Skift Take

Technology will accelerate the emergence of a distinct experience economy, but the human touch will help future-proof its relevance, according to investor Michael Zeisser.

Using technology to make experiences easier to book isn’t the only opportunity for businesses in the sector. Travel businesses must also see technology as a means to enhance the human side of what they do in creating more meaningful and personalized experiences.

Those are among the insights that investor Michael Zeisser of FMZ Ventures shared with the audience at Skift Global Forum East Wednesday in Dubai. He said the evolution from agricultural to industrial, from service to experience economies reflects the maturing of societal needs and desires beyond what objects and material things can satisfy.

Zeisser, with an investment career background in companies like Formula One, Live Nation Ticketmaster, and Alibaba Group, spoke of this evolution, tethering the crux of his discussion to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Zeisser stated the shift from material possessions to experiences reflects a deeper pursuit of higher-level human needs, like self-actualization and belonging. 

Zeisser outlined both the challenges and opportunities for the sector as it needs to adapt to new technologies, understand the changing consumer psyche, and focus on creating experiences that resonate on a deeper, more personal level.

Delving into the nuances of the experience economy, Zeisser divided it into four distinct types that underscore the varied nature of experiences:

  • Kinetic, encompassing physical activities such as travel and sports; 
  • Psychotherapeutic experiences focusing on mental well-being and things like loneliness; 
  • Functional, which includes learning and skill-building; 
  • Virtual experiences offered by digital platforms like the Metaverse. 

Future-Proofing Through Human Touch

He singled out technology’s potential for hyper-personalization, honed through human touch, as essential for travel companies and businesses to focus on. 

“The differentiating characteristic of experiences is the human touch. In that sense, I do believe actually that experiences are kind of future proofed. I think they will not be supplemented by algorithms and computers and robots,” said Zeisser.

“I think our industry is going to be helped by algorithms and AI and because, fundamentally what makes the difference is the human touch. Of course, that raises the question of how do you scale that human touch?” added Zeisser. “How do you replicate that extraordinary tour guide? How do you replicate that extraordinary therapist? And technology is helping.”

He said that as an investor, he looked for companies that are using state-of-the-art technologies to try to scale and replicate that human touch, or amplify the impact of people who have that extraordinary touch.

Experiences are unique economic offerings crafted to create a lasting impact – a “memory dividend” that goes beyond the momentary interaction, said Zeisser. This aspect is crucial for travel businesses, which must move from transactional services to creating memorable, impactful experiences.

However, Zeisser believes the sector has a long way to go to realize the full impact and potential for experiences to drive consumer behavior.

Airbnb’s Chesky is the ‘Steve Jobs of Experiences

He also singled out Brian Chesky’s Airbnb as an “iconic company in the experience economy,” debating the company’s pause of the intake of new experiences as a possible way to elevate the quality of its offering.

“In many ways, personally, I think Brian Chesky is the Steve Jobs of the experience economy. And I think it’s very interesting to listen to him when he talks about unlocking the potential of Airbnb, and of course now he goes into the direction of solving societal issues like loneliness and building more communities,” said Zeisser.

“So these are very much aligned with the framework that I’ve been offering here to say experiences are the solutions for addressing our higher level human needs.”

Chesky previously shared with Skift that the company plans to use AI to improve personalized recommendations and customer service, with major changes coming by mid next year. Read the full interview here.


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Tags: airbnb, experiences, maslow, sgfe2023, tours and activities

Photo credit: Michael Zeisser (left) of FMZ Ventures at Skift Global Forum East Wednesday in Dubai. Source: Skift Skift / Skift

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