Keeping social media from steeling your vacation

Unhashtag your vacation

I noticed a bold ad campaign at 14th St. for a city not a lot of people talk about. It’s a city I’ve been to, the home of Mozart, with airy music chambers graced by string quartets and delicious chocolate deserts. Things that are engage the senses beyond sight. Their ad campaign slogan is “unhashtag your vacation”. Their campaign images use a hashtag like a strike-through. They suggest to the viewers that they should engage with experiences personally rather than positioning them for personal branding on social media.

These ads are a bold statement – speaking to America, the birthplace of Mad Men, in our own language – marketing. Because social media has literally become dangerous.

Death by selfie

The viral photo of the queue of mountaineers waiting to take their selfies at the summit of Mt. Everest, and also struggling for oxygen, has shocked the world into a moment of reflection.

Eleven deaths resulted from the excess of wealthy adventurers. Have vacations been reduced to photo ops for bragging rights?

In the same moment, Vienna is challenging us to think about the purpose of vacations and the role of photography – big questions in a world with a growing middle-class and a camera on every personal device. To answer these big questions, it’s worth walking back to the land before digital photography and the world before social media, which I grew up in.

My journey from photography to social media

My first experiences traveling were on middle school trips. My parents let me borrow their film-based camera, and I took as many as 3 roles of film for a 3 day trip to places like Salem, Massachusetts and Washington, DC. With film, you never knew how a photo would come out until it was processed, so I erred on the side of volume. I assumed everything was interesting, worth capturing and documenting, from store fronts to tourist attractions to friends. Eventually I realized that my documentary style photography was a little extreme, and only ~10% of the photos had strong visual interest – I wasn’t even looking at most of the photos! In high school, I had fewer field trips and was more selective about what I photographed. My photography became anthropocentric, capturing natural moments that I valued and events that were firsts or celebratory. I made my favorite photos into little gifts, which friends loved. They were personal moments made special, for private consumption.

When digital photography arose in my college years, I had opportunities to travel again and work in other countries in the summers. My first digital camera was quickly stolen, and when I finally acquired a new one, I was more sparse and selective about what I photographed. Only the most beautiful sites that I would not want to forget. The misted mountains of Machu Picchu. The colorful sands of the Atacama Desert. Enchanting sights that I had never imagined existed, let alone having the chance to visit.

As I was starting to travel, social media was on the rise. This meant, for the first time, large scale external feedback, for better or for worse. I joined the fray of “look how awesome a time I’m having” posts for a while, but found myself naturally limiting my Facebook consumption to one hour a week. Yet I found that hour to be mostly an unhappy one. I told myself I was keeping up with friends, but increasingly just felt left out of all the fun people were having without me. But business school amplified my use and, thus, the detrimental effects of social media, which have now become well documented.

I now sit in the in-between. Sometimes I feel like I should participate in social media because my peers do, yet it doesn’t fully make sense to me. I see lots of photos of food with hundreds of likes, yet when I take similar photos they feel uncompelling, and I never post them. It feels strange, creating content that has become part of our typical virtual communication, but it feeling entirely forced and artificial. Increasingly, I try to eat my chocolate cake without photographing it, too.

Vacation for vacation’s sake

It goes without saying, vacations are more than just selfie opportunities. They are about your being present in a refreshing setting, not about the social media story you tell about it. I used to take a ton of photos and go through roles of film. Then I realized I was neither stopping to look at the photos nor stopping to really soak in the sites I was visiting. Vacations should not be about the external feedback that social media provides. What is most important is the internal moments of reflection, observation, and appreciation that they offer. And the same is true of our weekends, our moments with family and close friends, and every joie de vivre.

AI enabled travel is here: 5 ways travel just got easier

All segments of the leisure industry seem to be having the same idea simultaneously – how can they make your travel experience more seamless. We all want to get the most out of each day, and to minimize the decision fatigue that degrades our experiences. Five companies stand out in their moves to integrate technology into a traveler’s day-to-day.

1. Before you go – KLM has your back with its voice-driven packing assistant

Just let service bot BB know where you’re going and when you’re leaving, and she will walk you through packing, piece by piece, equipped with silly pre-programed jokes to let you know bot makers have a sense of humor, too. Enabled by Google Home.

2. When you arrive – voice-driven concierge service in beta testing at Best Western

Best Western is testing out Amazon Dot for customers and staff, to quickly customize in-room experiences, from wake-up calls to room service requests.

3. For work trips – work from the shower

For those on a work trip or who are looking to create on the go, Marriott is beta testing a technology to whiteboard in the shower.

4. Also for work trips – work in a co-working space

Airbnb is offering WeWork day passes to guests.

5. For play trips – wearables making cruise navigation easy

Carnival Cruise has created the Ocean Medallion to provide customized experiences and recommendations based on your profile and location on the cruise ship.

All of these initiatives, striving to make the customer experience frictionless, both expand the customer experience, and more easily open customer wallets to ancillary offerings. I count this as a win-win.


Adventures in re-branding: Hotel execs get wrong what Airbnb gets right

Hotel execs must be reading my blog; I think they loved the re-branding of the solar system so much, that they’ve decided to keep doing what they are doing, but re-brand it as giving a “feeling of home comfort”. Now at hotels like The Standard, the concierge is labeled the “personal concierge”. You can have laundry access, just like a home – but limited to two items per day. Some tasty snacks will be ready in your room – all for the already rolled in $100 surcharge. And at a week or longer, you can get up to 40% off of your rooms (already a common practice among hotels).

These hotels marketing a homey experience are doing nothing different to what they’ve always done; the ingredients to their conception of a “home stay” are not so earth shattering as is their marketing. And this is also where they reveal a fundamental misunderstanding of their unique selling point.

What differentiates hotels from coach surfing and home sitting is the guarantee of comfort – a good night’s sleep in a clean room and a comfy bed, and your own personal space with no house rules to follow. What makes Airbnb competitive is the lower prices and good locations, more so than the home-made experience. So unless a hotel grows legs and moves to a more optimal location or slashes prices, fresh muffins in the morning ain’t gonna win those customers back.

Airport yoga: the basics

Long weekends like President’s Day can woo us to long flights to the sunshine. And to be in good form for the flight and your vacay, getting your zen on can get you in the right frame to handle the most primal of human settings: the airport gate waiting area. Below are a few simple moves that can be achieved with your travel essentials, including your phone and your luggage.

So remember before you board, to take each waiting opportunity to get that blood flowing and expand outward before you crunch into an economy seat.