Roundtable Recap: Innovation in the In-Destination Experience

Travel Disruption Summit Guest Blog

Editorial Note: Jared Alster was chosen as a co-moderator guiding the “Destination Roundtable” at the Travel Disruption Summit, a one-day symposium bringing together thought leaders in the travel industry to New York City on May 23rd. During the event, participants discussed the opportunities for innovation at each phase of a traveler’s experience, including when they are traveling for business purposes.

At first glance, it might look like a mismatch — the world’s oldest travel company moderating a conference session on travel disruption. But upon further examination, it makes total sense.

As a business, you don’t get to be 260-years old without innovating, optimizing, and, yes, disrupting the establishment along the way.

And that’s how I found myself at the inaugural Travel Disruption Summit, moderating the ‘Destination’ round table discussion. The table was an impressive mix of early-stage growth companies from throughout the travel technology space - but most were focused, at least in part, on improving the in-destination experience.

There was Sherpa, a fantastic new platform for navigating the bureaucratic nightmare that is applying for a tourist visa. Also in attendance was MyPostcard, a site that makes it easy to turn any vacation photo into a beautiful postcard, plus my co-moderator, Susan Ho from Journy, a custom trip creator that leverages local experts in each destination.

Between bites, we had a lively conversation touching on some of the destination trends of the moment: content overload, curation, trust and reviews, using influencers to drive engagement and purchase, and many more.

There was some debate around what travelers say they want out of an experience vs. what they end up purchasing. For example, Airbnb and others have jumped head first into the tours and activities space, offering experiences like artisanal pasta making classes in San Francisco.

But what first-time traveler wouldn’t want to do the ‘tourist thing’ and walk over the Golden Gate Bridge instead? Or, in this digitally-driven age, is simply snapping a shot of the bridge for Instagram proof enough?

We also discussed the role of T&A marketplaces, such as Viator, and the swing back towards curation, offered by Journy, Travelade, and others. The general feeling is that there is too much destination content available to consumers and wading through it to find the best bits is getting old.

Yes, choice is a great thing and there’s definitely a case to be made that the arms race for maximum inventory makes good business sense in all travel verticals. But at some point consumers like assistance, and travel tech startups have heeded the call through an innovative mix of AI, chat bots, and good ‘ol human customer service.

Along those lines, the value of verified reviews and trusted recommendations has never been more apparent. Despite the rumblings of fraud and misleading reviews on sites like TripAdvisor, the table seemed to agree that first-hand testimonials will continue to play a key role in all stages of the destination purchase funnel.

The topic of influencers was raised on both the business and consumer sides of the destination experience and it was decided that they proved valuable on all fronts. For startups, selecting the right influencer(s) for your brand is a great way reach new markets without wading into the world of paid performance marketing. For consumers, influencers with loyal followings can be a treasure trove of insider tips when planning a trip.

As a former startup co-founder myself, it was great to be back in the thick of things and surrounded by so many inspiring entrepreneurs. One of my primary goals of attending the Summit was to think of ways to integrate new innovations, products, and services into our core businesses at Cox & Kings.

As the world’s most enduring travel company, we’ve long been at the forefront of exploration and innovation. We were the first company to scout the North side of Mount Everest with British adventurers in the early 20th century.

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Cox & Kings celebrates 260 years in business

In more modern times, we were pioneers in creating the hybrid hotel/hostel accommodation model and also launched one of the fastest-growing OTA’s in India. In the US, we’re a custom-tailored luxury travel company, constantly reinventing the way travelers see the world around them.

In the future, I look forward to the potential of bringing in partners like Sherpa to assist our clients with e-visa processing. I also think there’s an interesting collaboration with Shoot My Travel, to offer our clients custom photo sessions in destination.

On the b2b side, I think most companies can benefit from on-boarding a travel and expense app like Travelbank to help automate an archaic process. I’m also excited to continue the conversation with Regal Wings in an effort to streamline our premium air bookings for Cox & Kings’ clients.

It goes without saying that the destination experience is going through a period of rapid change. Threats like over-tourism are widely acknowledged and cities have already taken measures to alleviate the pressure.

I don’t pretend to know what the future has in store, but one thing is for sure: international arrivals are only going to increase as more and more of the world’s population gains access to the economic means to travel. This will bring huge opportunities for enterprise companies and startups that deliver the destination experience.

Products that reduce friction during the purchase process and deliver truly memorable experiences will continue to rise to the top.

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