Our founder had the benefit of spending last week at the Skift Future of Travel forum in Brooklyn - interacting with a curated group of travel thinkers, technologists, marketers and C Suite leaders.
The 2.5 days of events included keynote sessions, learning breakouts, and networking by the waterfront overlooking the river on a beautiful fall week where the weather cooperated with opportunities to mingle and learn from a group of worldly, travel-wise peers.
It carefully co-mingled leaders from traditional and new hospitality - as well as an array of interesting startups and investors tackling challenges in the changing travel industry. The leader of the event, Skift's straight-shooting CEO Rafat Ali, kicked it off with a statement that stuck. "We're the world's biggest industry. Let's start acting like it."
As with any well-crafted conference, there were multiple themes and tracks at play - but here's the five ideas that stood out for us:
1. Destination Marketing Goes P2P: The CEOs of the New York City tourism organization, Fred Dixon, and the Dubai tourism board, Issam Kazim, both shared keynotes that echoed one big theme - trip inspiration and destination marketing is now in the hands of people, not the center. They shared two equally impactful campaigns that enabled visitors and residents alike to tell the story of these two iconic tourism cities. The Dubai campaign, #mydubai - has generated millions of impressions of Dubai's residents beyond the Burj. And, @NYCGO, a partnership with Taylor Swift, created a multi-layered campaign - called #W2ny #welcometonewyork - that enabled visitors from around the world to post pictures of themselves around every borough of the city. Fred Dixon, CEO @NYCGO also shared news of an ambitious plan to make NYC a complete wifi hotspot - the idea to generate a completely connected city for tourism and locals alike, encouraging those 18 million local New Yorkers to also behave like tourists in places in the city they have never been. We're sold Mr. Dixon, and your vision is ours for Guidrr, and we look forward to helping and furthering your goals. And Mr. Kazim, we're impressed with your team's desire to show the real Dubai - to operate with trust in your visitors and local population. Your local Instagrammers are some of the best in the world, and we are excited to be part of how peer to peer influencers tell the stories of journeys in their cities.
2. Hotels Talk Hosts, Not Guests - While P2P Just Begins It's Journey: We felt more than ever at Skift, surrounded by CEOs, CMOs and CIOs from major chains, that P2P has influenced and changed the language and approach of broader hospitality. A CEO of a major chain began an early keynote with the theme that being a "host" might be an idea for chains to consider rather than "guests" - a telling nuance and strategic signal. At the end of two days of talks, one fact stood out for us was a stat announced on stage by the CMO of Airbnb: the company, now with 2M global listings, still has just 1% US penetration in the market. This tells us P2P is not just here, but it's here to stay, and it's impact has only just begun. In the same talk, a key announcement was shared about a partnership between Virgin and Airbnb in the hospitality industry. Big change is coming in the ways we belong, and how we belong - and we're along for the ride.
3. The Rise of the Black Traveler: We learned about the desires, and dreams of African American travelers from dynamic young female CEO of Travel Noire, Zim Ugochukwu. She shared that this $43B market is as yet grossly undeserved, but is poised for dramatic growth. The solutions that work for new black travelers may be different from the solutions that work for other sectors. We took away a simple message: wanderlust knows no color, and our job in the industry is to make everyone feel they can belong, not just that they have a bed to sleep in. It's our vision at Guidrr to enable those who want to travel to travel often and share in any language and voice of their choosing - and change the world while doing it, one visit at a time. Seventeen percent of African American travelers on average take 6 leisure trips a year, shared Ms Ugochukwu. We agree, it's about time this important market demographic is given the attention it deserves.
4. Instagram & Influencers is What it's All About: A beautiful story (pun intended) was shared by the founder of an Instagram marketing company that was able to build a community around travel photography, @BeautifulDestinations. Founder Jeremy Jauncey discussed the incredible power of Instagram as a travel platform - sharing that the travel is the majority theme of the global Instagram community. Considering Guidrr's platform is built on integrating a creator's own Instagram content into a more complete P2P digital travel guide, we're 100% sold. Jauncey shared a powerful presentation focused on speaking to companies that attempt to use the platform in a simplistic way, not understanding the difference between engagement and true impact. He pointed out the idea that to learn how to use Instagram's ecosystem right, companies need to understand how to measure influence. As we spoke after with innovators and strategists from bigger hotel chains, we heard the message - how do we understand influencer marketing, and then get it right? Instagram is not just a key platform for travel - it may be the only one that really matters. It pleases us that people are listening and learning.
5. Learning is the New Luxury: Learning was also a theme of a presentation from a niche, and beautifully shared hotel chain keynote presentation by 21c Museum Hotels. This luxury brand marries downtown revival in second cities like Louisville, Bentonville and more - with public art and learning experiences. We heard from curator Alice Gray-Stites about the power of the 21c brand to engage travelers who want more than just a room, but wish to participate in culture as an experience. Hotel chains like this tell us a story about the niching of travel businesses - and the extent to which travelers of a certain sort are loyal to brands that speak to their preferences and interests, outside of the major cultural destinations like NYC, Paris, Florence and London. Learning as a luxury is a broader theme about unveiling the back stories of cities and spaces - and allowing those who know to share this knowledge with those who seek it, which is our Guidrr vision and a focus of an upcoming campaign we'll be unveiling as part of our growth story. One of our own creators, @StewRosstravels, writes backstories for Paris sights, peeling back their history in step by step self-guided tours that will sit inside the Guidrr app. We can't wait to democratize the luxury of learning, and to partner with the innovative 21c group and visit their location. Thanks for the invite, Alice! Do bring your concept of art as a public experience to Dallas next, we're already innovating on that front in our cultural district.
It would be unfair to characterize Skift as just the sum total of these 5 ideas. Practical sessions on startup growth-hacking, in-depth sessions on video in travel and a reveal on the back story of the Bourdain CNN show by the producer were other round-outs - and while we missed it personally, Ivanka Trump took the stage and also wowed, according to those in the room.
All in all, between discussions we had with heads of tourism for Britain, Australia, Dubai and NYC, and conversations with hospitality companies experimenting with the role of influencer marketing, we can say with some confidence - #NewTravel is here, and it's here to stay.
If you have a moment, check out our new home page, and be the first to sign up to see how Guidrr helps influencers create, share and discover peer to peer experiences around the world.
Stay tuned for a set of big announcements around our launch, with a way to help tourism organizations tap into the trends around #newtravel and leverage the platforms that matter.