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Geeking Out at the 2015 New York Travel Festival

Nathalie Herrera

This past weekend, both industry experts and travel lovers congregated at the New York Travel Festival to exchange anecdotes and industry news in a series of panels and discussions. Personally, I couldn’t have been more geeked out listening to some of the most insightful influencers take on engaging travel topics; networking with passionate bloggers, tour operators, filmmakers, journalists and tourism directors; and even being exposed to my very first Virtual Reality experience, which transported me to a cruise ship.

Here are some of my favorite discussions and highlights I took away from the experts:

The Ethics of Travel: Should I Stay or Should I Go?

(Sara Clemence, Travel Editor at The Wall Street Journal; Alejandro Castro Alfaro, Director of Marketing of the Costa Rica Tourism Board, Sandra Guzman, Contributing Writer for NBC News; Pegi Vail, Documentary Filmmaker of Gringo Trails; Deirdre Campbell, President of Tartan Group)

HIGHLIGHTS: The guest speakers of this panel stressed the importance of being mindful of how we travel; looking at metrics and making decisions; and being self-conscious of how we affect communities when traveling. Ask yourself, “what am I going to do to the earth?” and not just “what am I going to get from it?” They recognized admirable and sought-after destinations for ecotourism like Thailand, Bolivia and Costa Rica, but recommend travelers to also support destinations that need help the most. They did caution the idea of “voluntourism” and recommended looking at the program/agency’s professional certification and track record before enlisting.

From a brand and PR perspective, when promoting sustainability, transparency is of utmost importance; ethics should precede sustainability, or in the words of Sara Clemence, “ethics makes your sustainability sustainable.” Even a destination like Costa Rica, boasting more trees than natives, recognizes that there is always more that can be done and that sharing techniques for sustainable tourism is beyond a trend, it's a necessity.

Smartwatches, the Sharing Economy and Selfie Sticks: Travel Trends in 2015 and Beyond

(Jessica Plautz, Travel Editor at Mashable; Alex Hermann, Switzerland Tourism; Eric Hrubant, Owner of CIRE Travel; Lindsay Young, Digital Marketing Manager of Urban Adventures)

HIGHLIGHTS: A couple of hot topics of which were discussed, and even debated, included the use of wearable technology, Airbnb versus the hotel experience, “bleisure” (business + leisure travel), social media use during vacation, travel envy, the “anti-millennial” and paying for good service, among others.

It’s evident that there is a high demand for experiential travel, whether it’s excursions, hotel packages and offerings, etc., travelers are looking for an authentic experience. Switzerland Tourism, specifically, has married the idea of luxury and active travel to cater to travelers seeking an experiential vacation, without sacrificing the unique lavishness of the destination. Urban Adventures, sister company of our client Intrepid Travel, discussed how the company values providing a local experience with novelty day tours, highlight hidden gems and history, as well as popular landmarks.

Travel 2.0 Panel Discussion: Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality

(Mike Coletta, Founder/CEO of Fantrotter, Rob Weiss, Director of YouVisit; Alex Grau, CTO of TotalCinema360; Ori Inbar, CEO AugmentedReality.org)

HIGHLIGHTS: As it was best explained to me, Virtual Reality (VR) is referred to as the “dream,” and Augmented Reality (AR) is life as you see it around you, the “reality.” Virtual Reality in the travel industry can be used as a virtual script to highlight a destination. Paired with a haptic tool, an object that a person can feel or touch to enhances the virtual experience, virtual reality can also provide an emotional experience through a 2-3 minute clip of what a destination has to offer.

Industry leaders are already utilizing virtual reality to promote destinations, capture live music festivals, display 360 tours of a campuses or properties, etc. A great example is North Face’s latest campaign, which used virtual reality to transport customers to Yosemite National Park and Moab in its Flagship stores. With Google Cardboard, Google Play and Oculus Rift, Virtual Reality is quickly becoming more developed and accessible not just to businesses, but consumers, as well. Another notable new technology that was discussed is RICOH THETA’s new-debuted 360 cameras containing a fisheye lens on each side that takes pictures and stitches them together.

For more information on New York Travel Festival and their year’s speakers & experts, check out the NYTravFest.com website.

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