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Travel Tech Essentialist #129: Timeless
“History never repeats itself. Man always does.” ― Voltaire
“I very frequently get the question: 'What's going to change in the next 10 years?' And that is a very interesting question; it's a very common one. I almost never get the question: 'What's not going to change in the next 10 years?' And I submit to you that that second question is actually the more important of the two -- because you can build a business strategy around the things that are stable in time.” ― Jeff Bezos
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0. The most clicked link in the previous newsletter
The most clicked link in Travel Tech Essentialist #128 was the launch of Travel Tech Essentialist’s new and improved Job Board.
1. What’s never going to change?
Morgan Housel's latest book, Same as Ever: A Guide to What Never Changes, offers a unique perspective by focusing on what does not change in our ever-changing world. Change captures our attention and imagination because it’s new and exciting. But Housel’s book is about behaviors that never change throughout history. They’re our best guide to anticipate what’s coming ahead.
Rather than attempt to figure out little ways the future might change, study the big things the past has never avoided…When you focus on what never changes, you stop trying to predict uncertain events and spend more time understanding timeless behaviour. — Morgan Housel
2. Default to distrust
I recently saw a Google Pixel 8 TV ad campaign that struck me with the way it normalizes and facilitates the creation and distribution of fake content. The manipulation of reality is indeed an amazing technological feat, but it comes with deep consequences. With the Google Pixel 8 camera, you can easily turn a grey sky into a sunset, change a facial expression from a frown to a smile, and make a jump seem twice as high. It highlights how easily reality can be altered, fostering a climate where truth and fiction blur.
In this insightful article, Shelly Palmer points out that human beings trust by default. He states that it has been more evolutionarily stable to trust someone than it is to begin from a place of distrust because the benefits of doing so outweigh the consequences of acting “like a cynical, pessimistic jerk”. Palmer thinks that it might be time to change our default setting:
We generally trust others until given a reason to do otherwise. However, as the output from large language models and generative AI becomes increasingly indistinguishable from that produced by humans, it’s time to consider a new paradigm: “default to distrust.”
Palmer highlights the need for critical engagement with AI-generated content, emphasizing the importance of verification and skepticism. In his article, he offers strategies for transitioning from “default to trust” to “default to distrust” when interacting with content.
Younger generations have been quicker to make this change, with studies showing their increased skepticism and reluctance to share content they suspect of being fake or misinformation.
As skepticism rises, a counter-trend is emerging that places greater emphasis on human connections and trust. This shift could lead to a greater premium placed on travel agents and advisors, not just for their expertise but for the trust and authenticity they embody.
Professionals in fostering human interaction may become more vital than new AI experts proclaiming to guide your companies to the AI promised land.
Of course, the solution isn’t just a return to traditional human interactions. Technological innovations safeguarding authenticity also have a crucial role to play in establishing and validating trust and authenticity.
3. The enduring value of telephone customer service
Speaking of human interaction and trust, John Sills (Author of The Human Experience) wrote about why telephone-based customer service remains crucial even as digital communication advances. Many customers still prefer the immediacy and personal connection of a phone call, particularly in complex or sensitive interactions where voice fosters trust and understanding. The post highlights an inconvenient truth: “Sometimes, customers still like to use the phone to speak to organizations. Yet, these organizations are increasingly focusing on other communication methods, often pushing customers towards digital channels.” Amidst the dazzle of AI and new technologies to innovate novel ways of engaging with customers, it’s as important to understand the habits and behaviors that won’t change, like the desire for human interaction. For travel companies striving to balance tech innovation with service, this understanding is crucial, particularly in an industry where personal reassurance and clarity are very much needed. Read + John Stills.
4. Brian Chesky’s new playbook
Airbnb’s co-founder and CEO, Brian Chesky, recently appeared on Lenny’s Podcast, discussing a range of topics with remarkable candor. The podcast episode spans 1 hour and 15 minutes, but here are some key moments for quick access:
Performance vs Brand Marketing (clip 12:17)
Brian’s journey as CEO and why product or tech company CEOs should be the Chief Product Officer (clip 15:31)
Airbnb’s return to a functional model (design, engineering, product, marketing and communications, sales, operations) with no divisional leaders (clip 25:54). As a consequence, for example, Airbnb no longer has a Guest team and a Host team. They have functions that address both needs in a coherent way (clip 41:47)
Advice to founders on how to lead, why founders should stay very close to the details, and why it is different from micromanagement (clip 31:19)
Every leader should be an expert in what they're leading. There should not be people who only manage people (clip 36:02).
Balancing data and intuition in decision-making (clip 36:02)
Engineering and design ideally report to the product-led founder (clip 36:02)
Make sure that marketing and engineering are interconnected and that you have as few layers between a CEO and other people as possible (clip 37:50)
What would it take to be 10X bigger or do something 10 times better? How setting ambitious goals improves team performance (clip 45:57)
5. From flat to dynamic - Brian Chesky predicts a new era of interface design
In his conversation with Lenny, Brian Chesky shared his vision for the next wave in digital design (clip 42:25). Chesky envisions a new design rich with color, texture, and dimensionality, moving beyond the constraints of the minimalist flat design of the 2010s and the skeuomorphism of the 2000s that mimicked real-world textures. The new aesthetic aims to replicate elements we encounter in the natural environment, like light and texture, making digital experiences more intuitive and playful. He also highlights the role of AI in shaping this new design. With AI's capabilities in image generation and sophisticated interface development, there's a clear shift towards a more three-dimensional and colorful aesthetic. As an example, Chesky mentions Airbnb's AI-powered photo tour, created using their own unique AI computer vision language trained on 100 million photos. You can see hints of this new aesthetic in Brian’s tweet announcing Airbnb’s Winter release.
6. Top 10 Travel Apps
I looked into the top 10 travel apps in 5 American markets (USA, Canada, Mexico, Argentina, Brazil) and 5 European markets (UK, Spain, France, Germany and Italy). The two tables below show the results in slightly different ways.
The table below shows the 13 apps that rank in the top 10 in at least three of these countries. Two companies, Airbnb and Booking.com, rank in the top 10 in all of these markets. Airbnb’s lowest ranking is #3, while Booking.com’s is #7. Additionally, five apps - Skyscanner, Trip.com, BlaBlaCar, FlixBus, and IHG - feature in the top 10 across markets on both continents.
7. Tech trends and innovations shaping the global hotel industry
The 2024 Hotel Yearbook Technology report, edited by Ecole Hôtelière de Lausanne’s Ian Millar and featuring contributions from industry leaders, offers key insights into some of the main hospitality tech trends shaping the hotel industry. The report delves into a range of topics, including:
Solving the Trust Paradox for travel AI
The GenAI revolution in hospitality
The role of digital identity in hospitality
The evolving cloud infrastructure in Hospitality
A new cast of characters: Service Robots
Subscription model’s next destination: the hospitality industry
AI-controlled hotel room pricing
Revenue management trends and ROE takeaways to watch for 2024
8. Higher airline NPS
Ahmad Fares, founder & CEO of Celitech, shared insights about new ancillary services for airlines at the World Aviation Festival. He highlighted that airlines enjoy a 40% higher Net Promoter Score (NPS) compared to travel websites (OTAs and Metas). This significant difference, he suggests, indicates that airlines have stronger customer loyalty, positioning them favorably to expand their ancillary revenue streams.
Note: Bain & Company, the creators of NPS, suggest that any score over 0 would be considered ‘good’ as there are more Promoters than Detractors. Scores above 20 would be ‘favorable’, above 50 would be ‘excellent’, and above 80 is ‘world-class’.
9. McKinsey calls for the reinvention of travel loyalty
A McKinsey report reveals that while travel loyalty programs were once pivotal in shaping customer behavior and loyalty, their impact has been substantially reduced. The industry's evolution has led to a dilution of these programs' effectiveness, with customer dissatisfaction rising due to changes in program rules and devaluation of points. To regain customer trust, the report suggests travel brands should focus on enriching experiences rather than just tangible rewards. This shift towards experiential loyalty poses the question: How can travel brands creatively enhance customer experiences to rebuild loyalty?
10. The business of desert island tourism
33-year-old entrepreneur Ben Saul-Garner paid $3.7k to be abandoned on a remote island in Indonesia. He flew from his home city of London to Jakarta, then boarded another flight to a regional airport. A car service drove him to a pier, where he climbed onto a speedboat across the ocean for 90 minutes until he reached an uninhabited island covered in palm trees and dense brush. The boat turned around and left, and Ben stayed alone on the island for 10 days, sleeping in a hammock, subsisting on coconuts and crabs, and spending his days foraging for firewood.
Desert island tourism offers travelers a mix of seclusion and survivalist thrill. This unusual but growing niche caters to those seeking an escape from modern life. Interest in extreme wilderness tourism has also taken off thanks to TV shows and a growing number of YouTube channels dedicated to “bushcraft”.
One of the companies operating in this new segment is Docastaway, a Spanish startup founded in 2010 by Alvaro Cerezo. Over his 13 years in business, Cerezo has had over 1000 clients, ranging from entrepreneurs to students, to multimillionaires. Clients have two options: “Survival” mode (self-explanatory) or “Comfort” mode (a crew is on standby with food, water, shelter, and other necessities). Prices range from $95 to $400 per night, and the typical trip is around a week. Clients are responsible for their own flights. Read + The Hustle.
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Travel Tech Essentialist Job Board
The new and improved Job Board had a fantastic first two weeks since its launch. It aims to be the go-to job board for travel tech professionals, so thanks to you all, professionals and hiring companies, for showing up! Here are the most clicked jobs these last two weeks:
DHARMA, Marketing Director (Remote)
Hopper, Sales and Business Development Manager (Mexico City)
Travel Collection, Country General Manager (Greece, Turkey, Japan, France, United Kingdom)
Oliver’s Travels, Head of Marketing (London)
Airbnb, Market Manager (Paris)
Xeni, Business Analyst (Remote)
→ If you’re a company and want to be included in the new job board, please complete this 1-minute form.
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