Envisioning the Future of Travel at the Skift Global Forum

I had the pleasure of attending the inaugural Skift Global Forum on 9 October 2014, with a focus on the future of travel. It featured speakers from strategy, technology and digital, marketing and creativity. Although the speakers had differing backgrounds, the two recurring themes were the importance of storytelling and of engaged employees to future success in the travel industry.

Skift.com has posted the videos of the presentations here as well as the top quotes from each presentation here. While all of the sessions provided valuable insights, I’m going to summarise the five that I thought were the most forward looking.

The Future of Marketing in Travel

Phil McAveety, Chief Brand Officer, Starwood Hotels & Resorts

Mr. McAveety explained that in 2011, he and his team envisioned what a trip to a hotel in Rio de Janiero would entail in 2020. Overall, Starwood believes that mobile devices are driving “connected living” and that informs all of its ideas. As part of the trip, the team imagined that the traveller would book the stay through the SPG app via voice recognition and the app will connect the traveller with his friends to get advice in real time about Rio. The app would also have instant translation and location-based services (which Starwood introduced in 2012). The hotel would have flexible check-in times (again, introduced in 2012 for loyalty members with status). The other major element was the ability to bypass the front desk, using biometrics, such as eyes or fingerprints, to unlock rooms. Starwood is currently rolling out technology that uses mobile devices to unlock doors for W and Element hotels and its app on Apple’s iWatch will enable the phone to do the same in the future.

The team also worked on testing energy and water management systems, which are now standard for every hotel.

The other area that Starwood sees evolving is the hotel room itself. It believes that rooms should connect with personal devices for entertainment.  It has built a “smart room” that will connect with the guest’s entertainment and has the ability to control elements, such as lighting and heat, from the SPG app.

Another technology that is becoming mainstream that the company is examining is 3-D printing. Mr. McAveety speculated that it could be possible for a guest to upload his shoe size to the SPG app and have the hotel use 3-D printers to make running shoes so the guest wouldn’t have to pack them.

Another future area is the smartphone as a transmission badge, which is currently evolving. The company is looking at how it can track the location and needs of a guest based on his phone.  It is working with many technologies, including Apple’s beacon technology, to do so.

Overall, this graphic illustrates how Starwood views the hotel business, with guest experience as the foremost important element for success while personalisation is the ultimate goal. Both are achieved by leveraging product, programming, technology and service.

StarwoodGuestExperience
Source:  Starwood Hotels & Resorts

According to Mr. McAveety, this is how Starwood thinks about these elements of the guest experience:

  • Product:  This is about delivering a great product. Starwood has created the StarLab innovation studio with 200 designers that work across all functions to create the best product.
  • Programming:  This is the need to bring the spaces within a hotel alive with energy.
  • Technology:  Embracing technology whether it’s apps, wearables, intelligent rooms or robots.
  • Service:  People build the emotional connections with guests that keep them returning—technology shouldn’t be a replacement.

The Rise of Smart Design in Travel

Chris Nurko, Global Chairman, FutureBrand

Mr. Nurko believes that the future doesn’t happen but is created. The smart travel brands will believe in a better future, use technology to empower their customers and build a brand experience that resonates with customers.

He thinks the future will be defined by the millennial generation and outlines the generation’s values as the following, which are direct quotes:

  • Recognise and acknowledge me
  • “What’s in it for me?” business relationship
  • Data about “me” is valuable
  • Reward and incentive me
  • I have the power and choice
  • I expect seamless perfection
  • Service is at my discretion
  • I expect to be inspired

The Radical Technology Changing Online Travel

Terry Jones, Founder & former CEO, Travelocity

Thanks to the explosion of user generated reviews, there is a lot of unstructured data that can’t be analysed. Mr. Jones believes that cognitive computing is the next wave because it structures unstructured data. It learns so it can give advice with a confidence level and understands natural language. Instead of searching for travel and completing forms to book, travellers will be able to book travel based on conversational type requests—like you would ask a friend for recommendations. His new company, WayBlazer, is working on this and its first client is the Austin Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The Rise of Curation in Travel

Sam Shank, CEO, HotelTonight

Mr. Shank believes that while a multitude of choices on the web are good, it is not on mobile. With mobile, the person is on the go and is using a small screen—mobile apps should take the stress out of a decision.

HotelTonight aims to be your best friend with recommendations that fit you. As such, the company picks its partners based on a lot of metrics and then assigns them a mood. These partners are continuously monitored based on their earnings, guest reviews and customer experience to ensure quality. Algorithms do real time analysis of hotels in seconds to show the best hotels for the user.

He believes that the future of curation is precision (knowing the exact hotel that is perfect for you) and proactive (the tasks are completed for you with a push notification to show their completion). An example is that midweek, HotelTonight will buy your tickets for your concert on Friday night based on your Spotify list. It will also book your hotel and invite your friends based on the YPlan app.

Creativity in Travel Videos

Dae Mellencamp, President, Vimeo

Ms. Mellencamp discussed the top trends that Vimeo is seeing in videos with high engagement.  These are time lapse, tilt shift (makes large objects appear smaller), GoPro, hyperlapse (movement through a landscape) and special effects.  Filmmakers are mixing and matching these styles. She believes that these videos are going viral because they do not include words, giving them global appeal. She mentioned that the Canary Islands, Malaysia and Barcelona destination marketing organisations have worked with filmmakers to create successful viral videos.

Within the company’s on demand service, which is a paid service, two of the most popular videos have the theme of adventure travel, demonstrating that people are willing to pay for strong travel content.

She is seeing that drone videos and videos from space shuttles are growing in popularity.