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Travel Tech Essentialist #126: Firsthand Experience
“More often than not, travelers value content that is produced by someone who has first-hand, life experience on a particular travel destination, that adventure trek route, or hotel recommendations.” - Manav Gupta, ColorWhistle
“The curse of modernity is that we are increasingly populated by a class of people who are better at explaining than doing…Those who talk should do and only those who do should talk.” - Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Skin in the Game.
Fortunately, influence and credibility appear to be shifting towards those individuals and businesses with real-life and firsthand experience. This certainly applies to the travel industry, where genuine, experiential knowledge should take precedence —whether it's in determining a website's Google Search ranking (#1 and #2) or uncovering the hidden gems on your next trip (#4).
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0. The most clicked link in the previous newsletter
The most clicked link in Travel Tech Essentialist #125 was Chris Lochhead’s Better Vs Different post.
1. Google Search rewards sites demonstrating real-world experience
Google Search's helpful content system is designed to reward content that provides a satisfying experience for visitors. The September 2023 helpful content update has had a significant negative impact on many websites heavily reliant on SEO. Thanks to Mathew Barker, CEO of Horizon Guides, I came across an informative post by Marie Haynes that explains why some were affected by the September update. It appears that this update demotes content lacking real-world experience or content that isn't recognized as an authoritative source on its topic.
One of the main principles for judging whether a page has quality or not is its “E-A-T”, which stands for Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness. After this update, Google revised its Page Quality Rater Guidelines (the ideals Google wants their algorithms to reward) by adding an additional E (Experience) to determine 'helpful or beneficial page purposes': 'To share a personal experience, perspective, or feelings on a topic.' Thus, Google is now placing emphasis not only on user experience but also on real-world experience.
Marie Haynes recommends to:
Become known for your topic. While it’s ok to use marketing, the people whom Google’s systems want to reward are those who are known because they’re passionate about what they do in a way that is engaging and helpful.
Make your content so helpful people bookmark and share it
Consider adding a forum. A thriving forum filled with experts and enthusiasts truly talking about your topic might create content others would find helpful. A forum just for the sake of having User Generated Content is not.
Pay attention to YouTube. Expect more YouTube shorts in Google’s search results and alongside Bard answers as these are a great way to showcase experience.
2. Implications of Google’s E-E-A-T for Travel sites
As seen in the previous story, Google's new E-E-A-T (Experience - Expertise - Authoritativeness - Trustworthiness) quality rater guidelines play a crucial role in determining a website's ranking in Google search results. They emphasize the significance of experience, stating that, “for some topics, experience is the most important dimension of Trust.” This principle is particularly relevant to the travel sector. “Real-world experience” could include factors such as having a strong presence in the offline world (e.g., Marriott Hotels), being recognized as a subject matter expert (e.g., Booking.com), or having direct experience with a product or service (e.g., Tripadvisor).
This post by Colorwhistle explores how Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness apply to travel websites. It also addresses how travel players can optimize for E-E-A-T in SEO, Paid Search and Social Media Marketing.
3. A candid conversation with Brian Chesky
“We never fully built the foundation. It had 4 pillars when we needed to have 10.” — Brian Chesky
Bloomberg published an insightful article based on a candid conversation with Airbnb's Brian Chesky in which he provides valuable insights into the challenges and strategies facing Airbnb in 2023. Six takeaways:
Airbnb’s core service needs to be improved. Chesky acknowledges that Airbnb has struggled to maintain consistency and reliability across its vast network of hosts and listings. This has been a managerial challenge for the company.
Lower prices benefit hosts. Chesky believes that affordable prices are a competitive advantage, and hosts who provide better deals tend to earn more. He aims to provide hosts with tools for dynamic pricing insights.
AI is the key to quality control. Airbnb is using generative AI to verify listings and vet guests. It helps identify and remove fake listings and detect potential events that violate Airbnb's policies.
If and when Airbnb creates a loyalty program, it won’t be about points or free stays. Chesky did not elaborate, but he seems to hint at a program that incentivizes users with better services.
Experiences, not homes, will be the way forward in New York. In cities where regulations have tightened, Chesky sees potential in offering experiences rather than homes.
Chesky’s big solutions are well underway. Chesky has initiated substantial solutions to address the company's challenges and expects to see substantial improvements by next summer.
4. “I’ll share my Google Map with you!”
Katalina Mayorga, cofounder of El Camino Travel, shared an interesting article on how travel insiders share their best-kept travel secrets. They're using Google Maps and Docs to provide curated lists and unique recommendations. This underground network of travel enthusiasts and locals is transforming the way we explore destinations by sharing their carefully curated maps and documents with friends and a select few. Read +
Among nomadic connoisseurs, the most prized guides do not bear the signatures of celebrities or even reflect the sensibilities of boldfaced bohemians. These hot docs are passed around like contraband, because they’ve been around for years, edited, revised, and updated like epic poems that are never finished.
While high-tech apps have transformed travel planning, many travelers still value the authenticity of older-school lists and tools, believing that curated recommendations based on their real-life experience and shared among like-minded individuals offer a depth of insight and character that digital tools can't replicate.
❓Do you have your own Google Maps or Docs with great travel advice that you’d like to share with us? If so, please send it our way!
5. Inside the Taliban's luxury hotel
In 1969, Afghanistan welcomed its first luxury hotel, the Intercontinental Hotel. Fast forward to today, the hotel is now under Taliban control following their takeover of Kabul in August 2021. While the hotel's former glory has faded, it continues to stand as a symbol of power in the region: those who rule Kabul rule Afghanistan, and those who rule Kabul rule the Intercontinental. This article by Neue Zürcher Zeitung reports on one of the Taliban's most significant but unnoticed experiments. The new government is forcing Taliban and non-Taliban to work together in government-related roles and businesses. This experiment will ultimately determine whether peace and reconciliation can be achieved in a country plagued by conflict. The Intercontinental Hotel serves as a microcosm of this initiative.
6. The promise of travel in the age of AI
A new McKinsey report, The promise of travel in the age of AI, offers use cases and success stories that detail how technologies are being used, drawing from interviews with executives at 17 companies across five types of travel businesses. It explores how companies apply data science to better understand and serve customers, delves into how digital and analytics tools can improve products and services, and examines how new technologies augment workforce capabilities and unlock operational capacity. Among the key findings:
Hypersegmentation drills down to a “segment of one”
Products designed to surprise and delight
Enhancing and scaling the power of the existing workforce
Travel is ripe for innovation
7. Young Generation in Tech
Eight Roads, a venture capital firm that has invested in travel companies such as Amenitiz and OTA Insights, recently published the Young Generation in Tech 2023 report. The report is based on a survey of 2,000 individuals aged 20 to 30 across seven European countries, aiming to capture their sentiments regarding their roles, the companies they work for, and their future prospects. Here are some findings:
78% of respondents express a positive outlook on the impact of AI in the workplace.
59% feel secure in their current roles.
56% prefer to work in the office for 4 or 5 days per week.
For an in-depth analysis and to explore variations among countries, refer to the full report.
8. A shift towards convertible instruments seed rounds
An analysis of 13,657 rounds by companies on Carta shows that in 2020, 62% of rounds that raised $1 million or more were priced equity rounds. In 2023 so far, only 35% of such rounds were equity rounds. The shares of SAFEs and Convertible Notes are growing consistently every year. If you’re interested in reading more about what’s driving this shift, you might want to read the comments to Peter Walker’s (Head of Insights at Carta) LinkedIn post.
9. Travel Investor Network turns 1
I launched Travel Investor Network in October 2022 to help investors discover innovative travel startups that are in the process of fundraising. In the last year, I’ve highlighted 112 startups from 29 countries. Some general stats:
Investment type. Equity: 49%; SAFE: 40%; Convertible Note: 10%
Stage. Pre-Seed: 30%; Seed: 48%; Series A: 16%; Series B+: 5%
Geography. 30 different countries. Top 5 countries represented: USA, UK, Spain, Italy
Last 3 months revenue (not GMV) range: $0 - $3.7M
Pre-money valuation range: $1.4 million - $60 million
Round size range: $100k - $35 million
Previously raised range: from $0 - $30 million
→ If you are a startup looking to raise a round (from pre-seed to Series D), maybe I can help (for free). Please start by completing this form.
→ If you are an investor interested in joining the Travel Investor Network, please complete this form
10. Financing and Partnerships
I have 5 free tickets for the FutureTravel Summit that will take place on October 27th in Barcelona. The event will include a 10-startup pitch competition and industry speakers. If you’re interested in a ticket, please reply to this newsletter and let me know. The tickets will go to the first 5 replies.
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