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Welcome to the new and improved Skift Travel Podcast.

Series: The New Skift Podcast

Editor-in-Chief Sarah Kopit and Head of Research Seth Borko talk travel every week.

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The Skift Travel Podcast has brought listeners industry-defining news and reporting, as well as featured interviews that have highlighted critical issues in the business of travel.

We’ll continue to do so while making our Skift Travel Podcast even better with our full-time hosts, Editor-in-Chief Sarah Kopit and Head of Research Seth Borko. Here’s a look at what you can expect.

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Sarah Kopit: Hello, everyone. I’m Skift’s Editor-in-Chief Sarah Kopit. And welcome to the new and improved Skift Travel Podcast. For almost a decade, the Skift Travel Podcast has brought you industry defining, reporting, research, and interviews that define and make sense of the business of travel. I’m happy to report that all of this will continue, and thrilled to break the news that we’re supercharging the Skift Travel podcast to make it even bigger and better than it’s ever been before.

Behind the scenes, we’ve increased resources and people power. And right here, front of house, we are happy to introduce ourselves. There’s me, Sarah Kopit, editor-in-chief, and Skift’s Head of Research Seth Borko, as your full-time host delivering Skift’s latest news, research and insights hot off the presses and pivot tables. And don’t worry, Seth, you can tell us that that’s not how pivot tables work in a moment.

But before we get into that, we’ll of course still feature the interviews you want to hear and the business leaders making news across the industry. Plus the occasional revisit and analysis of our industry-leading forum sessions. Seth, over to you.

Seth Borko: Great to be here and thanks for that introduction, Sarah. I think you will learn a lot more about how pivot tables and Excel work over the course of the podcast. Hopefully all of our readers will, but we’re going to make sense from the numbers. We’re not going to be pure data nerds here. We’re going to make stories out of it.

I’m so excited to be doing this podcast and I can’t wait. Every week, we’re going to dive into stories and research and events coming out of the world of Skift. It’s going to be great.

Kopit: A little bit about me. I’m relatively new to the world of travel, and I took kind of a serpentine route to getting here. I was born in Michigan. I grew up on a dirt road and had a pickup truck, and I was just all like, bright lights, big city for my for my whole childhood. And I came here right after college.

I worked for Court TV. I went to law school. I practiced law for a while. I worked at Bloomberg for over a decade. I managed their breaking news team in the Americas. I did all sorts of things there. I ran a crypto publication for a little while, but now I’m here at Skift. It’s been amazing. I’m almost a year in.

I bring, I think, a little bit of the outsiders’ view. A little bit of that perspective for somebody who hasn’t been in the world of in the business of travel. Seth, you’ve been you’ve been with Skift for a while.

Borko: I think you bring a lot of value. And we’re really glad to have such an experienced editor-in-chief like yourself here on this Skift team. I think it’s a big step up for us. I’ve been at Skift for coming up on seven years.

So it is a bit weird to think of myself as an insider, but it’s definitely been a long run in the travel industry. Before that, I started my career in finance and in banking. So I’ve always had a love … that’s where I learned my love for numbers and Excel and the pivot tables and all that stuff. And you know, it makes the world go around.

I can’t tell you how much AI is really just pivot tables with a good user experience. Maybe that’s a whole another topic. But I came from that world of of finance and analysis and was thrilled to bring it to the travel industry. And there are some major publicly traded companies in this business that really deserve more analysis and scrutiny and insights.

We’ve been doing that for several years here with Skift. And now, I’m leading the research team where we’re covering online travel, airlines, hotels, short-term rentals, destinations, experiences and really trying to go in deep.

How the Editorial Team Works

Kopit: I guess you know how a media company or newsroom or an editorial team works. They make TV shows about it, but I think it’s a bit of a black box for most people.

So, first for the editorial team: I’m the editor-in-chief. Ultimately, it’s my decision what happens, for better or worse, what comes out of our editorial team – what we write, what we produce. And we have all of these different verticals that covers each section of the travel industry as it pertains to money and power.

We don’t do much consumer stuff, but it’s all for you — the travel executive, probably — (who’s) listening to us. Of course, anyone is welcome. For those of you non-travel executives out there too, welcome to the Skift Travel Podcast. But we’re going to get kind of into the nitty gritty of business of travel.

So we have reporters assigned to each of our particular beats. They really kind of go deep like they are not generalists. Skift is a very niche brand. So when our Airlines Reporter Meghna covers airlines and she knows everything there is to know about airlines. We have a reporter whose beat is experiences.

That’s something that you probably won’t find anywhere other than a place like Skift that is really going into the nitty gritty because that’s kind of a newish topic area for publications to cover. So they are out there talking to sources. They are out there trying to get scoops, trying to get people to tell them things, go on the record and find interesting topics — all that kind of good stuff and then write about it.

Skift Research’s Core Mission

Borko: I think a listener of our podcast knows a bit about us. But whenever I tell people what I do, I say, “Oh, I work for a travel publication. I’ll even say business of travel.”

And the very first thing they always say to me is, “Oh great, where should I go on vacation? Where’s the hot beaches?”

And it’s like, no, no, no, no, no, that’s not what we’re doing. I actually think this is one of things I really like about my job — heading up Skift Research — is I love analyzing businesses as that comes back to my background as well.

I think when people go on vacation, they kind of shut off their brains. They sometimes don’t think about these vacations as businesses. But travel is a massive, massive business — one in every 10 jobs worldwide. One of the largest industries in the world is so global. We built at Skift research a stock index of the 200 largest publicly traded companies in the travel industry across the world. And there’s more than $1 trillion of market cap across the entire travel industry.

People don’t think about it. I mean, I think if I was like, “I work in the business of oil and gas,” people would know what that means. When I say I work in the business of travel, they don’t necessarily think of it as a business.

I think that’s one of the core missions for myself and my team. I think for you as well, Sarah, at Skift is kind of defining travel as its own industry as it is business. And that’s a really big and important business.

Connecting the Dots in Travel

Kopit: Well, you think about what the pandemic did to the travel industry. You think about all of those businesses that had shut down and people who got either got furloughed or lost their jobs. That is just one testament to how sprawling and massive it is.

For the most part, it’s in person. There’s some maybe online travel stuff that isn’t so much. But think about all the people and companies you touch when you go on vacation or when you leave your house and go to … even like business travel to a conference or something. Just all the different, wide ranging from transportation to food to getting from point A to point B on planes, trains and automobiles.

It’s wide and big and interesting.

Borko: Totally. I like what you were just saying, by the way. I like that idea of just think about what’s involved, right? Like, if you’re going to go on a trip and maybe start with hailing an Uber. There’s one company. Then I go to an airport, and in Europe, that’s probably run by a private company.

In the U.S., it’s run by government. And then there are retailers in that airport, and I fly (in) an airline and I get there. I take another cab.

Kopit: Security … you got security at the airline. You’ve got TSA and government. You’ve got government regulations sprawled across like a net over all of it. You think about where your money is going and how it’s getting there, right? Like it’s changing hands through apps, through cash through … depending if it’s international or not.

Borko: I think one of the things that we do well at Skift is when we try and connect those dots too, and break down some of those silos between those sectors. Because one of the things that I see is far too often is I talked to someone and they’re like, “What do you do?”

And it’s like, “Oh, I’m an airline executive,” or “I’m a travel executive,” or “I’m a government official.” And it’s like, “No, you’re in the travel industry, right?” And I think that’s one of the things that always is like core to how I think about our job and Skift and the publication every single day.

One of the missions I want us to have for this podcast, as we keep going, is like, how do break down these barriers and how do we get people to think that like, no, no, no, you’re not, you’re not … You don’t just do X, Y and Z. You’re not just a tour operator. You’re not just a hotelier. You’re not just an airline person. You’re a member of this hugely important industry.

Kopit: So tell us a little bit about the research team. I think if people have questions as to how a newsroom works and how a story starts from like either the seed of an idea in a reporter’s brain or a piece of news maybe that’s not widely known and then broken on the front page of either a newspaper or a website.

I think that how a researcher or how analysts do their job every day is probably even more opaque and even more a mystery. So why don’t you tell everybody how the sausage is made over on your team, Seth.

How the Research Team Operates

Borko: Well, first of all, it’s huge, hugely collaborative and a huge amount of credit to your team. Like my day often starts with the end of your day, with reading your team’s news. I think of like research and especially Skift Research as an extension of the editorial team and the news that we cover and the stories that are going through the industry.

One of the things we think about — we are broken up right now primarily by a couple different regions. So we have focused analysts. So we think about what are the big narrative stories, the through lines that are driving the industry. And then we would think about that maybe by certain sectors. So we have an analyst who covers online travel.

We have a hotel beat. We have a beat for online travel, for hotels, for airlines. We also have one that’s a little bit different, focused on just consumers. Right. So consumers — a survey practice focused on consumer polling and insights. And so we would start where kind of your team maybe guides us.

What are the big themes or the big narratives? And then the overlay that I always want to add is … and now where can I get some data? How can I add add some numbers onto that and then say, “OK, if we have a hunch about something or a trend or something, how can we really dig our teeth into it numerically?”

Is there a couple of public companies in that space where we can pull numbers? Is there a government data set, maybe consumer survey, consumer polling, maybe web scraping, something a little bit different? Are there alternative sources that how can we collect data (from)? And so I think our job as the research team is we start with your editorial narratives and stories.

We add a data overlay and a data analysis to it. And we bring those two things together and we create effectively a view (and) an opinion with this theme plus these numbers. Where do we think things are going next? That’s maybe a little high level. We’ll certainly have plenty of opportunity get into the weeds of … like we keep joking about pivot tables. But if we want to pull up a pivot table on this, we certainly can.

But that how I think about doing our job.

Kopit: You know, it’s interesting like how the two of us work together like we are a remote company. So we’re not in the same office. We’re both in New York, but we’re here in our own home offices. But I’m always like pinging Seth with something.

I’ll have some sort of idea or maybe an instinct that something is happening or something is a trend or something is interesting. And I generally have kind of what I think is my view of this particular topic. And then, I’m always asking Seth, “Do you have numbers or data? Is this right? Kind of keep me honest here, am I thinking about this the right way?”

Is there data to support this? Or I guess on the flip side, let’s say that there’s something that I’m seeing out there, maybe on social media … just like in the general zeitgeist. I may come to Seth and he may say, well, “You know what? Yeah, that may be something that everybody’s talking about.”

But you know what? The numbers actually don’t back that up. It’s kind of like a fairy tale. Right. And it’s invaluable for journalists and analysts and researchers to work together on those type of stories, too, because all know that not everything that is commonly held or felt is true.

Borko: Yeah. We’re going to have some specific examples, I think. And we’re front running a bit (on) a future podcast. But we just did this one — this (is) top of mind for me — on Indian weddings. And that was like a cool example of how everything works together. We just had Peden on your team or your (Asia) editor do this amazing feature story on Indian weddings and how much money is spent on Indian destination weddings.

And so then we had this idea and we said, “How can we run this?” We put some numbers around it. So we then went on and did a survey, and we went out and we asked a bunch of Indian newlyweds, “Did you get married? Did you travel when you got married? And by the way, how much does this thing cost?”

And the answer is a lot. And you know, and then we just did an event in India too. So I think that’s a great example of what I think in many ways makes Skift unique. And how we work is like how we’re pulling from your teams and Peden’s ideas.

And we’re trying to put surveys and numbers behind it. And then we’re trying to hold events and connect people in that local market. It’s always so much fun to me. And by the way, I never knew anything about this. Well, I was like this can’t be right.

This number is too big. It’s like, no, I’m pretty sure it’s great.

Kopit: I’ve actually been to a wedding and it was actually in India, so it didn’t surprise me. You know, the groom arrived on an elephant. It was amazing. It wasn’t Goa. It was so good. So you’ve already shared your Indian weddings?

I want to talk about some of the favorite things. So some of our favorite things that we’ve had with Skift in the last six months. Any others that come to mind for you?

Borko: Well, all right, so I guess here’s where we’re going to get a little bit nerdy. I love doing stuff on — we do a lot (on) online travel. We just did this great piece of research on the the market for online travel. Can it continue to grow like the heyday of Expedia and Booking — even growing at 20% plus like clockwork for years?

Can that keep going? We had a bit of a debate about that. That was a really fun one for me. We just did a piece on loyalty and specifically on how credit cards. Really (it was) about travel credit cards, but I think it has made you read (about) the loyalty about how these Capital One Amex and Chase in particular, these really high end travel credit cards, how they’re transforming the industry.

And I think in many ways, redefining and competing with traditional Marriott loyalty brands. We just did a piece on long haul, low-cost airlines that I thought was really excellent about — I mean we’re going to get real nerdy real fast — all these different aircraft types and how you can basically take a small narrowbody plane and now fly very long distances over large bodies of water.

And that opens up these crazy routes that you thought you couldn’t run low cost that now maybe you can. So those are three pieces of research that we did recently that I’ve been really excited about. And then, there’s more to come.

Kopit: Yeah.

Borko: How about yourself? You’re a year into this, or just about. Like, what is your favorite? You’ve commissioned a couple stories. You’ve written a couple stories? What is your favorite story?

Our Favorite Stories

Kopit: Just to kind of be selfish and talk about something that I actually wrote, my favorite thing that we’ve done is the Ozempic story or the story about GLP-1s, the new weight loss medications and how they’re going to impact the travel sector. And I’ll tell you why.

One, it was that we got great data with your team. We worked really closely with your team on that. But, the other reason is this is something nobody had done it yet at this point. There was no reporting, no real research. It was kind of it was a phenomenon that was happening out there in the world that because it was so big in its own right, it was bound to crossover with travel.

Because that’s the other thing. When you have big epic events that are going on in the world, they’re always going to impact travel. Like we we’ve done some a lot of really interesting reporting and features, like on the eclipse or on Taylor Swift and sporting events and things like that. These events … they all will touch travel inevitably.

And some of them vary significantly. But, the ozempic one I think was was super cool because it was just so niche and so kind of Skifty in that way, where you take this like kind of really zeitgeisty story and really dig deep into how it’s going to impact an industry that you might not, at first blush, think there would be much of a cross.

But then when you kind of really get into it, of course, there’s a huge cross.

Borko: I love that. By the way, that was one of my favorite stories in a very long time. And I think that’s a sign of a really smart editor-in-chief, right? Because you’re able to take this story from — because it was a big story — not in travel.

It was a (health) care story or maybe a business story. Novo is now like the largest publicly traded company. But one of the things I’ve learned being at Skift was that there’s always a travel angle to everything, right? Like, we take mobility so much for granted. Travel is such a big part of our lives that obviously anything that affects the world is going to affect the travel.

And so I loved it. I thought was a great example because again … not just breaking down the silos but also connecting dots outside of travel and then having that real consumer-led voice. And so it’s like leisure travel in particular is all about consumer trends. If the biggest consumer trend in the world is weight loss, and obviously it’s going to rub off and carry through to people on vacation, right?

We’re not with with these drugs, you know.

Kopit: I saw that Scott Galloway, who has a great podcast himself … I was reading that, at like around the first of the year in January, he does kind of a list of what the big trends are going to be in 2024. And under tech, GLP-1 was his big trend of 2024 under technology.

So I thought that was really interesting. So should we give …

Borko: This random aside random? I was in Mexico last week and they sell some blue tide over the counter and so I think that there’s another there’s another tourism angle there — medical tourism, people traveling abroad picking up some, some GLP-1 systemic blue tide. Well, can definitely.

Kopit: Especially, because it’s so expensive here and it’s not going to be there. It can’t be because of the government-subsidized health care. So these are some of the things that we have done. Shall we give our listeners a little sneak peek as to what they want?

What’s Next

Borko: Let’s give a little sneak peek of the next couple of podcast episodes. So this was kind of our introductory podcast. We wanted you guys to get to know us, get to know Skift if you didn’t already know it. But we’ve got a lot of the (topics) coming up will be a lot more of a specific focus.

We just had a LinkedIn live event about Indian weddings. You can expect we’ll have a lot more details on Indian weddings in a future podcast. I think we are prepping our CEO pay feature. Right. Sarah? That’s funny.

Kopit: Yeah, I love talking about money. I love talking about how many millions and billions — hint, hint billions of dollars some of these CEOs get paid.

Borko: What are some other what are some other topics we’ve got? I think you’ve got upcoming feature that we’ll talk about. Right, Sarah.

Kopit: We’re going to do I’m writing one right now on the science of sleep. Sleep is always something that you do when you’re on vacation. And hotels are always built around being a place to sleep. But I think really post-pandemic, there’s been a big push into sleep science.

And Gen Z is kind of out there with this being its latest flex. How many hours a night can you sleep, right? I’m working on that one right now, so we’ll surely talk about that when it’s done and published.

Borko: And there’s a lot of huge topics in the hopper, I think, junk fees. We’re going to see much more (movement) on that. And that’s coming from a political push. Certainly there will be politics involved in travel in the coming few months. We’re going to be looking at some distribution. We’re talking about how hotels sell and price their stuff.

And also sometimes that gets them into some hot water in terms of there are these price fixing and collusion lawsuits in the hopper that we want to talk about. We want to talk about loyalty. We want to talk about Boeing and the aircraft in the air. What’s going on over there? I mean, that’s that’s crazy. What’s happening?

Boeing. Right. Yeah.

Kopit: And we’ve also got the Olympics this year. So that’s going to be a huge travel story in the summer. So we’ll talk about how sporting events and like world, global event-based activities are really having such a massive impact on travel these days.

Borko: And I think listeners should also expect us to continue to touch on and push on our megatrends. I think we’ll be previewing new megatrends here on this podcast, and I think we’ll also be doing a review of where our megatrends stand. And so if you tuned in in January and you saw Sarah doing an excellent job presenting our megatrends, you know we’ll be up here reviewing how they’re doing.

Kopit: So yeah, we gotta keep (oursveles) honest. How did we do?

Borko: There’s just so many great topics. and of course, by the way, we are always open to listener feedback. If you made it all the way to the end and you’re like, “Hey, I really want to hear Seth and Sarah’s take on a topic X, Y, or Z,” we’re pretty easy people to get in touch with.

And so we want to hear from you and and we’re really excited to bring you a ton of both data-based, news-driven, event-driven, and megatrend-driven coverage in our podcast every week straight to wherever you get your podcasts.

Kopit: So I’m at [email protected]. So that’s how you can get in touch with me. Send me an email.

Borko: [email protected]. (That’s where) you can you can find me.

Kopit: There you go. So we are just about out of time, but we’re going to be here every single week. So join us next week. Seth and I are going to be discussing the eye-watering topic of executive compensation. We have our 2023 financial filings rolling in right now. So it should be a good time.

Borko: (It will be) a fun one. All right. I can’t wait to see you all there. Thanks so much.


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Photo credit: Editor-in-Chief Sarah Kopit and Head of Research Seth Borko are the hosts of the Skift Travel Podcast.

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