What We Learned from the Skift Global Forum

Rafat Ali, CEO of Skift, promised an intense day when he opened the inaugural Skift Global Forum at the Times Center yesterday. He did not lie. This single-track 10-hour series gave attendees the opportunity to take in all 37 speakers by limiting each session to no more than 20 minutes. Brevity in time, but not in substance makes it easy to say yes. Speakers gave 15 minutes of master class advice, war stories or industry ponderings, and attendees stayed focused and engaged for talks that took less of their time than an episode of Orange is the New Black.

After a full day of insights, viewpoints and future casting from the travel industry elite, various themes emerged.

Do NOT neglect the basics

Perhaps the strongest call to action of the day was to foster the hospitality side of the business, which was put brilliantly by Starwood’s Phil McAveety:

If your brand does not take care of its fundamental practices it does not have the right to experiment with digital technologies. Ensuring guest satisfaction through their experience and your services (e.g. cleanliness, timeliness, service and quality) cannot be fixed through fancy apps, commercials and virtual reality.

Locals are the most underserved VIPs in the travel industry

Scale leads to success and locals are the only, or at least the majority of, repeat visitation for travel brands. Yet, they are all too often neglected in destination, hotel and airline marketing.

The majority of DMO website traffic is locally driven and very often locals are the only repeat visitors these sites receive.

Hotel bars and restaurants rely on locals not only for their patronage, but also for an improved ambiance and personality for the property.

Locals are loyal to the airlines in their markets and recruit friends and family to come visit via their preferred carriers, plus they are airport terminals’ repeat visitors.

In short: Care more about the people closest to you.

Know your customer

Market segmentation and audience analysis are near and dear to my geeky heart, so I was eagerly drinking the Kool-Aid these speakers were serving:

Karin Timpone, Marriott International’s Global Marketing Officer, generously shared the secret to her brand’s success: micro-target the consumer you’re going after and innovate for them. Gather, distill and use the data about the segment to prioritize brand initiatives.

Chip Conley of Airbnb shared a simple segmentation trick he uses with hosts: think about the magazine that defines your guests and then present your property in a similar style and layout.

Visit Florida CEO, Will Seccombe, cut to the chase when asked about the value of DMOs: destination marketing is valuable because savvy organizations know the customer and provide an even playing field to all levels of partners. However, trying to be everything to everyone does not work or provide value. DMOs need to present the destination to the right people.

Favorite session shout-out: Creating a Radically Guest-Centric Airline

Fred Reid, the founding CEO of Virgin America, sat down and frankly I wish he could have stayed quite a while longer. His 15 minutes of unfiltered, useful knowledge flew (airline pun intended) by. The moral of his story: Value good design.

Fred’s web design philosophy:

Step 1: Go to Amazon and buy something.

Step 2: Write down every step in your path to purchase.

Step 3: Take this path to your technical team.

Step 4: Tell them to either design a better user experience or build it like Amazon.

In addition to Fred’s web design homework, here are my other post-conference to-dos:

  1. Follow Sree Sreenivasan, Chief Digital Officer at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, on Twitter at @sree. He is wonderfully generous with his knowledge and expertise. Plus, he is doing really interesting work at my favorite museum.
  2. Listen for ideas, no matter where they come from.
  3. Ask the tough questions.
  4. Remember, we are in the business of helping people play.

Were you at the forum or following along at #skiftforum? Let’s talk about it. Share your thoughts, impressions and takeaways in the comments below, on our Facebook page or tweet me directly @arianna_howe.

Hope to see you at next year’s event.