Our CEO, Anant Sharma, headed to Skift Forum Europe at Tobacco Dock to hear from huge names in travel on the latest innovations and strategies that are defining and shaping the industry...
Fondly referred to as the ‘Ted Talks of Travel’, the Skift Forum gathers leaders of the travel industry together from across the globe for one day only to discuss global travel trends and their impact on Europe.
All change for BA
Alex Cruz, CEO of British Airways kicked things off, discussing the various changes at BA over the last year – including a host of new routes from the States to Europe. A much bigger deal than it might seem to us, but now towns like Charleston have routes right back into Old Blighty.
In an interview with Skift ahead of the Forum, Cruz touched on the challenges of trying to innovate in digital while contending with traditional, legacy platforms.
He cited BA’s ventures into biometric boarding and passport checking as an area that BA is leading a ‘digital revolution’ in:
“We’re one of the extremely few airlines around the world that consistently, in domestic and international points, allow you to approach the boarding gate with your face, and we recognize it, and off you go, with no passport, no boarding pass. It’s making a huge difference in the time required to board an aircraft. You could call that a small thing. It’s a big thing. It requires a lot of hardware integration.”
Bruno Chauvat, CEO of Accor-backed Travelsify took over next. The platform helps power ‘brand equity performance, segmentation, next-gen personalisation and conversational commerce’. All big terms.
What this actually means is that Travelsify will identify the attributes that really matter to travellers. Ie: is a hotel cosy, spacious, stylish, lively, etc.
Users can then rate one experience vs. another on the things that matter to them, and aggregators should be able to move toward attribute-based booking systems.
A talk with extremely long words, for what ultimately seem to be image tags.
But maybe I’ve completely missed the point.
What’s next for TripAdvisor?
Next up was Lindsay Nelson, President of Experience at Tripadvisor. Her role covers content, data, brand experience… and more. Which she explained. In detail.
In her words, “I didn’t have time to write you a short letter…”.
TripAdvisor’s next play is retail. Ultimately, they see themselves as a content hub, and retail is ‘just another category’. Information on shopping is a no brainer.
Another key area of focus is the future of mobility. Public transportation, ridesharing and train information is currently very localised, and changes market by market, which is something they’d like to centralise.
What about Google’s move into the travel space?
“Google do a lot of things well. We don’t stay awake at night worrying about them entering the travel space.”
And how about recent UX changes, that have seen an iteration of the site designed in a newsfeed format? Is the travel giant moving trying to become a social platform?
The quick answer is, no. Instead, they want to bring together the opinions of experts, allow people to connect with each other more easily, and use the layout to provide a better framework for more personalised, AI-driven content.
The goal is for every experience to be fully tailored and unique, and perfect for your needs in the moment.
What they’ve got is very much version 1.0, and a taster of big things to come.
Bravo TripAdvisor. Bravo.
The cost of tourism needs weighing against the benefits
Salli Felton from the UK-based charity, The Travel Foundation gave a humbling talk on the impact all of this travel has on both local economies and the environment.
Tourists consume between 8 and 10 times more than a resident would. But countries only plan and build for infrastructure that accounts for the local population. Often, this means that countries either go without a suitable infrastructure, or look to fix the problem via subsidy, contributing to overall debt.
Furthermore, cultural and community values often run the risk of being undermined.
Salli’s message was sobering – governments need to fully understand the true burden that tourism carries.
The future of tourism will require a new form of holistic accounting, collaborative work and data sharing. Smarter decision making driven by big data. And better informed risk assessment and demand measurement.
The charity recently published a report: Destinations at Risk: The Invisible Burden of Tourism, highlighting the hidden costs of tourism to destinations.
The next panel was marketing for London, Ireland and Portugal. Laura Citron, Niall Gibbons and Mendez Godinho (respectively).
If there was one thought that remained with me after this lively debate, it was the efforts being put into changing the demand makeup for London. There is an incredible amount of care being put into ensuring that our city’s marketing is tailored to appeal to a culturally curious, long-haul, young audience. Because ultimately, this will bring the biggest benefit back to the economy.
This having been said, London carries such draw already, the focus is on sculpting the strategy vs upping the numbers. I guess.
Building customer-centric businesses.
Remy Mercx from Radisson and Miguel Flecha from Accenture took to the stage next, to co-present their work on the brand.
I’m always interested and eager to glean interesting insights when the big consultancies talk through their strategies – especially so when forced to do so via a case study, which really helps anchor the chat.
Frustratingly, many of the ideas were the same ones being echoed through the rest of the industry, and the jargon was all just a bit too familiar.
It seemed there were a couple of key themes: that businesses need a new, non-siloed operating model. That a tension exists between direct booking and OTAs. That hoteliers have for too long given away their hard earned marketing dollars to third parties, and now it’s the time to regain control.
So how can we take all of these touchpoints and create an integrated experience that conveys a brand essence OTAs cannot compete with?
Well to begin with, breakthrough budgetary silos. It used to be hard to move budgets between social, media buying and CRM.
Now, it’s easy.
Perhaps because Accenture bought all the agencies and now control all the budget?
Getting commercial with accessibility.
Stephen Cluskey was next to the stage. A true inspiration, Stephen was paralysed from the neck down after falling from a hay bale at 18 years old, and is now the CEO and founder of Mobility Mojo, an online tool for hotels to aid people with specific accessibility needs.
Parents, the elderly, people in wheelchairs, and people with impaired vision all have varying accessibility needs.
According to Stephen, by 2023, 25% of the total tourism market will include those with higher access needs. This ‘silver tsunami’ represents a commercial opportunity for hospitality companies.
To begin with, this segment has a tendency to stay for longer (2.5 nights on average vs. 1.9), and have a propensity to spend more (£210 vs £192). They also tend to travel in larger groups and are the determining factor in deciding where to stay.
“We’re not judgmental. It’s about taking the fear and awkwardness around accessibility out of it.” Stephen Cluskey
Hoteliers make the mistake of viewing accessibility as a compliance issue, but there is actually an enormous ROI in this area.
It’s a big opportunity.
As a digital agency delivering content, it’s clear we should be working with clients to pull out key content themes that go beyond compliance.
Does a hotel have 10 steps vs 20?
Can we deliver menus in bigger print?
In the US, accessible bedrooms are the second most searched amenity (after wifi). How many unvisited cities and missed business opportunities have fallen foul to the smallest oversight, so easy to resolve?
The width of a door. The height of a bed. Don’t be afraid of it. Just communicate it.
Ultimately, what is clear is that consumer demands are increasing at rapid speed – and it’s up to brands to weigh up innovation, sustainability and accessibility. Perhaps instead of ‘innovation’ and buzzwords, the focus needs to be recalibrated and recentred on the needs of the individual.
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