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Travel Tech Essentialist #123: Connection
How Airbnb is focusing on rekindling customer love, how Virtuoso uses technology to amplify human connection, how hotels use signature scents to connect consciously and subconsciously with their guests, and how an amusement park connects with your inner child's sense of wonder and excitement while you’re waiting for the bus. These are some of the stories in today’s newsletter that touch upon the power of connection in travel. I hope you enjoy it.
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0. The most clicked link in the previous newsletter
The most clicked link in Travel Tech Essentialist #122 was Rebels and Trends in the Travel Industry, a post I wrote with the collaboration of a dozen travel founders and leaders.
1. Airbnb’s quest for customer love
In newsletter #120, I referred to a recent fireside chat with Brian Chesky (Airbnb’s cofounder) in which he said customer complaints about hidden fees and rising prices signal that Airbnb should focus on rekindling customers' love for its core service before pursuing new initiatives.
At a Stanford Graduate School of Business talk, it's clear that 'customer love' is at the core of Airbnb's origin story (video clip). Brian Chesky received a Y-Combinator t-shirt on his first day with the motto 'Make Something People Want.' However, he aimed higher with Airbnb, striving to create something people would love. Chesky began by designing the perfect Airbnb experience for one person, refining it and iterating until that person loved it. Designing a perfect experience for one person is an easier place to start than designing a perfect experience for 1 million.
In today's world, 5 stars has become the minimum standard; reaching it simply means meeting the basics. To truly captivate customers, you must surpass their expectations. Airbnb aimed to build a product so beloved that customers would enthusiastically recommend it to others. Brian used storyboarding to envision a remarkable 10-star check-in experience:
5-star service: You check in, and nothing bad happens
6-star service: You check-in, and there’s a bottle of wine on the table, some fruit, and a handwritten note from the host.
7-star service: You get picked up by a limo at the airport and there’s a surfboard waiting for you in the house because the host knows you like surfing.
8-star experience: You get picked up from the airport by a giant elephant, you get on the elephant and there’s a parade in your honor on your way to your Airbnb
9-star service: You are greeted at the airport by 5,000 fans cheering your name and you give a press conference in the front lawn of your Airbnb.
10-star service: Elon Musk picks you up from the airport and says “We’re going to space.”
You can’t make an 8, 9 or 10 experience, but if you can add that 6th or 7th star experience for one customer, you can reverse engineer to arrive at a user experience that is truly amazing for millions of customers.
Oh, and for all his accomplishments and successes, it’s good to see that Brian Chesky is human and gets things wrong sometimes. Check out his high school yearbook quote: “I’m sure I’ll amount to nothing.”
2. Automatizing the predictable to humanize the exceptional
Virtuoso’s Travel Tech Summit was hosted earlier this month during the 35th annual Virtuoso Travel Week. The Summit was led by Gilad Berenstein (tech entrepreneur, investor and Virtuoso board member) and brought together established companies, VCs and startups around five macro topics:
Advisor & Agency Tech - Operating Systems & AI Optimization (Gilad’s summary)
AI & Emerging Tech - GPT OTA, AI-Powered Agencies (Gilad’s summary)
Supplier Technology & Innovation - Air, Hotel, Cruise, Tour, Transportation (Gilad’s summary)
Sustainability Tech - Planet, people, culture, and history (Gilad’s summary)
Matthew Upchurch (Virtuoso's CEO) says that Virtuoso’s vision for AI is to “automate the predictable to humanize the exceptional.” This Pax News article gives a good overview of how Virtuoso uses AI tools and collaborates with startups to amplify human connection.
3. Hotel signature scents
When it comes to memory, there is no sense more closely linked than smell (Harvard Business Review). Scents can influence us subconsciously, so they can be used to create pleasant environments and plant a seed in the brain tied to a specific place and time. Hotels are designing scents to evoke nostalgia inspired by a smell, making it a part of their carefully crafted ambiance and guest experience. By tapping into the power of scent, hotels can set the mood, create memories, and generate repeat customers. Read + Washington Post.
4. Roller coaster bus stop
Another oldie (2016) but goodie. Clever ad for Port Aventura by ad agency Rankxerocs. It's not just about promoting an amusement park; it's about connecting with your inner child's sense of wonder and excitement.
5. Challenges and opportunities behind the rise of slowmads
One of his predictions is the rise of Slowmads.
Being a hardcore digital nomad that moves every 2 weeks makes for an amazing Instagram page -- but a terrible life. Too much time packing suitcases and traveling. Digital slowmads, moving between 2-3 locations per year, will become more popular.
He also points out the problem with Digital Slowmadism and the potential business opportunities:
The problem with Digital Slowmadism... You are "champagne Homeless".
• Bank accounts
• Proof of address
There will be services that pop up for this global "champagne homeless" E.g. Hotel Subscriptions, AirBnB subscriptions, Global banking will boom.
6. Q3 Traveler Insights
Every quarter, Expedia Group shares insights into traveler intent and demand based on 70 petabytes of first-party data from hundreds of millions of travelers worldwide visiting their various brands. Download the full Q3 report. Some conclusions:
After a 25% quarter-over-quarter increase in Q1, searches hold steady in Q2
Travelers planning for the near term. 10% quarter-over-quarter increase in the 0-60 day search window
Events (particularly sporting events) spark travel. 24% of travelers are inspired to take a trip by an event or celebration.
Long-haul destinations are on the rise. Travelers are increasingly booking destinations outside of their super-regions. London and New York were both popular destinations for travelers, appearing on the top 10 booked destinations list across all regions.
7. The fastest growing US privately held travel companies
The 2023 Inc. 5000 list ranks US-based privately held companies based on their % revenue growth from 2019 to 2022. To be eligible, companies must have generated a minimum revenue of $100,000 in 2019 and $2 million in 2022. The Travel & Hospitality industry has 55 companies on the list, including the second fastest-growing company in the US. Here are the top 5 in the Travel and hospitality industry:
#2 in the list: CharterUP - Marketplace for bus charters in the US, offering immediate real-time booking. Based in Austin, Texas. Three year growth: 111,130%
#77: HVN Travel Group - A B2B marketplace for professionally managed private home and villa rentals. Based in Sunrise, Florida. Three year growth: 6,057%
#122 Epic Golf Club - Professional membership group providing on-demand access to high-level golf facilities and experiences. Based in Scottsdale, Arizona. Three year growth: 4,017%
#181 Bounce - A storage service that allows travelers to store their luggage globally in convenient locations. Based in San Francisco, California. Three year growth: 2,918%
#236 TrovaTrip - A travel marketplace bringing together modern travel technology and curated itineraries from across the globe. Based in Oregon. Three year growth: 2,363%
8. Generational shift
Millennials (27-42 years old) and Gen Z (11-26 years old) rely much more on content creators, influencers and user-generated content to make purchase decisions than Gen X (43-58 years old) and Boomers (59+ years old). Millennials are now out-spending boomers on luxury travel (Robb Report), so this shift is highly relevant for the travel sector. See Deloitte’s full report on 2023 Digital Media Trends.
9. Another trip down memory lane
In the last newsletter, I shared a Los Angeles Times article titled More Travelers Are Visiting Web First published in July 1998.
Ian Cumming, founder of Travel Massive reached out to me to share something even more ancient.
I preserved a snapshot of the original hostels.com from 1996 over at https://www.h0stels.com/
Quick story: Darren Overby was the original founder of hostels.com (eventually bought by HostelWorld). He bought the domain in 1994 and put a Macintosh classic in the reception of his hostel, the Pacific Tradewinds Hostel, in San Francisco. Backpackers who had guidebooks were encouraged to enter in data into a FileMaker Pro database. Darren made some scripts that converted the database to html files, and put that on the web. This was the beginning on hostels.com and I think one of the earliest online accomodation websites / travel guides!
I used Wayback machine to get all the old website data back, and hosted in on h0stels.com (with a zero) for a bit of nostalgia and to preserve Darren’s work. What I find amazing is this is the original HTML from 27 years ago and it still works on modern browsers!
Thank you Ian for sharing this!
10. B2B payments in hospitality
How does money flow from travel agents, OTAs and TMCs to the hotel? This interesting infographic by Up in The Air seeks to understand the different components and how the dots are connected.
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