Skyscanner is one of the leading lights of UX in the travel sector – it serves 80 million people every month and its easy-to-use app has been downloaded more than 80 million times .
We caught up with Hugh Aitken, Senior Director of Strategic Partnerships, to ask him about his work at the global travel search site.
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Hi Hugh. Please describe your job: What do you do?
Hugh Aitken: I’m a senior director at Skyscanner in charge of leading our global strategic partnerships. This involves developing Skyscanner’s overall narrative with our partners, building relationships and representing the company at a wide range of external events. Our team helps partners grow their network and expand into new markets through dynamic partnerships.
Tell us about a typical working day…
Hugh Aitken: No two days are the same. If I am travelling, I tend to be on at least one plane to meet with multiple partners. If I’m in the office, I arrive early so I have time to organise for the day ahead. Most days include calls with partners, team catch-ups, 1:1s, and meetings to discuss progressing key strategic initiatives at Skyscanner.
Whereabouts do you sit within the organisation? Who do you report to?
Hugh Aitken: I report to Stuart Middleton, Skyscanner’s Chief Commercial Officer, and sit within the commercial and partnerships teams.
What kind of skills do you need to be effective in your role?
Hugh Aitken: Skyscanner is the world’s travel search engine and the first to adopt IATA’s NDC standard into our platform, which continues to be widely adopted by our global partners. Through our proprietary technology, we continue to deliver on our mission: to make travel search simple.
As a global travel brand that is growing quickly it’s essential that senior leaders can think both strategically and tactically and anticipate the needs of our partners. Just like there is not a one-size-fits-all model for travel, there is not a one-size-fits-all approach to building and strengthening relationships.
It is also crucial that you feel comfortable in front of all levels of people, particularly when you are delivering a 20-minute keynote in front of 200+ key industry stakeholders.
What do you love about your job? What don’t you like?
Hugh Aitken: I’ve worked as a commercial leader for many years, particularly the intersection of travel and technology. I absolutely love the process of travel and the variety and intellectual challenge that my job provides. I’m constantly learning from the dedicated talented teams at Skyscanner and it is always a privilege to represent a trusted global brand within an industry that I am passionate about.
Whilst I enjoy all the travel opportunities, I do not like being away from my family. I was once given advice from a senior leader in a previous company: being away from home is manageable but make sure you do not miss parent meetings and school sports days. I try to stick to this as it makes being away more manageable.
What kind of goals do you have? What are the most useful metrics and KPIs for measuring success?
Hugh Aitken: As the senior director of strategic partnerships, my goals are largely around product adoption and overall commercial growth. In my experience, the most successful metrics are those that are stretching, yet achievable, and can be tangibly measured.
As the travel industry continues to evolve, it is very important that travel brands adapt even more to the needs and expectations of today’s traveller.
Skyscanner’s mission – to make travel search simple – means that we measure success by the creation of a more seamless planning experience and, ultimately, streamlining the customer journey, particularly with our direct booking platform.
What are your favourite tools to help you to get the job done?
Hugh Aitken: We are very collaborative at Skyscanner so tools like Confluence work well. I am also a fan of Slack, as it’s a great way to keep in touch with colleagues around the world.
Why did you end up at Skyscanner and what might you do next?
Hugh Aitken: I moved to Skyscanner from easyJet, where I looked after the commercial performance of the airlines across London, the Middle East and Iceland. Before then, I worked on the airport side in business development. Each role had travel at its core, so it seemed natural to move to another part of the travel ecosystem.
What advice would you give yourself if you could go back to when you started in the industry?
Hugh Aitken: Focus on what you enjoy and have a passion for it. I remember reading Good to Great by Jim Collins, and this is the advice he gives. It is advice that I continue to follow and live by. Also, do not try to plan out your entire career. Learn from experiences, improve your skill set and opportunities will come your way.