Smart Cities Need Open Data and a Willingness to Test and Learn

Transport for London  / Flickr.com

Regent Street interactive bus stop at night. London is about to get its first chief digital officer. Transport for London / Flickr.com

Skift Take: Making a city smarter requires new ideas, and these fresh concepts need testing. The public sector shouldn’t be afraid of trying new things and failing as long as the trials are targeted and don’t cost too much money.

— Patrick Whyte

Open data platforms and the desire of a new generation of leaders are helping to transform many “dumb,” or developing, cities across the world into smart ones.

Transportation was one of the first areas companies focussed on, resulting in the launch of apps such as Citymapper, which have made navigating cities much easier.

With all this data, you’d think it would be easy for companies to help solve city-wide problems? Not always.

Minerva Tantoco, the former chief technology officer of New York City, said the key thing to remember about the early days of digital was not about the technology but about identifying the problem in the first place.

Tantoco, who was speaking on a panel during London Tech Week on Monday, was one of the drivers of New York’s use of global positioning systems (GPS) on buses to prioritize public transport at intersections. This initiative, she said, cut public transit commute times by 20 percent in some cases.

“So that was a very real problem, we used some cool tech but it was all about making the public commute much easier,” she said.

The problem was commute times on buses, and technology was used to help solve it.

For Tantoco, prototyping and piloting are key to testing new programs or initiatives. She said that “most governments don’t really know how to do that very well” and that it was an area where the private sector had plenty of expertise. Tantoco also said that community engagement was crucial in getting ideas across to the public.

“[It’s] absolutely, absolutely essential, especially if you’re putting technology out on the city streets. People are very concerned about privacy and security,” she said.

FliIn the coming years as the Internet of things helps make cities smarter, privacy and security issues are only going to grow.

Citymapper’s bus trial

Citymapper has been one of the big winners of the open data revolution and its navigation app is now in 39 cities across the world.

Omid Ashtari, president and head of business at the company, said that it was important that the public sector embraced the idea of failure at least on a small scale, a belief that many technology companies have come to embrace.

“If we’re going to solve the big problems we need to try things out on a small scale,” he said.

Ashtari, who was on the same panel as Tantoco, also believes that while regulations can be good, many are out of date and “are getting in the way of doing interesting things.”

The company, which is based in London, recently stepped out of the digital world and into the actual transportation network by running a trial bus service in conjunction with Transport For London, the local government body responsible for transport in the capital.

The experiment used a smaller-than-usual bus on a set route to test some of its theories about transport efficiency. The company feels that buses haven’t evolved and “still roam around cities utilising old systems of operations and inefficient technology.”

“This is one of those examples where we’re saying that the public-private partnership is really important to try things out, learn from them and hopefully launch something more wide scale,” said Ashtari.

London’s smart city status

London has long been a leader in open data, especially in transport, and it is one of the reasons why companies such as Citymapper have been able to flourish. In recent years, this has been combined with a push from authorities to promote London as tech hub to rival the likes of Silicon Valley and Berlin.

This reputation took a bit of a hit following last year’s Brexit vote, particularly because of the reliance on talent from the rest of the European Union. Currently, anyone from another member state is free to move to London to start a business. Freedom of movement is likely to end once the UK leaves the European Union and that has plenty of people worried, not the least being London Mayor Sadiq Khan. He used his address at London Tech Week to try and reassure people.

“Rest assured no matter what happens with Brexit, London will always remain open to talent, open to collaboration and open to international partnerships,” he said.

London’s reputation as a leading smart city is, however, likely to be boosted by the arrival of its first chief digital officer.

The new hire “will be tasked with ensuring that London’s globally renowned reputation for technological innovation is used to transform the way that public services are delivered in London, making them more accessible, efficient, and better suited to the needs of Londoners.”

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When Conferences Are Talent Magnets For a City — Meetings Innovation Report

C2 Montreal

An attendee at the outdoor, riverfront community space at C2 Montreal. C2 Montreal

Skift Take: Part of C2 Montreal’s mandate is to attract outside companies and talent to explore the city’s convergence of social, tech, research, cultural, urban, and industrial innovation. The conference’s trendy design is just the first step in that process.

— Greg Oates

The Future of Meetings & Events

The meetings and events industry is enamored with innovative, experiential conference design that helps attendees aspire toward changing the world, versus zoning out in sterile hotel ballrooms and convention center breakouts without any windows or fresh air.

C2 Montreal has evolved as a benchmark for what’s possible in conference design when event organizers are provided the budget to let their imaginations soar. Having Montreal-based Cirque du Soleil as a founding partner also certainly helps deliver awe-inspiring event experiences.

However, the Canadian government didn’t pony up $750,000 to support C2 last month so people could network in circus-like trapeze chairs. They did so because C2 is Montreal’s global invitation for outside companies and talent to scope out the city’s convergence of social, tech, academic, cultural, urban, and industrial innovation.

The event is basically a postcard to promote international business development with Montreal’s startup and research communities.

I talk a lot about convergence in the meetings industry, but sometimes it feels a little overly aspirational. C2 Montreal gives us something tangible to help us envision tomorrow, today, because the city’s government, academic, and business leaders are aspiring together to change how the world drives innovation and connects people during conferences, and why.

— Greg Oates

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Social Quote of the Week

“At Oakland’s Museum of Capitalism, entry will only cost your fragile bourgeois preconceptions (admission is free) goo.gl/NLf2Qc

@CityLab on Twitter

Destination Innovation

C2 Conference Is Basically a Billboard For Montreal’s ‘Smart Living Laboratory:’ When is a conference more than a conference? When the event organizers, regional government, and local academic and business communities rally together to produce a creative spectacle designed to entice outside companies and talent to invest in the city. Montreal’s C2 conference is getting tons of buzz for its colorful delivery, but there’s a lot more happening behind the surface. Read more at Skift

City of Las Vegas Launches Innovate.Vegas Platform: The new Las Vegas Innovation District and Las Vegas Medical District in the downtown core are evolving as compelling platforms for next-generation tech and medical meetings. The City of Las Vegas just launched a new website to chronicle how the urban developments are spearheading the city’s future beyond the Strip. Read more at City of Las Vegas

Austin Mayor Steve Adler Thinks Idea to Remove SXSW From Austin Due to Texas Hate Law is Ridiculous: U.S. Democratic Senators Bob Menendez and Catherine Cortez Masto have suggested that the popular South by Southwest conference in Austin should bolt from Texas due to the state’s “Show Me Your Papers” racial profiling law. Austin Mayor Adler (also a Democrat) thinks the idea “is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard.” Read more at Mayor Adler

The Impact of EXPO2017 on Kazakhstan’s Tourism Industry: One million foreign visitors are expected to fly in to Kazakhstan for EXPO2017. Here’s a brief podcast about the event’s impact on the destination’s visitor economy. Read more at Euromonitor

Anime, Cosplay Convention Coming to Downtown Fort Worth: The 25,000 attendees showing up for A-Kon this year will be getting their nerd on in Fort Worth for the first time, following the event’s move from Dallas, which has hosted the show since 1989. Read more at Fort Worth Magazine

Next Generation Meetings UX

How Apple’s New Augmented Reality Platform Could Help Elevate Brand Experiences: ARKit, a new developer framework in iOS 11, will allow hundreds of millions of iPhones and iPads around the world to be AR-capable. Freeman suggests, “Augmented reality is on the cusp of truly taking off in our industry, opening new doors to new kinds of interactions and experiences in the event space.” Read more at FreemanXP

How Associations Are Engaging Virtual Attendees Better: Groups that host hybrid conferences don’t want their virtual attendees to feel left out. That’s why many are turning to staff, volunteers, and other experts to make sure the virtual audience feels just as connected as those onsite. Read more at Associations Now

PanelPicker Opens on June 26 For the 2018 SXSW Conference: Every year, SXSW launches its PanelPicker platform to crowdsource programming content from around the globe, and every year no one else tries to copy it on any significant level. That is perhaps the biggest mystery in the meetings and events industry today. Read more at SXSW

A Flâneur on the Future: Event Tech Lab Is Nurturing Your Next Go-To App: James Morgan, senior lecturer at University of Westminster, and founder of Event Tech Lab, discusses how he’s creating a virtual community to improve the communication and marketing efforts of tech startups in the events industry. Read more at MeetingsNet

American Express Meetings & Events and Humber College Explore the Future of Meeting Planner Education: Attracting innovative talent to the meetings and events industry is a huge issue today due to the diverse skill sets needed. Therefore, U.S. universities and the industry need to collaborate and elevate their exposure better to attract more students into the sector. Read more at Corporate Meetings Network

Oracle OpenWorld Attempts to Reimagine Event ROI With ‘The Exchange’ Exhibit Hall: Not much to go on here but Oracle produced a new teaser video hinting about a new exhibit hall experience designed to improve knowledge sharing and retention. According to Oracle data, we retain 90 percent of what we do and 10 percent of what we read; 50-80 percent of information is forgotten after 48 hours; and 68 percent of workers feel overwhelmed with content. Read more at Oracle

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The Skift Meetings Innovation Report is curated by Skift editor Greg Oates [go@skift.com]. The newsletter is emailed every Wednesday.

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Chefs+Tech: When You Make It to the Top, It’s Time to Close

Star5112  / Flickr

Eleven Madison Park closed this week for a complete kitchen, dining room, and menu overhaul. Star5112 / Flickr

Skift Take: Closing a restaurant at its peak takes advantage of the news cycle and gives chefs and restaurateurs the opportunity to work on other projects, often away from the daily demands of a world-class kitchen.

— Kristen Hawley

Echefslogo_use-for-socialditor’s Note: In September we announced that Skift was expanding into food and drink with the addition of the Chefs+Tech newsletter. 

We see this as a natural expansion of the Skift umbrella, bringing the big-picture view on the future of dining out, being fanatically focused on the guest experience, and at the intersection of marketing and tech.

Bonus: We now publish C+T twice weekly.

You’re the Best. Now Shut It Down

On Monday, New York’s Eleven Madison Park, recently named the best restaurant in the world, closed after service for a total kitchen and dining room reservation expected to take several months. (Sidenote: apparently the closing party was fairly epic.) The restaurant does plan to reopen with a revamped design, new menu, and brand new kitchen. The stories are similar around the world: Copenhagen’s Noma closed in February after 14 years of service and four (non-consecutive) years at the top of the World’s 50 Best ranking. Chef Grant Achatz closed Alinea in Chicago in 2016 for a total renovation that lasted several months. And recently, chef Gaggan Anand announced he’ll be closing his namesake Bangkok restaurant in 2020 after scoring the Best Restaurant in Asia ranking. Anand says he believes restaurants have a ten-year lifespan, and “after that, they become a brand.”

This speaks to the current state of the restaurant business, where consumer tastes, trends, popularity, and a few poor Yelp reviews can seriously impact the bottom line. While the aforementioned restaurants likely didn’t need to worry too much about Yelp ratings to keep the lights on, they do have to consider the same things that make or break a restaurant in an age of total connectivity. In the case of Alinea, for example, which built its success on a surprise-and-delight model, change was inevitable. (Though I have to say, no matter how many times you see a photo of the edible balloon or the dessert made by smashing ingredients on the table, it’s delightful to experience it in person… though no longer surprising!) The normal press cycle, the prevalence of photo- and experience-sharing, and the simple passing of time can quickly age a dining room, not to mention the wear, tear, and technological advancements that happen in a restaurant kitchen after years of service.

For these chefs and restaurateurs, closing a restaurant doesn’t mean taking a break. In fact, it’s often the opposite as chefs embrace the opportunity of their success to spread influence in new places. Noma brought its entire staff to open a pop-up restaurant in the middle of the Tulum, Mexico jungle, and they’ve also opened and announced the opening of some new projects at home in Copenhagen. The Alinea Group operates several different concepts, including a spectacular cocktail bar and a casual restaurant. Eleven Madison Park will maintain EMP Summer House in the Hamptons during the restaurant’s closure. Some diners may lament these closures (mostly those who haven’t had the chance to make it to the places who have, in many cases, spent years climbing to the top of their game), so from the outside looking in, shuttering a spot at its peak seems like poor business. In fact, while costly, this type of reinvention becomes an investment in the longevity of a space. Save a few truly classic locations, restaurants are not immune from the change-and-adapt mentality that is modern business.

Restaurant Sustainability as a Selling Point

Sustainability and responsible food sourcing are objectively positive concepts, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be trendy. They are, in fact, trendy as the farm-to-table movement that started so many years ago now extends to its rightful next level: measuring carbon footprints as a way to audit a restaurant’s commitment to the sustainability. Fast Company has a story about one firm that created a way to measure a restaurant’s “operation and supply chain emissions” commissioned by Portland, Oregon-based Sustainable Restaurant Group. The results connect supply (food) to demand (its restaurants), allowing anyone to view the path a restaurant’s food takes. The restaurant has the benefit of understanding and sharing, in black and white, its commitment and compliance to sustainability practices. When consumers see it (in this case, illustrated in an easy-to-navigate, well-designed website), they may better understand the cost involved in sourcing the sustainable ingredients that they enjoy eating.

It’s another level of transparency from an industry that faces both rising food costs and intense scrutiny over menu prices and employee wages. Labor (and tipping) was the first of these business elements to come into the consumer-facing light; sustainability seems to be next. What remains to be seen, though, is if putting the information in black and white drives more people to a restaurant when they’re choosing where to dine. In Portland, these restaurants will probably notice increased interest in their sustainability initiative, but I don’t know that this is a one-size-fits-all explainer for restaurants around the country.

Recommendations and the Modern Road Trip

The popularity of cars and the national interstate system revolutionized road trips decades ago, and the digital era has ushered in renewed excitement about roadside restaurants. Between review sites like Yelp and location-based check-ins as on Facebook, there’s virtually no place on the planet you can’t find a recommended place to eat. Instead of relying on a billboard or other roadside sign, travelers can plan their stops ahead of time. Restaurant Business has the story of one roadside attraction in Marietta, Georgia, called The Big Chicken: a giant metal chicken meant to draw attention to a restaurant. In the ‘70s, the restaurant was purchased by Kentucky Fried Chicken, and in 2011, a KFC franchisee. Now, The Big Chicken has been renovated specifically to turn it into a full-on destination, complete with swag.

If you’re looking for more summer road trip fun, it’s Road Trip Week on Eater, featuring thoughts and recommendations on road food around the country. This is indicative of a few things, including the fact that we, as a culture, are more interested in our food — road food isn’t just utilitarian anymore. It’s also indicative of the fact that you do have choices on a long road trip and aren’t limited to the pre-packaged rest stops full of fast food and TCBY. (Oh man, remember TCBY?) The first time I drove cross-country, in 2005, I literally checked a book out of the library (a physical book from the physical library) listing iconic restaurants to visit in proximity to I-70. The renewed attention to local businesses is definitely taking away from chains as people venture further from the interstate to not have to eat yet another Subway sandwich. It’ll be interesting to watch how chains adapt to this shift — and they will, as the KFC example referenced above notes. Perhaps the new trend will be away from homogenization and predictability and all about the unexpected.

Digestifs

  • The top 100 restaurants in the UK, as named at the Estrella Damm National Restaurant Awards — UK National Restaurant Awards
  • A rising tide baby panda lifts all boats (including restaurant stock) — Bloomberg
  • This is buried in the last sentence of this otherwise tangentially-related article, but in the age of tweets and texts and bots, Chipotle still accepts orders sent via fax — Fortune

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Legoland Operator Sees Demand Fall After UK Terrorist Attacks

Legoland

The entrance to the Legoland Windsor theme park. Parent company Merlin Entertainments has warned about the potential impact of terrorism. Legoland

Recent terrorist attacks in the U.K. are starting to take a toll on Merlin Entertainments Plc.

The operator of attractions including the London Eye Ferris wheel and Madame Tussaud’s wax museum said Tuesday that atrocities in Manchester and the British capital have led to a deterioration in domestic demand.

Merlin also said it’s “cautious” on trends in overseas tourism over the coming months, given the typical lag between vacation bookings and visitation. The shares fell as much as 4.1 percent in London, the steepest decline in the U.K. FTSE 100 Index.

Any decline in tourism could weigh on spending at Merlin attractions such as the Legoland and Alton Towers theme parks, which have been bolstered by rising visitor numbers as travelers took advantage of the Brexit-weakened pound and shifted from destinations like France in the wake of a series of incidents there.

While trading in the Legoland unit has been in line with expectations, Merlin said a number of its U.K. theme parks have been adversely affected in recent weeks by the terror attacks and subsequent heightened security measures.

Merlin warned of the threat of terrorism earlier this year when it issued a subdued financial outlook. The company also runs attractions in recent targets Berlin, Istanbul and Munich.

©2017 Bloomberg L.P.

This article was written by Paul Jarvis from Bloomberg and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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TrustYou Acquired as User-Generated Reviews Sector Heats Up

TrustYou

TrustYou has been acquired by a Japanese holding company specializing in marketing and human relations. TrustYou CEO Benjamin Jost is pictured here in a promotional video. TrustYou

Skift Take: TrustYou’s hotel clients have remained relatively modest in scale as the company has grown. Perhaps it will be able to attract bigger brands, and more companies based in Asia, with a more robust global presence.

— Andrew Sheivachman

Munich-based guest feedback platform TrustYou has been acquired by Japanese company Recruit Holdings, which has snapped up several technology startups in recent years.

The price of the sale, which was an equity transaction, was not disclosed by either party. Recruit Holdings has acquired a variety of companies ranging from restaurant iPad point-of-sale software provider TouchBistro to staffing service provider SimplyHired and has invested across various sectors as well, recently autonomous delivery company Savioke.

They also own job-search giant Indeed.com, several online restaurant reservation platforms, and various travel booking sites serving markets in Asia. They’ve invested in vacation rental site Tripping as well.

TrustYou, which was founded in 2008, collects verified reviews and survey results for hotels and online travel providers to provide insights on guest satisfaction and other factors to travel brands. It offers several different products including TrustYou Meta-Review, which summarizes reviews for hotels and provides vetted scores for display on online travel agencies, along with real-time messaging services through TrustYou Messaging.

Recruit Holdings wrote in its 2016 annual report that it aims to be a world-class provider of human relations and marketing services by 2030, making TrustYou a good fit with its primary mission.

TrustYou works with hotel brands including Accorhotels, Best Western, and Mövenpick Hotels & Resorts. It also partners with online travel companies like Google, Kayak, Sabre, and Skyscanner. The company previously raised $5 million in four funding rounds, according to Crunchbase, and was looking into another round late last year.

“We started the fundraising process in November 2016, that was the kickoff; we were talking to various parties from private equity to venture capital and strategic partners,” said Ben Jost, CEO of TrustYou. “There was a lot of interest to partner with us and we were looking for someone to let us run as independently possible, but also finance the company with the necessary long-term vision and depth.”

Jost and chief operating officer Jakob Riegger, the two co-founders of the company, will continue to run TrustYou going forward.

What’s Next

TrustYou itself acquired messaging platform Checkmate for an undisclosed price last summer. Jost said more small-scale acquisitions could come in the near future.

“We’re going to be very opportunistic so for sure we’re going to grow organically and invest in areas where there is organic growth,” said Jost. “We want to own the space we’re in today, the whole guest feedback play, we want to own that and from there even if there are other opportunities, we’re not going to do anything else but hospitality and travel software-as-a-service. We’re not going to become an [online travel agency].

“For clients, it’s great news too because we had limited funds in the past. The nature of our business is that we grew the company organically instead of taking tens of millions in funding; in the last nine years we only took $5 million. For our customers and partners, that will be great news because we can be faster in product development and serve them more globally.”

The company is seeing strong growth in both Asia and the U.S., according to Jost.

The acquisition takes place with a greater upheaval going on in the user-generated reviews space, with both smaller players like TrustYou and giants like Expedia and Google creating innovative new solutions. TripAdvisor, which popularized user-generated reviews, still holds a competitive advantage in the space, even if companies like TrustYou add their own special sauce to help brands get more out of the reviews.

“Trip also gave birth to the user-generated review as the go-to content format used to promote travel brands,” Skift wrote in our recent Deep Dive Into TripAdvisor’s Competitive Advantage in Travel report. “Now, the big platforms have followed suit. Google is a direct competitive threat for just about every online travel brand. For Trip, Google content and its positioning relative to Trip’s content is a concern. As a mid-sized company, Trip has made some big decisions about its core business model. And while we worry about its tolerance for additional pivots, we also think that Trip has now laid out a clear monetization strategy. With the strategic aspects more settled, the company can focus on incremental improvement and promotion.”

Jost thinks there is still some tension between hotels and online booking sites that will shake out in coming years.

“It’s going to be interesting to see how it plays out that [online booking sites] are all moving toward hotel services,” said Jost. “It’s going to be interesting if hotels adopt those [platforms] or move away from them. The trend they’re all talking about is moving away from these channels and doing their own thing.”

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Brazil’s Business Travelers Haven’t Returned to Frequent Flying Yet

Jairo  / Flickr

Business travelers are still not joining Brazil’s tentative airline comeback. Congonhas Airport is pictured here. Jairo / Flickr

Skift Take: Business travel spending dropped in Brazil in 2016, and continued uncertainty in the market is making a recovery difficult. Will companies get used to keeping employees off the road?

— Hannah Sampson

Business travelers are sitting out Brazil’s timid airline revival.

Executives have been slow to take back to the skies, even as domestic demand growth finally resumed in March and April after 19 months of contraction. Business travelers are the most attractive since they tend to pay high, last-minute fares that generate the best profit from Latam Airlines Group SA to Gol Linhas Aereas Inteligentes SA.

When those business travelers might come back is a mystery. Economists are signaling an incipient recovery may take a while to gain steam after Brazil’s longest-ever depression. Recent and perpetual political scandals that destabilize the country aren’t helping, the economic growth outlook was cut and companies are trimming travel costs, by booking in advance and turning to videoconferencing.

“From an airline’s perspective, the politics is really important because we need corporate demand to come back and it’s not going to come back with all this political noise and uncertainty,’’ Savanthi Syth, an analyst at Raymond James Financial Inc., said in a phone interview.

Latam, Gol and Azul SA are among those whose passenger numbers have tumbled 29 percent since January 2015 and would benefit from corporate travelers getting back on board, Syth said.

“The corporate segment is very important and will only reactivate when the conditions for this segment are favorable,’’ said Ian Gillespie, a director at Oceanair Linhas Aereas Ltda., known as Avianca Brasil, and the chairman of Star Alliance steering committee in Brazil.

In a statement, Latam said it’s expecting corporate sales to rise in 2017, “but there’s no certainty. The number of tickets sold daily for this segment still varies greatly.” Gol said it leads the market for tickets for business travel, citing data from the Brazilian Association of Corporate Travel.

While the downturn in Brazil business travel has wreaked havoc on the airline industry, at least one company is benefiting: Oi SA. The telecom giant has cut its own executive travel costs by half over the past four years, while also profiting from rising demand for its videoconferencing services.

The most recent political brouhaha that crashed markets on May 18 also interrupted the airline industry’s momentum internationally. The U.S. dollar strengthened 7.5 percent against the Brazilian real the day after corruption allegations against President Michel Temer came out. Airline executives believe the recovery may continue, though more slowly, as long as the exchange rate remains relatively stable.

“We’ve noticed a drop in calls seeking reservations but we haven’t seen cancellations,’’ Air Canada commercial director for Brazil, Gleyson Ranieri, said. The airline saw a 26 percent increase in demand for its flights to the North American country since the beginning of the year, when compared with the same period in 2016.

That said, if the dollar strengthens further, the market will shrink considerably, he said.

“We haven’t seen a red light in the foreign-exchange rate yet,’’ said Emerson Sanglard, Copa Holdings SA Brazil manager. “It’s the moment of taking a careful look into the current scenario. There are too many options in the political scenario that can actually impact the economy.’’

–With assistance from R.T. Watson and Rafael Mendes

©2017 Bloomberg L.P.

This article was written by Esha Dey and Fabiola Moura from Bloomberg and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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The C2 Conference Is a Billboard For Montreal as a ‘Smart Living Laboratory’

C2 Montreal

The mobile interview bike at C2 Montreal was one of many creative elements spurring spontaneous networking this year. C2 Montreal

Skift Take: While everyone is talking about the industry-leading creative conference design at C2 Montreal, the big story is how the 6-year-old event has evolved as a platform for the region’s innovation economy to co-create the future of cities and collaborative urbanism.

— Greg Oates

The annual C2 Montreal conference every May is widely considered to be the benchmark for corporate event design in North America, but it’s actually much more than that.

Inside Montreal’s sprawling Arsenal contemporary art gallery this year, as reported last week in Skift, the show floor was filled with dozens of creative activations, such as networking experiences in trapeze chairs suspended from the ceiling. In a high point for the event, attendees booked more than 3,000 face-to-face meetings with each other to discuss topics of common interest via E-180’s Braindate platform.

Outside, a pop-up big top circus tent with 360-degree ceiling projection hosted the keynote sessions. Surrounding the tent, stacks of brightly painted shipping containers served as outdoor corporate VIP suites overlooking the dock and restaurant floating on a channel connected to the St. Lawrence River.

In 2012, the Sid Lee ad agency and Cirque du Soleil — both headquartered in Montreal — launched C2 to engage a broader spectrum of potential partners for their respective companies. They also wanted to position Montreal as a wellspring of business and social innovation, with creativity celebrated as the connectivity tissue that links communities. In 2013, the French Le Nouvel Observateur media group called C2 “The Davos of Creativity,” and the unofficial tagline stuck.

C2’s programming and content highlight innovative trends springing from the convergence of “commerce and creativity,” which gives C2 its name.

Sample sessions this year included “Rethinking The City of Tomorrow” with speakers from the Brookings Institute, MIT, New Cities Foundation, and the City of Montreal; and “The Social Economy: Driving Innovation For a Thriving City,” presented by the City of Montreal and local startups active in social innovation sector. There was also a series of dedicated tracks and workshops diving into themes such as artificial intelligence, startup accelerators, small business development, and diversity.

In the big scheme of things, however, C2 is a postcard for the future of Montreal, and by extension, the future of collaborative urbanism.

The conference is basically one big billboard designed to promote Montreal’s evolution as a smart and highly livable city to entice international companies to invest in the region’s startup and academic sectors. Since the recession, the City of Montreal government, the region’s four major universities, and the local startup community have been working together to develop Montreal as an “open-air smart living laboratory,” and C2 is positioned as the front door of that urban engineering experiment.

“C2 Montreal is a unique platform that explores the trade-creativity dynamic through a variety of experiences and rich programming,” said Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre during C2. “The influence of this world-class event reinforces the image of our metropolis internationally as a creative and innovative city. C2 Montreal also contributes to propelling our businesses by putting Montreal’s talent and know-how to the forefront.”

Central to the smart living laboratory strategy, the downtown core and university campuses have been packaged and branded as the Montreal Innovation Quarter. The Quarter was launched in 2013 by McGill University, Concordia University, and École de Technologie Supérieur to capitalize on the complementary capacities among the academic institutions and area startup companies in research, education, innovation and entrepreneurship, as well as their regional and international networks.

“We have the most university students of any city in Canada, so we have to have a playground to give them the possibility to play and use their know-how,” says Damien Siles, managing director of the Montreal Innovation Quarter.

Siles explained at C2 that many cities and companies approach innovation with a siloed mindset. To transcend that, the Quarter outlined four pillars of innovation at its inception that guide overall strategy for the future development of the city. The pillars are: education/research, industrial, social/culture, and urban.

The Quarter’s website also posts a wealth of content highlighting specific companies, research, and case studies relating to those four themes.

Siles said that all of those spheres of innovation need to be integrated in Montreal, and every community needs to be involved in their development, for the city to assert itself authentically as a smart living laboratory. That spirit of convergence and collaborative development, he added, is also attractive to outside companies.

“When you’re speaking about innovation, you’re not speaking about the special sectors in one industry or another,” Siles said. “You’re speaking about how it’s possible to humanize innovation when you connect everyone in the city. You can’t just keep it in a laboratory.
You want the population to participate, not like a guinea pig, but like part of a new collaborative vision for what’s best for Montreal.”

Humanizing Innovation

“Humanizing innovation” has become something of a public mantra in Montreal.

Driving that forward last year, Concordia launched the first OpenLivingLab Days in the city, organized by the European Network of Living Labs and the locally based Communautique community participation platform. The mission was to create an open-source online and offline engagement ecosystem for community members to meet with industry leaders in different sectors.

That concept is now being scaled inside a series of venues that will make up Montreal’s open-air smart living laboratory, which will begin to open later this year in the Montreal Innovation Quarter. Visiting and local professionals will be encouraged to meet with area leaders developing new systems around 5G technology and the Internet of Things. Those technologies will also be tested in the student dorms at École de Technologie Supérieur to help local startups iterate products and bring them to market.

Collaborative events, facilities, and platforms like these are spawning across Montreal to engage more locals and visitors in co-creating the future of Montreal and new research-driven, user-centric thought leadership around urban user experience.

The Faire Montreal online portal, for example, is a “collaborative platform for anyone to discover innovative projects, contribute to their development, and monitor their evolution.” And this month, Montreal’s first Fab Lab (fabrication space) opened where the public can visit to learn about advanced manufacturing technologies and robotics design.

Speaking about the new 12,000-square foot Espace Fabrique facility, Mayor Coderre said, “This unique, creative space of production will foster the creation of direct and indirect employment and help reduce costs related to the development of new manufacturing products.”

Tourisme Montreal has expanded its role considerably to help conference organizers plug into the rise of public-facing developments in the local innovation economy. For Pierre Bellerose, VP of research at Tourisme Montreal, the C2 experience presents the best time to introduce the world to Montreal’s knowledge base.

He explained that the tourism marketing agency has always leveraged the event’s success and media popularity to show outside companies how the city works together to organize conferences beyond the ordinary. Now, their responsibility is evolving to promote the city’s innovation economy and startup community more aggressively, and work more closely with partner organizations like the Montreal Innovation Quarter.

“As a convention and visitors bureau, we’re creating a showcase of innovation to present to potential clients, because Montreal offers such a large ecosystem of creative companies and creative people,” said Bellerose. “C2 is that kind of business activity in action. It humanizes innovation, which we can show to international business leaders to prove that Montreal is the place to be.”

The ROI of Innovation Events

Presently, Montreal and the province of Quebec are peaking. According to Bloomberg in January: “Quebec added 85,400 full-time jobs in 2016, more than the other nine provinces combined, and growth in its labor market accounted for 42 percent of the Canadian total.”

Technology, digital media, and other advanced industries are driving much of that growth in Montreal. Therefore, the local government wants to build on that momentum, and Canada’s national government wants to scale it across the country. So both governments are supporting C2 to capitalize on the event’s proven ability to attract foreign capital and talent from more than 60 countries around the globe.

At the local level, the City of Montreal granted $200,000 (US$151,000) in funds to C2’s operating budget on a yearly basis from 2014 through 2016, and increased that to $250,000 this year.

On the national front, Canada Economic Development for Quebec contributed $1.5 million in non-repayable funds to C2 Montreal for 2016 and 2017 to support small business development programming at home and expand marketing overseas. The payoff: According to the Quebec Institute of Statistics, C2 has generated economic impacts of more than CDN$250 million for the province.

The innovation and economic development continues to grow. Montreal-based Element AI, which hosted the C2 Artificial Intelligence Forum this year, announced today that it has raised US$102 million, representing the largest Series A funding round for an artificial intelligence company in history.

“Artificial Intelligence is a must have capability for global companies,” said Element AI CEO Jean-François Gagné in today’s release. “Without it, they are competitively impaired if not at grave risk of being obsoleted in place.”

That sums up the mission of C2 Montreal, where you can feel the energy and commitment to co-create new community platforms that aspire to change the world.

The event isn’t really about people sitting in the circus trapeze chairs hanging from the Arsenal’s towering ceiling. But that type of creative conference design, and the big buzz surrounding it, gets people in the door. Montreal’s creative ecosystem is taking over from there.

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TSA Tests Fingerprint Scans at U.S. Airports to Replace IDs

Bloomberg

The TSA will test using fingerprints to identify customers in its Precheck program. Bloomberg

Skift Take: While some passengers may worry about privacy, this is a good development. The current system, in which an officer must compare a picture on an ID with a traveler, is not the most reliable. Humans make mistakes. This is a better approach.

— Brian Sumers

Airline passengers may soon be able to put away their IDs and boarding passes at screening lines as the Transportation Security Administration begins an experiment to use fingerprints to ensure people’s identities.

Passengers who are enrolled in PreCheck, the TSA program that gives travelers expedited screening, will be able to use their fingerprints at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International and Denver International to verify their identity and to pull up their boarding pass information, the agency announced Tuesday.

The TSA becomes the latest security agency or business to begin using automated biometric information to verify people’s identities. JetBlue Airways Corp., Delta Air Lines Inc. and Air France’s KLM are experimenting with fingerprint and facial-recognition technology to speed the check-in process. Alclear LLC’s Clear, a subscription service that allows faster access to airport screening and sporting events, also uses fingerprints.

Delta announced Tuesday that is also working with U.S. Customs and Border Protection in Atlanta and New York’s Kennedy International to test a new biometric procedure for people leaving the country. Passengers can use facial recognition portals to verify their identity and scan their boarding passes, Delta said in a release.

“Through these and other technology demonstrations, we are looking to reinvent and enhance security effectiveness to meet the evolving threat and ensure that passengers get to their destinations safely,” TSA Acting Assistant Administrator Steve Karoly said in a release.

Most people enrolled in PreCheck have already provided the government with fingerprints in order to pass a background check. Once the system matches their prints, it will not only verify their identity but also link automatically to their boarding passes, according to TSA.

Providing a fingerprint before going through security is voluntary, the agency said. At least initially, passengers will also be subject to the “standard ticket document checking process,” according to TSA.

In the longer term, the technology may allow passengers to automate the document-checking process, which can save time for the traveler and reduce the need for TSA staff.

©2017 Bloomberg L.P.

This article was written by Michael Sasso and Alan Levin from Bloomberg and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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Airbnb Ramps Up Push to Get More Hosts to Choose Instant Booking

Airbnb

A new set of tools is now available for Airbnb hosts who choose to make their listings instantly bookable on the homesharing platform. Airbnb

Skift Take: With these new features, it’s clear Airbnb wants to reduce discrimination on its platform, sign on more vacation rental managers, and generate more bookings. But is this enough to keep hosts happy?

— Deanna Ting

Airbnb wants to incentivize more of its hosts to make their listings instantly bookable.

The alternative accommodations platform is introducing a suite of new tools for hosts who opt into the feature, making it easier for them to manage their listings.

Currently, 1.7 million out of Airbnb’s more than 3 million listings are instantly bookable, and the company says more than 70 percent of new listings on the site are from hosts who enabled Instant Book as soon as it became available. Airbnb also said that 60 percent of its bookings from guests are now being handled via Instant Book.

The new tools include the following features for hosts who sign up for Instant Book:

  • Hosts with multiple listings have access to an improved calendar tool designed to prevent double bookings and set minimum night stays for specific dates.
  • Hosts can hold certain days from being instantly bookable by other guests if they’re already in conversations with guests who are inquiring about those dates.
  • First-time Airbnb guests will receive information explaining the difference between an Airbnb versus a hotel stay, for example. Currently, all Airbnb guests must read and agree to an individual hosts’ house rules and expectations prior to booking.
  • Hosts can allow check-ins and check-outs on specific days of the week and at certain times.
  • If a guest rates a host with two stars or lower, that guest cannot instantly book with that host again.

What Airbnb Hosts Think of the New Tools

It’s clear that Airbnb’s new suite of tools is designed to make things easier for hosts, and to give them control over when and how their guests place a booking on the platform.

Prior to the introduction of these new features, the primary incentive for hosts who chose to opt into Instant Book was better visibility on the platform and a higher chance of getting more bookings, said San Francisco-based Airbnb hosts David Jacoby and Peter Kwan.

“For starters, it’s one of the three main items that is featured for guests to filter by. So, if you want to appear in more searches, this is the way to go,” Jacoby, president and co-founder of Hostfully, said.

He also said that Airbnb has already put into place measures that give hosts more control. “Second, I very rarely actually say ‘no’ to a guest, so this saves the back-and-forth hassle of them requesting if they can stay with me, and then me approving them,” Jacoby said.

“As a host, I actually like the ease of getting the reservation immediately, while also knowing that Airbnb will indeed let you cancel an Instant Book reservation, penalty-free, if you feel uncomfortable with the guest. So, you still do have an ‘out’ if you need it. They also give you flexibility of the ‘guest requirements,’ which controls the level of screening for guests who can book with you. For example, have they already used Airbnb and have positive reviews?,” Jacoby said.

Airbnb hosts who use Instant Book can cancel up to three reservations per year, and Airbnb has previously told Skift that hosts who cancel Instant Bookings must give the company a specific reason for their cancellations.

“Finally, I’ve heard, but I’m not 100-percent sure, that their algorithms promote instant bookings more in searches in general because there is a higher chance that a booking will actually be made,” Jacoby added. “I don’t know the exact details of that, as they keep their listing order and search algorithms close to their chest, but many people believe that.”

Kwan, who’s also the co-chair of the Home Sharers Democratic Club of San Francisco, said, “Airbnb has been keen to persuade hosts to migrate to Instant Book for awhile now. I can’t confirm whether Instant Book hosts get preference under guest search results, but as David [Jacoby] pointed out, there is a tab that allows guests to automatically filter Instant Book results. I switched awhile ago and have not noticed a negative effect from switching to Instant Book.”

Kwan said the improved calendar settings and education for first-time Airbnb guests are welcome additions, but he hopes Instant Book guests will still be required to agree to house rules during the actual booking process, too. [Language describing the new feature is somewhat unclear.]

“My understanding is that no guests currently can book without first agreeing to house rules (by checking a box) during the booking process,” Kwan said. “If I’m wrong, I’m glad Airbnb is fixing this deficiency — all guests, whether Instant Book ones or not, should not be able to finalize the booking without first agreeing to house rules.”

Combatting Bias

Melanie Meharchand, an Airbnb host based in Monterey, California, agreed with Jacoby and Kwan, saying, “The biggest incentive for Instant Book, as a host, is preferential search ranking. That’s the holy grail for hosts who want to fill their calendar — appearing higher in search results, with the goal of showing up on the first page.

“There are many factors that go into search ranking including price, reviews, photography, calendar updates and so forth. It’s a bit of a guessing game on how to get ideal positioning, but when you do, it means you’ll get booked more often.”

She also pointed out that aside from getting more bookings, promoting more Instant Book listings helps Airbnb decrease the likelihood of discrimination or bias taking place on their platform.

“From Airbnb’s standpoint, Instant Book means they can avoid some of the subjective pitfalls that have come up, like hosts declining guests of certain ethnicities, religions or sexual orientations,” Meharchand said.

Airbnb recently settled a race discrimination complaint in California by agreeing to work directly with government regulators to police and improve upon its non-discrimination policy, which was announced in September 2016 following intense media coverage and scrutiny of incidents where Airbnb guests were discriminated against by hosts because of their race.

Growing Its Share of the Vacation Rental Market

Another reason why Airbnb wants more Instant Book listings on its platform relates to its desire to grow its share of the traditional vacation rental market. Vacation rentals generally  face less regulatory scrutiny than Airbnb’s listings in urban centers such as New York City or Paris, for example.

Earlier this year, the company purchased Luxury Retreats, a specialist in high-end vacation rentals. By making it easier for property managers to use Airbnb, and get more bookings through it, Airbnb hopes to increase its number of listings for these specific types of homes.

Last fall, an Airbnb executive told Skift Airbnb is making it a priority to increase its current roster of 500,000 vacation rental listings out of the 2 million listings overall that it had at that time.

According to more recent Airbnb data given to STR, some 1 million, or a third of its total 3 million listings, comprise professionally managed rentals. By comparison, however, Expedia’s HomeAway family of short-term rental and vacation rental sites has an estimated 1.2 million listings for professionally managed vacation rentals.

Airbnb has been adding a variety of features making it easier for professional vacation rental management companies to get bookings through its platform. More than a year ago, for example, Airbnb added a new feature that makes it easier for multiple hosts to manage listings.

Taking Hosts’ Needs Into Consideration

“Overall, as I said, this package of changes is positive,” Kwan said. “Whether it will persuade a significant number of hosts to migrate to Instant Book is unclear to me. It will definitely remove some of the barriers, but I also know a good number of hosts who hold strongly to their refusal to adopt Instant Book on the basis that they highly value the pre-booking exchange with guests as a comforting vetting process.

“Many of those hosts have also expressed to me their preference not to adopt Instant Book on the basis that it distinguishes them from hotels in that these hosts value very much the personal service and hospitality they provide in opening up their homes to travelers. So, they shy away from doing anything that makes them look more like hotels.”

While Meharchand thinks adding features like this for hosts who choose to allow Instant Book is a step in the right direction, she said she wished the company would also consider revising some of its policies regarding cancellations.

“As a host, I’d love to see more ways to identify or channel high-risk groups, like party groups, to properties that are better-suited to them than a family neighborhood,” she said. “Hosts who cancel reservations face penalties in how they are ranked in future searches. If there’s damage, the onus is on hosts to go after guests through the self-service Resolution Center.

“If guests create a disturbance, the system doesn’t offer much help in dealing with angry neighbors or penalties from cities, which are typically directed at hosts, not guests or Airbnb. I’d love to see more fine-tuned pre-stay and post-stay options to help hosts ensure the right situation for guests and hosts.”

Kwan added, “These hosts are valuable to sites like Airbnb because what they do represents the core of Airbnb’s values of hospitality, to ‘Belong Anywhere. On the other hand, I can understand why, commercially, Airbnb wants more hosts to adopt Instant Book — it increases booking rates and, therefore, profits. I hope Airbnb continues to tread carefully in negotiating this tension between preserving the brand and increasing profits.”

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Why Scandinavia’s SAS Is Creating a New Airline With the Same Name in Ireland

SAS

This Boeing 737-600 is registered in Sweden. But starting this year, some of SAS’s planes will belong to a separate Irish operation. SAS

Skift Take: To the average flyer this makes little sense. Why would a Swedish airline build a new airline with the same name in Ireland? But many consumers expect to pay 30 or 35 Euros to fly from Copenhagen to London. If an airline is going to offer those prices, it needs to control costs.

— Brian Sumers

Sweden’s SAS is creating an Irish subsidiary — also called SAS — to fly some shorter routes because that’s the only way it can compete on costs with discounters like Norwegian Air, Ryanair and EasyJet on certain competitive routes, its CEO told Skift in a recent interview.

The airline’s foreign competitors obviously do not use a Scandinavian operating certificate on short international flights that touch SAS’s hubs in Stockholm, Oslo and Copenhagen, giving them a labor cost advantage. But even Oslo-based Norwegian Air, its most fierce competitor, operates many European flights under an Irish certificate, rather than a Norwegian one.

Over time, SAS CEO Rickard Gustafson said, SAS learned it could not profitably compete on some routes, such as Copenhagen to London, using the current model, where customers demand one-way tickets for 30 to 35 Euros, or roughly $33 to $39.

“If you know that your competitors, by flying from London to Scandinavia rather than flying from Scandinavia to London can have cost advantage around 35 percent, it’s tough to compete,” he said last week during an interview at the IATA Annual General Meeting in Cancun, an annual conference of airline executives.

The new Irish airline should be flying by year-end. It expects to have nine Airbus A320s and two bases, one in London and the other in Spain, the airline has said.

Cost control

The Irish airline will be assigned to routes like Copenhagen-London, which has 25 daily departures on SAS, British Airways, Ryanair, Norwegian and EasyJet, according to Gustafson. It will also fly between Scandinavia and southern Spain, shuttling vacation-seekers to the beach. Gustafson called that a, “growing market.”

Among its competitors to London, SAS is the only airline that must pay its employees according to Scandinavian laws, Gustafson said. British Airways employs its crews in the UK, while the other airlines can hire from anywhere in Europe, giving them a major cost advantage.

The new SAS, like its competitors, will hire employees from outside Scandinavia. The alternative, Gustafson said, might taking drastic action, like leaving London.

“We are going to hire people who are going to fly from there to Scandinavia,” he said.

Other European airlines have created or bought a lower cost brand, and they sometimes base them in other countries to capitalize on friendlier laws. But most give the new carriers a different name so customers will not confuse the two operations.

But Gustafson said SAS, with a fleet of about 150 jets, is too small for a sub-brand. Plus, unlike Lufthansa Group, which wants to differentiate between carriers like Swiss International Air Lines, a full-service operation, and Eurowings, its low-cost brand, SAS wants customers to believe they’re flying one airline.

Indeed, customers may have not know they’re traveling on anything other than the 70-year-old Swedish carrier. Planes will have SAS painted on them, and SAS will sell tickets.

“We have a very, very strong brand,” Gustafson said, “so we believe you’re better off trying to build on that brand rather than trying to spin off and build another brand from scratch.”

No plans to add long haul

SAS also has considerable competition on many long-haul routes, but without discounters like Ryanair and EasyJet flying them, the threat is less acute. And none of the existing long-haul airlines have such a big cost advantage over SAS.

Norwegian’s Boeing 787s, which compete directly with SAS on many routes, are registered in Norway, though the airline’s Boeing 737s Max aircraft now flying short routes from the Eastern United States to Western Europe, are on the Irish certificate.

But even if Norwegian shifts more long-haul aircraft to Ireland, SAS may not follow. Gustafson noted SAS has only 16 Airbus A340s and A330s in its long-haul fleet, and it splitting the fleet in two makes little sense.

“Then you’re into sub-scale operations,,” he said. “Another reason is that our core idea is to continue to create a cost-effective and highly effective core SAS, and that’s plan A for us.”

Too late?

The threat from low cost carriers is not new. Many low cost brands moved into SAS’s markets years ago, but Gustafson, who took over in 2014, said he doesn’t want to dwell on the past.

“It’s always easy to look back what you should have done in the past when you sit there with all the facts,” he said.

As for whether it’s too late, a recent report from CAPA, an aviation analysis firm, suggested SAS may still have time to recover. The report called it a “pragmatic approach to intense competition,” from lower cost airlines.

“After years of cost reduction programs – also years of initiatives aimed at enhancing the appeal of SAS’s product and brand to its core target market of Scandinavia’s frequent flyers – a bolder step is needed,” the report said.

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