I was a first-timer at SXSWi (referred to simply as “South By” by veteran attendees) as were almost half (46%) of my fellow attendees. And although I work for a travel technology company, I am by no means a hard core techie or developer so I wasn’t sure what to expect. So I packed my digital arsenal – smartphone, laptop, 2-day old mini iPad – and most comfortable shoes and made the trek to Texas for five-days of intense immersion into this interactive community.
SXSWi proved not to be a just another conference, but rather an “experience” – enlightening, informative, and wonderfully exhausting. You never know who you were going to meet and where any conversation would take you. People came to connect with each other and they did.
So what were some of the hot topics at this year’s SXSWi? It ran the spectrum from 3-D printers and gesture-controlled computing to social marketing and visual storytelling to interstellar space travel and (not least) Internet sensation, Grumpy Cat.
My goal for attending was two-fold. Working in travel technology, I wanted to see what developments might apply to the travel industry. And as a professional communicator and marketer, I was interested in the new ways people are connecting, engaging, selling and buying. And SXSWi didn’t disappoint.
The travel industry and the topic of travel were well represented at the conference.
American Airlines, a major conference sponsor, partnered with AT&T for its first-ever SXSWi hackathon event, opening up its technology to 60 developers who had 30 hours to create a travel app. The AirPing developer team took home the $10,000 top prize. Travel startups were represented in the SXSW Interactive Accelerator program, with the “Most Innovative Technology” award going to Wanderu, a travel search site specifically for bus and train travel between cities. Car-riding and sharing services from car2go, Uber and SideCar invited SXSWi attendees to take them for a spin. I also met travel industry colleagues from JetBlue, Palace Resorts, Airbnb, Starwood Hotels & Resorts, Wcities, TravelScoopr, and Tnooz.com and participated in a Travel Bloggers meetup. That’s just to name a few among the hundreds of presentations, speaker, meetups, events and activities at SXSWi.
And although there are many more, here are four things I took away from SXSW that the travel industry shouldn’t miss:
Innovation loves travel
Travel is fun and inspiring and therefore it will always be an interesting and attractive area for entrepreneurs and startups. So new ideas and innovation will continue to come into our industry. That also means more business options, offerings and competition. We need to stay on top of the game to assure we are delivery to products and services that the travel marketplace and travelers will need and want.
Attention all marketers
It’s the traditional marketing principle of getting the right offer to the right person at the right time in the right way but with a new digital twist. Interactive marketing and promotion was a strong focus at the conference in many forms such as visual storytelling, brand journalism, social sound, lead-generating social video, social marketing analytics and loyalty apps. Travel marketers need to be taking full advantage of the new tools and options available to attract, inspire and engage with current and prospective customers.
Big Data goodness
Big Data is the buzz these days. That’s because there are now incredible amounts of data, analytics and business intelligence flowing through and available via digital, social and other channels. The travel industry should be examining how and where they can harness, analyze and apply all this data to offer more relevant, hyper-personalized travel offerings and user experiences.
Forget the launch; it’s about the evolution
This SXSWi didn’t boast major social media launches, like in past years with Foursquare and Twitter. But there were many new offerings and businesses focusing on the continued evolution and expansion of existing social channels. Current social technologies and channels are extended, evolved, expanded and combined to create new offerings and business opportunities. For example, new cameras designed specifically for social posting. Or social video combined with sophisticated lead generation and business analytics for YouTube and Twitter. The travel industry should understand and leverage this ongoing evolution to engage and bring new value and options to their customers and their business.