With a mixture of nerves and excitement, Tnooz rolled into San Francisco last week to host the latest stop on its roadshow of developer THack¬†events.
It was Tnooz’s first time hosting an event on the West Coast and THacks are always pretty tense affairs as we never REALLY know how it’s going to work out given that we let developers loose on a bunch of APIs for a restricted period and then wait anxiously to see what they produce.
As well as being slightly anxious, we’re always eager to see what emerges from our THack events. But on this occasion the excitement was arguably greater as we were throwing ourselves for a week into the apparent heart of the tech world, home to the likes of Apple, Google¬†and all manner of travel and non-travel startups, and other established digital businesses.
Centre of the (tech) universe
Whether the rest of the industry agrees or not, the fact that San Francisco and the Bay Area in general (including the famed Silicon Valley) exists as a hub of apparent creativity means everything to the tech world, especially in the US.
As our poll in July indicated (with 45% of the vote), the area is seen as the centre of innovation, a place to get things built and funded, perhaps more so than anywhere else on the planet.
But aside from its natural and architectural eye candy (Facebook fans can see pics from the week here) and the fact that it feels as if developers and startups are almost falling over themselves to be heard, is the buzz warranted?
Yes and no.
Without hopefully drinking too copiously from the obvious Kool Aid metaphorically on sale at every corner, such buzz is admittedly quite infectious to the outsider.
East Coasters, and perhaps more so for slightly cynical Brits and other foreigners, can’t helped but be sucked in a bit by the overwhelming enthusiasm and positivity in the place and from its tech folk.
The buzz, as one of our co-founders used to be fond of saying, is palpable.¬†There is an “I can (and will) do that” attitude which many other regions (and the companies they host) could learn from.
But while to a certain degree it is an inspiring place to hang out for a week or so, it is actually quite easy to see through the gloss of it, especially when talking to up and coming travel companies and how they view the rest of the industry.
In short, for some the outside (and enormous) world of travel, tourism and hospitality doesn’t even exist.
Such is the arguably tunnel-vision nature of its tech press and The Scene in general that the companies and processes that exist elsewhere in the sector are dismissed either because many in the Bay Area have never heard of them or genuinely do not believe (perhaps even unconsciously) that any innovation can happen elsewhere.
A great example was heard during a conversation with an attendee at the THack @ SFO event.
Two well-known and local travel startups were being discussed, almost exclusively in glowing terms about how both were going to turn the industry on its head.
When it was pointed out that both had raised rather a lot of money but one had had almost negligible impact on the wider marketplace whilst the other still didn’t really have a lucrative business model to repay its backers, the rose-tinted spectacles slipped a bit.
It was then explained that other companies had developed similar businesses and models, and had also faced similar challenges.
But such is the apparent tunnel vision in some that not only were the other companies non-existent in their minds but they also didn’t understand what those challenges actually are.
Whether they (and also the industry, to some extent) like it or not, some things in travel happen simply because they have always happened that way.
Some things need (there’s that word) disruption, but often they do not. They might not work beautifully, but they work far better than the alternatives that have come and gone.
That it isn’t to say that people should be dissuaded from trying – that would be a disappointing and crushing blow to the spirit of places like San Francisco.
But equally, really understanding how the rest of the industry works (or, quite often, does not) should be a prerequisite for many of those donning their (hipster) rose-tinted spectacles as they enter the crazy world of the travel industry.
Nevertheless, for the record, we loved San Francisco and thoroughly enjoyed meeting everyone last week. We can’t wait to go back.
On the final day a few of us on the team made our way up to the Twin Peaks area of the city to see the Space Shuttle (on top of a modified Boeing 747) as it buzzed various parts of the San Francisco Bay area on its final flight, ahead of a last resting place in a Los Angeles museum.
Gotta love (space) travel technology.
NB: Both pics by the author – the former when descending to SFO, the latter from Twin Peaks.