At a recent travel industry event I got chatting with a retired gentleman, let’s call him Bert, though obviously that isn’t his real name. During the conversation, Bert told me something excellent.
During his career as a travel industry executive, he had always spent a lot of time in transit.
It was important to him that he always had interesting reading material to pass the time, but he had a wide range of interests and no single publication could hold his attention for very long.
So Bert came up with an ingenious solution. Every time he saw an article in a newspaper or a magazine that looked like it would vaguely interest him, he would cut it out and put it in a box by his font door. Then anytime he was heading out on a journey he would reach into the box on his way out of the door, and grab a handful of random articles to take with him.
Now of course, its tempting to pigeon-hole this as another story about quaint things that older people do. Like the one about my friend’s parents who didnt know how to set the clock on their microwave so they sat up till midnight before turning the power on.
But i think it has more to offer than that. Here are a few other things I love about this story:
First I picture the 7 crates stuffed full of random, unread cut-outs piled up in his garage, spanning decades, each article totally unrelated to the next; I feel the faint strain these boxes place on Bert’s personal relationships. “I need to keep them ALL” he’ll say, when Mrs Bert begs him to take them to the dump. “Well, read faster or take the slower train” she would probably say.
Next, I like to imagine the rollercoaster of emotions he will feel when, on some future train journey he will finally discover that Marathon has changed its name to Snickers, Eldorado didn’t get a second series and the Falklands War has ended.
Above all, though, I think it serves as a cautionary tale of an increasing trend in the consumer and leisure sector: that people want to be able to curate their own unique experience by cherry-picking the bits that interest them and discarding the rest.
Nowhere is this more prominent than in travel. Whether you are an agent, tour operator, airline, or hotel, the one size fits all, “cookie-cutter” approach is increasingly difficult to get away with.
As consumers become more discerning in their tastes, they are seeking ever more unique experiences and they are willing to pay good money for the privilege too.
Travel companies with these characteristics typically earn much higher profit margins than their undifferentiated peers. It’s also no coincidence that in the last 12 months, investors have paid big money for brands that can deliver unique, tailored experiences at scaleable volumes.
As a final thought, I like the fact that 20 years before the smartphone, Bert basically invented Pocket, the successful app that works like a high-tech version of his boxes.
The widespread availability of simple, accessible, intuitive technology can now make Bert’s search for that unique, customised experience far easier, quicker and cheaper – yet another cautionary tale for the travel sector.
This article was first published in TTG on 15 October 2015