Artificial intelligence can now pick stocks and build portfolios. Are human managers about to be replaced?

Outside of their ability to understand a company’s fundamentals, one of the skills Raj Lala appreciates most about his portfolio managers is their ability to interpret body language.

Sitting across from management teams before making a decision to either invest or divest from their companies, Lala, the CEO of Evolve ETFs, said his portfolio managers can learn a lot from simply reading the room. Maybe they spot a nervous twitch after a question on guidance or a CEO unable to make eye contact when responding to a question about declining revenues.

That very human capability was at the forefront of Lala’s mind when he was recently pitched on two types of artificial intelligence that he could incorporate into his portfolio management processes. And it’s one of the reasons he said no.

“I can’t see AI getting to that point where it replaces human interaction and, quite honestly, I would say god bless our world if that’s the case,” Lala said.

Despite Lala’s skepticism, AI technology that can manage portfolios already exists to some extent and is beginning to be deployed.

In 2017, San Francisco-based firm Equbot LLC launched its AI Powered Equity ETF, which assesses more than 6,000 U.S.-traded stocks per day and decides where to invest based on its analysis of regulatory filings, earnings, valuations and other fundamentals.

Weeks later, Horizons ETFs launched the first AI ETF in Canada, where the AI is responsible for building a portfolio from 32 global equity ETFs based on its analysis of money flow, volatility and moving averages. Here, however, a human is required to pull the trigger on any trade.

Both ETFs are currently trading below the value at which they first opened in 2017, something that is certain to give fuel to skeptics who believe that while AI has made incredible strides in the last few years, it simply is not yet ready to make the job of a portfolio manager defunct.

One reason, according to Stuart Sherman, is that there are too many variables within stock picking that cannot be programmed into an AI process.

Sherman, the CEO of Toronto-based AI firm IMC Business Architecture, compares the challenge to a report in the Guardian which said that a cat received better investment returns than three portfolio managers and high school students in a 2012 challenge.

In that same time, AI could also outperform humans in the role of a portfolio manager, but it wouldn’t really prove that it was better unless it was able to consistently beat them by double digits over a period of multiple years.

“It could work for a while,” Sherman said. “But the cat will work for a while. Eventually, it’ll regress to the mean.”

Sherman described AI as a pattern recognition tool and said that to build one that could manage a portfolio, a developer would have to start with a “ground truth.” Essentially, a programmer has to show an AI hundreds, or even thousands of examples of what a good portfolio is so that it can trace the pattern. The problem is that an AI’s knowledge is based on past data and it cannot account for the randomness that sends some stocks soaring and others into the dirt.

Take the example of Elon Musk appearing on a podcast and smoking cannabis, he said. The appearance and widely circulated memes of Musk taking a toke led to a six per cent drop for Tesla Inc. An AI system may have picked up on Musk’s behaviour prior to the podcast appearance, such as his feud with the SEC, and make a sell suggestion but “on the other hand, Musk acted radically when he started Tesla,” Sherman said.

Instead of focusing on building portfolios, the Toronto-based IMC Business Architecture is working on AI that would help portfolio managers better select their clients. Before accepting a client, the behavioural AI Sherman and his team have developed would be able to collect language samples from people and put them into clusters of investors who are like-minded.

The AI could then assign those groups of people based on their investment risk, their social goals and personality to the portfolio manager that best suits them. Even a subtle improvement with taking on the right clients could lead to substantial profits, he said.

Like IMC, leading Canadian firm Element AI sees the machines and humans working together and has incorporated that belief into its developmental process, according to chief science officer and co-founder Nicolas Chapados.

Chapados’ team has been focused on perfecting what they call the Trade Flow Scheduler, which is designed to help institutional investors such as pension funds rebalance their portfolios. In order to do so, these investors may be forced to execute larger orders in a market without the needed liquidity. Chapados said Trade Flow Scheduler can analyze market conditions and make recommendations on how many days or weeks the trade should be made in as well as making suggestions on inflows and outflows in that period that would have the least impact on the market.

Asked if Element would one day go further and attempt to build an AI that could replace a portfolio manager, Chapados said he wouldn’t comment on future projects.

“Our goal is to not fully replace human beings but to provide a second opinion, if you will, and to augment the human in the role,” Chapados said.


Why B2B brands need to invest in brand marketing

Creativity and storytelling were previously seen as a luxury afforded to B2C brands but B2B marketers are waking up to the effectiveness opportunity investment can bring.

Businesspeople do not park their emotions and personality in a cardboard box when they come to work and buy products and services.

In fact, the way people interact with B2B brands is incredibly similar to how they engage with B2C brands. This means creativity, storytelling and long-term brand building are just as important as a product’s features and price.

The cardboard box reference comes from marketing consultant Peter Field who, along with Les Binet, head of effectiveness at adam&eveDDB, was commissioned by LinkedIn to assess the importance of brand building in the B2B sector. Binet and Field are well known for their work in the B2C space and their 2013 book ‘The Long and The Short of It’.

“There are huge similarities between B2B and B2C when it comes to brand but many B2B marketers need to revise their approach,” says Field. “Brand advertising really does work in B2B to drive buyer choices and revenues.

“Brands need a creative storytelling element because it is not enough to rely solely on rational product messaging. There has to be clear differentiation and a narrative that taps into business buyers’ emotions. Humanity must not be lost in a tech-obsessed world.”

The Binet and Field research was unveiled recently in New York and reveals that brand building in B2B should, on average, account for 46% of marketing spend and lead generation 54%. Many B2B brands spend considerably less than this proportion on brand building but the research concludes that investment should rise as a business matures and grows.

This follows research from Marketing Week and The Marketing Practice that showed that B2B brands that identified as outperforming their competition over the last two years were twice as likely to allocate 60% or more of their budget to achieving long-term marketing goals.

The hybrid advantage

The research also cites case studies from the IPA’s awards databank including BT and VW Commercial Vehicles. BT demonstrates a clear story around helping business customers in an emotional way by bringing people together, while VW Commercial Vehicles talks about being there for small business owners who can find running their business a lonely experience.

“Quite a few businesses have B2B and B2C divisions,” says Field. “These ‘hybrid’ companies seem to have applied their B2C learning to B2B with good effect.”

Another company to tick the hybrid box is insurer Direct Line. Head of transformation Claire Sadler says the Binet and Field research confirms what she has always felt, that reach and tapping into emotion through creativity and storytelling are as important to B2B brands as they have always been in the B2C arena.

“B2B advertising is often rational rather than emotional but in insurance the risk to a business owner can be greater than to someone personally,” says Sadler. “We are all human beings and we do not become a different person when we go to work.”

Technology has made buying business services easier but it has also meant that in many cases human interaction has been lost. “The salesman use to be the face of the insurance brand. Today, insurers have to tell their brand story through other touchpoints, including their website and B2B advertising,” she adds.

Short-term pressures

For purely B2B companies, long-term brand thinking can be a challenge because of the pressure to deliver short-term sales. But Field believes there is no better tool for driving growth than brand building, and marketers’ acquisition strategy must target a broad audience to generate long-term support. He says too much B2B marketing is narrow and focusing on targeting existing customers.

The findings of the research have gone down well with B2B marketers, who accept that storytelling and brand building are essential if a business is to grow and remain competitive.

The chair of The DMA’s B2B Council, Richard Robinson, is also chief commercial officer at data technology startup DPL. He says building long-term brand awareness is more integral to B2B companies than most marketers realise because growing sales depends on successfully building relationships and customer loyalty.

He believes B2B customers are often more emotionally engaged than B2C shoppers because the purchasing costs can be higher and there can be a serious financial impact if the wrong buying decision is taken.

“B2B companies will reach more customers and encourage them to keep coming back if they build brand awareness as well as trust,” he says. “B2B brands are beginning to spend a larger proportion of their marketing budgets and resources on building relationships. You can barely enter a B2B marketing event today that doesn’t cover account-based marketing and/or storytelling.”

Robinson says a long-term approach is important because the B2B buying process is counted in months or even years. “How many B2C marketers have to engage with a dozen or more decision makers, all with different needs and requirements, across multiple months, using different channels to consume information just to sell one product?” he questions.

One area that does need to change is that B2B marketers need to become more confident about sharing their stories and differentiating themselves.

Tim Matthews is CMO at cyber security vendor Exabeam and author of the book The Professional Marketer. He has built many B2B marketing teams over the years, including leading nine worldwide product launches at security products brand Symantec.

“People buy from people so it is crucial any B2B brand can find a narrative,” he says. “If there is an origin story around the founder then future buyers will connect with that and the brand.”

Exabeam itself was founded by Nir Polak after he received a security alert regarding one of his credit cards. “Stories will hook clients in because the marketing becomes more about the people behind the business rather than being too product focused,” claims Matthews.

He says the Exabeam product is about security but the marketing messaging focuses on the human element. “When there is a problem the IT team have to work overtime and weekends, which means they are not spending so much time with their family and friends.”

The lost opportunity

Colin Lewis, CMO at travel retailing platform OpenJaw Technologies, says that historically B2B marketing was seen as the ugly child internally. These were the guys who organised the client golf days and product photo shoots.

“The internet has changed this because it is clearly visible how leads are being generated,” he says. “Big B2B brands such as IBM, Microsoft or Intel have always needed a proper and evolving brand story because they operate in such a dynamic market, but for other companies the challenge can be getting the sales function to buy into the importance of long-term brand building.”

Lewis is proud of OpenJaw Technologies’ own brand story: “We were set up by three entrepreneurs and are now a 400-strong company with high-profile clients such as British Airways and Cathay Pacific. Telling your story and not just talking about product boosts your credibility and can change the perception buyers might have of your business.

“This is also important when we talk about improving the employer brand and attracting talent.”

Communications agency FleishmanHillard Fishburn has carried out its own research into how brand affects B2B marketing and sales. Its study reveals that 32% of people rank brand reputation as the most influential attribute they look for in a supplier. This was second behind value for money (57%). Buyers also want to work with brands that have built up a reputation as industry experts and storytelling thought leaders.

Claudia Bate, head of technology at FleishmanHillard Fishburn, says the C-suite is beginning to pay closer attention to how branding can help businesses stand out in a crowded market where the buying process if long and complex.

“Modern B2B marketing needs to appeal to both hearts and minds,” she says. “The decision-makers that matter do not leave their emotions and personalities at the door when they go to work. Creative storytelling, quality content and a distinctive brand identity are hugely important tools for breaking through the noise to drive real business value.”


Does Flight-Shaming Over Climate Change Pose An Existential Threat To Airlines?

Jet aircraft have been flying in airline service since the ill-fated DeHavilland Comet in 1952. Flying was so glamorous that the term “jet set” was coined to described the envied international social group of wealthy people who hop-scotched around the world in what were presumed to be luxurious jet airliners.

Jet travel may no longer be as glamourous, but it’s become vastly more popular. Some 4.6 billion passengers are expected to take wing in 2019, supporting a trillion-dollar travel industry. But not if a growing group of European “flight shamers” and climate change protestors have their way.

Concerned about global climate change, a growing group of Northern European activists have begun to just say no to airline travel. Will such protests gain the momentum achieved by the anti-fossil fuel movement, as over one thousand institutional investors representing $6 trillion in funds have pledged fossil fuel divestment?

The Swedish-born “anti-flying” movement has grown, and its arresting if somber slogans like “flygskam” (“flight shame”) and “tågskryt,” (“train brag”) are being translated into many languages. One flight-boycotting British attorney, who formerly loved to travel, told Reuters, “It’s a tough pill to swallow, but when you look at the issues around climate change, then the sacrifice all of a sudden becomes small.”

“We should all fly less, the future of this planet is at stake,” said actress Dame Emma Thompson. But showing just how difficult such change is, her British Airways flight to London to support the Extinction Rebellion climate change protests reportedly generated two tons of carbon dioxide for each First Class passenger, such as Thompson. A British newspaper noted that the Extinction Rebellion group “insisted that the tons of carbon her flight produced for her to be at their protest was an ‘unfortunate cost in our bigger battle to save the planet’.”

Airline travel is now considered responsible for almost 3% of global carbon emissions today. Left unchecked, emissions will grow along with airline passenger traffic, expected to grow at a 3.5% per year clip through 2036, when 8.2 billion passengers will travel by air.

Anti-airline sentiment seems to have crossed the pond from Europe to America as well. A proposed Green New Deal bill called for the United States to “build out highs-peed rail at a scale where air travel stops becoming necessary.” In an early FAQ, its authors wrote, “We set a goal to get to net-zero, rather than zero emissions, in 10 years because we aren’t sure that we’ll be able to fully get rid of farting cows and airplanes that fast.”

The airline industry mocks such sentiment at its own peril. Although it failed this time around, the Green New Deal proposal was signed by Representative Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez and 67 Congressional co-signers, and may well be a significant issue in the 2020 US elections.

The response of the airline industry has so far been uncertain. At the just-concluded International Air Transport Association (IATA) 75th Annual General Meeting, IATA head Alexandre de Juniac said “Come on, stop calling us polluters,” to reporters at a news conference launching IATA’s ‘global imitative’ to reduce emissions.

The airline industry is announcing a Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA) agreed through the UN’s International Civil Aviation Organization. The goal of CORSA is to cap net CO2 emissions from international aviation at 2020 levels, even as passenger and flight growth continues. This is called carbon-neutral growth, or CNG. “Between 2020 and 2035 (CORSA) will mitigate over 2.5 billion tonnes of CO2 and generate at least $40 billion in finance for carbon reduction initiatives,” said Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s Director General and CEO.

Global initiatives or not, the airline industry has limited options in terms of how it can continue to grow while cutting emissions, at least in the near future. Having attended the “launches” of three non-flying mockups of eVTOL aircraft (electric vertical take-off and landing) in the last few months, it’s clear that battery-powered, hybrid gas/electric and hydrogen-fueled power plants are a long way from propelling light helicopter-like craft, let alone Airbus A380 replacements.

What could fuel big jets and cut carbon emission are the so-called biofuels. But their availability is strictly limited, forcing the airlines to continue using aviation fuel. Nonetheless, IATA has a 2% target for sustainable fuel by 2025, when additional sources will hopefully come  online.

So what’s left? A number of airlines offer piecework “solutions”, such as the opportunity for passengers to pay more money on their ticket to “offset” the carbon emitted on their behalf. As one would imagine, such initiatives are not very popular. Even at the recent IATA conference only a handful of airline executives said they had purchased off-sets for their ticket to Seoul.

The Scandivanaian airline SAS just announced that it is ending on-board duty-free sales to reduce aircraft weight, save fuel and reduce carbon, as part of its overall strategy to cut emissions by 25% by 2030 (compared with a 2005 baseline.) While the announcement didn’t say how much weight would be saved, it’s hard to imagine it was the equivalent of even one passenger.

And what’s next? Will the airlines begin weighing passengers and charging them a carbon surcharge if they are over the prescribed weight for their height, or offer a “offset-discount” for the svelte?

The airline industry needs to proceed on two tracks if it is to continue to thrive. One, of course, is to explore every technological solution to reduce carbon emissions, from alternative fuels to alternative power plants. The second is to convince an increasingly skeptical public that the airline industry is not only doing everything it can to fight climate change, but that it has made measurable and important progress in doing so.

Otherwise, the multi-billion airline industry will prove a tempting target for ever more vehement climate protest.


Too Many People Want to Travel

Late in May, the Louvre closed. The museum’s workers walked out, arguing that overcrowding at the home of the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo had made the place dangerous and unmanageable. “The Louvre suffocates,” the workers’ union said in a statement written in French, citing the “total inadequacy” of the museum’s facilities to manage the high volume of visitors.

Half a world away, a conga line of mountaineers waited to approach the summit of Mount Everest, queued up on a knife’s-edge ridge, looking as if they had chosen to hit the DMV at lunchtime. A photograph of the pileup went viral; nearly a dozen climbers died, with guides and survivors arguing that overcrowding at the world’s highest peak was a primary cause, if not the only one.

Such incidents are not isolated. Crowds of Instagrammers caused a public-safety debacle during a California poppy super bloom. An “extreme environmental crisis” fomented a “summer of action” against visitors to the Spanish island of Mallorca. Barcelona and Venice and Reykjavik and Dubrovnik, inundated. Beaches in Thailand and Mexico and the Philippines, destroyed. Natural wonders from the Sierra Nevadas to the Andes, jeopardized. Religious sites from Cambodia to India to Rome, damaged.

This phenomenon is known as overtourism, and like breakfast margaritas on an all-inclusive cruise, it is suddenly everywhere. A confluence of macroeconomic factors and changing business trends have led more tourists crowding to popular destinations. That has led to environmental degradation, dangerous conditions, and the immiseration and pricing-out of locals in many places. And it has cities around the world asking one question: Is there anything to be done about being too popular?

Locals have, of course, complained about tourists since time immemorial, and the masses have disrespected, thronged, and vandalized wonders natural and fabricated for as long as they have been visiting them. But tourism as we know it was a much more limited affair until recent decades. Through the early 19th century, travel for personal fulfillment was the provenance of “wealthy nobles and educated professionals” only, people for whom it was a “demonstrative expression of their social class, which communicated power, status, money and leisure,” as one history of tourism notes. It was only in the 1840s that commercialized mass tourism developed, growing as the middle class grew.

If tourism is a capitalist phenomenon, overtourism is its demented late-capitalist cousin: selfie-stick deaths, all-you-can-eat ships docking at historic ports, stag nights that end in property crimes, the live-streaming of the ruination of fragile natural habitats, et cetera. There are just too many people thronging popular destinations—30 million visitors a year to Barcelona, population 1.6 million; 20 million visitors to Venice, population 50,000. La Rambla and the Piazza San Marco fit only so many people, and the summertime now seems like a test to find out just how many that is.

The root cause of this surge in tourism is macroeconomic. The middle class is global now, and tens of millions of people have acquired the means to travel over the past few decades. China is responsible for much of this growth, with the number of overseas trips made by its citizens rising from 10.5 million in 2000 to an estimated 156 million last year. But it is not solely responsible. International-tourist arrivals around the world have gone from a little less than 70 million as of 1960 to 1.4 billion today: Mass tourism, again, is a very new thing and a very big thing.

Business trends have also contributed to turning paradise to paradise lost. Cruise vacations are vastly more popular than they once were, with the diesel-belching vessels disgorging thousands of passengers at a time onto port towns. Supercheap airlines using satellite airports have dramatically cut the cost of hopscotching around Europe, the Americas, and Asia, encouraging travelers to take 1 billion flights on budget airlines every year. And platforms such as Airbnb have increased the supply of rentable rooms in cities from Rio to Delhi, reducing search friction for travelers, boosting cities’ carrying capacity, and bumping up rents for existing residents—an estimated 4 percent in Barcelona, for instance.Social media are at work, too, with apps such as Instagram leading tourists to pitch over cliffs and clog vital roadways in search of the perfect pic, and sites such as Yelp and TripAdvisor making restaurants, museums, and beaches discoverable and thus ruinable. Overtourism itself is a media phenomenon as much as it is anything else. The word catapulted into common use in 2017, with wall-to-wall coverage of the problems in Venice, Bali, and elsewhere helping to drive the global backlash against tourists as well as the backlash to the backlash.

As for the backlash to the backlash: Some concerns about overtourism seem enormously overblown, and many local complaints about visitors are shot through with classism and racism. The majority of tourist destinations have no problem with the number of visitors they receive—would it even be possible for Orlando or Vegas to be over-touristed, logistically or spiritually? Travelers and their foreign direct investment remain a vital lifeblood for tiny Italian towns and big American parks and thousands of places in between. And while many sites are inarguably overcrowded, very few cities and towns are; the problem is mostly one of beaches and blocks and buildings, not of neighborhoods or regions.

There’s too much of a good thing in some of these spots, and mayors and city councils are doing their part to take it away. A number of places have implemented or expanded or proposed tourist taxes, among them Amsterdam, Bali, Edinburgh, Ireland, Rome, and Venice. These levies on hotels and day trips both reduce the number of visitors to a given place and provide it with revenue to improve infrastructure and defray the damage that tourists inevitably cause. Governments are also rolling out regulations, such as bans on tour buses in Rome and gating-and-ticketing in Barcelona. Those kinds of measures stand to become more important in the coming years, as the global middle class gets bigger, social media more ubiquitous, and travel cheaper.

These phenomena inevitably mean more complaints from locals, and more damage and lines and selfies and bad behavior. But they also mean more cross-cultural exposure, more investment, more global connection, more democratization of travel, and perhaps more awe and wonder. Even overtourism has its upsides.


Study: Hospitality dominates today’s consumer spending

Millennials seek nearby staycation resorts over house-sharing, most travelers react to slogans that speak to value and cleanliness, and “bleisure” (mix of business and pleasure travel) is a growing trend in the evolving and strongly performing world of tourism.

These and other key findings can be found in The “2019 Southwest Hospitality Marketing Report,” developed and commissioned by LAVIDGE, a leading marketing services agency with over 35 years of experience in the travel and hotel industry. The report reveals insights around consumer preferences including: vacationers strongly resonate with ads containing practical words such as “affordable,” rely on referrals and are motivated by slogans that convey convenience.

What’s more, consumers are spending generously on getaways and trips. STR and Tourism Economics, the hotel market data leader, predicts vigorous financial growth through 2020 for the nearly $70 billion industry.

The LAVIDGE 2019 Report is complimentary and available here.

“Our hospitality research pinpoints the specific types of messages that resonate with today’s travel-minded consumers,” said David Nobs, managing director, business development at LAVIDGE. “Understanding what motivates consumers into action is critical for hospitality marketers in this competitive arena.”

Hospitality is getting more sophisticated

Technology has also impacted how people travel, thanks to advancements in artificial intelligence like digital check-in and face-recognition systems. Future trends predict travelers seeking hospitality on-the-go and the introduction of mobile suites, and more adults-only travel.

Indeed, hoteliers are exploring adaptations of the Airbnb boom. Some now offer home sharing (as a concierge service) for travelers to go offsite for smaller trips during their stay.


Airlines are on pace for their worst year since 2014

New York (CNN Business)High fuel prices, an international trade war, and the 737 Max groundingare adding up to a miserable 2019 for the airline industry. Airlines are bracing for their worst year since 2014.The aviation industry expects to earn $28 billion in profit this year, according to a forecast released Sunday by the International Air Transport Association, a global trade group representing 290 airlines. That income outlook is 21% lower than the association’s previous 2019 forecast, which it issued in December. It would be the lowest profit the industry has recorded in five years. “The business environment for airlines has deteriorated with rising fuel prices and a substantial weakening of world trade,” the group said in a statement.

“Margins are being squeezed by rising costs right across the board.”IATA expects airlines’ costs to grow 7.4% this year, outpacing the 6.5% anticipated growth in sales. That means airlines will make about 11% less on each passenger in 2019 than they made in 2018.Oil prices, which have risen in recent months as tensions escalate between the United States, Iran and Venezuela, are a big factor in airlines’ doom-and-gloom attitude about 2019. Jet fuel accounts to a quarter of airlines’ operating costs, and IATA said jet fuel will cost 27.5% more this year than it did two years ago.Rising trade tensions aren’t helping either. They will most directly hurt the cargo industry, although passenger traffic could fall as people reconsider vacations to some locations and as consumers spend more money on imports.

IATA expects that growth in cargo demand will slow substantially. Growth in passenger demand for air travel will slow a bit too, although far less dramatically than cargo. “There is no easy money to be made,” said Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s CEO, in a statement.


Dine and Dish: Virgin Hotels San Francisco

SAN FRANCISCO (KRON) – The founder of Virgin Atlantic Airlines is back in the Bay Area in a big way.

Richard Branson opened up Virgin Hotels – San Francisco. In the city that’s known to party, the new Virgin Hotel is making a splash.

Opening night, complete with dazzling drag queens, Branson look-alikes and boy band’s Lance Bass — The real Branson arrived in a burning man bus.

Inside, non-stop music with dancing dj’s, bartenders behind the bar and on top of it.

Virgin’s Raul Leal, alongside Sir Richard Branson, talking about big plans for Virgin Hotels, Virgin cruises, maybe even a Virgin dating app, eventually.

You could say things are looking up.

The new San Francisco Virgin hotel is on Terra Firma but don’t be surprised if the next Virgin Hotel is on another planet.

Of course, you’re going to need to take Virgin Galactic to get there.


Russia Considers Ways To Boost Tourism – OpEd

On the eve of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF-2019), government officials and tourism experts have been looking at systematic ways to remove barriers, adopt marketing strategies to improve the current inbound tourism figures and get effective institutional organizations to promote Russia’s image.

The SPIEF-2019, which has the theme ‘Creating a Sustainable Development Agenda,’ will take place on June 6-8 in St. Petersburg, Russia’s second-largest city after Moscow, with 5 million inhabitants in 2012.

The official opening ceremony of the Forum on June 6 will be attended by UN Secretary-General António Guterres, Eurasian Economic Commission Chairman of the Board Tigran Sargsyan, President of Moldova Igor Dodon, and Russian First Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Anton Siluanov. The meeting will be moderated by NBC News correspondent Keir Simmons.

According to Olga Golodets, Deputy Prime Minister of the Russian Federation, each year, the tourism industry adds points of interest. There was an up of almost 15 percent in 2018. The domestic tourism flows totalled 60 million people. Inbound tourism to the Russian Federation was just over 24 million.

Golodets strongly believes that infrastructure development drives tourism. She gave the example of the improvement of infrastructure in the Crimea, Russia’s newly created autonomous region.

“Any infrastructural changes or transport changes immediately lead to an increase in the flow of tourism. With the construction of the Crimean Bridge, we see how much the flow of tourism has increased to the Republic of Crimea over the last year – by 29%. Crimea ranked the fifth region in the Russian Federation in terms of the number of winter visits, the flow of tourists is changing following changes in infrastructure,” says Golodets.

The industry’s development is primarily due to the public-private partnership scheme and better business climate that has encouraged and attracted foreign hotels. The number of hotels has increased by 40 times, the number of restaurants has also grown by 25 times, and the number of items on display has increased by several dozen times, observes Oleg Kuvshinnikov, Governor of Vologda Region and Chairman of the Healthy Cities, Districts, and Villages Association.

Some state officials argue that tourism infrastructure remained underdeveloped due to poor investment. Besides, there were shortcomings in the regulatory framework for investment control by the Russian government. Due to constraints, says Sergey Galkin, Deputy Minister of Economic Development, “there is a disastrous lack of investment in infrastructure”.

Increasing investment efficiency and enhancing the level of interagency and interregional collaboration are necessary for creating some models in the industry, according to the Deputy Minister.

“As for a model, it should include an interagency component because tourism is not actually a single industry, but an assembly of elements from various industries. And here, interagency collaboration is a key element of success,” Galkin points out.

One of the problems is the low profit margin of the tourism business. “The concessional lending program, unfortunately, is not working as we would like.” The figure stood at 6.5 percent, now it stands at 8.5 percent. Investments have been paying for about 10 years. But these are far form “entirely effective,” says Sergey Kirvonsov, Deputy Chairman, Committee of the State Duma of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation on Physical Culture, Sport, Tourism, and Youth Affairs.

“Business has seen a catastrophic increase in costs, and we are all adding to the product. And we are becoming uncompetitive. As a result, Sochi and Crimea are starting to lose out to Turkey. The resort tax and its administration have been shifted onto the shoulders of business,” notes Aleksey Kozhevnikov, Senior Vice President, Russian Export Center (REC).

“We came up with the ‘Green Corridor for Tourists’ program. It’s a green corridor for business. We have developed a whole system of benefits: they include tax breaks, a reduction in the service delivery time, support for investment projects, and free connection to utilities,” says Alexander Drozdenko, Governor of Leningrad Region.

Expert research shows that foreign tourists are increasingly interested in luxury hotels and resorts with perfect service, well-trained and dedicated workforce with passion for service excellence, a charming and fascinating mixture of Russian culture and modern life, good infrastructure with wonderful road networks and airports.

The general lack of knowledge and information about Russia’s tourism destinations continues to be a major challenge. What seems to be important now is identifying priorities in the tourism sector. Russia is a huge country, but its resources are limited. There is no way to develop all 85 regions within a short period.

“You can create a tourism product from Russia that can satisfy any demand as a promising unique tourist destination. We must not miss-out on the wave of the 2018 World Cup legacy. These opportunities need to be used in the most concentrated way possible,” suggests Zarina Doguzova, Head of the Russian Federal Agency for Tourism.

The World Cup fans arrived from the United States, Europe and Asia to Russia. According to some statistics, about five million foreigners visited the country over this period from June 14 through July 15, 2018 – the highest number among foreigners were fans from the United States, Brazil and Germany.

Foreign Ministry’s Spokesperson Maria Zakharova, during her weekly media briefing, expressed great satisfaction and added that the Ministry continued receiving messages about the enthusiasm regarding the organization of the World Cup, the atmosphere surrounding the event, infrastructure and the country in general.

According to official reports released by the Presidential Press Service and the Presidential Executive Office, the initiative was crafted to promote public diplomacy and raise Russia’s image abroad.

Referring to the opening of the World Cup, President Vladimir Putin said: “We prepared responsibly for this major event and did our best so that fans could immerse themselves in the atmosphere of a magnificent football festival and, of course, enjoy their stay in Russia – open, hospitable, friendly Russia – and find new friends, new like-minded people.”

As a further step, the Russian Foreign Ministry has also signed bilateral visa-free travel agreements with Asian countries, for example, China, Japan and South Korea, and with more than ten Latin American countries to promote the tourism industry.

According to officials, it “opens wide possibilities for the development of business, cultural, humanitarian and tourist contacts” and Moscow plans to take further steps to expand the geography of visa-free travel for Russian nationals and foreigners.


Diversity In Influencer Marketing: Why Representation Matters

YouTuber influencer culture has seen a fair amount of drama lately. There was the famous feud between James Charles and Tati Westbrook, and during that timeframe, Gen Z fashion app Dote was called out across social media for their lack of diversity in their Dote Girls branded campaigns. 

At a recent influencer trip, YouTube star Daniella Perkins shared her experience with racial exclusion at the Dote house where the influencers were staying and promoting Dote at Coachella. This shocking revelation prompted many A-list Gen Z influencers such as Emma Chamberlain, Ellie Thumann, and Summer Mckeen to end their relationship with the fashion app. 

Dote vows to be a more inclusive brand, but it begs the question: how can the influencer marketing ecosystem be more representative of all genders, races, sexualities, and perspectives?

Here are how brands, influencers, and influencer marketplace and agencies can collectively work together to do a better job in promoting diversity and inclusion.

Brands: Highlight diversity in campaigns.

Brands are leveraging influencers now more than ever. They’re tapping into every type of influencer whether B2B employee ambassadors, fashion nano-influencers, or celebrities with millions of followers. With this immense investment in influencer marketing, brands need to think about inclusivity from the very start of their campaign strategy. 

Eric Toda, former marketing executive at Gap Inc., Airbnb, Nike, and Snapchat who has created high-visibility global campaigns with influencers like Beyonce and Kim Kardashian, shared his thoughts on how brands can do better: 

“You tend to see marketers let their unconscious biases’ make decisions. It’s not a secret that marketing is a predominantly white industry so naturally there are marketers who choose influencers who look like them; it’s safe, it’s relatable, but unfortunately, it’s not real life.

As marketers we continue to be one of the only industries in the world that can influence large masses of people; we can do that in the effort of good, or we can choose the other route. We need to put values-driven messages out there, show real life versus a sterilized mirage, and instill purpose. You can achieve this by partnering with influencers that represent different stories, races, socioeconomic backgrounds, etc.”

Influencer Marketing Takeaway: When crafting your campaigns, think about your target demographic and imagine how they’d react to a non-diverse influencer mix. Be strategic in finding influencers that represent your audience and brand values. This allows for more positive brand sentiment and affinity as you’re leveraging connectivity between community and influencer. 

Influencers: Research the right partnerships. 

Being an influencer is a business. With a high-followership, influencers have opportunities to produce content for a broader audience through brand partnerships. Influencers need to research the right brands to work alongside.

Indian-American beauty influencer Arshia Moorjani who has over 600,000 social media followers and works with top brands like L’Oreal and Estee Lauder is passionate about the choices she makes with brand deals:

“I have turned down many campaigns because the brand is not inclusive, and this goes beyond the products. Before agreeing to any campaigns, I study the brand from looking at their products, social media accounts, and past campaigns. 

I also love to meet brands in person to understand their core values. It’s not just about accepting another paycheck; it’s about aligning myself with brands who actually create products for my skin tone but represent a large group of people. 

I want brands to continue to work with a diverse group of people, not for the sake of being inclusive but from an understanding of why actually diversity matters. Everyone should feel represented in this industry and that goes beyond one’s skin tone. True diversity means showcasing people with different backgrounds, genders, body types, ages, sexual orientation, audience size, and more.”

Influencer Marketing Takeaway: Influencers need to align with forward-thinking inclusive brands like Fenty Beauty, MAC Cosmetics, and NARS that are creating products for a wide audience, but are also showcasing diversity on their social media accounts and campaigns. 

Influencer marketplaces and agencies: Educate clients.

Influencer marketplaces and agencies help facilitate connections and campaigns for brands and influencers. Employees at these marketplaces and agencies can help educate their clients on how to optimize successful campaigns by showing data and insights that highlight the importance of inclusivity. 

Kate Edwards, COO of influencer marketplace, Heartbeat, is actively encouraging brands to work with influencers of all ethnicities, genders, sizes, and perspectives. She explains:

“We are on the front lines of showing brands the value of working with diverse, everyday people who are actually the brand’s consumers. Millennials and Gen Z are actively looking for brands to represent people who look like them and share their values, and this is a major shift in how “influence” is perceived.

Sometimes, when we go to a brand to talk to them about influencer marketing, they are looking for a cookie-cutter influencer, many of whom represent traditional standards of beauty. However, we have to sit the brands down and tell them that working with real people, serving their actual demographic, is much better for their brand. It’s been an uphill battle, but we’re making progress. Plus, the data in terms of our campaign results speaks for itself.”

Influencer Marketing Takeaway: Influencer marketplaces and agencies need to be at the forefront of leading the charge in providing a diverse array of influencers to their clients. By showing data points and leveraging insider knowledge they can help to create impactful campaigns that transcend the traditional standards of beauty.


Hospitality Industry Dominates Today’s Consumer Spending According to New Research

Report identifies the hotel and resort marketing trends driving consumer preferences

PHOENIX, June 3, 2019 /PRNewswire/ — Millennials seek nearby staycation resorts over house-sharing, most travelers react to slogans that speak to value and cleanliness, and “bleisure” (mix of business and pleasure travel) is a growing trend in the evolving and strongly performing world of tourism.

These and other key findings can be found in The “2019 Southwest Hospitality Marketing Report,” developed and commissioned by LAVIDGE, a leading marketing services agency with over 35 years of experience in the travel and hotel industry. The report reveals insights around consumer preferences including: vacationers strongly resonate with ads containing practical words such as “affordable,” rely on referrals and are motivated by slogans that convey convenience.

What’s more, consumers are spending generously on getaways and trips. STR and Tourism Economics, the hotel market data leader, predicts vigorous financial growth through 2020 for the nearly $70 billion industry.

The LAVIDGE 2019 Report is complimentary and available here.

“Our hospitality research pinpoints the specific types of messages that resonate with today’s travel-minded consumers,” said David Nobs, managing director, business development at LAVIDGE. “Understanding what motivates consumers into action is critical for hospitality marketers in this competitive arena.”

Hospitality is getting more sophisticated 

Technology has also impacted how people travel, thanks to advancements in artificial intelligence like digital check-in and face-recognition systems. Future trends predict travelers seeking hospitality on-the-go and the introduction of mobile suites, and more adults-only travel.

Indeed, hoteliers are exploring adaptations of the Airbnb boom. Some now offer home sharing (as a concierge service) for travelers to go offsite for smaller trips during their stay.

The Research

WestGroup Research surveyed 450 adult consumers working and living in the Southwest United States to provide fresh insights for major hospitality marketing executives, travel professionals, meeting planners and business and leisure guests about specific phrases and tactics to market their products and services successfully.


Meet LAVIDGE, an employee-owned ad agency specializing in discovering and communicating insights which engage, motivate and inspire. From building brand awareness to driving revenue, from positioning thought leaders to enhancing perceptions, it’s why we do what we do. Our unified marketing approach encompasses advertising, public relations, and digital marketing. And we’ve been doing it successfully since 1982 for clients in healthcare, real estate, education, hospitality, technology, sports marketing, personal care, food service, and government. Intrigued? Visit us at and get social with us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn.