A Special #Skiftforum Report: The Emerging Trends In Travel

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We were lucky enough to be included in Skift’s SkiftForum in New York’s Times Center yesterday (October 9th 2014) that brought together some of the best leading minds in the Travel and Hospitality industry. Spending the day with like minded expert individuals, it was clear to see some of the emerging trends that will most likely start to surface in the next 12 months in all of our experiences. Whilst some where aimed at hotels, it is easy to see the way some of these ideas could be integrated into the Airline industry.

We decide to summarise some of the key points that were discussed, and offer our take on what that might just mean for the passenger experience from the airlines in the future.

‘It’s all about Me’

This was by far the most apparent trend. Consumers are wanting to be treated less and less like a number, they don’t want to be just a statistic built by an algorithm. We want to feel special, unique and valued by the brands that talk to us. We want to feel inspired, feel that there is something in it for ourselves. Chris Nurko, Global Chairman of FutureBrand summarised it perfectly. “The future of smart travel is the intersection of technology, utility data and experience.” he went on further to explain “Smart travel brands will believe and communicate in utopia more than dystopia. They will use technology to make ‘me’ feel smart, involved and give me more control, and create a brand ‘experience’ in the hand, heart and mind of the user.”

How Does This translate?

Expect Airlines to start really drilling down into who we are as consumers, expect personal experiences based on our previous history. Airlines may start emailing us travel ideas based on where we like to search for flights. Airlines can collate the data of our search histories online, for example knowing that in December we all start dreaming of a little bit of Sunshine, so the following year, before we even think about it, the airline could send us a personal message saying “Still thinking of Thailand? We have a deal just for you – if you fly on this date, you’ll find it was cheaper than last year!”

Cathay Pacific unveils new Regional Business Class_4

Or what about being greeted at the check in desk by name before you even hand over your passport? With google glass or chipped baggage tags / frequent flyer cards, the airlines may be able to use data to make us feel special, wanted, and part of a special community. Mr Nurko’s parting message was ‘see you in the Future!’ but maybe the future isn’t as far away as we think!

Our entertainment should be personal

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JetBlue, GoGo and American Airlines at the Skiftforum all spoke about the future of IFE, connectivity and the importance of connecting with the passenger at every level. There were very clear pointers that the technology is being designed to create a unique experience based on a wealth of data collected from a passenger. IFE is no longer just about connectivity, offering hi-speed WiFi or a wealth of films and TV shows. It is now about offering content specific to the user. Planes should soon be able to know who is at which seat before you even board, and each seat welcome a passenger by name, offering them IFE suggestions based on previous or future bookings.

How Does This translate?
Flying in a month to Hawaii? The IFE could give you pointers on where to go, what to see, or what is on whilst you are there. What about if you didn’t get the chance to finish a film, imagine on the return flight, the IFE can suggest you finish off the last 10 minutes of the film to start with, and plays it from where you stopped it last time. What about online portals for your tablet, (after all, Virgin America CEO Fred Reid stated ‘If there is one thing I wouldn’t do again, is put screens in seats’) whereby once online, the content streamed to your tablet is destination specific, telling you the weather, and if it’s raining, suggesting you purchase something from the duty free shop, such as an umbrella? The technology is almost there, and the results mean a more personal experience for the consumer.

Cabin Design will step into the 3Dimensional

Business Class seats (PHOTO) Philippine Airlines 2

Ben Orson from London and Singapore based JPA Design, spoke about cabin design in the next 5 years and how in the future the quest for space will start to think 3dimensionally. PAL have already adopted the new overlapping business class seats where one passenger is slightly raised above the other to offer increased personal space. This is obviously only the very initial concept, so more designs and refinements will no doubt start to ‘pip on the radar.’ As for economy passengers, the quest for space has been replaced with the quest for entertainment, as airlines have recently started to consider ‘economy minus’ concepts, of decreased passenger space, and limited access to traditional booking tools such as seat selection.

How Does This translate?
Passenger cabins are perhaps the most radical and forward thinking of all the developments in aviation, as this defines our consumer experience above all. In the race to offer the most luxurious, expect larger, more opulent suites like that of Etihad’s Residence at the top end, and at the back of the plane, passengers squeezed tighter, but due to technology, offsetting passenger discomfort for more passenger entertainment.

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It takes years to roll out new cabin designs, but some of the ones we’ve already mentioned on thedesignair.net over the past two years should start emerging, with Qatar Airways’ inaugural A380 flight touching down only today in LHR and Etihad and Virgin’s new 787s and the most anticipated A380 from Etihad at the end of the year.

Design is more important than it has ever been

Virgin America’s Fred Reid, Southwest’s design team and Chris Nurko all hinted at the fact that design is paramount to the future of airlines. As consumers expectations increase and become subconsciously more design aware, cutting design corners can damage a brand image.

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The plethora of sub brands in airlines (such as loyalty programs, holiday offshoots and website stand alone sites) will all start to unify, simplify and communicate a stronger simpler message. This is something we touched on with the SouthWest Airlines rebrand a few months back. Fred Reid also stated quite simply that all airlines should have a design director. A singular brand visionary that should be untouchable by the airline’s top brass. Making a unique, solid and believable brand image that connects with its consumers as a friend, rather than a collective.

How Does This translate?
Expect to see more rebrands, more refreshes of brand, and a larger disconnect between Legacy, Metro and Low Cost Carriers, each offering a more unique brand image, again something we touched on recently. Brands will become stronger, more easily identifiable, and as one hotelier at the conference mentioned, create a unique personality for each brand, that has a backstory, which becomes compelling and understandable. We need to be able to connect with our brands just as much as they need to connect with us. This brand building needs to be a two sided conversation.

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There were plenty more topics, ideas and conversations that went on at SkiftForum, throughout the travel industry, and for you to truly get an insight, we suggest you keep an eye out for the next one, and book early, as this one sold out fast or why not join the conversation now on Twitter!

We would love to hear from you, tell us, what do you think the next year holds for the airline industry. What trends can you see emerging?

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