How Design is Shaping Travel Experiences – PRINT Magazine

As the days get longer and temperatures rise, our minds naturally turn to our summer adventures. The prospect of an open summer is tantalizing but requires more attention than ever before. Travel has changed, from the challenges and restrictions brought on by the pandemic to our changing mindset towards more sustainable ways to escape.

In the evolving travel market, brand equity – which is the value of the brand in the eyes of consumers – and design have a huge influence. Factors such as reputation, trustworthiness and quality of experience/customer focus are becoming more important when choosing a travel partner.

Many airlines have unveiled new brands that reflect a broader shift towards catering to diverse travellers’ preferences, e.g Mucho rebranded by Aeroméxico To celebrate 90 years and redefine itself as a symbol of Mexican excellence. However, as Rushita Thomas recently wrote Air IndiaSome brands stumble in capturing the cultural nuances needed for authenticity and resonance. In a competitive industry, maintaining brand value requires more than just a fresh coat of paint. Airlines must prioritize safety, reliability and customer satisfaction to enhance confidence and withstand market pressures. Travelers today have more control and awareness than ever before. You see this happening in emerging market innovations Boeing’s notorious challengesAs evidenced by the ability to filter aircraft models on booking platforms such as Kayak And Expedia.

The emerging travel industry novel seeks to answer the plane problem and consumer concerns in these strange and uncertain times. Companies like Airbnb push boundaries and blur the lines between fantasy and reality. Airbnb’ icons,” recently highlighted by Charlotte Beach, exemplifies this shift toward highly curated, immersive and memorable experiences.

How Design is Shaping Travel Experiences – PRINT Magazine
Courtesy of Airbnb

With all the recent turmoil in the travel industry, I was excited to chat with him Doug Powell, former Vice President of Design Practice Management at Expedia. Powell is an executive design leader, consultant, lecturer, and global thought leader on design issues. We discussed the future of travel and how design and design thinking are helping to shape it.

Our conversation is below (edited for length and clarity).

How Design is Shaping Travel Experiences – PRINT Magazine

Amelia Nash: Can you share with us your most recent role with Expedia and how you thought about building appreciation, trust and positive experiences for travellers?

Expedia is a very complex company in that it has grown through acquisition. It’s become a collection of about 20 different companies, some of which you know well: Hotels.com, Vrbo, Expedia itself, Cars.com, and other fillintheblank.com sites. Expedia has become a wild collection of brands, so the company’s goal was to create a shared experience. It’s a unique company in that it has the opportunity to own a traveler’s entire journey, from booking your flight to booking your rental car to booking a hotel or short-term Vrbo rental to booking museum tickets — and connecting it all together. As a brand, it needed to unify and communicate that its three main brands, Expedia, hotels.com and Vrbo, were connected to each other and provided a seamless experience.

It’s interesting to look under the hood at the user experience of their brand’s apps, which are now built on the same design system and UI – again, trying to create a common experience across all platforms.

This is especially true when people visit different sites for different reasons. Booking through Hotels.com versus Vrbo is a choice for the customer, but in the end, they want their user experience to be seamless.

It must be invisible to the user. It doesn’t matter to the traveler if it’s Hotels.com or Vrbo. They want to book a short-term rental room or hotel. As designers, we need to think systematically and capture themes.

Expedia is investing heavily, not surprisingly, in AI as an engine for creating travel experiences, to first visualize and then book the travel experience. For example, they display this flow that begins with “I don’t know where I want to go; I don’t know where I want to go; I don’t know where I want to go; I don’t know where I want to go.” I just want to go to the beach.” And that’s the entry. Expedia says, OK, here are the flight options, here are the car rental options, here are the hotel options, and here is the beach you’re going to.

Here’s the scary thing: They’re mining your Instagram feed, your likes and favorites, and your photo library in the background. So when you say you want to go to the beach, they don’t even have to ask you what kind of beach it is. They already know because you liked your friend’s photos on Instagram, or your friend at the beach. They know exactly where Amelia wants to go. This is the gross and geeky part.

This is wild. I appreciate the “choose your own adventure” approach to travel, especially with the state of airlines and air travel, particularly Boeing. I have friends who aren’t sure they want to get on a plane and travel right now. How can design and technology help travel companies adapt to these changes and larger cultural preferences?

This is a very extreme example of some people’s experiences, but it’s interesting that “choose your own adventure” can serve as a countermeasure. Where sites like Expedia can recognize, “Oh, you don’t want to take a plane? That’s cool. Let me suggest Vrbo. Let me suggest a road trip. Let me suggest something a little more local.”

In your view, some people are reluctant to travel by plane, others are interested in accessible travel, and many are aware of the environmental impact of travel. An increasing number of people are becoming more aware of their travel habits and choices and their impact on the planet. Working from home is another aspect. This is a permanent trend coming out of the pandemic. People take longer trips, base themselves in a place for several weeks or a couple of months, and work from there. Vrbo and Airbnb are now marketing the opportunity in the UI to select an extended stay.

How Design is Shaping Travel Experiences – PRINT Magazine

How can design and branding strategies be leveraged to meet these sustainable and experiential preferences and differentiate travel companies in a crowded market? Do you have any successful branding initiatives that come to mind?

A prime example is Airbnb Experiences. Airbnb is a design-driven company, and they found that Airbnb hosts started offering excursions or city tours as a side benefit of staying at their place. To their credit, Airbnb has created an entire product, a service offering that is almost a standalone business, and has become very popular and profitable.

Airbnb just did that and brought it to market. Expedia completely missed it. Because at the top, Expedia is not a design-driven company. They are not in tune with their customers and users in the same way that Airbnb is. Expedia didn’t care about the signals and is now going after Airbnb.

Designers care about customers, patients, shoppers, or anyone we design for. By doing this, we stay connected to our customers as people.

As the travel industry continues to evolve, what is the role of design in adapting to the changing needs and expectations of travellers? Beyond the great example of Airbnb, what other innovative design strategies have successfully addressed emerging trends or challenges in travel?

The other reason is the influence of social media influencers on travel. The Instagram influencer with 1 million followers who travels and recommends places is now recommending a complete itinerary. Expedia had a vision that followers would book a trip through an influencer, and they were trying to create a backend function that influencers could leverage. So, Sally Jones, whose specialty is travel in Latin America, could be sponsored by Expedia. On trips Sally recommends, you can click on that trip and go directly to Expedia to book the exact trip she took.

But you must have credibility with these influencers. Expedia was a laggard because an Instagram influencer with 1 million followers may be from a different demographic than an Expedia user. Their personal brand is at stake when they recommend booking with Expedia. If a follower books and has a bad experience on Expedia.com, it becomes a liability. But the bigger idea is exciting.

How can design, marketing, and branding bridge this gap if typical users don’t necessarily align with the influencer?

It requires an investment from the company, and the company must make design a priority in solving these early stages of strategizing the idea. Because design and designers are connected to the client in ways that no one else in the business is.

This is our [designer’s] specialty. And through that connection and understanding of the customer, we then have the ability – our superpower really – to take that understanding and create something great out of it – an experience, a brand, a campaign, a space…

This is what we do.

Companies that miss this, that don’t understand, are often one step behind. That’s why Airbnb is unique. They get it, and they’ve got it from day one. The first two people in the company, Brian and Joe, are designers. They didn’t have to hire a head of design to fight battles with design in mind; It’s part of their DNA.

This isn’t to say that Airbnb is perfect, but it tends to be very in tune with its customers, all of its customers, and the complex ecosystem of customers.

Given the influence of the internet and social media on decision-making, how can travel brands leverage design to create memorable and shareable experiences? How important is it to maintain a consistent visual identity across channels?

You’re discovering a bigger question about how brands emerge in this multi-channel world. For some brands, not everything needs to be visually consistent. However, something must carry the brand story or voice throughout.

When you give access to your brand to people who aren’t officially associated with it, like social media influencers, you can’t control it.

So, what do you do as a brand? A generation ago, the answer was that we couldn’t let people go out into the world to be agents of our brand. That would be a shit show! But we are in a different time now.

Collaborations and user-generated expressions of brands are here now, and many of them are great. People take a brand, make it their own, and then put it back out into the world – they create their own signs, ink embellishments, t-shirts…

How Design is Shaping Travel Experiences – PRINT Magazine

What do you think about artificial intelligence, the metaverse, and products like the Apple Vision Pro? Given the friction in travel and people increasingly thinking about travel options, is there an opportunity for travel brands to jump on the bandwagon?

We are still very early in the use of this technology, and are still a long way from being accessible and affordable.

It’s not a high prevalence right now. But certainly, when you think about, from a marketing standpoint, the ability to experience places you’ve never been before.

If you’re interested in going to Cancun but have never done so before, technology can give you an experience of what things are like there. It would be great to have a virtual preview. If done well, this specific technique will start to stick.

It’s like those 360 ​​degree home tours. You can tour the house before you visit it.

But hopefully it’s more than just looking and moving the cursor this way or that.

One of my favorite Disneyland rides as a kid was California Soaring Adventure because you would soar across the California beach in your hang glider. They took into account all the senses: the wind, the ocean spray, the citrus scent of the orange grove. Can we have these kinds of immersive virtual vacations?

What you’re describing is interesting because it’s not like replicating a vacation. It takes you somewhere you can go, but can’t go the same way. Think deep underwater exploration, space travel, or something like mountain climbing.

For experiments that would be difficult for most of us to do, this may be another way to expand the possibilities.

How Design is Shaping Travel Experiences – PRINT Magazine

Do you feel that travel is at risk in the future with the onslaught of artificial intelligence and immersive virtual vacations? Will people ultimately choose that instead of going to a physical location?

Not in the foreseeable future. It’s down the line, for sure.

Traveling is a wonderful space. Everyone is a traveler, everyone on this planet is a traveler, and everyone has an interest in traveling in different ways. For some people, traveling might be like going to the family cabin for the weekend, two hours away. Traveling could be by going to Patagonia and doing a three-week trip. It could be a business trip, a family trip to Disneyland, or all of these things, but everyone travels in some way globally.

Image courtesy of the author.

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