YCN Sector Briefing: Travel
‘We are inundated with advice on where to travel to, but hear little of why and how we should go. The travel and hospitality industry slices destinations into the categories they believe matter most: ‘sun holiday, city break, luxury, budget etc.’ What is never addressed is what places and experiences will do for the traveller’s mindset and sense of the world around them.’ Alain de Botton, philosopher
The travel industry may well have taken Alain de Botton’s words to heart in the decade or so since he wrote them. With so many different ways and reasons to travel, from pilgrimages to 5 star luxury resorts, there really is something for everyone in today’s thriving travel industry.
Last week we went to a panel discussion hosted by YCN to learn about how brands can adapt to the emerging trends in the travel industry. The panels consisted of: Alice Leahy, Head of Content and Strategy at SUITCASE Media, Lily Christensen, Head of Travel & Tourism at what3words and Sam Bruce, Co-Founder & CMO of Much Better Adventures.
Here is what we learnt:
The rise of adventure travel
As well as the travel industry thriving as a whole, there has recently been a higher demand for adventure trips. Consumers are looking to spend money on something real, choosing experiences over possessions. With our time often being monopolised by work or technology, travel gives us a sense of control. The adventure travel market has experienced a growth of 65% recently, resulting in companies rethinking travel as consumers are wanting to try something new.
With this rise has also come an increase in consumers wanting travel experiences that are sustainable. Much Better Adventures had been established to meet the rise in both these demands. It was founded on the idea that small, local, independent companies always offer the best experiences but are harder to find online. Much Better Adventures is a platform for these clients; it tells the stories behind the companies and sells their experiences, making it easier for customers to book with them. It was founded in order to use tourism for good; historically consumers hadn’t put much thought into the financial chain in tourism; now, however there is more awareness of this and consumers want to know that their money stays with the local communities. One of the most popular trips offered by Much Better Adventures is a weekend kayaking in the Norwegian Fjords. Since offering trips here, the money from tourism has enabled them to build better facilities, allowing their business to grow.
Know your customer
All three speakers commented on the importance of knowing your customer and why they behave as they do. In the past in order to book a holiday, travel agents would research and organise everything for you. Nowadays consumers are conducting research themselves, so brands need to exist earlier, when consumers are planning and researching a trip, not just when they go to book it. With consumer behaviour changing, it is important that brands keep up and create new and inventive ways of attracting their customers. For example, work/life boundaries are blurring with the increase of self-employment and freelancers; hotels have adapted to this increase of consumers needing to work whilst travelling by creating work-friendly areas in their lobbies.
Alice Leahy commented on how important it was for brands to become publishers in order demonstrate their understanding of their consumer. For example, suitcase company Away has recently launched a magazine called Here which is full of travel inspiration and ideas, and barely features their suitcases at all; they have created something that says ‘we know who are customers are and we know what they want to read’.
How technology aids travel
When travelling, there are many obstacles to overcome. One of the most significant, and perhaps most challenging, is language barriers, which can make road signs and directions particularly difficult to understand. In addition to this, finding the right address is often a struggle due to inconsistencies in different countries – in South Africa, for example, road names can change for political, ethical or even economic reasons. Furthermore road name duplicates may also cause confusion; there are over 19 Church Roads in the UK. Some places do not even have addresses, such as the middle of the desert, or a food truck – so how are travellers supposed to find these? The current way is to use coordinates, but these are long and complicated.
what3words provides a new solution; it is a universal system that gives everywhere and everything an address. It does this by dividing up the Earth into 57 trillion 3m x 3m squares, with each square having its own three words that describe its location. It is currently used by several postal services, hundreds of hotels, and in travel and restaurant guides, helping travellers to discover new places and making them feel safer. In addition to this, the technology can be harnessed and used for other purposes such as disaster relief; it is used by both the UN and Red Cross, and was recently used to help find survivors of the Mexico Earthquake.
As always, social media is key
Social media is a vital tool for the travel industry, but it is highly congested. In order to stand out, it is important to be authentic. Consumers are becoming more aware of content that isn’t real, which can lead to brands and influencers losing credibility. Travel blogger Amelia Liana was recently accused of faking her Instagram images after she posted a photo of herself in New York, but the four year old Freedom Tower was nowhere to be seen. Although some defended her, saying she was selling a ‘dream of travel’ (therefore it didn’t have to be accurate), others weren’t so lenient. Consumers have grown wise to photo doctoring, and when done badly it can lead to hostile responses, making consumers critical of brands and influencers.
As well as authenticity, it is important to be disciplined on social media, which means choosing the right platform for your content. Ace Hotel use Instagram purely for entertainment and don’t post any photos of their hotels – these can be found on their website. They then use Facebook to advertise events as for them this platform has the highest engagement. On these very busy platforms it is necessary to be creative in order to stand out.
Furthermore brands need to accept that we are in the age of collaboration, and it is crucial that they do it right. Influencers can be valuable, but brands need to view them as content creators rather than advertisers. Recently Airbnb partnered with Vice to create a series of films looking at cities in different ways; this enabled Airbnb to use a publisher that has access to a different and wider audience in order to increase their brand awareness.
Thank you very much to the great panel, and to YCN for hosting another interesting and insightful event. We left feel inspired and more knowledgeable about the travel industry – and ready to book our next holiday!
Photograph by Sam Bush for YCN