Skift Backstage Podcast: Global Tourism in a Volatile Time

Volatility in the world — and the way the travel industry deals with it — was one of the big themes recently at the first Skift Forum Europe in London.

Terror attacks, political upheaval, isolationist policies and security crackdowns are all changing the way that travelers make decisions and move around the globe. As political leaders seek to reinforce borders, travel insiders are trying to convey a message of welcome to potential visitors — sentiments that frequently find themselves at odds.

On this episode of the Skift Podcast, we’re hearing from two experts who take a global view of tourism amid all that change. We spoke to them in separate conversations behind the scenes in the Skift Take Studio during the Forum in London.

First, we’ll hear from Olivier Jager, CEO and co-founder of ForwardKeys, which compiles tourism data based on reservations transactions. Jager, who was an attendee at the event, spoke to us about how global events impact tourism, the need for quick information on how travelers react to change, and the “Trump Slump” report that the company put out after the new administration’s first travel ban in January. That analysis showed a 6.5 percent drop in international bookings to the U.S. immediately following the ban.

We also have a conversation with Gerald Lawless, chairman of the World Travel and Tourism Council, who was a speaker at the Forum. Lawless, who is also head of tourism and hospitality for Dubai Holding, spoke about the Open Skies fight, overtourism, the growth of the Chinese travel market, and the recent laptop ban on several airlines. WTTC held its 2017 Global Summit this week in Bangkok.

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What Hotels Are Doing to Win Your Loyalty

This is the year that travelers might have to start questioning their hotel loyalties, if only because hotel loyalty programs are changing so much.

Marriott is merging its program with Starwood’s SPG. Hyatt’s new program just launched. And Hilton recently announced a slate of new features.

And all of these changes are taking place as online travel agencies continue to lure many travelers driven by price rather than points, and up-and-coming accommodations providers like Airbnb win fans without even offering a loyalty program.

On today’s episode of the Skift podcast, we’re talking hotel loyalty: who’s doing it right, who’s still trying, and how it is continuing to evolve.

Our guest is Gary Leff, founder of the View from the Wing blog and an expert on points programs. He joins podcast host Hannah Sampson and Skift hospitality editor Deanna Ting.

We’ll also hear from some interviews that Ting did at the Americas Lodging Investment Summit in L.A. with Scott Berman, U.S. hospitality and leisure practice leader at PwC; Best Western Hotels & Resorts president and CEO David Kong; and Langham Hospitality Group CEO Robert Warman.

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Why Flights Are So Cheap (And You Might Hate Yours)

Flying these days sounds like an incredible bargain.

Low-cost is a key focus, not just for the Ryanairs and Spirit Airlines of the world that are historically known for cheap flights and limited service. Legacy carriers like United and American have introduced stripped-down fares to better compete, and even international trips are getting the bargain treatment. You might have noticed headlines about $65 one-way transatlantic fares recently.

But what are travelers giving up when they opt for the lowest price? And are the overhead bins really off limits if you fly cheap?

On today’s episode of the Skift podcast, we’re talking about the true cost of cheap flights, why airlines are fighting to capture price-sensitive travelers, and what they’re charging for instead.

With us in the office is Brian Sumers, Skift’s airline business reporter, and joining us by Skype is editor-in-chief Jason Clampet. We’ve also got clips from interviews Brian and Jason did with British Airways CEO Alex Cruz, International Airlines Group CEO Willie Walsh, and Emirates Airline President Tim Clark.

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What Cruise Lines Are Doing to Win a New Generation of Cruisers

More than 24 million people took a cruise in 2016, but the cruise industry is always looking for more — specifically passengers who are taking a cruise for the first time.

This new-to-cruise market is a focus for cruise operators, especially those with entry-level prices and fleets stationed all over the United States. Also important: Cultivating millennial customers who will — ideally — keep coming back as they start families and vacation more.

On this episode of the Skift podcast, we’re hearing from leaders of the world’s two largest cruise lines on attracting newcomers to cruising, appealing to millennials, and thinking about the needs of Generation Z.

The episode features portions of separate conversations podcast host Hannah Sampson had with Christine Duffy, president of Carnival Cruise Line, and Michael Bayley, president and CEO of Royal Caribbean International.

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How New York City Tourism Changes the City

Here at Skift in Manhattan, the sound of hotel construction is our daily soundtrack.

The city has seen the number of visitors increase 67 percent since 2000 — it topped 60 million last year — and Manhattan alone added 121 hotels since 2010. Brooklyn added 42. Another 15,000 hotel rooms are expected over the next five years, according to travel research firm STR.

Like we did last year for a massive story on Iceland overtourism, we decided to take a look at New York City’s growth in visitors and hotels, the role that gentrification plays, the new ways that visitors are experiencing the city, and what kind of growth is sustainable. Read the New York City story here.

On this episode of the Skift podcast, we’re talking about how New York City tourism is changing — and how tourism is changing the city itself. Our guest is Andrew Sheivachman, the Skift reporter who wrote both the Iceland and New York City stories.

Along with Andrew, we’re hearing from some of his interviews with the people who are in the middle of New York City’s tourism scene, including Kathy Duffy, New York market director of public relations for Marriott InternationalChris Heywood, senior vice president of global communications at NYC & Company; Kristin Lamoureux, associate dean of the NYU School of Professional Studies Tisch Center for Hospitality and Tourism; Adele Gutman, vice president of sales, revenue, and marketing at the Library Hotel CollectionAndrew Mason, founder of Detour; and Nick Gray, founder of Museum Hack.

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The Evolution of Accessible Travel

The disability travel market is often viewed through the perspective of legal compliance but overlooked as a real opportunity for airlines, hotels, destinations, and other travel companies.

Statistics are scarce, but according to a study commissioned in 2015 by the Open Doors Organization, adults with disabilities in the U.S. spend $17.3 billion a year on leisure and business travel. Over the two years before the study, 26 million adults with disabilities took 73 million trips.

And the subject is getting more attention. New York State announced an accessible tourism initiative in mid-October, and later that month the Tisch Center for Hospitality and Tourism at New York University’s School of Professional Studies held a discussion about optimizing hotel and tourism experiences for guests with disabilities.

On this episode of the Skift podcast, we’re talking about the legal and technological changes that have made travel more accessible, the opportunities that the industry has been missing, and what ground is still left to cover.

Our guests are Peter Slatin, founder and president of Slatin Group, which provides education and training to help businesses — including many in travel — improve interactions with clients who have disabilities. His program Elements of Service: Serving Guests with Disabilities also recently went online through the American Hotel and Lodging Educational Institute.

Also with us via Skype is Brett Heising, CEO of, a travel and entertainment review site for users with physical disabilities or mobility impairment. Through a travel agency partnership, the site also provides bookings and trip coordination.

They join Skift podcast host Hannah Sampson and reporter Andrew Sheivachman.

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Megatrends Defining Travel in 2017

Here at Skift, we talk a lot about travel trends. But once a year, we go even bigger with our Megatrends package. That’s our wide-ranging forecast for the coming year in travel, which you can find online here.

You can also hear some highlights on today’s episode of the Skift podcast. We’re bringing listeners the audio from our annual Megatrends event, held in January at a WeWork space in Manhattan.

Skift founder and CEO Rafat Ali and co-founder and editor-in-chief Jason Clampet delved into nine of our 15 megatrends and touched on topics including how low-cost airlines are changing the transatlantic game; the festivalization of meetings and events; the return of humanity to travel; the rise of lean luxury; and tours and activities coming into their own.

Our Megatrends 2017 sponsors were MasterCard, UrLife, Smartling, Allianz, American Express, Four Seasons, and Hostelworld.

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How Where-to-Go Lists Get Made

You should really think about going to the South Bronx this year. Or Dubrovnik, Croatia. Don’t forget Egypt. And also Canada — all of it.

If those places sound familiar, you were probably reading travel stories in Bloomberg or The New York Times recently. Every year, these and other publications come up with lists of places to visit that get dissected and discussed at length — including at Skift.

On today’s episode of the Skift podcast, we’re talking about a very specific form of travel advice — the where-to-go-in-the-coming-year list — and what goes into making them.

Our guests today are Dan Saltzstein, a travel editor at The New York Times who organized the 52 Places to Go in 2017 project. And we also have Nikki Ekstein, travel editor at Bloomberg Pursuits, who oversaw Bloomberg’s Where to Go in 2017 list.

They joined Skift podcast host and editor Hannah Sampson and editor-in-chief Jason Clampet.

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How Travel Companies Can Win the Hearts of Supertravelers

Skift has been thinking a lot about supertravelers, those discerning frequent fliers who travel regularly for business or leisure and have strong points of view about the experience.

Research director Luke Bujarski led a team last year to put together a 10,000-word Supertraveler Manifesto packed with interviews, results from online surveys, insights from focus groups, and a list of maxims of the super traveler mindset. Those maxims include the need for authenticity and trust in travel advice sources; real rewards vs gimmicks; the right amount of tech and connectivity; and a human element among all that technology.

Supertravelers also had a voice at the Skift Global Forum last year during a discussion moderated by Bujarski.

On today’s episode of the Skift podcast, we’ve got that conversation for you. Our panelists were Alexandra Wood, chief operating officer at Wearable Experiments; Jalak Jobanputra, founder and managing partner of Future\Perfect Ventures; Colin Nagy, head of communications strategy at creative agency Fred & Farid, and Leonard Brody, an entrepreneur and venture capitalist.

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SXSW and Superfly Pros on Making Events Better

Conference organizers everywhere would probably like the secrets to hosting a buzzworthy event like South by Southwest or Bonnaroo.

Our guests Mike Shea and Rich Goodstone aren’t giving everything away, but they were willing to share some insight during the Skift Global Forum earlier this year.

Shea, chief logistics officer and partner at South by Southwest, and Goodstone, co-founder of Superfly, the production company behind Bonnaroo, spoke at the forum about using data for personalization, integrating technology and the effect of big events on a destination.

And they joined us backstage in the Skift Take Studio to talk about bringing fun to events that could be boring, the way attendee behavior is changing, and why selfies are getting in the way of experiences.

Shea and Goodstone spoke to editor and podcast host Hannah Sampson.

This mini-episode is one of several conversations we’re bringing you from backstage at the Skift Global Forum. The Skift Take Studio Series is presented by Mastercard, a payments technology company that is enabling loyalty, security and data solutions for the global travel industry.

Start listening to The Skift Podcast, today. Subscribe via iTunes, Google Play, or RSS.