Once you’ve worked in travel, you’ll never want to leave. That’s a lesson Debby Soo, KAYAK’s VP of APAC learned earlier on in life.

 

The executive kick started her career as a child, folding flyers and filing at her parent’s brick-and-mortar agency. Now, after graduating, completed her MBA and trying out the finance industry, she’s come full circle with her role as KAYAK.

Learn more about Soo below:

 

How long have you been in the industry?

I have been in the online travel space for seven years, but I feel like I’ve been in the travel industry forever because my parents owned a brick-and-mortar travel agency, specialising in bringing Taiwanese conducted tours to the United States and Europe. As a child, I spent every summer either in their San Francisco or Taipei office, folding flyers, filing, and, as I grew older, confirming reservations at hotels, restaurants and bus companies for the 100+ groups a month. Suffice to say, travel is in my blood!

In an attempt to break from my roots, after uni, I started my career as an analyst in investment banking in Silicon Valley.  I quickly realised that while I was not in love with finance, I was passionate about technology, especially consumer-facing technology. After banking, I headed to Google Maps’ business development team to work on mapping the world.  I then went back to school to get my MBA and during my first year in business school, I got a part-time job at KAYAK as a mobile business development intern. The rest, shall we say, is history.

After a multitude of different roles at KAYAK (project management, product marketing, business development), I am currently the Vice President of Asia Pacific. I have come full circle from my summers working at my parents’ travel agency and I am loving every minute of it.

 

Tell us about your most memorable travel experience

I spent three weeks in Medellin, Colombia while I was in business school. It was my first time in South America and I fell in love with the lush landscapes, the welcoming locals, the food (I had at least one Arepa every day) and the pace of life in Medellin.

 

What’s the weirdest job you’ve ever had?

In uni, I ran a custom t-shirt printing business on campus.  I had no idea what I was doing at first, but over time, I learned the ropes and at its height, the business was delivering hundreds of t-shirts a week to various student groups.

 

Wish list of places to visit?

Buenos Aires, New Zealand (all of it!), and Amsterdam

 

Who was your biggest mentor growing up and why?

As an only child to parents who worked around the clock, I witnessed my mum juggle it all – running a business, taking care of me, and managing our household. Watching how she did it all, day in, day out, set a high bar for me. She showed me the value of having a strong work ethic, the importance of treating those around you with respect and care, and the joy of doing a job that you love.

 

How has working in travel changed you?

Working in travel has given me the perspective that the world, in all its vastness, is actually accessible to anyone who is willing and able to get on a plane/train/car/boat and make the trek. And while “making the trek” is not always fun, once you arrive at your destination, you can be presented with a reality that is so different from your everyday life. Travel can be life-changing, perspective-altering, and an all-encompassing experience and working in the travel industry has made me appreciate that planning and embarking on these experiences is just a click away on your mobile phone or desktop.

 

What’s your biggest achievement to date?

My biggest achievement is that I have found a job, a company and an industry that I love. Launching and growing a new region for a US-based company certainly has its challenges, but I have loved growing KAYAK’s business in APAC from nothing to what we have today.

I love sharing our product with travellers who aren’t as familiar with KAYAK’s services and watch their faces light up when they find a good flight or hotel deal, or dream with our Explore product (you can enter search criteria like 3-day trip, 2 hour flight, $500 budget and KAYAK will give you all the options of where you can go), or organise their travel with our Trips product. I believe so wholeheartedly in KAYAK’s product offerings and it is such a privilege to be able to share that with the world.

 

What’s your number one in-flight travel tip?

For long haul flights, I always make sure I have a whole host of things to occupy my time in case the in-flight entertainment or wifi is down (or non-existent). I always have a book, a newspaper, laptop work that doesn’t require wifi, and pen/paper. Though there have definitely been some flights when I’m tearing my hair out, watching the minutes tick by, there have also been some flights when I have my best ideas, catch up on all the movies I’ve been meaning to watch, write that letter to a friend, and have the chance to read a print newspaper from start to end. Time is suspended when I’m in the air and it gives me a chance to do things that I normally don’t have the time to do when I’m on the ground.

 

What advice would you give an industry newbie?

Customer experience and customer service – nothing is more important in this industry. Consume the product you are selling so you can walk in your customers’ shoes. I am a consummate KAYAK user, for both my work and personal travel, and I am constantly giving feedback to our product and engineering teams. I scour our customer feedback dashboards daily to know what our users in Asia are experiencing on our sites and we use that feedback to make our site better, faster, and more relevant to our customers.

Do you have any questions for Debby?