The sun is shining on Craig Morganson, on the lean face, the open collar, the deep-set blue eyes. You can see the clockworks within each iris. He is atop his perch behind a tall table at the Red Velvet Café on Sahara and Buffalo. The plate-glass window is his spotlight. He tells me the value of vegan food. It is, he says, clean energy for the body. “Garbage in,” says the travel-tech pioneer, “garbage out.” He bites into a vegan panini, looks out the window, sees someone snooping around his candy-apple red, all-electric Tesla. “I love it when people look at my car,” he says. “The people who stop to look at my car know the technology.”
Morganson, the CEO of Las Vegas-based Holiday Systems International, is all about the inner workings. While Orbitz and Hotels.com play the outside game, offering public rates for the general traveler, Morganson plays the inside game, contracting radically below-market rates for membership clients around the world. Hotels often have excess inventory, and they’re willing to fill it cheap—if they can do it on the quiet, without making a mockery of the advertised rate. Morganson makes it his business to find such opportunities and match them with his clients. It’s all about data, vigilance and connections—the membership culture that operates silently beneath the rube’s world of public prices.
“When the economy started going bad,” Morganson says, “we stayed healthy. I called my department heads and asked them, ‘Who can tell me why we’re still in business?’ Well, we knew how to meet the anxieties of the travel industry. We knew how to occupy rooms for our partners. We look at the world and ask, ‘Why aren’t people doing it this way?’ We have a spreadsheet for every variable. We establish that an idea can work and be profitable if certain variables are true. Each if is a formula for profitability. If the variable is violated, we call it a red flag, and it must be dispensed with.”
Morganson finishes his meal, tells me how the vegan gospel should be spread—“Give them the selfish reason: You’ll feel better, you’ll have better energy, younger skin, a better sex drive”—and offers me a ride in the Tesla.
“Every time you fill up, you’re helping the terrorists,” he tells me. The Tesla hits 75 down Rainbow Boulevard. The dashboard informs us that we’ve reached seven-tenths of a G-force. The engine does not make a sound.
I climb out, my insides still bristling with speed, and for some reason I tell Morganson that I enjoyed the motivational quotes on his website, where Goethe and Sophocles make cameo appearances.
He smiles and fixes me with those clockwork eyes. “It’s funny,” he says, in a way that tells me it’s not funny at all. “I have this creative, caring side. But I also have the ruthlessness to succeed in business.”