights. GBT plans to incorporate the best idea into a real solution.

Last year’s winning concept was blended into GBT’s Hotel Marketplace, a point-of-sale tool for travel counselors offering offline hotel booking capabilities. This year, we are taking it a step further and the triumphant team will earn funding for its innovation to be piloted as an official GBT project led by Chief Information Technology Officer David Thompson. If the pilot goes well, chances are high that it will land up in production.

Fostering innovation isn’t merely a single yearly activity here at GBT. Year-round, our talented employees are busy working on creative solutions that transform business travel management. It’s something we do day in and day out and we are always looking for more bright minds to join the team,” Thompson said.

If you are interested in being part of an organization where ingenuity and originality truly are valued and celebrated, make sure to visit our careers page.

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