Skift Take

Here's to some of the most innovative and thoughtful brands in travel today. These companies are doing the heavy lifting to make travel and hospitality more inspiring.

Colin Nagy, head of strategy at Fred & Farid, a global advertising agency, writes this opinion column for Skift on hospitality, innovation, and business travel. “On Experience” dissects customer-centric experiences and innovation across hospitality, aviation, and beyond.

Today, he cites his personal favorites — not necessarily Skift’s — for top innovators in 2017. 

It’s been an exciting year for travel and as this column has long argued: Where business travelers spend their money matters. There are brands that actually care about customer experience, and others seem to be driven only by cost cuts, earnings per share, and the bottom lines.

As we close out 2017, it is worth highlighting inspiring efforts in travel and hospitality. Here’s to the companies that are innovating, and doing the heavy lifting to make travel and hospitality inspiring.

Best Airline Lounges
The lounge wars are heating up, and top carriers put a lot of time, effort and thought into pre-departure spaces. But no one has been doing it as well as Cathay Pacific. Noted designer Ilse Crawford nailed the aesthetic perfectly, with comfortable yet stylish chairs, deep woods, polished gold fixtures and the classic Cathay touches like a noodle bar.

All of the new lounges are wonderful, and special mention goes again to the Pier First lounge in Hong Kong for being absolutely superb in its hushed, residential, yet inspiring feel. A recent traveling companion remarked to me that she didn’t want to leave to get on the plane.

Best U.S. Domestic Airline
It doesn’t have all of the bells and whistles, but I recently moved a good amount of transcontinental travel over to Alaska Airlines. The reason? The staff is superb. It is good value for money, and every touch point reflects people that care about their jobs, even down to how quickly your bags arrive.

Everything exceeds the standard of most U.S. carriers. The staff cares and it is apparent. Bonus points for having an easy to use frequent flyer program that allows for no-hassle redemptions on the likes of Cathay and Emirates.

Best Semi-Private Concept
I love the Surfair concept. Subscribers can fly all they want within California, and now, Europe. The planes are great, the lounges are thoughtful, and with the rise of more people commuting to Europe because of Brexit, the airline’s recent move to London City Airport from Luton makes a ton of sense.

Best Airports
This is a always a hot topic, and typically Changi gets the lion’s share of the votes, but my favorite airports are Hong Kong International Airport and Helsinki’s Vantaa. They are both easy to navigate, inspiring, and make me wish we could replicate them and pollinate them across the U.S.

Hong Kong’s hub, designed by Norman Foster, frames a range of international liveries and verdant hills in the distance beautifully. Helsinki feels distinctly Finnish from the signage to the floors and the stores that are selling Finnish products and not just the predictable global soulless chains.

Both are inspired hubs for international travel. In the U.S., I really love the vibe of Austin- Bergstrom International Airport. I It’s not the flashiest, but it just works in terms of easy security, friendly TSA and lounge staff, and just capturing the vibe of the music- and food- crazed city.

Best Car Rental
Once you rent from Silvercar, it is hard to go back to a legacy car rental service. Everything is an Audi A4, with all rentals booked from a mobile app, and the experience is friction free on arrival.

Prices are reasonable you can now find the service in 17 markets across the U.S. Plus, the cars allow you some dignity and style for business travel on the road, as opposed to arriving in that Sonata from a bigger chain rental agency.

Best Business Class Product
The Reverse Herringbone seat configuration flown by American and Cathay on their Boeing 777 300s has long been a favorite. But recent flights on a few Airbus A350s has me converted to the seats that Qatar and Cathay fly on this plane.

It is a reasonable approximation of the product mentioned above, however the added bonus of more humidity and lower cabin pressure on the Airbus product makes me feel better after a long flight. Which, when traveling for business, is a priceless commodity.

Best First Class Product
This year was the year for Air France’s La Premiere, with the most seasoned, discerning travelers raving about every element of the experience from end-to-end. Bonus points for the privacy curtain instead of a hard, sliding door, and also the soft, residential hues in the cabin.

While the Middle Eastern carriers like Etihad have a lot of bling and perhaps more space, this product is capturing the hearts and minds of long-haul flyers for something different: some soul.

Best Night’s Rest on a Plane
I’ve never slept better than on JAL’s First Class product, complete with a Japanese-made Airweave mattress. The bed is large and comfortable, and the linens are great.

Best Collaboration
American and Casper came together with an inspired bedding collaboration. I like that a startup has paired up with a legacy carrier to improve passenger experience while also introducing more people to the brand. It’s smart and comfortable.

Best In-Flight Gear
Nothing beats clothing from Outlier for long-haul travel. It makes gear that looks elegant, minimal, and discrete, but is made from technical fabrics that stretch, repel stains, and generally travel incredibly well. You can travel a lot lighter without having to bring a ton of things, and this is a founding principle of the brand. Also, Outlier’s merino wool shirts, hoodies and cardigans are incredible to take on the road.

Best New Boutique Hotel
Tokyo’s new, 15-room boutique Trunk represents an inspired, creative offering in a town that needs more boutique hotels. The property dials in local culture well, and features a flea market with local artisans. The tricky part is finding room availability Trunk is in demand.

Best Bar
Because of the geopolitical intrigue and the hushed conversations that happen there, not to mention a nicely made Martini, the bar at the Four Seasons in Doha is an elegant and must-visit venue. The old standby of Claridge’s Bar in London is a close runner up.

Best Hotel
The best anticipatory service and incredible suites go to the Upper House in Hong Kong, which is year after year my favorite hotel in the world. General manager Marcel Thoma runs an incredibly tight ship, with a staff that genuinely cares deeply about customer experience. For more on that, read my interview. Every frequent traveler I know who has experienced it speaks in reverent terms and yearns to go back.

Best Hotelier
Liz Lambert continues to amaze with her hotels. Her recent hotel opening, the San Cristobal in Todos Santos, north of Cabo San Lucas, weaves in inspired design with great community integration. She’s set to open a re-edit of the Phoenix in San Francisco very soon.

Everything about her work is inspiring, down to the products offered in each hotel’s custom shops.

Best Room
A recent stay at the Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong had me pondering the perfect, standard room setup. It was the ideal size and proportion. There was a wonderful seating and work area by the window, curtain partitions, a generous bathroom, and closet space. All of this was wrapped with some of the best service in the business, in a classic setting.

Airline Products to Lust After in 2018
Both Singapore and Emirates have released their version of new first class suites. There’s perhaps less ostentatious bling than before, but each offer an interesting vision into how the passengers in the front of the plane wants to fly.

Singapore offers a fully sized bed and a separate, reclining seat, while Emirates took inspiration from Mercedes into its completely overhauled cabin with neutral hues and a detail that will delight travelers. Among them is individual temperature controls at your seat.

Frequent flyers will be salivating to get their hands on both of these first class seats as they roll out.

Seen anything inspiring this year? Drop me a note at [email protected]

Reach new heights in aviation
November 12 in Dallas
See Who's Onboard

Have a confidential tip for Skift? Get in touch

Tags: airline innovation, airports, hotels, innovation, On Experience

Photo credit: Air France La Première offers a residential feel for its top-tier guests. Air France

Up Next

Loading next stories