As travel bloggers, we often see ourselves as the foreign correspondents: The on-the-ground experts with our ears toward the latest trends and happenings in travel. We are the experimenters, testing things out before our audiences have even heard of them, and letting them know if it’s worth the value.
In many ways, we are the ultimate influencers – we travel to places people haven’t even heard of to try things before they become “cool” or “popular” – before they make it onto anyone’s bucket list.
Yet while we live on one end of the travel spectrum, there is another side – the global trends and business developments that lead decision-making for many members of the travel industry.
I know what it’s like to be a traveler. I understand the consumer side so completely that I can rattle off anecdotes as confidently as statistics. Yet what is it like to be a C-Level executive in a large travel company, when she is getting the bulk of her information through studies and surveys? What is she thinking about? What concerns her about the future of her business?
Secrets of the Skift Global Forum
To find out, I took a trip to the Skift Global Forum in New York, thanks to a free ticket offered to us by the Skift team (which was much appreciated, considering the hefty price tag – an average ticket will cost about $2,500 to attend — have a look at our disclosure statement here for more info).
At Skift, I found myself in a room with 1,000 other travel executives and CEOs, learning about the future of the travel industry. We listened as brilliant CEOs shared their growth strategies, the keys to their success, and their expectations for the travel industry. Yet over and over, seven topics seemed to bounce off the walls amid these fireside chats TED-style presentations. They simply couldn’t be left alone.
If you’re a blogger looking to partner with the travel industry, know this: no one will work with you if you don’t have a handle on what’s important to them. For your job, you’ve got to stay up to speed with the industry’s most important concerns and trends.
Then, you must translate.
Bloggers need to simultaneously understand a business’ values and goals while also figuring out how to make those digestible and relevant to a consumer audience. We help brands find what Ije Nwokorie of Wolff Olins calls their “hero story”. We help them “understand the human condition that their brand speaks to” (his words, not mine), and how they can make their customers into heroes. Then, we weave that hero story into a narrative that attracts new users and guests.
To do that, though, we also need to have a deep understanding of the trends in the industry-at-large. This is where Skift and I can help you out.
If you want to make money with your travel blog, here are the trends you need to know:
Trend #1: Mobile
Companies like Airbnb and Uber rely almost entirely on mobile interactions to grow their business. Mobile is getting close to dominating the travel industry. Kevin Cohn of Smartling shared that Uber is now capturing more business dollars than all rental car companies – combined! That’s a lot of power.
Understanding how a company plays into the mobile landscape, and how customers might interact with it on a mobile platform, is essential.
Also important is how you communicate that content. Sarah Personette of Facebook knows that content on your mobile Facebook feed constantly competes with everything else there. For that reason, she said that “your content should be thumb-stoppingly creative.”
Trend #2: Millennials
If there’s any topic the travel industry can’t talk about enough, it’s the scary and interesting world of Millennials, or people between the ages of 18 and 35. Yet Millennials are also setting trends that other generations are beginning to follow.
Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson said that “Millennials are not anti-corporate, they’re anti-phony.” Authenticity is key to attracting Millennial consumers – they’re looking for local tastes.
When Frederik Korallus, CEO of Generator Hostels, talked about his Millennial hotel guests, he said, “I like Coke, but [my guests] don’t want Coke. They want something local.”
Are you a Millennial blogger? Here’s your chance to leverage your age to give your partner precious feedback about your experience, especially if they’re looking to increase their Millennial market share.
Trend #3: Personalization
With the desire for more local flavors comes a strong inclination toward personalization and unique customer experiences.
Frits van Paasschen, former CEO of Starwood, believes that personalization is the next step in hotel brand building. It’s about finding local offerings, or knowing guests’ personal preferences before they even arrive, to make them feel more comfortable and at home.
Have you ever been surprised to get your favorite brand of chocolate waiting in your hotel room, or a room set exactly to the right temperature? That’s an example of the level of personalization that some of the most luxurious hotel properties are seeking to achieve for every customer. It’s also something you’ll want to examine very carefully on your next press trip.
Trend #4: The Sharing Economy
Nothing scares some travel industry members – and excites others – as much as the sharing economy. Van Paasschen warned that “people ignore the threat of Airbnb at their peril.” The company only grows and takes hotel market share with it.
It’s essential for travel companies to pay attention to, and follow the innovations of, members of the sharing economy – lodging platforms like Airbnb, mobile-first transportation apps like Uber and Lyft, and even lesser-known sharing sites like Mealsharing. Ignoring their existence will only hurt your company in the long run.
As a travel expert, it’s your job to face some of these sharing economy challenges head-on. You may notice that many hotel properties are trying to mimic the “homegrown” experience of Airbnb — while others are seeking an entirely opposite experience. Really take a moment to understand your partner’s strategy — it will give you great insight into why they do what they do, and who may benefit from it.
Trend #5: Experiential Travel
One of the things the sharing economy does right is its commitment to experiential travel. Airbnb users, for example, are interested in immersive travel experiences. They want to live like a local the minute they walk through the door of their rental (I know I do). Hotels and other travel companies can use this desire to their advantage, offering more tours, outings, social activities, and other experiences that go beyond a room stay.
More travelers are also staying in hostels. Generator Hostels’ average guest is 24 years old – no longer the 17- or 18-year-old traveler we imagine in our heads. Even mature travelers are considering hostels for their experiential factor over other more traditional lodging options.
Trend #6: Multi-Generational Travel
“If there were a major trend we are seeing, it is multi-generational travel,” said Henri d’Estaing of Club Med.
He’s not wrong: more and more travelers are finding themselves with children, parents, and even grandparents in tow. This makes the idea of resorts, cruises, and other all-inclusives that much more appealing (even to those aforementioned experiential travelers), as they make it easier to travel with a variety of people who each have their own needs or mobility restrictions.
Consider the multi-generational angle on your next all-inclusive FAM. It’s likely your host has been tuned into this demographic for some time.
Trend #7: The Death (or Not) of Loyalty Programs
Are loyalty programs dying? George Hobica, President of Airfarewatchdog, says so. He believes that frequent flyer programs have outlived their usefulness and are expensive for everyone with little value, creating an oligarchy of limited competition while employees make their companies pay more for less convenient flights so they can rack up the miles.
Yet Brian Kelly of The Points Guy disagrees, instead saying that “points and loyalty are not dead – they’re just evolving.”
Taking a flight soon? See what they offer in comparison to competitors and take a look at how that has changed over time.
What To Do With These Trends?
Rest assured that the next company you work with is acutely aware of at least some of these travel trends, and already thinking about how they affect their business. That’s your opportunity to brainstorm interesting angles that can help tell your partner’s story: engage your readers using topics that are both relevant to your audience and highly newsworthy.
Bloggers, start your engines! The industry needs more writers who are up to the task of truly understanding their industry from both the consumer and the business perspectives. Let’s show them what we’ve got.