Travel's most forward-thinking insiders will gather September 18–19 for our annual Skift Global Forum in New York. In just a few years, Skift's Forums — the largest creative business gatherings in the global travel industry — have become what media, speakers, and attendees have called the “TED Talks of travel.”
Skift Global Forum 2019 will take place at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Frederick P. Rose Hall in New York. This year's Forum speakers include CEOs and top executives from Booking Holdings, Delta Air Lines, Expedia, Air France-KLM, Marriott International, Amtrak, and many more.
Rishad Tobaccowala is all about balancing opposites.
In fact, he likes to separate the business world into two opposing sides: the left brain and the right brain. Here, the left-brain side values transactions, utility, and cost-saving, while the right-brain side values relationships, experiences, and long-term value. Both, he believes, are equally necessary.
Tobaccowala is chief growth officer at Publicis Groupe, a global marketing and business transformation firm, meaning he has helped hundreds of businesses adapt to a changing world. In particular, he points to the explosion of digital technology and data as something that can make companies lose sight of the need for human connection. He believes this connection is central to nearly every challenge a company may face, including pressure to increase sustainability and ongoing consolidation among the hospitality industry.
His upcoming book, Restoring the Soul of Business: Staying Human in the Age of Data, explores the landscape of the modern world, including how companies can use data and technology to drive personal relationships with customers.
Tobaccowala will be speaking at Skift Global Forum in New York City on September 18–19.
Skift Editor’s Note: This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Skift: Sustainability is becoming increasingly important to consumers. How does this impact travel companies, and what are some ways they can respond?
Tobaccowala: Sustainability matters a lot for companies because people are increasingly thinking about other things. They’re thinking: What does the company I work with stand for? What are its values? Is it authentic? And is the company being a good citizen? Is the company treating me as a person, or is the company only treating me as a consumer?
If they’re treating me as a person, they know I live in the world, and I want them to be purpose-driven. I want them to be authentic. I want to know what the company is like. Therefore, things like environment, sustainability, and governance — which is ESG — is a driving factor in companies.
As for meaningful ways to respond, I think companies should clearly explain what they’re doing with their carbon footprint, and how they’re making their properties or their transportation as sustainable as possible. They should talk about how they treat their employees, as well. Increasingly people are asking, “How are your employees being treated? Are they being paid a fair wage? Are you providing them with healthcare?”
The other thing is data. People want to know how companies are using their data. Are they selling it to other people? Is it safe?
Skift: In your writing, you talk a lot about balancing data and emotions in business. Why is this so important for travel companies?
Tobaccowala: There are people on one side, who will basically say, “Let’s make all decisions by only utilizing data and math.” What I explain to them is that people choose with their hearts, and they use numbers to justify what they just did.
If you’re running a company, and you’re saying that all decisions should be made by data and math, then how are you going to get travelers to choose your resort, in particular? If you’re operating this way, don’t expect consumers to come to your place unless you can promise the lowest price. But even then you probably won’t get many. Experiences are so important.
Meanwhile, people on the other side will say it’s all about experience and storytelling and forget the data. But you can’t forget the data for four big reasons.
First, data is what’s creating some of these experiences. Data is the underlying plumbing. Second, data provides you with ways to improve. It provides you with feedback. Third, every customer looks at some data when they make their decision. And fourth, data can show you how you’re doing versus your competitors and what you’re missing.
Skift: We’ve been hearing that the hospitality industry is becoming more consolidated. What do you think is important for people in this industry to be aware of?
Tobaccowala: I think as the industry is getting more consolidated, it’s important to recognize there will be a duality. Meaning that most companies will be very big or very focused.
Let’s use cars as an example. You’ll basically have the Volkswagens and Toyotas, or you’ll have the Porsches. But things that are in between, like the Fords, will have to get out of the way. Similarly, in travel, you’ll either be part of a very big chain, or you’ll be a boutique.
A boutique can differentiate itself by providing a personalized and customized experience, and by bringing in more humanity. Because boutiques don’t have to manage standards and in many cases they are also uniquely integrated into their communities.