I wrote out all the things that inspire me and the team at Skift about the daily and larger promise of travel and the global industry that drives it.
Last month as Skift turned six years old, I wrote an article that exploded like a bomb in the face of the travel industry.
The “21 Uncomfortable Truths That I Have Learned About the Travel Industry” has become amongst the most read and certainly the most discussed story we have ever done. The response and feedback has been overwhelming, from all parts of travel and the globe, through thousands of emails, online comments, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, reaction posts from other people in the industry, and of course face-to-face feedback to every reporter and every sales person in our company. Last week at an industry gathering I attended, someone cited half of those (and the exact number of the bullet points) to me while discussing it, which was a bit scary!
That article was meant to be a trenchant look at the reality of the travel sector as I see it, in the form of 21 “lessons that I have learned and unlearned during my six years of being part of Skift and the amazing travel sector,” as I wrote.
The reaction to it has ranged from “we agree with everything,” “you said what we’re all thinking but wouldn’t dare to say,” “we don’t agree on all the points but this type of provocation to make us think and change is needed,” “you’re an outsider, what the hell do you know,” “you’re an idiot,” to my favorite “you brown person who probably hasn’t traveled much, what the f* do you know!”
As a followup to it, I decided to build on it and write out all the things that inspire me about the daily and larger promise of travel and the industry that drives it. And that have inspired the Skift team as we are enmeshed daily in our coverage of the global travel industry.
So here they go, 25 things that inspire me about the industry in which we exist:
- That travel really is the world’s largest industry when you add all parts of it and it is embedded and enmeshed with every sector in the world. It truly now is the geopolitical center of the world.
- That travel is the largest creator of the middle class in the world. Millions of people rise through travel and hospitality when they first start working, especially immigrants who find travel as the first place they land any work with. Just go to Times Square and you will see all immigrants from West Africa, selling tickets to those ubiquitous New York City tours. This is the first work they found after coming to New York, many of them coming from difficult conditions in their home countries.
- That all the big consumer and tech trends converge first in travel, it is the global crucible for everything.
- That travel is the most progressive manifestation of human curiosity, and people who work in it — especially the rank and file — for most part really believe in it.
- That the global face of travelers really has changed with the rise of all other parts of the world, even if the travel industry executives still have to catch up with the diversity that passes through their businesses.
- That travel has become a big part of how people think about spending money everywhere in the world now. Experiences, not things, is a cliche that is true now more than ever.
- That there is big group of black, female, LGBTQ, and Muslim travelers moving through the world, confidently more than ever, though the disappointment is that the travel brands don’t know how to fully embrace it.
- That there are destination leaders in less-visited places that are really trying to make the lives of their people better by building their tourism economy.
- That a majority of travel brands have embraced diversity and inclusion as part of their brand messaging — and in-situ experience — amidst the rise of neo-nationalism everywhere, making them on the right side of history, for once.
- That the low-cost airlines really ate the world and changed it forever, decades ago, much before software ate the world, as Marc Andreessen famously put it nearly a decade ago.
- The complexity of the airline business, the gargantuan daily global dance that airlines have to do just to be able to operate, is breathtaking in its scope to understand. And hugely inspiring for the globally curious set.
- True boutique and indie hotels and the people who run them — and inhabit all parts of hospitality at its core — inspire me. Well thought-out spaces designed for casual multi-use with understated sense of themselves is what boutique at its best is, and fits in with the modern traveler sensibility in the best ways.
- That new innovations like Airbnb and Uber can emerge, become part of the travel industry, and completely change how we travel. With services like Uber and Grab, traveling seamless in destinations anywhere in the world is a reality.
- That Priceline (now Booking Group) is the world’s largest travel company, a company that almost went bankrupt in the early aughts, and is probably the only case of a large-scale Internet turnaround in history. And how scientific and precision-led its marketing and conversion strategy is, a masterclass for all types of companies beyond just travel.
- That a profession like travel agents that was completely left for dead never really went away and is now thriving in various subsectors of travel. That tour operators, another very unsexy business, are growing and doing very well outside of U.S.
- That small businesses — not the startups — really do matter in travel where they drive a lot of business collectively in all possible ways across all sectors of travel. And that most of these family owned businesses have been in existence for decades.
- The scale of travel inside China by local Chinese is breathtaking in its scale. Everybody talks about outbound Chinese traveler, a global phenomenon that everybody has examined at this point, but what’s happening inside China is a whole different beast that’s worth watching in awe.
- That food, the best entry into any country and culture you can imagine, has become one of the main drivers of travel around the world, and lots of different people from all parts of the world are experiencing new types of foods that they never have in their countries growing up.
- That as tech backlash takes over in various ways big and small, in the travel industry humans will always be at the forefront, and decent humanity — for most part — is how most of the travelers will experience travel for a long time to come.
- That messaging — apps like WhatsApp, Skype, Messenger, WeChat — have completely changed how we travel and keep in touch with anyone and everyone, at low cost to free, without having to worry roaming costs or network access. Add to that the proliferation of Wi-Fi around the world.
- That even as overtourism has become a reality — and a buzzword — for the first time quality of life issues are coming to the fore, the collision of visitor and local economy is a real thing, and lots of well-meaning people are trying to make progress — still early — in figuring it the balance for destinations.
- That corporate travel— that sleepy giant sector that is boring as it can be — is finally seeing some action with well-funded startups trying to innovate all across the spectrum, most of all with services and tools for the weary business travelers.
- That the creative future and indeed present of travel is at the intersection of user experience and design, and that real progress on improving experience is happening in sectors like hospitality and airports.
- That modern wellness, not just the cliched spa experience, is finally taking hold across all parts of travel, at airport, in hospitality, in destinations, as the modern consumer becomes lot more aware of well-being in their daily lives. Innovations in wellness have the potential to become the next big opportunity in travel.
- That once you do become part of the travel industry, you have this heightened sense of awareness when you travel on your own, which makes your travels even more worthwhile than the past. We call it the “Hyperaware Skift state of travel!”
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Photo credit: Skift Founder and CEO Rafat Ali addressing a packed house at a recent Skift Global Forum. Skift