Editor’s Note: Today, July 30, is Skift’s 8th anniversary as a company and we are running a package of insights from our editorial team looking forward — and inwards — in this pandemic age.
January 21, the day coronavirus collided with us. That evening was the final Skift 2020 Megatrends launch event for us, at the Grand Hyatt in Singapore. It was also the day we posted our first wire story on coronavirus spreading in China, and followed up with a Skift original story on Jan 24.
That January 21 evening our event came oh-so-very close to being a superspreader event in Singapore and South East Asia, as we found out a few weeks later. Turns out it was not our event but another full-day conference happening in the same hotel that day.
Going into our eight years in business at the start of 2020, there was no way I ever bargained for travel being an industry that would go through an existential crisis. Come recession or any other kind of downturn, it was always going to be in secular growth mode. That was a line I had repeated ad nauseam for the last decade after coming into this industry from a secularly-declining media industry prior in my previous company.
Since selling and leaving my first company, I had promised myself I wouldn’t ever step again into an industry where siege mentality reigned supreme, as was the case with the publishing industry ever since the internet era came around.
Travel was it.
How could it not be, this kinetic energy of movement of billions of humans around the world?
“Travel is the most progressive manifestation of human curiosity. If you are tired of Skift, you are tired of the promise of travel,” a line I had used often over the years. In fact, when Trump got elected president, the morning after I wrote an impassioned essay invoking this line and adding: “It behooves us to take on more activist roles on behalf of our right to travel, and the future of the travel.” Imagine invoking that right-to-travel line now …
Every bit of travel news, every trend, every analysis, every product we put out since we started eight years ago, everything spoke to the progressive, interconnected future of the world, it was and is the reason for our existence, it was and is the reason for existence of our industry, the world’s largest industry by many accounts. We really lived that.
This was the year we were going to grow our revenues by 40 percent, were going to be solidly profitable, had figured out a new vertical model for our events and were on a hiring tear — we were hiring seven or so people at the start of the year, which for a company of 60 people then, was a big number.
I sent a memo to our team with this upbeat message on January 2:
The 2010s, the decade that just ended, was the decade of Skift, at least in the corner of the world we exist in. All it took was for us to say: “Fuck it, let’s do it!”
Eight years into our journey, we have created our own whitespace and filled it with our own beautiful creations. We did this by being curious about travel’s place in the world, by continuing to ask questions about it, by constantly coming up with new ways of looking at the world of travel.
That is the essence of Skift: curiosity about the world around us, and looking at it through the lens of travel.
Skift has given me a chance to develop a wide-angle lens on life, be as wide ranging in my interests as I can be, it has allowed me to read far and wide, learn from everything around us and channel it into building the worldview on travel that we have. I have a feeling many of you will identify with this as well.
I have written about this in the past: travel is the most progressive manifestation of human curiosity. Travel provokes curiosity about the world at large. It also provokes curiosity about humans in general, and everything humans are curious about. Travel is the perfect crucible to see every new trend in the world play out.
What will determine Skift’s success in the coming decade, what will ensure that 2020s continue to be Skift’s decade? That we remain eternally curious about the business and creative possibilities of travel and what it means to the world at large. Continue to ask the hard questions, that is our foremost job as storytellers of the world we inhabit.
That is what animates me about Skift in 2020 and the years ahead. Fuck it, let’s do it!
We were in the middle of our third potential company acquisition and were about to close a few million dollars of funding from two wealthy travel industry insiders to do a few more acquisitions this year. We had created global hubs in London and Singapore and were on our way to expand into Dubai/Middle East in a big way as well. In the next 18-24 month horizon we were going to reach the milestone $25 million revenue mark, if things went according to plan.
Well, none of that happened, and “plan” has become the biggest pejorative term in these pandemic times.
Six months into this pandemic, while our smaller-but-incredible team is continuing on amazing work to serve the industry and coming up with constant innovations in times like these, for the first time I can imagine a world where travel’s place in the world isn’t as secure I had thought it to be through these years of building Skift. For the first time, I am questioning the importance of travel in the world, particularly the wanton border-crossing, bragging-rights kind. For the first time, I am questioning the promise of travel-because-you-can I so believed in.
The length of this existential crisis travel is going through — and will continue to in coming months — will lead to permanent changes in travel’s place in the world. The narrative of the consumer economy moving from consuming and owning “products” to experiences has been building up since the start of this century and surely that was a good thing, right? Less weight of physical goods on the world could only be good on our overburdened planet, the thinking goes, with solid evidence behind it.
Yet, as everything became an experience and billions of people consumed it, wouldn’t that still be conspicuous consumption? Overtourism didn’t become a buzzword for the sake of it, there was good reason why it caught on in the travel industry and in the zeitgeist of the world at large. We have been documenting what this meant for the planet, including the clash of overtourism and climate change.
And then the day came when the world stopped traveling.
Travel is aspirational, but being appreciative of what you have in your own surroundings, local, is aspirational, too.
Early on in the pandemic, I wrote about how my big hope for the next five years, if we were to write a letter from the future to our current self, would be the rise of radical localism. “Mine would be about how radical localism became the way travel industry came back, people began to appreciate their rural areas around cities and local small businesses in tourism/hospitality thrived as a result,” I wrote.
Radical localism in everything, not just in travel, something all of us, by not being able to travel, have become uniquely attuned to. We know so much more about our immediate neighborhoods for the first time in a long time, especially those of us living in anonymous big cities like New York City. To be honest, if you ask me in my more zen moments of the day, I am enjoying my smaller world view.
Almost five months into lockdown, I am enjoying the coos of Mourning Doves every day in my concrete jungle backyard in Queens, New York. Maybe I am finally still enough to listen, maybe there is just more nature around us as we have stopped trampling it in our path.
We have always assumed constant movement is better. This stationary life should make us reconsider that: maybe stillness is better, maybe silence is better, maybe listening is better.
We were just never still enough to realize that — until now.