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We recently published the Skift 25 Travel Moments That Mattered in 2017, looking at the stories that likely had the most industrywide and global impact. Today, though, we asked each Skift Editorial staff member to detail the favorite story he or she wrote over the last 12 months.
Whether it was Hospitality Editor Deanna Ting’s Complete Oral History of Boutique Hotels or Business Travel Editor Andrew Sheivachman’s Channel Shock: The Future of Travel Distribution, many of our 2017 stories took stock of an industry and forecast where it is headed. But each of the stories our reporters describe below also had a personal angle for them, and writing these original pieces of journalism made them proud.
They made all of us at Skift proud, too, because they epitomized our mantra to deliver original, insightful reporting that you can find nowhere else.
Skift reporters describe below the stories they felt most proud writing in 2017:
Brian Sumers, Aviation Business Reporter
The Backstory: Before May, when I wrote For the First Time, Allegiant Air Learns What It’s Like to Configure a New Airplane, U.S. discount airline Allegiant Air had never bought a new airplane, preferring to take cheaper used ones. And because the company is so focused on cost-control, it often left the cabins as they were — so some planes had a bright Orange Stripe favored by EasyJet, while one had an unusual tree pattern on its side walls.
But once Allegiant ordered new planes — it took 12 Airbus A320s — it could decide how it wanted them configured, and it would be included in the purchase price. But for Allegiant executives, the process wasn’t so easy. “They kind of walk you through the process and say, ‘Now its time to make these 14 decisions,”’ said Brian Davis, then Allegiant’s vice president for marketing. “That’s when we open the catalogue and say, ‘Oh, shit, there are many, many options.'”
Sarah Enelow, Assistant Editor
The Backstory: Traveling down to Washington, D.C. to see the new “Blacksonian” for myself and to write African American Smithsonian Sets a New Standard for Museums as Destinations was a highlight this year. The museum quickly became a black American mecca and a fixture of D.C. tourism, for good reason.
I spent five emotionally charged hours understanding the user experience and then compared it to other major museums that are true destinations in themselves. In today’s landscape, a museum that only offers a few galleries is dead in the water. These big players have intense experiences, landmark architecture, restaurants with rave reviews from the Times, and a line just to get into the gift shop.
Dan Peltier, Tourism Reporter
The Backstory: Most of Skift’s overtourism coverage was focusing on big cities, but there are plenty of small towns, parks, and attractions that are also coping with their share of challenges with tourism growth. In writing U.S. National Park Service Still Figuring Out the Travel Industry and Overtourism, it was really interesting to connect with park service officials who are government employees. They were so willing to talk about all the problems the parks are facing and how they’ve been mismanaged for decades.
I developed some great sources from reporting out this story and it’s helped start a conversation among many national parks about what needs to change. And the story couldn’t be more timely as the Trump Administration has placed U.S. national parks under siege. The park service is considering raising entrance fees that will upset visitors, and President Donald Trump sought to revoke the status of some national monuments and federally protected lands, and to cut funding.
Sean O’Neill, Travel Tech Editor
The Backstory: Skift covers the travel sector’s trendlines to help professionals gain an edge in their jobs. But let me ‘fess up: Sometimes I just crave a good mystery story. So I tried to combine utility with mystery in my piece, Fly.com Buyers Reluctantly Identified as Owners of Airfare Wholesaler Mondee. Someone paid travel deals publisher Travelzoo $2.89 million in cash for Fly.com, the domain name of an airfare comparison search product it was sunsetting. Paying that much seemed surprising, and insiders were reluctant to name the buyer.
It turns out Mondee, North America’s largest airfare consolidator, had bought the domain. I tried to suss out why by reporting on the state of the wholesale flight business overall. The sector is consolidating — no pun intended — as technologies like machine learning and new distribution dynamics grant advantages to scaled-up platforms. After publication, investors gave me feedback that made me suspect that tracking the wholesaling and business-to-business distribution angle will provide value and surprises next year, too.
Deanna Ting, Hospitality Editor
The Backstory: My favorite piece I wrote this year would have to be The Complete Oral History of Boutique Hotels.”It took me nearly a year to put it all together, but I hope it was a year well spent. The process of weaving all of these voices and stories together to talk about a period that spanned 20 years was just, well, fascinating. I felt like I learned so much.
And it gave me an even deeper appreciation of what I’m seeing today in the hospitality space. Hotels would be so much more boring and way less inspiring, if not for the influential work of these boutique hotel pioneers.
Hannah Sampson, News Editor
The Backstory: As a Florida kid who grew up going to Orlando theme parks, my favorite stories this year were a pair of pieces about the continued evolution of Walt Disney World Resort: Disney’s New Star Wars Hotel Sounds Like Next-Level Immersion and Disney’s Once-Futuristic Epcot Is Getting a Modern Overhaul.
(If picking two stories sounds like a cheat, I make the case that both are part of a larger narrative about the way the world’s most powerful theme park operator is thinking about the future. Also I couldn’t pick one over the other:)
Working on those pieces let me feel like my years — OK, decades — of visiting theme parks was actually research. And while it was fun to be able to write with some authority based on my own experiences, even better was the chance to talk to experts, explore Disney’s own statements, learn a bunch of new things, and slip in a lot of Star Wars references.
The takeaway: The Walt Disney Co. has made tremendous investments in intellectual property that other people created. See Marvel, Pixar, and of course the Star Wars universe for prime examples. Whether longtime fans like it or not (and some do not), those investments are going to become bigger parts of the theme park business.
Patrick Whyte, Europe Editor
The Backstory: In all the brouhaha surrounding Brexit, it’s almost been forgotten how big an impact the European Union has had on tourism growth across the continent. A new spirit of cooperation between nations helped effectively abolish internal borders. That meant that any citizen was free to travel, work and live in any member state.
The creation of the single aviation market also helped reduce the cost of traveling across the continent. Legacy flag carriers no longer had the monopoly, and low-cost airlines like Ryanair and EasyJet could flourish.
My first article, How the European Union Invented Modern Travel and Tourism, in my Resetting Transatlantic Travel series explored the EU’s impact on tourism in light of the Brexit vote. The UK’s tourism industry is rightly concerned about what going it alone might mean, especially when it comes to immigration and flying rights. I’ll be paying close attention to developments throughout 2018 and beyond.
Andrew Sheivachman, Business Travel Editor
The Backstory: Why does the travel industry work the way it does? Well, it’s complicated. This summer I took a deep dive into the complex relationship between the companies that distribute travel products and the companies that actually provide flights, tours, and hotel rooms. We called it, Channel Shock: The Future of Travel Distribution.
What I found was something of a stalemate between the two stakeholders; while digital advances have freed up airlines and hotels to more effectively sell their products, the deeply entrenched travel technology companies have prevented transformative change with their enormous influence over the sector. Change is coming, however, and it will be fascinating to watch how the industry evolves as travel providers jockey to gain more control.
Dennis Schaal, Executive Editor
The Backstory: I’m a notorious procrastinator — I prefer to think of it as being laid-back — so I saved my favorite story of the year, The Inside Story of an Online Travel Reunion at the New Uber, until December 22 when everyone was in vacation mode and there were few readers doing any reading. It was my favorite story because it was a scoop of sorts with lots of information about how Dara Khosrowshahi, the Uber CEO who served a couple of decades leading Expedia, hired former Orbitz Worldwide CEO Barney Harford as Uber COO.
Both men are Expedia alum, who met in 2001 in a deal meeting at then-USA Networks’ boss Barry Diller’s house in West Hollywood, California. The story provides details on how Khosrowshahi and Harford competed against one another at Expedia and Orbitz, respectively, and tried to one-up each other in a high-stakes 2009 fight over consumer booking fees. There are nuances in their moves that were little-known at the time. It’s always fun and illustrative to get the backstory even if it’s so many years later. Despite the long odds, look for good things from Uber in 2018 — changes are coming.
Skift Editorial staff members Brian Sumers, Deanna Ting, Hannah Sampson, Patrick Whyte, Sarah Enelow, Andrew Sheivachman, Daniel Peltier, and Sean O’Neill contributed to this report.