Interview: Using Consumer Behavior To Build A Travel Media Brand
Skift founder and CEO Rafat Ali discusses how his media company delivers insights across the travel industry by starting with the empowered consumer
In today’s increasingly global and consumer-driven travel market, brands like Skift are focusing on identifying all aspects of a traveler’s experience and linking these touchpoints to better understand how people behave and consume within the domain of travel.
Ahead of his appearance at PSFK’s CXI 2018 conference on May 18, Skift founder and CEO Rafat Ali spoke to PSFK founder and editor-in-chief Piers Fawkes about how his intelligence platform provides media, insights and marketing on key sectors of travel, offering new perspectives on today’s travelers, their needs and how best to meet them.
Piers Fawkes: You have been a pioneer in the media space over the last few years, exploring new ways to connect audiences with content and insights. Can you tell us about what you’re doing at Skift and your approach to a media business?
Rafat Ali: Our approach—and my approach to my life in general, which is reflected in the companies that I have created—is going deep into a subject and exploring it as much as possible. I’m a deep-impact entrepreneur, which is reflected in the companies that I’ve created and in business media. We go very deep into a sector that has a lot of divisions in it that then we cut across by connecting the dots.
For instance, when I started the first company back in 2002, in media it wasn’t very apparent why the three accepted industries—media, entertainment, information—should be looking at each other. Fifteen years later, it’s blindingly obvious. Consumers took control.
The word “content” and the form factor content became the common thread across all of those businesses. In travel it’s a parallel type of philosophy: Historically, the hotel was separate from airlines, separate from destinations and separate from a lot of trades covering different parts of the travel ecosystem. We came along and went deep into the overall sector of travel, connecting the dots across airlines, online travel, hospitality, destinations, cruises, etc., with the traveler experience linking all those aspects. The traveler has obviously taken over control—this is true for pretty much every sector. Consumers are in control as a result of digital tools.
The travel sector must have been served already by a lot of B2B and B2C publications, yet somehow there needed to be a different framing of the conversation or the sharing of insights.
We’re fanatically focused on changing consumer behavior and how that affects the business of travel. We focus on consumer behavior in the larger sense—not just how people travel, but also how they use their mobile and other digital devices, how they buy, how they live, and what that means for the business of travel. What that has allowed us to do is connect these seemingly separate silos in the travel industry.
Our starting point is the consumer, the common thread across any of these sectors. The same human is using airlines, using hotels and going to a destination. We’ve been able to cut across these silos and cover them, very much similar to paid content where it’s the same human being, you or me, that’s consuming media, that’s consuming entertainment, that’s consuming professional information. If they’re consuming one thing, they’re doing it at the cost of another.
How do you think the space is evolving? What’s exciting you in terms of how you serve your audience?
The exciting thing for us now is expansion in all senses of that word. The great part about travel is it’s a global industry. There are a lot of similar companies in the space that are global companies. We’re beginning to look at Latin America very closely. Southeast Asia is very exciting to us as a travel region. Geographical expansion and then going deeper into various parts of the travel industry beyond some of the more consumer-fitting parts of it like corporate or business travel is our current focus.
It’s a technical and complex sector of travel. We’re also moving beyond travel into restaurants, and we want our expansion to be organic. We’re not just going to start or buy something because it’s available. The business of dining was such a natural adjacency to travel. We’re never going to be in the business of education. It just doesn’t make sense for us. Everything we try to do as we expand has to be organic. It has to be one concentric circle outside of what we’re doing today. That keeps the focus of the small company where efficiency means everything.
Lead Image: Skift
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