Tuesday kicks off the annual Skift Global Forum at the TWA Hotel at New York’s JFK Airport, September 21 – 23. However, this year’s conference is a “hybrid” event, meaning participants can attend the forum either in-person or virtually. In-person tickets are $2,495, and online tickets are $345.
The travel industry has been transformed by the pandemic, and vacation rental industry leaders are anxious to hear directly from executives at OTAs, hotels, urban short-term rentals, and destinations about how they view both the significant changes to leisure travel and the increased demand for vacation home rentals. Key interviews on Skift’s stage include Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky, Booking Holdings CEO Glenn Fogel, Marriott International CEO Anthony Capuano, Google VP and Travel GM Richard Holden, Expedia Group CEO Peter Kern, Sonder CEO Francis Davidson, HomeAway cofounder and investor Carl Shepherd, Family Travel Association founder Ranier Jenss, and Visit Florida CEO Dana Young.
We caught up with Skift founder and CEO Rafat Ali to hear more about this week’s event, how he feels about getting his team back together at their NYC home base, what insights attendees are hoping to gain from the forum, and how hybrid formats are transforming B2B events.
“This is the first time the whole team will meet since March 2020 last year,” Ali said. “We haven’t used this muscle in more than two years now, and it will take some doing to shake off those rusty muscles, so to speak. So much of the happiness is just meeting our team again—and so many people we have hired in the last two years we haven’t ever met in person! Also NYC is back, for sure, so there’s a little bit of that thrill of being part of the revenge of the big city.”
On Tuesday, September 21, the event kicks off by introducing human mobility to the dialogue followed by a discussion about its implications between Ali and Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky. “Brian will be talking to me about a big picture conversation on future of human mobility, with all the changes happening on climate change, immigration, global talent shortage, changes in future of work and living, and other larger geopolitical issues.”
Ali will also be talking to Chesky about how he envisions building out Airbnb for the next decade. “It will be less granular on the current business and financials, also because they’re coming to a quiet period because of their earnings coming up,” Ali added. “He is planning to give an update on some booking and host trends they’re seeing, so do tune in for that, but it’ll be smaller part of the conversation.”
In light of the many changes facing the travel industry, we asked Rafat what he thinks attendees are hoping to discover through these discussions.
“I think one of the biggest things people and our editors are keen on understanding is the shape of recovery as we enter winter 2021 and the obvious slowdown with the Delta variant,” Ali responded. “Yet it’s a very hopeful time, as the demand over the last year has been incredible for domestic [travel] and has benefited sectors like yours [vacation rentals] and others.”
“The other things everybody’s trying to figure out are when international travel will open—particularly to the US—and what’s the shape of vaccine mandates for employees of travel companies as well as for customers/travelers. The last part is particularly applicable to the airline companies,” Ali added.
We also asked Ali about his decision to host a hybrid event and if this hybrid format will be the future of B2B events. “How can we not have a hybrid future for conferences going ahead?” he asked. “It would seem like a big loss if we only do physical [events] when, if anything the last 18 months has shown us, it is that technologies like Zoom allow us to open up to the world, both in terms of where we hire our teams as well as in terms of our audiences and other stakeholders on events. It is more complex than just running a physical [event] or just running a virtual event, because you’re almost running two conferences at the same time with two different audiences that at times are at cross purposes. We are going to learn a lot of lessons the hard way in the next few days.”