Don’t Let Your Travel Brand Get Lost in the Sea of Sameness.

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness” – Mark Twain

It was this quote that greeted me, along with 6,000 other travel professionals from all over the world, in Denver, CO last week for IPW, the travel industry’s premier international marketplace and largest generator of travel to the U.S.

In the world we live in today, travel is the ultimate human connector. There is no denying that the relationships we build, the homes and lives we peek into, the unique tastes we savor, the experiences we covet, and simply exploring a world outside of our own leave invaluable imprints within each of us, imprints that become a tapestry that only gets richer with each new adventure we take.

First, the good news. Despite the economic and political climate, and the stolen sense of safety and security around the world, people continue to travel – they visit new places, move to new countries and conduct business in an expanding global economy. Travel is one of the fastest growing economic sectors accounting for 10.2 percent of the global GDP and as consumer expenditure shifts from products to experiences, travel is far outpacing the demand for goods. Yes! And the intersection of travel and economic development is stronger than ever as travel is not only a driver for economic development for many destinations, but the visiting dollars have a ripple effect across job creation and broader destination visibility.

This, beyond all else, is why I’m most excited to be leading the Travel & Economic Development sector at Ketchum. As travel brands and economic development organizations build stronger emotional connections with their customers, they add more of those invaluable imprints within every one of us and help further connect the world. And as communicators, it’s our calling to help our clients create, build and maintain those connections.

The biggest challenge for the travel industry, as it is with nearly all others, is technological disruption. Today, technology is literally disrupting every single step of a traveler’s journey. Consumers are leading their own way, from online housing marketplaces and inspiration gathering through word-of-mouth, to pre- and post-trip feedback sharing. Yet, even with the traveler now liberated from conventional means, the demand is higher than ever for personalized, unique experiences from brands – with an even greater emphasis on creating emotional connections that last a lifetime. Travel brands need to both adapt to the technological evolution while delivering on the made-to-order personal connections travelers crave. Feels like a bit of a conundrum, right?

In this age of digital empowerment, constant connectivity, on-demand everything, and peer-to-peer reviews weighing much more heavily on our purchasing decisions than advice from brands, engagement with travelers throughout the journey is more important than ever. Curating, sharing and distributing content that tells a story about your brand in a way that will capture not simply their attention but their hearts is a must. Figuring out ways to create ambassadors out of every traveler is critical. Bringing your key differentiators to life beyond a list of offerings will help you break out of that sea of sameness. But of course, all this is much easier said than done.

At IPW, many of us walked tens of thousands of square feet within the Colorado Convention Center to learn more about the breadth of incredible destinations within the U.S. At last count, over 100,000 business meetings were conducted, which will result in $4.7 billion in future international travel to the U.S. While there, I couldn’t help but think about how closely the convention center floor mimicked what everyday consumers experience as they begin to think about their vacations: an endless list of unlimited choices. That overabundance was overwhelming, and made them all feel too similar. Let’s not forget, this was only U.S. destinations – add to that the hundreds of destinations across the world (say, two or three more convention centers full) and you quickly realize why getting to travelers’ hearts and building strong connections is now table stakes for any brand or destination.

Don’t let your travel brand get lost in the inevitable sea of sameness. We must each think much harder about what we can uniquely deliver and bring to life in a way that gets to the core of what travelers crave – and tell those stories in ways that continue to inspire.

As Mark Twain also once said, “You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.”

Any questions, connect with me!