MINISTRY OF IDEAS: MEET ALAIN SYLVAIN, FOUNDER & CEO OF SYLVAIN LABS

CEO, strategist, filmmaker, and now speaker at Ministry of Ideas 2018: Alain Sylvain defies description, but the founder of Sylvain Labs is a maverick in the purest sense of the word. Applying imagination to complex problems to help companies revive their brands and develop new products – among them Google, Samsung, AirBnb and Calvin Klein – Sylvain Labs take the best of both strategic and agency-side worlds for truly dynamic results.

In the first of our exclusive Q&A series spotlighting this year’s Ministry of Ideas speakers, we caught up with Alain to get the scoop on AI vs EI, nurturing innovation and the role escapism plays in shaping the future of contemporary travel. 

Want to hear more? Ministry of Ideas 2018 is incubator for insights that will shape the future of contemporary travel – apply now.


What do you think will define the future of contemporary travel in the next five years?

TL;DR: Escapism will define our future.

Travel has always been about getting away, changing things up and taking a break from our lives: in other words, escaping. Now that the entertainment and media landscape has taken such big leaps and evolutions, dominating our lives with an omnipresent barrage of stimulation, the need to ‘get away from it all’ has never been greater.

What are people needing to get away from? And what do they crave that they can’t experience in their everyday? In the past few years, leisure travellers have been seeking the adventure they can’t find in their day-to-day lives – undoubtedly a major driver of the success of Airbnb, for example.

What’s more, heightened social tensions and the intensity of modern living are giving holiday-goers reason to seek resolve from the daily grind. Many now favour wellness retreats (breaks from technology; achieving a zen headspace; self-actualisation trips) to help escape the acute pressures of their regular lives.

As for the future of contemporary travel? Escapism will remain key, with culture and society dictating what we most need to escape to (or from). Our travel desires will be informed by how these day-to-day modes evolve. Whether it’s a brief distraction or becoming fully immersed in another place entirely, it’s where you’ll find the future of travel.

Outdoor yoga: the basis of any good wellness retreat – via Active Wellness Retreats

What do you believe is the key to innovation in today’s consumer landscape?

TL;DR: Great innovation in travel: it’s all about EI over AI.

As the demand for experiences over accumulating ‘stuff’ continues to grow, the travel industry is making smart moves in the race to keep up. Technology and a rapidly evolving set of consumer values have driven major industry change, where travel brands must be agile and responsive like never before. Advances like AI are being embraced as a means of adapting to this evolving market, and our travel experiences are becoming increasingly automated and imbued with technological brilliance.

However, despite these advances, we still see a number of travel brands missing the mark, leveraging virtual technology in places and at costs where they simply don’t pay off. When travel innovation misses the mark, not only do limited resources fail to create a true benefit, but consumer confidence in the brand is slowly chipped away.

Consequently, we anticipate a more grounded, human approach to innovation moving forwards. Understanding emotional intelligence (EI) in an industry that is driven by human desire will be fundamental to this. To fully benefit from EI,, the travel industry must:

  • Add friction: smooth and unencumbered experiences aren’t everything. Added friction can create a more human feel and end result
  • Add value by delivering less: selecting the right benefits to offer travellers, rather than an endless list of loyalty rewards, makes all the difference
  • Skip personalisation, move towards modes: people are curiously complex, contradicting their past preferences on a regular basis. Companies must appeal to different modes of travel rather than simply following trends or fleeting whimsies
A young traveller meets Pepper, Oakland Airport’s assistance robot – via Koddi

How do you instil and nurture innovation at Sylvain Labs?

 TL;DR: For Sylvain Labs, it starts with humanity.

At Sylvain Labs, we are obsessed with new ideas that solve people’s real-life needs. Be it small, daily annoyances or a goliath-sized barrier or hole in someone’s life– scale doesn’t matter, as long as the need for change is real. So, for us, it always starts with humanity. We spend a lot of time talking to people – exploring their lives; sitting in their homes; driving in their cars – to uncover the unsaid and identify the pain points that exist in their everyday interactions with brands, products and experiences. Only then will we know the problems we’re trying to solve in the first place.

The other factor we pay a lot of attention to is time. At Sylvain Labs we have a philosophy, Optimus Time, which posits that timing is more important than ingenuity. The right forces – competitive, cultural, technological, political and so on – must be aligned for the ideal introduction of a new behaviour, product or idea. General Motors unveiled a vision for self-driving cars at the Motorama Show in 1956, but the technology didn’t yet exist to make it a reality. Sixty years later, while the technology arguably exists, we’re still waiting for the cultural and political forces to align.

Alain Sylvain (centre) and his band of mavericks at Sylvain Labs – via Sylvain Labs
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Lucy Shave
Beyond Luxury Media Ltd's Content Executive, Lucy is a cat lady partial to peanut butter, American roadtrips and true crime podcasts - preferably all at the same time.