3 unique perspectives on travel from the Skift Global Forum

3 unique perspectives on travel from the Skift Global Forum

quick take

Two days full of information in New York City, hundreds of ideas. Here’s the lowdown on three subtopics that caught our attention.

Matthew Parsons

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

On the agenda are candid conversations with CEOs about how their businesses are performing post-pandemic, plenty of talk about the growth of package travel and the future of work, and thoughtful commentary on dealing with the ongoing jobs crisis.

But among the industry sound bites that more than 700 attendees heard in person from the main stage and 800 more online, some alternative topics also emerged, from the psychology of marketing to running a business. Here is a summary.

Just make it up as you go

Hopper’s energetic CEO Frederic Lalonde 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 his products was losing “a ton of money,” he replied that it was anything new they tried. “It blows up in our face every year,” he said.

But some features that are tested for a year can prove successful, such as its new hotel cancellation policy.

“The trick is that you test it with a small group. You spend a lot of money on a few people. You find out what you did right, then you scale. If you do it backwards, that’s bad,” Lalonde told the audience. “We have this subset of users that engage with us. We are testing and trying to figure things out. It’s so wild that I don’t really understand what we’re doing here.”

Lalonde, who is also a co-founder of the startup, said a recent flash sale caught him off guard. He sold “loot boxes,” treasure chests with a mystery gift, such as a voucher, 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 would come to me with this data and I would say ‘that’s wrong, that’s not possible.'”

Find out what else Lalonde had to say here.

Get into the minds of guests

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

Dr. Mordecai Ogada, conservationist, environmentalist and co-author of “The Great Conservation Lie”, questioned why the travel industry commercialized 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 go through our tourism experiences, they come from a place a little over a hundred years ago… the hunting, the beautiful wildlife, the landscapes.”

But people live in harmony with wildlife, he argued.

“Around all the tourist stuff, particularly safari tourism, you don’t see Africans in a peaceful context with wildlife, but it’s quite common,” he said. “And you don’t see the violence when we try to get people out of wilderness areas, to make room for tourism. How real is what we are selling? It is a testament to the power of marketing that the travel industry is still able to sell images that were taken hundreds of years ago, most of which are actually based on Tarzan.”

A lesson for all marketers is to make sure you sell images of what exists, and called for new standards and definitions, and “include black people in non-subordinate positions.”

“And there are very few African-Americans in marketing, they just don’t see themselves. Almost all the tourists you see from America are white. We have to challenge the role of the media in this narrative,” she added.

All aboard

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

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

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

“From an industry perspective, as leaders, it’s important that we all do that. Introduce yourself, make sure you are there, not someone who is in an office and pressing a couple of buttons. When he does it as a senior leader, he knows what happens next. They all follow. What happens then is you have 170,000 cast members who see their leaders, trust their leaders, know who they are and what they stand for.”

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

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