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Insights from Skift Global Forum 2017

Nancy J. Friedman

In only four short years, the Skift Global Forum has become the ultimate mash-up of travel and technology. In addition to the annual gatherings in New York City and London, Skift has expanded to hosting yearly forums throughout the world, including Berlin in April, San Francisco in June and Singapore in October. This year’s two-day conference (“Travel in the Age of Perma-anxiety”) hosted more than 1,100 executives – 66 percent of which were VP-level or higher – as well as representatives from 40 countries and 575 companies.

President and CEO of Hilton Chris Nassetta spoke about the challenges facing hoteliers in a world where Airbnb is such a force. The issue for hoteliers is that there are few or no rules, so the playing field isn’t level. Airbnb, he says, is a solid business model whose core, however, is different than hospitality. Nassetta also reported that Hilton is opening a hotel a day somewhere in the world. Capital is available, and the company and its investors are optimistic. 

Every employee at Royal Caribbean is encouraged to come up with ideas. Ideas like the rock-climbing wall that CEO Richard Fain initially thought was rubbish, but has become one of their most popular offerings. Cruising has transformed, and Royal Caribbean’s Millennial business has tripled, with families being the fastest growing part of the business. 

Today, travelers seek memory-making experiences, a far cry from the cruise clientele who used to be "newly wed, overfed and nearly dead." The concept of “experiences over things” was echoed by Roland Fasel, COO of Aman Resorts. Fasel says the #1 trend in vacations is mental wellness. Seven in 10 travelers reported that wellness is more important to them when traveling. 

Mark Okerstrom, CEO of Expedia, said Expedia is possibly the largest travel company in the world. Expedia and Priceline are at the top of the food chain, spending $2.9 billion in digital advertising annually. With digital assistants like Amazon Echo, Google Home and Apple’s Siri taking off in recent years, more and more people are using voice search to book travel.

According to Warren Buffett, “it takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to lose it." Precepture’s René Mack spoke about crisis communications and advised that in the event of a crisis, it’s vital to move fast, get the facts, be brutally honest and be sure to have all the key contacts and spokespeople digitally at your fingertips. Will you or your clients know whom to call on a holiday weekend? 

There were also two fantastic Superpanels. The first featured Julian Guerrero Orozco, VP of Tourism for ProColombia; Lina Annab, Minister of Tourism and Antiquities in Jordan; and Ernest Wooden, Jr., CEO of Los Angeles Tourism and Convention Board. According to Orozco, Colombia chose not to hide from their past, and tourism has been up 22 percent year over year since implementing their "The Only Risk is Wanting to Stay" campaign. CMOs from Carnival Cruise Line, Tourism Australia and LaQuinta made up the CMO Superpanel. All agreed they’re shifting dollars away from TV and into more digital content, expressing the importance of great video content. Many use youth ambassadors and celebrity spokespersons such as Chris Hemsworth for Australia and Oprah Winfrey for Holland America Line.

Three quick takeaways from Skift:

  • Delta CEO Edward Bastian announced free texting on board their planes, which offer Wi-Fi, and a capital investment of $4 billion for a new terminal at LaGuardia Airport.
  • Arne Sorenson, CEO of Marriott, said Marriott’s loyalty platform gives their guests a broader choice than OTAs are capable of. Marriott houses 1 million travelers each night and is moving forward with three properties in Cuba.
  • Lilian Tomovich, Chief Experience Officer and CMO of MGM Resorts International, showed their new WOW factor video on the experiences they offer, and it was amazing.  

Skift also announced the launch of Skift Table with Kristen Hawley as the senior editor. She interviewed Union Square Hospitality founder Danny Meyer. Meyer spoke about his community-centric restaurants (Shake Shack donates $1 million per year to Madison Square Park, where it's located) and no-tipping policy that provides pay equity between his service and kitchen staffs.

The Skift Global Forum provides a great opportunity to hear from industry leaders as well as network with those in attendance. Looking forward to next year's forum. 

Skift team on stage at event
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