We are back to San Francisco after our first Phocuswright 2017 and feel collectively energized about who we met and what we learned throughout the week! The passion within the travel industry is truly special. It’s easy to understand why we all gravitate to careers creating memorable experiences for others to enjoy.

When Layer launched over 4 years ago after winning TechCrunch Disrupt (yes, Silicon Valley fans, that big check is real), we initially focused on the retail space. It made sense for two reasons.

First, Amazon was eating everyone’s lunch and we saw a business opportunity. Second, the retail space still shapes how we consume all things—whether it’s buying pants, plane tickets, or hotel rooms. If we could validate customer conversations in this space, there would be a good chance it would work broadly.

Back in April, my CEO asked me to focus my attention on building our travel business by applying it to hospitality. Our hypothesis was simple: customer conversations will drive commerce in the travel industry. And after closing a deal with an amazing partner like Almundo, we are already seeing the amazing Layer use cases that will shape the future of travel.

There were a lot of talented people on the Phocuswright stage throughout the week, but John Kim, President of Homeaway, was especially memorable for his storytelling and interesting trends in travel.

Did you know that just 10 years ago, a phone call was the top reason using a smartphone, and it’s now #11? Now, we’ll do anything from texting to shopping and taking pictures before we ever make a call. Our travel industry must match the mobile experience to the trip experience.

There’s so much I could talk about from Phocuswright 2017—from the excitement of having our CTO, Blake Watters, to all the valuable meetings we had throughout the week. Here are some of my main reflections from a great conference.

3 Big Ideas for the Future of Travel

Looking back at the conference, there were three main themes that ran through all the meetings I had with travel leaders.

Whether I was talking to true innovators like Kiwi.com, OYO Rooms and Mezi or massive brands like AMEX Global Travel and Hilton, these were the topics that I found myself discussing:

1. The Data Misunderstanding

Travel industry leaders are embracing the Facebook Messengers, WeChats, and WhatsApps of the world to reach customers. These messaging apps may offer convenient access to travelers, but with a catch that must be considered. What happens to all your data?

When these third parties are conduits between you and your customers, you risk losing valuable data to competitors within your industry. Our goal at Phocuswright was to show the travel industry that it doesn’t have to choose between convenient access to customers and data ownership.

With Layer, it’s all about your brand, your experience, and your data. You can create a more personalized traveler experience, gain a deeper understanding of your customers, and keep all the data to yourself.

2. Deeper Customer Relationships Are Everything

There was a time when I had to explain the value of more personal customer conversations in the travel industry. But now, there’s a near-universal understanding that the brands developing deeper relationships through customer conversations will win.

The “why” is understood. Moving forward, it’s all about the “how.”

Engaging in the perfect customer conversation means meeting customers where they are. It’s not about choosing the latest and greatest communication channel like messaging and abandoning all other channels. You have to be ready to have a conversation whether it’s via voice calls, SMS, email, messaging, mobile, desktop, or an in-person visit—all without losing the context of your relationship.

Layer specializes in bringing all these communication channels into one cohesive lifetime customer conversation. That’s how the magic of deep, personalized customer relationships will come to life in the travel industry.

3. This Is More than a Technical Integration

After Blake gave his Layer pitch during the Launch event, one judge made a comment that stood out to our team. He said, “The people in this room who don’t understand that messaging and conversations should be embedded in experiences are the same people who didn’t understand the influence of the internet on our industry 10 years ago.”

Your Brand, Your Experience, Your Data: Thoughts from Phocuswright 2017

Blake’s message was clear. But there was still one concern after the pitch.

In some cases, judges were curious to know how Layer can integrate with existing legacy technology. Layer has a dedicated customer success team that shapes our platform around just about any pre-existing legacy technology to make integrations go smoothly.

However, customers like Almundo know that it’s really about integration at the business level. When you think about customer conversations, you have to think bigger than technical integration. It’s about fundamentally changing the way you reach travelers. And, more importantly, changing how they reach you.

In the end, our experience at Phocuswright was an excellent one. If we weren’t able to meet with you during the event, we’d love to talk to you about transforming customer conversations for the future of travel. Reach out today to see how we can help!