Five minutes with Skift president Carolyn Kremins

Carolyn Kremins has dedicated much of her life to luxury travel and now brings her expertise to Skift – the  largest travel business information and marketing platform. The accomplished media operator met with Claire Hill to reveal current travel trends and the path to personalisation.

carolyn-kreminsBorn in New York, Kremins has led the likes of Condé Nast Traveler and visited all seven continents -impressive achievements for the avid traveller. We met for coffee in the Burj Al Arab Jumeirah and Kremins was delighted to be back in town. “I’ve been to India three times and have never seen the Taj Mahal and the UAE three times and had never seen the souks or old Dubai.” So when the opportunity came up to visit again, Kremins jumped at the chance to combine a spot of business with pleasure.

“I thought it would be wonderful to bring both my girls and husband. They have been very fortunate to see many places around the world but haven’t been to the Middle East. This trip was a great opportunity for them to see a part of the world they don’t know much about and explore the authentic experiences on offer.”

As the first President of Skift – the world’s largest industry intelligence platform which deciphers travel information and defines the trends we see – Kremins is now tasked with increasing the company’s footprint and excitedly revealed plans are in place to launch Skift in London, and within 12-24 months, she hopes Skift’s footprint will expand into the UAE as well as into Asia.

So as an expert in travel trends – what’s emerging right now?

“I’d say the overarching trend, first and foremost, isn’t brand new but it’s the whole notion of experiential travel. Millennials and Gen Z, who are coming up as our next group of travellers. They value travel and culture, and it’s very important for hoteliers to recognise they are sitting on an incredible opportunity to create memorable experiences for them.

“The second is certainly culinary tourism – 95% of people travel and choose a destination with food leading the choice. Food is an entry point into different cultures; it really gets to the soul of a destination and provides a multi-sensory experience. ‘Fast casual’ and ‘barefoot luxury’ are also up and coming trends. “In terms of luxury travel, people want to get dressed up and enjoy the finer things, but also want to do it in a way that they can fully relax. Fast casualization of food is certainly emerging.”

As an expert in all things travel, I was keen to know what Carolyn thought Dubai does well.

“I’ve been in some beautiful hotels, I have to say service [here] has been incredible, as well as the architecture. We took the abra boats going back and forth [at Madinat Jumeirah] and I was so impressed with how knowledgeable the drivers were. They were very, very well trained in terms of understanding the area knew the answers to and any questions we asked. I was really, really impressed. I come from New York and appreciate the architecture there. It’s incredible to be in a magical building like this [the Burj Al Arab Jumeirah]. It’s a piece of art. I was last in Dubai for the opening of a hotel whose design was inspired by palm trees. The skyline changes so quickly – it’s a sight to behold.”

Luxury travel has changed over the years – what are people looking for now?

“There’s a certain expectation when you walk into a five star hotel, you expect the beautiful fresh flowers, but travel today is really about personalisation. It’s about giving the traveller as many options as possible to customize their own experience. It’s not about putting the most elaborate orchid in my room — in a way people expect that — it’s more personalised service, that’s what luxury is. When you stay in a room and the housekeeping team notices which side of the bed you’re sleeping on and move the water and glass to that side, that’s what defines luxury and Jumeirah does this very well. We ate at The Hide restaurant and they presented a cake for my daughter’s birthday although we hadn’t informed anyone we were celebrating!” Then, It’s the storytelling that needs to be told to guests and you’re starting to see that. It’s really a great opportunity for brands – these stories are really powerful, that creates memories and creates loyalty. The rise of social media for storytelling around experiential travel goes hand in hand.

“The biggest thing luxury hotels should concentrate on, which we’re starting to see but needs to happen in a more accelerated way, is bringing local into play. Guests don’t want to be fenced in to just their beautiful surroundings, they want to understand the soul of the destination they’re in. I think Madinat Jumeirah did a really good job [in creating the souk] and bringing the waterways in. I would say partnering with local activities, cultural events and bringing that into the fabric of the hotel is something that luxury hotels should start doing more often.

“Experiential travel is becoming one of the core reasons people travel. You’re always going to have the American traveller who goes to the same hotel in the Caribbean each year. But seeing the world is a really big part of continued education, especially with the next generation and the ‘millennial traveller.’ There is definitely a ‘cool factor’ especially with social media, of broadcasting ‘look at me, I’m here,’ and that social clout is only going to continue to grow.”

“I feel very safe in Dubai. I think a lot of people don’t really know what to expect. It’s such a modern and diverse city, it just offers so much opportunity for a traveller, I think the juxtaposition of being in the desert, in a city and by the sea makes it very unique. It presents a fantastic opportunity to appeal to those travellers who are looking to get away from the typical travel to Europe and open up their eyes to this region.”

So what could Dubai do differently?

“I think there’s something missing that everyone could be doing. I speak from the vantage point of a passionate traveller. My kids are seeing the world in a very different way. There’s nothing I want more than for my two girls to sit down with local teenagers over coffee or lunch and talk about what their life is like, to have a really open conversation. This would open my children’s eyes to find out what it’s like living on the other side of the world. I think this is critically important and whoever nails that will have a great story to tell on behalf of their brand. The more a hotelier can facilitate and bring this interaction into the hotel, the better position they can be in as this whole notion of experiential travel continues to rise.”

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