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Over the past three years, we’ve focused our energy on building the most-read travel industry news and insights media brand in the world, and for the second year in a row we’re hosting the Skift Global Forum, the largest creative business conference in the global travel industry. Around 800 of the smartest and most progressive people in travel will gather in Brooklyn this week, to discuss — and define — the future of travel.
Much like it wasn’t obvious why Skift was needed before it launched three years ago — and we still have what we call “serial doubters” — it wasn’t very obvious how we could create a new type of conference in the travel sector, in a very crowded space.
When we set out to create our first Global Forum last year we knew what we didn’t want: the boring industry trade conferences, the pay-for-play vendors-talking-to-vendors, where nothing is learned in the program sessions.
We wanted to build something that borrowed elements from TED and Fast Company conferences, less exhibit booths, and useless grandstanding multi-person panels. Take a day or two out, come, sit back, and listen, and we will promise you the best creative brainfood for the year.
For too long, travel industry conferences have been a good place to do a bit of business, but a terrible place to learn something new or be inspired by a different voice. Attendees end up hearing from the same people year after year in a manner that made one year’s event indistinguishable from the next.
Our decisions about who to put on stage are driven by the desire to showcase the industry’s most creative, curious, and compelling voices; people who thought about the future as much as we do every day. It is carefully curated with the topics and speakers — single track, no panels, no overt pitches — to inspire the professionals in travel about the business and creative promise of the world’s largest sector.
We have two signature lines that we have built the Forum around: “We believe the business future of travel is at the intersection of tech and marketing. We believe the creative future of travel is at the intersection of user experience and design.” This is what guides us in creating the program, the networking opportunities, the venues, and all the branding about the conference.
We work very hard with each speaker to get the best talk out of them — literally hours and hours are spent with each speaker. Last year there were 25 speakers and this year we have 37, spread over two days, each a rapid-fire session to keep the talk distilled to the best learnings out of it.
We want our audience, which is filled with people from across *all* sectors of travel, both business and creative — unheard of in any travel conference — to be as fascinated by a speaker outside of their sector as they were by a competitor or colleague. For us, the elements of surprise and delight are key to delivering an experience to our attendees that they can’t get anywhere else.
Last year’s one-day event sold out The New York Times Center and resulted in rave reviews from the people who came, some calling it the “best conference ever done in travel” while one person called it the “TED of travel that we desperately needed.”
This week in Brooklyn we’re gathering again to grapple with the future of travel over two days of inspirational presentations, incisive interviews, small-group discussions, and after-hours conversations.
This isn’t a freakin’ trade conference, as we gently say it. The CEOs and thought leaders from across the industry who are stepping onto the stage in Brooklyn are not there to make a sales pitch for their company; they are coming to share their visions of the future of travel. These are the leaders who understand the larger context in which travel operates and who don’t suffer from the myopia that afflicts much of the industry.
Guests will hear from Virgin Atlantic CEO Craig Kreeger about how he’s built an airline brand by not participating in the premium rat race. Jonathan Mildenhall, the CMO of Airbnb, will talk about how it has built a culturally relevant brand by focusing on community and trust. Kim Day, the CEO of Denver International Airport, will explain how she has helped create an airport geared toward the future of travel. And Hyatt Hotels CEO Mark Hoplamazian will talk about how he got a new perspective on hospitality by not starting with his hotels, but consumers first.
Over the past three years of running Skift, I’ve seen clearly that the largest consumer and tech changes converge in travel, and what’s happening here — from mobile booking to local discovery to on-demand services — has lessons for the world beyond the industry. The speakers and the people attending the Forum understand this, and are best prepared for what’s happening next in travel.
The biggest lesson we have learned along the way: There is always space to create your own whitespace.