Wednesday Reading – Skift Magazine’s “Megatrends Defining Travel in 2016”

For those who may have shared in a presentation with me over the past year, you will know that one of the quotes I often roll out comes from Skift’s "Megatrends Defining Travel in 2015". It’s a quote that seems to summarize a lot of the thinking behind the Center for the Future of Libraries. I’ve just subbed in “libraries” anywhere Skift said travel, so it goes something like: 
 
“We are ‘consumer in’ instead of ‘silos out.’ Being fanatically focused on the changing consumer behaviors across all sectors, not just [libraries] — whether because of digital tools or globalization or other generational factors — rather than what silos are doing talking among themselves, and how that affects [libraries] and [their] future.”
 
So I was very excited to dive into Skift’s latest forecast, “Megatrends Defining Travel in 2016,” this time part of their new Skift Magazine (registration and e-mail required to download). 
 
Let me say at the outset that I think there’s a lot to be learned from other sectors. The travel and tourism industry might be as far away from libraries as we can get, but these reports provide a lot of great insights into not only consumer interests, but also search behavior, marketing, and even business consolidation. There are also some things in this year's report that are so unique and specific to the travel industry that I didn't spend too much time highlighting them. But you may read the report (a short 60 pages with pictures that makes for a 30 minute read) and grab on to some of the bigger changes underlying those industry-specific trends.
 
One lasting gem from the introduction to this year's report (and again, subbing in libraries where they say travel):
 
"There are a few ways to future-proof yourself against being consumed by the big disruptions in [libraries]:
  • Marketing / Tech / User Experience / Design: As long as you are in the crosshairs of these four pillars you have future-proofed yourself.

  • Don't get swept up in the headlines all around you, build around larger emerging trendlines instead.

  • Be fanatically focused on the changing consumer behavior."

Now, on to Skift's thirteen megatrends for 2016:

The travel industry is now ready for a 360-degree view of the traveler

Data will be key in 2016 - allowing organizations to better understand users, better communicate with users at their point of need, and better target and market to users. A lot of this is driven by the increasing adoption of mobile technologies and consumers' own willingness to interact with organizations in a growing number of ways and share more information than ever before. The challenge, especially for libraries, is to help consumers understand the vast amount of data that is being shared and to help them do it responsibly if they still choose to share. Organizations are going to have to be careful not to overstep their access to data and infringe on consumer privacy. Finding the balance with data will be a big challenge for both consumers and organizations.
 
The big turmoil in big hospitality
 
Especially among hotels, a string of mergers have created global brands with large footprints that create more consistent (and perhaps limited) options for consumers. At the same time, sharing models like Airbnb are increasing their reach and creating accessible platforms for consumers to navigate around traditional accommodations. Is there a library message in here? Well, we're probably becoming more familiar with consolidation and the ways that it affects consumers (libraries are consumers) and end users. The additional lesson might be that users are becoming more familiar with consistent brand experiences (a Hyatt is a Hyatt from coast to coast and country to country). Those expectations for familiarity may bleed over into other sectors - users that want a similar experience (terminology, services, design, platform) from library to library.
 
The Bourdain Effect: Food is now the leading hook in travel
 
Culinary travel has become big business for tourism and Skift sees food as a unique opportunity to communicate place, history, and culture. Reserve CEO Greg Hong told Skift "Dining will be the last form of live entertainment. As we start to digitize experiences, we are going to yearn for authentic experiences where we can break bread together." My mind immediately went to The Free Library of Philadelphia's Culinary Literacy Center, a space that trades on the power of food to help bring communities together, improve literacy and numeracy, and create a true sense of place in a larger urban center. Finding ways to build place and community will become increasingly important in a digital world. 
 
The direct booking wars are in full bloom
 
A pretty industry-specific trend. Online intermediaries (Expedia, Orbitz) are competing with hotel’s direct booking, much to the advantage of consumers. A possible lesson learned might be taken from the loyalty perks companies are building in to their processes to help keep consumers coming back to their specific sites. For hotels this might include keyless entry, free wi-fi, early check-in, etc. These are things that might not cost the property anything extra, but are only make available to those that book through preferred terms. Is this tiered recognition strategy something that consumers will come to expect from other services as well?
 
The rise of fast casual design in travel
 
We've talked about fast casual before. Deconstructing the ordering process, dressing up the overall experience, and integrating technology helps appeal to younger customers and might also help drive down costs. It might also help create spaces that are more spontaneous and participatory. 
 
This is the year of the American traveler
 
Empowered by an improved economy and in spite of some messy geopolitics, Americans have greater opportunities to travel than in recent years. This includes some destinations that are removing barriers (Brazil and Cuba, among them). The key reminder here, globalization is very real.
 
Video is the new language of brand communication
 
I found this fascinating. An acknowledgement of the power of feelings to motivate user behavior has helped many organizations focus on storytelling as a key marketing strategy. This lines up nicely with consumers' increasing use of mobile technology and its capacity for video (according to Cisco, by 2017 more than two-thirds of all consumer internet traffic will be streaming video). So video will become an important tool for storytelling and marketing, but that storytelling may be softer, more human, and more authentic (see some of the most popular YouTube celebrities). 
 
Smart cities are now platforms and traveler services are now being built on top
 
This one brings together a couple of themes - the Internet of Things and data, in particular - as part of what's driving cities' interest in leveraging open data to improve the lives of citizens and travelers. There are implications for libraries and library professionals in helping to leverage and manage this data, to find responsible uses for the data that libraries produce, and to help consumers discover new ways to exploit this data to create stronger communities.
 
Build your own passenger experience in the future of flying
 
Libraries and airplanes don’t really intersect, so it's easy to dismiss this one. But there are bigger trends here. Customization. Everything is now add-on (selecting a seat, checking a bag, drinks and snacks, entertainment and wi-fi). Mobile and in-the-moment decision making. Companies are pushing prompts and messages throughout the travel cycle, reminding consumers to book or enhance their trip with extras. In-flight purchases are made easier with apps or mobile payment options. There are a couple of takeaways we can make from this. The library can be an anti-trend - when everyone else is stripping down services and making people pay as they go, a free, equitable institution provides everyone with the same great services no matter what they can afford. We might also play into this and recognize that consumers are taking increasing control over their experiences, picking and choosing the services that enhance their experiences. So self-checkout and other self-services (room booking, research consultation appointments) that put users in charge could become particularly important.
 
Messaging is the new language of the globe, are travel brands listening?
 
Messaging apps like Snapchat, WhatsApp, and Facebook Messenger are becoming more important for mobile users and a more efficient way for people to communicate. Organizations are moving into these spaces to help be responsive to users. They are also finding that these spaces may provide greater opportunity for authentic connection and personalization. 
 
Partnership time for hospitality in the on-demand economy
 
Another really interesting shift. On-demand services (food delivery like Seamless and GrubHub, home services like TaskRabbit) are changing user expectations. Rather than creating duplicative services, hotels are exploring partnerships that expand the hotels' offerings by tapping into an existing service or customer base. Is there something here for libraries to serve as a conduit to community-based on-demand services instead of working to create their own?
 
Focus shifts from Millennials to Gen Z
 
After several years focused on Millennials, attention is shifting to those that will come after, Generation Z. While still under 20, this generation makes up a significant portion of the world's population (one-sixth) and will have considerable spending power over the next several years. Some considerations for library professionals. Members of Gen Z take just 8 seconds to process information, consider what it means, and move on to the next thing (Bloomberg View "Here Comes Generation Z"). This faster processing time has led to observations that Gen Z has trouble retaining information. It’s never a good idea to generalize an entire group, but these early observations might help us think about ways we might adapt our services for specific individuals’ needs. 
 
Online booking sites' newest rivals: their former friends
 
Search providers like TripAdvisor and Google, which had traditionally helped lead consumers to booking agencies and hotels, have now become booking sites in their own right with services like TripAdvisor Instant Booking and Book on Google. This is an indicator of how easily many technology companies can move into new sectors and disrupt traditional processes. It's also indicative of a future world where consumers will expect more integrated search, purchase, and review platforms.  
 
This beginning of the year period is a great time to download and review consumer trend reports. It can be an especially valuable opportunity to work with colleagues to consider the different ways these trends affect different part of our profession. And if you find yourself particularly intrigued by Skift, they provide an e-newsletter that shares trend insights throughout the year.