Click. talks to the ex-CEO of Lonely Planet about going from a ‘blue collar family’ to running a travel empire before the age of 30
At Booking.com’s recent global partner conference Click., we sat down with Daniel Houghton, the former CEO of Lonely Planet – a job he tells us he landed by chance. Today, he’s CEO of Pyxl, a digital marketing agency based in Tennessee. Here he discusses everything from voice technology to the check-in process.
Click: How did you end up at Lonely Planet?
Houghton: Accidentally, that’s the truth. I was definitely in the right place at the right time. I didn’t go to business school or have formal training. My parents weren’t corporate titans or anything. I come from a pretty blue collar family of a flight attendant and a mechanic. I grew up travelling because I could always fly for free, which was pretty wild. I ended up getting hired by the now owner of Lonely Planet. I had the privilege of being part of the team as he put the parent company together. And then we went and bought Lonely Planet, and I sort of blinked and I was running it. I wish there was more to the story, but that’s pretty much what happened. That was in 2013 and I was there until this May.
Click: What was the biggest opportunity you saw when you started at Lonely Planet?
Houghton: The company had always been known for leading innovation. They put the 25th website ever online and were one of the first brands on Twitter. We were always ahead of the curve, for example as a launch partner with Apple when the iPhone came out. I think for the seven or eight years before I got there they were just more focused on the print side of the business and the digital side needed some love. So a large part of my focus was trying to get us back to being innovators digitally.
Click: What’s the biggest thing you see changing travel?
Houghton: I would say voice technology. Travel will be totally transactional through voice and then social. So on smart speakers, like Google Home and Amazon’s Alexa. No one wants to open 19 tabs on their computer, which is what people do right now. That’s not a process most people enjoy. The research part, that’s a different side. When it comes down to trying to find the cheapest price, you’re going to say, “Hey Siri, how much does it cost for me to go to Amsterdam next Tuesday?” There’ll be an answer in two seconds. This technology already exists. And the adoption rate of voice technology dwarfs every other technology in our lifetime.
[Lonely Planet] put the 25th website ever online and were one of the first brands on Twitter
Click: Do all properties need to keep up with innovation?
Houghton: There’s something amazing about going to a boutique or an old-school property. When they say, “Would you please sign this piece of paper? Here’s your physical room key”, for example, that’s just a totally different experience. I’m staying in a hotel here in Amsterdam on a business trip, that’s one thing, versus I want to go and have an in-home experience with someone at their home. I think all those things can and will co-exist. Whatever principles have gotten them where they are – in terms of their brand and the values that they stand for – I don’t think you throw all of that out the window because there’s a new shiny object. Every hotel should just stick to their values.
Click: What’s your biggest pain point when you’re travelling?
Houghton: The check-in process. It’s still bizarre to me. I don’t understand why it couldn’t be handled while you’re in your Uber, Lyft, taxi or public transport on the way to the property. This technology exists – most things have online check-in. Check-in is just still really bad in most instances. I don’t have a problem that I should show up and show my passport – they should know who’s in their properties. But the entire process seems outdated.
Also, somehow all the TVs in hotels are clunky and they’ve all tried to make their own interface. Just give me the TV, I just want cable. If I’m going to watch a bunch of movies, let me airplay it or stream it from my android. I don’t need a movie pass – yes there’s money in that for the property, but just make it really seamless for your guests. That can go a long way.
Interview by Phoebe Germaine Maddox. Hero image: credit to Alex Knight
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