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Cliff Notes From A SKIFT Virgin….. My Take On The 2017 SKIFT GLOBAL FORUM

This was my first SKIFT event. Sad but true. I’ve been tuning into SKIFT since their launch around the same time we started, felt they deliver an unvarnished take on the industry, yet had never attended one of their events.

The Global Forum was my first foray and I was impressed. The speaker line-up was solid with two full days of many of the leading c-suite folks from some of the more interesting companies in the space. It was this line-up that drew me in.

Ultimately the show delivered on many of its promises. But I will say, the content from the CEO’s of the public companies was frankly a bit generic and gratuitous. Still not sure if it was the softball questions or the realities of walking the line as public companies with no announcements timed with the show.

The bigger win in my book were the entreprenuers and CMO’s on-stage. Those that really stood out and commanded the audience, were Lilian Tomovich CMO, of MGM Resorts, and Danny Meyer CEO of Union Square Hospitality. I also thought the CMO SuperPanel was excellent.

Below are some take-aways:

· SKIFT began by introducing the concept of PermAnxiety, a little dark but honest assessment of the traveler’s state of mind for sure, interesting. PermAnxiety is a state of always being nervous and anxious about…well all things. A general state of anxiety.

· MGM shared a new brand video that I must say was about as good as any I have seen lately… take a quick look and then check your pulse.

· The room was equally divided regarding the nascent ‘blockchain’ technology as the next revolution in hospitality. With many owning the fact that they themselves don’t really understand it fully yet. So at this point, a buzzword many sling around to indicate how ‘far-forward looking’ they are.

· AI and machine learning were mentioned by nearly all as the next big wave, but almost all simplified the matter further saying that all these efforts need to be centered on mobile. In fact, it was almost a unanimous theme that you need to use technology and embrace the technologies of your varied audiences and “meet them where they are” (psssst…usually mobile is involved).

· I stopped counting but I would estimate that 80% of all the people on stage uttered the phrase: removing friction. And it should be a top priority… now most of this was directed towards the consumer experience with these brands, but if you apply this to B2B… the concept of removing friction associated with your salespeople getting the ‘just-in-time’ information they need, when they need it, to add value and be the expert and increase influence on bookings… should be a big win as well.

· Richard Fain, CEO of RCCL made this friction analogy along with simplicity and intuitiveness. He pointed to the launch of the iPhone… it was the first major consumer product that came in a box with no real instructions, yet almost everyone was able to utilize. And many others made the connection that removing friction has strong correlations to driving LOYALTY. Huh, not such a stretch and the B2B side is ripe as well.

· Chris Nasetta Hilton’s CEO brought up the concept of the larger companies becoming more nimble, and acting a bit more like start-ups in their ability to iterate and ‘bend the curve’ to turn things around. Good luck legacy brands.

· Dennis Schall, Priceline’s CEO didn’t pull any punches regarding China and the continued enthusiasm, pointing out that today there are 200 million outbound travelers, within 10 years and that number will be 700 million. SEVEN HUNDRED MILLION travelers from one country. Readers…that’s a lot of people. “If you don’t have a China strategy in place already, you simply risk not seeing any real growth for a DECADE or two.” Mr. Schall did not mince words…. preach!

· Tastemade, one of the leaders in travel video did a workshop and guess what they shared? A little secret sauce. They said: a great video is equal parts Awe Inspiring (I can’t believe this is real), Attainable (I can do that), have an A-Ha moment (I did not know that), and ultimately highly Shareable. Oh, and of course you only have 3-seconds to capture their attention.

· Danny Meyer of Union Square Hospitality was a real highlight of the first day. He shared his thoughts about automation and technology. “As long as we remain tribal, we will want hi-touch as much as hi-tech in the appropriate situations.” Couldn’t agree more, one can point to the resurgence of the Travel Advisor as further evidence. Even when AI gets good.

· Danny also floated the tangible benefits of Omotenashi — the Japanese concept of “self-less hospitality” in a way of explaining the decision to ban tipping in his restaurants. The idea of doing something exceptionally well for someone else, without any design or expectation of what’s in it for you. For more on this read The Thank You Economy. This entire notion transcends hospitality and also permeates startups. Those who build to solve and help, versus those who build simply based on an exit strategy.

· Keith Barr CEO Intercontinental hotels was at it on the second day again with a strong call to utilize technology to reduce and remove friction (there’s that word again) from all channels of your business.

· Expedia’s new CEO Mark Okerstrom declared “mobile’s moment” as the next big thing is over and if you are NOT zeroed in on mobile for all aspects of your business your already way behind. According to Okerstrom, the next two BIG things are machine learning personalization & voice. What’s your Alexa strategy?

· Arnie Sorrensen CEO Marriott feels strongly that “loyalty platforms are the battleground of the future.” Easy to say when you just bought one of the most loyal client base in the industry with SPG… nice move Arnie.

· The all woman CMO SuperPanel was cool and informative, particularly for delivering one of the biggest B2B perspectives. Rafat from SKIFT opened by pointing out how much change the CMO’s role has gone through in the past 5 years alone. They now have their hands in everything and for that reason are PITCHED more than anyone in the company. Each of the leaders shared the top ways to get through to them and have a chance of starting a conversation with their teams. If you want to know more about this reach out.

· Julie Carey from LaQuinta measures opportunity based on a simple formula of 1) will it drive revenue? 2) does it help build the brand? and 3) does it help us innovate. If there is enough there you get a conversation, and White Papers are the best way to convey and make your case.

· Lisa Ronson of Tourism Australia said they are looking at “fewer, bigger, better” and had to have as many strategic elements as much as transactional. They just don’t have the manpower to execute multiple smaller initiatives.

· And Kathy Tam Mayor of Carnival added a most relevant analogy: Say the product is great, the price is fair, the upside is reasonable. She still has to consider “slowing down to speed up.” Left us with this analogy: You have a lot of work to do with a wheelbarrow, but it has a square tire. Over yonder is a great ‘round tire” (your deal). They still need to stop the wheelbarrow and change the tire to then get back up to speed. All need to be considered. And sometimes results in using a square tire for longer than you may have anticipated.

· You might know AMAN Resorts? Regardless they are considered a preeminent resort in wellness and lifestyle brand for the last 30 years, well before it was HOT. Roland Fasel, COO shared a bit of his success formula: be a leader, stay out front and ultimately CLAIM IT. His one regret is they didn’t claim this unique positioning over the decades so now the market is confused.

· Both days ended with heavy hitters Airbnb and Facebook. Airbnb was fascinating to hear and much respect for the youthful team’s hard work overcoming complex challenges, but ultimately it was mostly anecdotal and not much anyone in the room could do with what was shared, in my opinion. It’s not you Nathan Blecharczyk, it’s me.

· Marc D’Arcy from Facebook took the stage and spoke to the concept and strategic need to “be of mobile”. Meaning device, advertising, intelligence and be faster and faster, iterate, put more out there. Learning through DOING! He ended by acknowledging there is no industry more connected to mobile than travel. For more on this take a look at The Lean Startup, it’s the blueprint we used for getting out of the gates fast as well.

Thanks, SKIFT!

If you were at the conference let me know. Would love to hear your take-aways. If you didn’t go but found these notes helpful. Let me know as well.

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