What Supertravelers Want
From the Travel Industry

This package below, about 10,000 words and four months in the making, is our Supertraveler Manifesto. Why are we focusing on these early-adopter, avid, and demanding travelers?

We see supertravelers as a mirror to the larger changes happening in consumer behavior — especially digital habits — and how they get reflected and fulfilled in travel.

For this manifesto, we talked to these supertravelers — both on business and leisure sides — about their needs from airlines, airports, hotels, destinations, agents, and other parts of the travel industry ecosystem. Through focus groups, online surveys, and one-to-one interviews with supertravelers, we tried to answer the following key questions: How could the shortcomings they see from travel brands be improved? What would their ideal "traveler user-experiences" be within each of these sectors?

The biggest lesson learned from talking to the high maintenance, highly connected travelers? We, the travel brands, should strive to understand how the experiences that we provide make travelers feel. It’s the human element. Travel is a huge investment in time and money; travelers will forget what we say in our ads, they will forget what we do with our promotions, but they will never forget how we make them feel.

1,000 Years
of Storytelling
and the Modern

Travel brands have a tough directive in understanding where and how they should connect with their core customers. Call them tribes, call them personas, call them anything but predictable. Ironically, the same technology that allows us to peek into people’s profiles also confounds us by freeing the traveler from traditional and two-dimensional travel constructs. It’s a democratization of travel whereby customers are no longer held captive by the experiences that travel providers and their intermediaries offer them.

The blinders have been lifted.

We now have instant access to information, user-generated content, transparency in pricing, and new forms of products that were never available during the golden era of travel, which roughly began in 1938 and ended in 2007 with the debut of the iPhone. For travel brands, the focus now rests on building lasting relationships with travelers. And obtaining lasting success means understanding the full scope of the traveler journey.

Meet the original experiential travelers: Legends forged from adventure seekers and desperate men and women compelled to leave their homes and villages, only to return years later as changed people with unbelievable stories of love, riches, danger, and distant lands.

Only a handful had the impetus or the courage to do it. For those who stayed behind to tend to the flock, they relived these experiences through the stories and oral histories first told and retold by their local hero travelers, and then by later generations.

Some reeled in anxiety while others cried with admiration and inspiration to explore for themselves. These individuals would carry the torch. It was this ancient cycle of stories and spark, notion and reaction, inspiration and the need to explore, that over time, gave us that travel instinct.

Travel has also played a pivotal role in shaping our modern culture. Our morals, beliefs, and motives have been handed down to us by the ancient culmination of stories about ordinary people overcoming adversity and triumphing over evil, as well as the vast opportunity beyond the horizon.

The epic novels — these first travel books helped form the foundations of our modern moral belief system. The Odyssey, The Iliad, The Epic of Gilgamesh, and countless other eastern and western world epics that carried the same reoccurring theme of travel and self-discovery all the way through until today.

Back then, travel was a matter of survival. Danger lurked around every corner. The only certainty was uncertainty. The survival instinct prevailed.

This was the ultimate reward: life in perpetuity, passed on through the stories we tell.

The Commoditization of Travel

Fast forward 4,000 years and travel began to take on a different character. Words like “vacation” and “leisure” crept into our modern lexicon. Up until the 19th century, Americans used the word "vacation" for its original English definition, meaning to vacate school premises during the hot summer months. Only later did it become a middle-class institution and a time for spiritual self-improvement.

The age of air travel saw people whisked away to new cultures and lands, getting a taste of the unknown, and fulfilling that wanderlust fix. But the golden years when travel was something special and worth experiencing fell behind us. The 75 years after Lufthansa piloted the first nonstop trans-Atlantic flight from Berlin to New York back in 1938 have come and gone.

Over time, travel experience became almost cliché and commoditized. By some estimates, the global leisure travel industry now transacts north of one trillion U.S. dollars. In this environment of mass tourism, people have become constrained by the prescribed experiences dictated to them by global travel enterprises. Now, however, those same brands have been challenged to create bespoke, more humane experiences where customers are treated like individuals.

Some avid travelers have moved on to more extreme experiences because what’s available to the masses has lost its luster. The growing popularity of adventure travel could be a direct result of boredom and disdain for the unoriginal. Needless to say things are quickly changing – both for the customer and for the travel provider.

The Liberated and Unpredictable Traveler

The year 2007 changed everything when, amid heavy skepticism, Steve Jobs announced the first iPhone. At that point, online search-and-book was just the first digital innovation that would eventually put the power of self-discovery back into the hands of the traveler.

From those early days, mobile computing has quickly evolved, giving us the power to break through the stock holiday for the masses, to create three-dimensional and personalized travel experiences. Mapping apps, recommendation engines, user-generated content, hailing services, social media, digital payments, and even dating apps are transforming the traveler journey. We call it technology assisted travel.

As it turns out, most of us consume even more data when traveling. Skift’s Custom Insights team surveyed 1,200 active, avid, and technologically inclined travelers about their mobile consumption habits at the time of leisure travel. We looked at many different dynamics and found that today’s travel experiences lean heavily on our portable devices.

Consumption goes well beyond general communication with friends and family. Seventy-one percent of these smartphone users said that mapping apps were extremely important for navigating while traveling. Mapping tech clearly goes beyond simple directional dependency. It’s the combination of GPS, place listings, and user-generated content that makes it so useful and attractive. Finding those look nooks that we would have never known about had it not been for our smartphones.

Social media’s rise also changed the nature of travel. Some very smart people ultimately figured out that branded content can live alongside person-to-person communication. An Instagram post of New York’s High Line, followed by an elegant snap of the Whitney Museum likely sparked the start of many travel journeys.

People are even dating and falling in love while away on their travels, all with the aid of their mobile devices. Fifty-nine percent of those surveyed said they had downloaded a dating app. When asked of the likelihood that they would use a dating app to connect with locals while traveling, the share jumped well beyond even that.

What effect has this transition into digital had on the mindset of the modern traveler? Travel providers now have a tough job understanding where and how they need to connect with their core customers. Call them tribes, call them personas, call them anything but predicable. Ironically, the same technology that allows us to peek into people’s profiles also confounds us by freeing the traveler from traditional and two-dimensional travel constructs.

The booking platform, the flight, the hotel, the museum. That’s the old school. Yesterday’s travel agents, planes, trains, rental cars, hotels, and vacation rentals must now live side-by-side with mapping apps, dating apps, peer-to-peer rentals, recommendation engines, user-generated content, instant transportation, and new loyalty schemes. The product/platform mix continues to expand.

The Hero's
An Old
for Modern
Travel Brands

Conceptualizing a one-size-fits-all model of the travel customer is difficult, if not impossible. So many different personas and personalities live among us and even within us. We are chameleons; very different people when traveling alone or with significant others, on bachelor parties, or on honeymoons.

Some in the industry have tried, but most have largely failed to capture the full complexity of traveler behavior using narrow and limiting constructs. Clunky concepts like the booking funnel, search-shop-buy, path-to-purchase, and other simplifications miss the mark when it comes to connecting with the modern traveler mindset.

While useful in their own right, what’s missing is a human-centric model of the traveler journey. Focusing on click-through and page views will maximize revenues. Creating a brand that inspires travelers is much more difficult and arguably worth even more.

Understanding the state of the traveler mindset throughout the entire traveler journey is clearly important during this era of experiential travel. Stepping outside of the travel industry has helped us to understand what moves people.

Here, we applied a classic paradigm to understand where brands can connect and inject themselves along the travel journey: The Hero’s Journey, based on Joseph Campbell’s seminal book, The Hero With a Thousand Faces. Campbell outlined human behavior through the lens of mythology and recurring themes present in ancient literature, all the way through modern cinema. Some of the biggest Hollywood blockbusters were inspired by Campbell’s vision.

He conceptualized the “monomyth.” In comparative mythology, it is the common template for a broad category of tales that involve a hero who goes on an adventure and, in a decisive crisis, wins a victory, and then comes home changed or transformed.

Campbell's work applies to adventure travelers and everyday travelers because at the end of the day, we all want to be heroes. We’re all looking for something more out of travel. We want travel to transform us. It’s an outlet for self-discovery.

Why should travel brands care? Because the modern day traveler experience is a story that has been relived and retold throughout the ages; Campbell understood deeply that the quest for self-discovery never ends.

He also mapped out 12 stages that all epic stories and poems share. It’s a psychological journey as much as it is a chronological one.

12 Stages of Campbell’s Hero’s Journey

Perhaps the biggest takeaway from Campbell’s mapping of the mono-myth, as applied to modern travel, is the fact that people step outside of themselves when they are on the road. They leave the ordinary behind and step into a special world where the same rules may no longer apply. It’s a transition and cycle that can manifest in different forms. Every travel experience is unique, but a common vein in human psychology can exist in many forms of travel.

Here are Campbell’s 12 phases of the hero traveler’s psychological journey. Travel brands can draw many lessons from each of these steps. It’s an old yet flexible framework, not a step-by-step manual, on how to understand and connect with the modern traveler.

We now have the power to connect with travelers during the full length of their journeys. When and how to interject has perplexed many brands.

Here are some thoughts on each step as it applies in myth, and how it translates into travel:

The Ordinary World

In myth: The hero is oblivious to the adventures to come. It’s the safe place, the everyday life where we learn crucial details about our hero.

In travel: This is the time for travel brands to really get to know their customers: To find out who they are and what type of experience might bring forth a call to adventure.

Call to Adventure

In myth: The hero’s adventure begins when they receive a call to action. It may not be as dramatic as a gunshot, but simply a phone call or conversation when they least expect it. Whatever the call is, it ultimately disrupts the comfort of the hero’s ordinary world.

In travel: This is understanding your customer base and their situational awareness to find the perfect moment to plant the seed. These could be seasonal, geographic, or cultural distinctions that set your traveler apart.

Refusal of the Call

In myth: Although the hero may be eager to accept the quest, at this stage they will have fears that need to be overcome.

In travel: Travel is a big investment in time and money; there are many excuses and real-life challenges that people can make for themselves before making the decision to travel.

Meeting the Mentor

In myth: At this crucial turning point where the hero desperately needs guidance, they meet a mentor figure who gives them something they need. It could be wise advice, practical training, or even self-confidence. The mentor’s offering helps dispel their doubts and fears, giving them the strength and courage to begin their quest.

In travel: A central question travel brands must ask themselves here is how to become the mentor, the guide that helps customers fulfill their mission. Is it through reviews, is it with loyalty points, is it by offering a seamless search experience? Clearly, it's all of these things, but which will convince your traveler hero to make the jump?

Crossing the Threshold

In myth: The hero is now ready to act upon the call to adventure and truly begin their quest, whether it be physical, spiritual, or emotional. This action signifies the hero’s commitment to their journey and whatever it may have in store.

In travel: This is the point at which there is a sudden shift in attitude in the traveler’s mindset. Commitments have been made, and risks have been taken. It’s a liberation of sorts, and a period of anticipation, excitement, and positive thinking on the part of the traveler. Brands should take advantage of this opportunity to convey their true identities.

Tests, Allies, Enemies

In myth: Now finally out of thier comfort zone, the hero is confronted with an ever more difficult series of challenges that test them in a variety of ways. The hero needs to find out who can be trusted and who cannot. They may earn allies and meet enemies who will, each in their own ways, help prepare them for the greater ordeals yet to come.

In travel: After that initial period of optimism and after crossing the threshold, the traveler must endure the initial acclimation period into the special world. These can include inconveniences such as long lines at taxi stands or airport check-in. Travel brands should be cautious at this stage and try to emerge as the hero's ally, not the enemy.

Approach to the Inmost Cave

In myth: At the threshold to the inmost cave, the hero may once again face some of the doubts and fears that first surfaced upon their call to adventure. They may need some time to reflect upon their journey and the road ahead in order to find the courage to continue.

In travel: There are many things that can throw a traveler’s original plans off track. These can be internal and external: budget, weather, or even food poisoning. Here, it’s important to keep in mind that the traveler journey is not yet completely defined, even after concrete plans have been set in motion. It’s the stage before the traveler reaches the pinnacle of the trip, that one experience that will leave her satisfied about her decision to leave the ordinary world.

The Ordeal

In myth: The hero must draw upon all of their skills and experiences gathered upon the path to the inmost cave in order to overcome their most difficult challenge. Only through some form of “death” can the hero be reborn, experiencing a metaphorical resurrection that somehow grants them greater power or insight necessary in order to fulfill a destiny.

In travel: This is the breaking point. Either the traveler finds what she was looking for or fails in her mission and begins to reenter the ordinary world unfulfilled. Travel can be a race against time. Catching the traveler at this moment in time can be both a blessing and curse for the travel brand.


In myth: After defeating the enemy, surviving death, and finally overcoming their greatest personal challenge, the hero is ultimately transformed into a new state, emerging from battle as a stronger person and often with a prize.

In travel: Here the traveler has succeeded in planning and executing a satisfying travel experience. At this point she might be more receptive to interaction with you, the travel provider, but probably more difficult to upsell on additional items.

The Road Back

In myth: Now they must return home with their reward but, this time, the anticipation of danger is replaced with that of acclaim and perhaps vindication, absolution, or even exoneration. However, the hero’s journey is not yet over and they may still need one last push back into the Ordinary World.

In travel: After the hype of the reward starts to wear thin, the traveler sets back into the realization that it’s soon time to go home. Here, travel brands should become the mentor once again, helping travelers through the process of negotiating this situation. Don’t run the risk of cutting the experience too short.


In myth: This is the climax during which the hero must have their final and most dangerous encounter with death. The final battle also represents something far greater than the hero’s own existence, with its outcome having far-reaching consequences for their ordinary world and the lives of those they left behind.

In travel: Reentry back into the ordinary world can be the most sensitive and dangerous time for travel brands to interact with the customer. For successful travelers, facing reality can put them on edge. For the unfulfilled traveler, a satisfaction survey would be the last thing she wants to see.

Return with Elixir

In myth: The final reward that the hero obtains may be literal or metaphoric. It could be a cause for celebration, self-realization, or an end to strife, but whatever it is, it represents three things: change, success, and proof of the journey.

In travel: This is where the traveler wants to record and understand how her investment has changed her. She is reliving the experience through photographs, remembering the good parts, and romanticizing the bad. For travel brands, this is an opportunity to re-implant themselves into the traveler’s field of view and possibly into her long-term memory.

Bringing the Humanity Back into Travel Brands

Sometimes it’s difficult for professionals within any industry to look outside themselves and to examine their products and services as true customers would. Putting ourselves into the hero’s shoes is critical in fulfilling our own brand success. Travel, in particular, is difficult because so much of the travel experience is outside of our control. Yet there are steps we can take to strive toward a better connection with our customers. Perhaps, the first step is to stop treating travelers like consumers, and start treating them like the heroes they really are.

Listening to
Focus on
What Travelers

10 Maxims of the SuperTraveler Mindset
1. We want authenticity and trust in our sources for inspiration and advice on where to go and stay.
2. Search, planning, and discovery is NOT the hassle before the experience, it IS the experience.
3. We want real rewards for our loyalty; gimmicks will only breed resentment and disloyalty.
4. Travel is for personal enrichment, but fulfillment comes from sharing experiences with others.
5. Stepping outside of the mundane rests at the core of travel, but we also look for continuity.
6. We want genuine brands that actually care about us and the communities that they impact.
7. Help us through the rough parts, but allow us to find our own way — let us fulfill our own quest.
8. Tech and connectivity are a great complement to our travel experience, but don’t overload us.
9. We want the human element back in an otherwise commoditized and impersonal experience.
10. We want to come back to our ordinary worlds feeling transformed and inspired.

As travel enablers, it can be difficult for the travel industry to step away from the prescribed experiences, functionalities, and brand identities that make sense in our own heads. Ironically, the passion that travel professionals have for the industry, and for their products can make it difficult to fully comprehend their role in building successful travel journeys for their customers.

In our relentless efforts to understand what drives the travel consumer, this summer, Skift assembled a high-profile focus group of individuals that had more than a few things to say about the modern-day travel experience. These were people who have made a lifestyle and even a career out of travel.

Dedicated founders of companies, writers, technology experts – people who have pushed the travel ecosystem to its limits, testing, prodding, poking, and searching for platforms, loyalty programs, and product offerings that even some of us at Skift haven’t heard of. We wanted to go beyond what the survey results could tell us about the traveler mindset.

Some great insights came out of the energizing three-hour session at Skift’s New York City headquarters. There were some surprises and some things that were really good to hear directly from the horse’s mouth. We dug for the details about the group’s frustrations with air travel and their habits when it comes to tech and social media, and ultimately what makes it all worthwhile.

Perhaps the biggest takeaway was how much the group actually knew about the various options out there. All the numerous tricks and tips to making the most out of travel without breaking the bank was a palpable passion for this group. It also became very clear that these are the people that the travel industry should really be listening to.

Above all, we should strive to understand how the experiences we provide to our customers make travelers feel. It’s the human element that makes all the difference. Travel is a huge investment in time and money. Travelers will forget what we say in our ads. They will forget what we do with our promotions. But they will never forget how our brands make them feel.

And it's these super travelers who are close enough to the experience to actually give a shit about what we can do better to ensure that Travel (with a capital T) stays top of mind, not just for the savvy consumer, but also for the masses. As we strive to inspire our customers, it helps to have some guiding principles to follow.

So, here you go: The following are 10 maxims that we distilled from our relentless efforts to tell the travel industry’s story through the lens of the consumer. We hope that these help you, the travel provider, on your own journey and mission to build successful businesses.

We want authenticity and trust in our sources for inspiration and advice on where to go and stay

Sascha: For me, for inspiration, I would say it's a lot of conversation and talking to friends. I have a lot of friends that like to travel a lot.

Keith: Instagram is really fun for inspiration. There are filters of course, but just to go and see beautiful pictures from friends and family really helps to bring it all to life.

Andrew: The app that I use, weirdly enough, is Reddit and the Earth Porn sub Reddit because they have a whole travel section there. I see images of these fantastic places and I'm like, "Okay. I want to go there." Lately there have been a lot of really amazing images that I've been seeing. It just makes me want to go there.

Andy: My big inspiration is price - what's cheap? Where am I going to get someplace that's cheap? I am an impulse buyer. I like to go back to the same places. It's not like I'm looking for something to lead me to a new place, it's how do I get to the places that I know I want to go in a way I can afford.

Skift Take: User generated content will trump branded content every time. People want to hear from people. Travel brands need to facilitate that discussion and create channels and platforms that instill trust. Also, never underestimate the sway of a good bargain over recommendations - especially for repeat visitors and those travelers with strong internal compasses.

Search, planning and discovery is not the hassle before the experience, it IS the experience.

Keith: I use TripAdvisor a lot when I'm looking for restaurants, just to get a sense. I read the reviews and obviously we all know we have to read those reviews with a filter.

Andy: My big inspiration is price — what’s cheap? Where am I going to get someplace that’s cheap? I am an impulse buyer. I like to go back to the same places. It’s not like I’m looking for something to lead me to a new place. It’s how do I get to the places that I know I want to go in a way I can afford?

Naveen: Nowadays I check Airbnb first to see what cool spaces I can find. If there are beautiful homes in that area I jump; the prices are also often lower than typical hotels. After that I might try, because recently I've noticed that they just have a lot of inventory, just a lot of variety, high end to low end.

Sascha: For hotels, I will just hop on every hotel search site I can think of into simultaneous tabs. I'll have 10 or 12 of them open. Narrow down some hotels with TripAdvisor reviews, using them to shake out which ones are awful. In terms of pricing, I'll be comparing and Kayak and the actual hotel sites. I find anticipation and planning to be a huge enjoyable element of the travel experience.

Michelle: I live in Los Angeles so you can pretty much drive two hours or fly 45 minutes and get somewhere. Sometimes on a Thursday, I’ll be bored and I'll scroll through Arizona, Palm Springs, San Francisco, San Diego, Santa Barbara, and scroll through HotelTonight to see what’s available that weekend.

Zain: I'm always looking for local gems in a relatively accessible radius to where I am. I would much rather find a nice local destination, or be able to fly a very, very short distance.

Andrew: When I’m planning something, I'll usually start with Google Flights which I find to be one of the more superior databases for flight prices. I used to be a Kayak fanatic. That's where I did all my planning. Then I moved over to Hipmunk because they were utilizing the same databases - but they had a much more user-friendly interface. Nowadays I'll just go to Google Flights.

Skift Take: Even loyalists shop around because they want confirmation and assurance that they’ve done their duty in exploring all possible options. Travel technology is all about the simplification of travel - i.e. alleviating the pain points. The question here is: How easy is too easy? For those brands that end up on the other end of that rabbit hole, the excitement of the hunt can create a strong bond with the customer.

We want real rewards for our loyalty; gimmicks will only breed resentment and disloyalty.

Keith: Loyalty in hotels has gone down the drain. I just felt like I was getting absolutely nothing by being loyal, except for staying at their hotels and paying them money. It just felt like I wasn't getting anything out of it. We just started to find better, more interesting spaces to stay in.

Sascha: American [Airlines] has a shockingly inferior product to Delta right now. Basically the only thing that drew me over was the fact that my Delta status dropped. But what's happening here [among focus group attendees] is just that you have a bunch of New Yorkers. Delta is hugely dominant at New York airports right now, except for Newark. Basically Delta owns most of JFK and LaGuardia. United owns Newark and American has a subsidiarity presence.

Michelle: I like to be that person that goes through SkyMiles priority and gets whisked away past all of the lines. For me, I've traveled about 100,000 miles this year so far. I book mostly directly through the Delta app or the Virgin America website. As far as travel for hotels, I also book directly through the websites because I'm going to get the loyalty [points]. I'm a person who calls Hyatt or Marriott and will say, "I'm loyal with X brand, but can you do better?" You can challenge any hotel or any airline or any car rental brand.

Skift Take: Avid travelers clearly see loyalty differently than occasional travelers; they are already savvy to the fact that travel brands want their direct business. Educating the masses on the perks of being a loyal client remains a central opportunity and challenge for airlines and hotels alike.

Travel is for personal enrichment, but fulfillment comes from sharing experiences with others.

Sascha: With most of my leisure travel being family travel, I look really, really strongly at what my daughter's experience was. If she feels that her world has been expanded, and she feels that she has done amazing things, then I feel like I have done a good job and that the travel was an amazing trip. I very much look at these family travel journeys through the lens of her experience.

Suzy: For me it's definitely about emotions and memories. When I get back from a trip there's always someone who was like, "How was your trip?" It's the worst when you don't have anything good to say. You always want to have something that you, if you had a terrible day at work, you can just sit back and think, "This is what I was doing this time last week." It makes everything okay. For me, that's fulfillment.

Naveen: When you think about your friends to find ideas on places to go, you can also look at what they’ve shared on Instagram or Snapchat. You can see your friends on your trips and really understand it. Sharing makes for better connections when you’re back home or in the office.

Skift Take: At its core, travel is a personal journey best shared with friends. Solo travel is more common these days particularly with younger generations. Mobile computing allows us to find and experience places that would have otherwise been off limits. Social media gives us the power to share our experiences with those that matter to us in live time.

Stepping outside of the mundane rests at the core of travel, but we also look for continuity.

Keith: Travel for us is maybe like dress up was as a kid. It's an opportunity to get away from what is comfortable and usual in you and redefine yourself and be in a different place. What I find is that when I get back I just plug into that regular thing again and know that there will be a time very soon that I'll be able to do the dress up thing again, to be in a different world and be a different me.

Sascha: I have Celiac disease. That is a pain. Sometimes if you search on TripAdvisor there's something called “find me gluten free.” As a result, I can travel even to places where I can't speak a word of the language because I know and I can go on my phone and I can see these apps. I know that people have scouted these places out so that I will not get poisoned.

Michelle: We do yoga everywhere we go. We always travel with mats, my boyfriend and I. If I can put all those into one experience and I feel refreshed and gotten that sleep, then that's fulfillment to me. I go into my vacations with a goal of relax, not looking at my phone, getting good experience with food and wine because I like food and wine at the same time, then a little bit of athletic, then I feel that I've been fulfilled for my vacation.

Skift Take: Many of the focus group participants expressed “escape” as a key theme in their leisure travels. At the same time, they were also often pulled back, talking about the ordinary world waiting for them back home. The lesson for travel brands here might be: Create a truly unique experiences for your guests, but appeal to their special needs that will give them the space and comfort to truly enjoy them.

We want genuine brands that actually care about us and the communities that they impact.

Sascha: I'm uncomfortable with Airbnb. I've used Airbnb a couple of times but I'm uncomfortable with Airbnb for a very specific reason, which is that I'm a very old New Yorker. My family is from here. We have a very strong feeling about New York and our civic society and our politics here. I feel that specifically in New York Airbnb has been a very bad citizen. They have come in and said that they are above our laws and they don't care what we think.

Andy: Thanks for saying that. Do you share that sentiment with Uber?

Sascha: Absolutely. I use Lyft, which is like Uber but ethical. I think the leadership of Uber is actively evil. I will not support them. I'll try to download a local taxi app too, but will generally hail taxis.

Suzy: I say amen to both of those things. I'm totally with you on that.

Skift Take: The travel experience and what travelers are willing to commit to can and does go beyond price and product quality. In this world of globally aware lifestyle brands, consumers are making decisions based on ethos, as much as logic. In Sascha’s case, the Airbnb offering alone is not enough to gain his patronage. Travelers are clearly becoming more aware of the impact that their actions have on local communities. The perceived disruption – both positive and negative - that Airbnb is having on real lives can translate to backlash from the consumer.

Help us through the rough parts, but allow us to find our own way – let us fulfill our own quest.

Sascha: I also refuse to - if at all possible - to fly without status because one of my absolute pain points in travel is lines. Anything I have that shortens a line I will use it. I was a loyal Delta flyer for many years and then Delta blew up their program and American Airlines offered me a status match. I'm trying American right now. It's a lousier airline than Delta, but I would frankly rather fly on a mediocre plane and not deal with that TSA line than the other way around.

Keith: [On airports and travel] The system is totally broken. I'm not trying to optimize for like 20, 30, 50 bucks for bag check. I don't want to pay any extra for anything. I always have only one bag, the same bag. This whole point about platinum status and all this stuff, every time I get into the line, everybody's in front of me and loyalty status means nothing. It doesn't matter. They call your rows and you're trying to walk over people. It's a total mess. I don't know why. It doesn't have to be that way. And don’t get me started on customs. You know you’re in the U.S. when the interrogation starts. It’s not a pleasant welcome. The system is broken basically is what I'm saying. I'm not trying to make it better. I'm not trying to give anyone feedback to make it better. It's just not going to happen.

Skift Take: So much of the travel experience is outside the control of travel brands. Long lines at airports, extra security, jammed airplanes, and clashing personalities can invoke a deep sense of frustration and an air of helplessness on the part of the traveler. The challenge for travel brands operating at these friction points of the traveler journey is to weigh profits over client relationship. Standing out as the agitator in an already tense situation, such as air travel, can prove costly. Travel providers should position themselves as help agents, not catalysts of chaos.

Tech and connectivity are a great complement to our travel experience, but don’t overload us.

Sascha: [On in-flight tech] I am super happy to spend my company's money on 10KB per second Wi-Fi so that on my bliesure trips my boss can occasionally email me while I'm in the air and keep me not bored. If it was actually my money, I’ll read a good book.

Naveen: On a leisure trip, and also on longer business travel trips, the first thing I do after I get to the airport is go for a run without any technology. No headphones, no music, no idea what I’m doing. I try to be observant of what I’m seeing, to get an understand of what’s going on.

Zain: [On in-flight Wi-Fi] I find it really excellent to disconnect. I actually get irritated when I can access Wi-Fi because then I feel compelled to. I think my behavior when I arrive is diametrically opposite to when I'm actually on a flight. I immediately need to be very connected. When I was a journalist for CNN it was like I immediately needed to get a local sim card, make sure I was at least getting a signal where I could communicate, phones where I could get in touch with various people. Hotel Wi-Fi is really critical particularly for different media work.

Andy: One thing I hate is the alert that you get from your airline 24 hours before your flight because that’s the reminder that the end is near. The other big thing for me is I've shied away from Instagram, especially on business trips. Even on personal trips, I'll put just one or two pictures on social media now. The more pictures I take the more time I spent away from just enjoying the experience. Otherwise I feel like I've come away from a trip as a showcase rather than something that helped me internally.

Andrew: I agree. Instagram these days is ruining the entire experience of traveling. Why? Because we're traveling so that you can show off to your friends, "Hey I have been here. Look at me with the statue of Liberty in the background." It completely takes away from the point of traveling, which is to be somewhere where you haven't and to experience something that you've not done.

Skift Take: Test and retest functionality. Today’s technology-assisted travel experience is a completely different ball game. It’s a love-hate relationship through which travel providers should tread lightly. There’s a fine line between convenience and chaos. Interjecting with fancy bells and whistles at the wrong time during the traveler journey can breed contempt. We all have free will, but today’s temptation for everything tech is strong. Travel brands shouldn’t take advantage of it.

We want the human element back in an otherwise commoditized and impersonal experience.

Keith: [On destination selection] Now I have an eight-month old. That has turned the travel conversation on a dime. We’re looking at destinations that I never thought I would ever visit. They have to be family friendly. My friend Jacob is giving me a lot of advice on where to go. He said go to Italy. They're very family friendly there. You can eat at restaurants. They'll take your baby and walk it around the restaurant. That's also a fun thing is to understand at what point in your life is this trip important to do. When you're single - here, when you have a family - there. A lot of it is asking family and friends what worked out for them.

Naveen: [On customs] First moment you know that you are in the U.S. is you get through the global entry line. You give the print out to the guy. He's like, "Great. Where did you go?" I was like, "It actually says it right there." It's so rude. It's the rudest thing. "What did you do?" "I was there for this." "It says you’re a business man. What does that mean?" It's just you can't fix any of those things. I try to just go at my own pace, do my own thing, in the system that is super broken, if that makes any sense at all.

Keith: [On accommodation selection] Having a kid, hotels are not the easiest experiences with kids. You don't know what type of crib you're going to get. You don't know how the room is going to sound. I've stayed at a couple hotels early on where the acoustics were bad for the baby. I just felt like it was a terrible experience. I switched over to Airbnb probably about 6 months ago.

Skift Take: Treating guests with the dignity and respect they deserve is a no-brainer. Controlled situations where travelers must give up their self-determination are particularly stressful. Here, delivering personalized experiences that make travelers feel special can go a long way.

We want to come back to our ordinary world feeling transformed and inspired.

Andrew: When it boils down to the basics, life is nothing more than a series of experiences, a series of memories of these experiences that you sometimes retell to friends, sometimes if you're lucky enough you get to capture it on film and share it with friends. Really it's just from one high to the next. That's what fulfills me. Getting to the top of a mountain in order to see what it looks like from up there. Waiting until it rains so that I can see that rainbow, that's important to me. I want that experience.

Andy: I try to maximize my time away. I take the last flight I can get back on, red eye if possible. Especially if it’s a great vacation. I want to think about it a little bit before I go back to work. I've had experiences where I'll come back on a red eye and it'll be Monday morning and I'll go right into work. By Wednesday I'll be on a site visiting and I'll see a plane fly by. I'll be like, "I wish I was on that plane."

Keith: I want to feel energized. So much of my routine now is waking up super early, feeding the baby, going into the office early, coming back and putting her to sleep. Just to get rid of that routine for a little bit. That’s why we do a lot of these three- or four-day excursions, to get out of the city and to do things that make us feel like we have a life again.

Skift Take: Travel should be a transformative experience – period. It’s a huge investment in time and money.

The Highs
and Lows of
Modern Travel:
Expert Insights
on Pain Points
and Pleasures

Brands like to talk about surprise and delight, but for the regular traveler it’s more of a two-sided coin: pleasure and pain.

If we are lucky, when we return to the office after a trip, it is with a story about how some cool tech made something really easy or how a flight attendant or check-in clerk gives us something we didn’t expect. But often we come back with stories about what an airline did wrong this time or how some app led us in a wrong direction.

To gain better insight into where travel brands are doing things right, as well as where they fall short, we talked to almost a dozen seasoned travelers about what they experience on the road: what makes them happy and what doesn’t. And to keep it simple, we only asked them two questions. Thankfully, their answers aren’t simple at all.

Question #1: What's One Persistent Travel Pain Point You Want to See Addressed by Travel Brands?

Andrew Zimmern, Television Host and Food Expert
For the one-percenters, hospitality has never been greater. For everyone else it’s never been worse. I think the notion of hospitality, the acceptance of the simple fact that while under their care, these entities are responsible for their customers' happiness is missing from the modern travel equation. Airlines treat their customers worse than I’ve ever seen in my lifetime, from lateness to lost bags and stonewalling customers' simple questions, these are all hospitality issues. You would never treat someone you care about that way.

Anthony Melchiorri, Host of “Hotel Impossible”
Transparency. I don’t mind that I had to sit for three hours when Delta had a computer glitch with a server that grounded all flights around the world (they did a good job in handling the outage). I do however want to be told exactly what happened and to feel like I am being informed so that I in turn can make a decision. I always say it’s not the problem, it’s the recovery.

Leonard Brody, Author and Venture Capitalist
The one issue I consistently face is around identity. Most travel brands, particularly hotels, are not great at creating a frictionless experience for their high volume travelers. With a few simple emails or calls, the whole friction of checking in to a hotel or boarding a plane can be infinitely better.

Om Malik, Writer and Venture Capitalist
Inconsistency and ambiguity of pricing around travel is what I find frustrating. It might not be such a bad idea to have more clarity around travel and brands and what they represent.

Evita Robinson, Founder of Nomadness Travel Tribe
Underrepresentation of diverse travelers. The industry is not monolithic, and it’s time that they put their dollars and their reach behind influencers that have created communities of inclusion. Frankly, real life travelers come in all races, sizes, orientations, and religions.

Jalak Jobanputra, Entrepreneur and Venture Capitalist
I’d like to see better customer service stemming from better use of data. For example, as a Delta premium frequent flyer, every time I call they know who I am, and pull up my travel record, without me entering in any information. This saves time. If I check in to a hotel, I’d like them to be able to pull up my preferences without me asking for them.

Dennis Crowley, Founder of Foursquare
No matter how much you love to get out of town, the act of going onto an app or searching an OTA — it’s just a broken process. It would be awesome to have an analogous product to Foursquare pings, which is based on our personalized search, whereby you tell an airline or a service that you’re looking to get somewhere and when, and it suggests the best possible itinerary for you, based on observations about your preferences.

Seth Kugel, Travel Writer
Transparency in pricing. The obvious example is airlines with extra fees, but this also applies to taxes on hotels — some OTAs list no taxes until the end, others include some taxes but leave out say, city tourism taxes. But probably the most frustrating is with car rentals and the failure to disclose insurance costs, and places where insurance is required by law.

James Oseland, Author and Editor
I can think of few U.S. flights I've taken recently where I haven't vaguely felt like a prisoner of war. As soon as I depart from American shores, I feel the difference at once: much more gracious service, just like the good old days of air travel in the States.

Roy Choi, Chef and Activist
The neck pillows shaped like "U"s still suck.

Kelly Wearstler, Design Legend
The best hotels in the world are a fully immersive experience, integrating all touchpoints of a visitor’s stay with a highly considered and thoughtful approach. It's a heightened version of living. There's so much romance in that.

Question #2: What Recent Innovation Has Made It Easier or More Likely for You to Travel?

Andrew Zimmern, Television Host and Food Expert
I think that streaming video, from phones and other handhelds, especially those generated by young travelers is doing the hard work, showing the world how we are all more alike, celebrating our commonalities and not our differences.

Anthony Melchiorri, Host of “Hotel Impossible”
The ability to have access to instant pricing, information about what is going on, what options are available, the availability of rooms or services and any associated deals, instantly, from a mobile device, means we as travelers will spend less time on the research side and can connect with the business we are giving our money to book those goods and services.

Leonard Brody, Author and Venture Capitalist
The Nexus/Global Entry border program or Border Force in the U.K. Making it easier to go through borders is probably the single most valuable innovation in my travel life. And it was done by the government!

Jalak Jobanputra, Entrepreneur and Venture Capitalist
TSA PreCheck and Global Entry have made life much easier at the airports. Now if we could just have a truly global entry that works the same way when I enter other countries — that would be a dream.

Om Malik, Writer and Venture Capitalist
I think the iPad, Google Flights, and Lululemon pants have made life a lot easier as a traveler. :-0

Roy Choi, Chef and Activist
Hotel and airline apps are really easy to use and make me feel like I’m my own travel agent. Rideshare apps are great too except at JFK where it’s a wild goose chase and you always end up in a yellow cab all claustrophobic and car sick.

Kelly Wearstler, Design Legend
I love tapping into the latest service-oriented apps that help you discover a new destination like a local or allow your hotel to prepare and accommodate personalized preferences upon arrival and the duration of your stay.

Seth Kugel, Travel Writer
The ease in renting apartments and other alternatives to hotels. That’s not to say companies like Airbnb are perfect — as a New York City resident I recognize the effect that short-term apartment rentals may have on the rental market and on building safety.

Evita Robinson, Founder Nomadness Travel Tribe
The art of algorithms on sites like Flights always tended to be the most expensive part of travel and an excuse not to go. Now, with flight glitches and sales so easily found and accessible, it’s eradicated that excuse and changed the scope for new and avid travelers.

James Oseland, Author and Editor
I’m not only a Hotwire addict, I’m a Hotwire proselytizer. It’s an amazing way to book last-minute hotel rooms, whether you’re in Kuala Lumpur or Lawrence, Kansas.

Dennis Crowley, Founder of Foursquare
Uber has changed the way we interact with places around the world, and works well in almost every place I’ve been. I’m in Italy now, and even here, a car comes within minutes. I continue to be obsessed with tools that makes cities easier to use.

This Project
and Skift

This Project

This feature was conceived by Skift Research Director Luke Bujarski. He was aided by members of Skift's editorial, production, and development team. That team included:

Design: Ping Chan
Development: Mike Linden
Rachel Bronstein
Edit: Rafat Ali
Jason Clampet
Sarah Enelow
Deanna Ting

About Skift

Skift is the largest industry intelligence platform providing media, insights, and marketing to key sectors of travel. Skift deciphers and defines global travel trends for the marketers, strategists, and technologists in the global travel industry. We do this in a multitude of ways:

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