Skift Global Forum Europe


Skift Global Forum Europe 2017

Coined the ‘TED of Travel’, the Skift Global Forum hit European shores for the first time this April in London’s Tobacco Dock.

June 20, 2017
Posted by: Aoife Murphy, Major Account Director at Vistatec

Skift’s CEO and Founder Rafat Ali says, «It is the best creative brainfood for the year. That is our promise to you with what we’ve created with not-an-industry-conference conference.» Skift Forum Europe 2017 certainly delivered on this promise.

​​​​​The forum brought together some of the top marketers, strategists and technologists in the global travel industry to talk about how they are creating and defining the future of travel. Key takeaways for me included:

  • Mobile is still a critical component for success as people’s confidence in using it to book all aspects of travel increases. The extent of its importance was reinforced by Richard Solomons, CEO of Intercontinental Hotels, telling us of how they had to change their logo because of its display on mobile.
  • Richard Solomons also spoke about how there is always an opportunity to tap into customer loyalty as people want to engage with the brand. Humans are tribal and they want to be part of something, so it is important for marketers to have that 2-way conversation.
  • Skyscanner Co-Founder Gareth Williams says we should be looking to China to get an indicator of what’s to come.
  • OpenJaw Technologies CMO Colin Lewis talked about the extensive use of platforms such as WeChat as a social, payment and e-commerce platform. This is providing the Chinese consumer population with instant and real-time communication, putting their expectations well ahead of their Western counterparts. This will be the expectation of the Chinese traveller, and as they are the biggest travellers, the industry needs to meet these expectations to capture this market.
  • Daniel Houghton, CEO of Lonely Planet, reminded us about people’s emotional attachment to travel; it is something that people don’t want to mess up, and this understanding needs to be at the heart of the customer journey.
  • It was interesting to hear from Google Travel’s VP Engineering Oliver Heckman on their use of neural networks for machine translation which has been a 4-year project for Google.
  • Other emerging technologies to watch in travel are A.I. with chat bots for virtual assistants and voice recognition, and ambient computing, giving you support where you are and in your context. That said, Steve Hafner, CEO of Kayak, says SEO is still an important source of traffic.
  • Although airlines, hotels and metasearch sites were very much on the agenda, it was good to get the industry’s perspective on rail, with Clare Gilmartin, CEO Trainline, explaining how massive the opportunity for digital in this area is. 80% of people still buy tickets in the station and spend on average 15 minutes waiting to get the ticket. Oliver Heckman also made the distinction between European and US travel habits saying that Europeans are more likely than their US counterparts to consider travelling by rail as an alternative to flying. The new Google travel package metasearch trial will be adding intercity results between European destinations. It is the first of the major travel metasearch platforms to integrate rail options into search listings in Europe.

From these great sessions, where CEOs were challenged by the Skift crew and plenty of differences in opinion were exchanged, the one thing that everyone agreed upon is that the customer, the global traveller, must be put front and centre of all creative and technological innovation.
Definitively food for thought.