It’s easier than ever to go on a journey. Quite literally, journeys today start when people pull their phones out of their pockets. Travel to a city nearby by train or in a stranger’s car? Find a deal for a weekend trip? Learn what people think about a destination? By now it doesn’t feel like “there’s an app for that”, but “there’s been apps for that around forever.”
"There is a simple reason why travel was easy to disrupt early on: people love to talk about it."
As a result, today’s travel marketplace is highly-fragmented with powerful disruptors and intermediaries like Airbnb or Uber that connect assets with users and serve as the middleman in transactions. Beyond the fact that it’s a massive industry — the global economic contribution of the travel and tourism industry is estimated to be over $7.5 trillion dollars — there is a simple reason why travel was easy to disrupt early on: people love to talk about it.
A hotel has an average of 238 reviews. People enjoy sharing stories, photos, or videos about their latest trip. Beyond that, they enjoy endorsing what worked well for them with their family, friends, and a digital community of like-minded travelers. This makes it easy for innovative products and solutions to quickly gain traction and win a large user base.
And, perhaps most importantly, travel is highly personal — it fulfills aspirations to live more freely. When we strolled through downtown Dusseldorf, we interviewed passersby about what travel means to them. “Breaking away from everyday life” and “freedom” were the two answers we heard most often.
It’s interesting to look at some of the fastest-growing travel disruptors through these lenses. Airbnb offers users on both sides of its marketplace a chance to break away. Travelers can live in somebody else’s apartment and explore new surroundings, while hosts have a chance to meet new people and shake up their routines. The approach has been quite convincing for many customers. Within just seven years, Airbnb became a global player with a valuation of around $25 billion, more than the Hilton Group has worldwide.
On a similar note, Uber drivers become entrepreneurs and passengers gain mobility through new travel options. Services like Trivago, Hotel Tonight, and Holiday Guru offer an easy way to book last-minute deals directly from a smartphone and put people in a position of spontaneous decision-making, the chance to break away on short notice.
The main thing that digital has brought to travel is increased accessibility. Travelers get access to formerly private or semi-private spaces—staying as guests in other people’s homes or driving around in the back of their cars—either by literally making a new asset class like “a bed in a home” or “a seat in a car” bookable, or by linking metadata to places to make access more meaningful. This newly-emerging, fragmented digital travel ecosystem provides the user with almost infinite access to the world. And inevitably, we start to search for what is truly special in this digitally-enabled world of infinite access—we begin to look for authentic experiences.