3 unique travel insights from the global Skift forum

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Two days full of information in New York, hundreds of ideas. Here’s the report on three individual topics that caught our attention.

Matthew Parsons

Industry leaders took the stage in New York for the Skift Global Forum this week, sharing their views on travel and discussing new trends.

On the agenda, candid conversations with CEOs about how their businesses are performing post-pandemic, plenty of talk on the growth of blended travel and the future of work, and smart commentary on tackling the ongoing labor crisis.

But among the industry recordings heard by more than 700 people from the main stage and 800 more online, some alternative topics also emerged, from the psychology of marketing to how to run a business. Here is a summary.

Just Make It Up As You Go

Frederic Lalonde, Hopper’s energetic CEO, revealed how he likes to build new products. The secret is to be bold and experiment — even if it means losing. When asked which of her products lost “a ton of money,” she replied that it was anything new they were trying. “It blows up in our face every year,” he said.

However, some features that are being tested for a year may prove to be hits — like the new hotel cancellation policy.

“The trick is to try it with a small group. You spend a lot of money on a few people. You realize what you did well and then you escalate. If you do it the other way around, that’s bad,” Lalonde told the audience. “We have this subset of users that interact with us. We try and try to figure things out. It’s so wild, I don’t understand what we’re doing here.”

Lalonde, who is also a co-founder of the startup, said a recent flash sale took him by surprise. It sold “loot boxes” — treasure chests with a mystery gift, such as a coupon — for between $3 and $14 as part of a promotion in Puerto Rico.

“We sold more loot boxes than flights that day,” he said. “People were coming with this data and I was saying ‘this is wrong, this is not possible.’

Find out what else Lalonde had to say here.

Introduction to the minds of visitors

Coming out of the pandemic, online marketing is still a hot topic. Performance marketing was even described as medicine by one executive. But one speaker wants to tear up the rule book. For destinations like Africa, he wanted to know why the further away from reality the promoted experience is, the more expensive it costs.

Dr. Mordecai Oganda, environmentalist, conservationist and co-author of “The Big Conservation Lie,” questioned why the travel industry was branding Africa in a way that made the destination look like a scene from the movie “Out of Africa.”

“What exactly are we selling and where does it come from?” he said. “If you read our tourism experiences, they come from a place a little over a hundred years ago… the hunting, the beautiful wildlife, the scenery.”

But humans live in harmony with wildlife, he argued.

“Around all the tourism stuff, particularly safari tourism, you don’t see African people in a peaceful context with wildlife, yet it’s quite common,” he said. “And you don’t see the violence when we try to remove people from wildlife areas to make room for tourism. How real is what we sell? It’s a testament to the power of marketing that the tourism industry can still sell images taken from hundreds of years ago, mainly based on Tarzan.”

A lesson for all marketers is to make sure they’re selling images of what exists and asking for new standards and definitions, and “including black people in non-subservient positions.”

“And there are very few African-Americans in marketing, they just don’t see themselves. Almost all tourists see from America are white. We need to question the media’s role in this narrative,” he added.

All aboard

Management styles and etiquette, unexpectedly, came up frequently over the course of the two days.

Josh D’Amaro, president of Disney Parks, Experiences and Products, spoke about the need for leaders to stay grounded and stay in touch with all of their employees.

He said he spends as much time as he can in the parks when not in meetings. “I will walk every corner of this park, or cruise ship, or store. And I’ll talk to anyone who crosses my path, whether it’s a cast member going out on Main Street selling balloons,” he said.

“From an industry perspective, as leaders it’s important that we all do this. Show up, make sure you’re there, not someone in a desk pushing some buttons. When you do that as a senior leader, you know what happens next. Everyone follows. What happens then is you have 170,000 cast members who see their leaders, they trust their leaders, they know who it is that they represent.”

Find out what else D’Amaro had to say here.

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