Two pieces of news (well almost news) on Webjet's new product plans out today - updates on their user generated content and packaging plans. Both are great sounding products and the right move - but I think a little more is needed to make them perfect.
Their user generated content plan is to launch a user review and social networking site. Previously called "Planit" the new working is "PLANITONEARTH". As per my earlier comments this is probably due to the fact that the Planit URL was already owned by a design company. The current PLANITONEARTH URL does not yet resolve to anything but is registered by Webjet.
I like this idea and by committing a million dollars, Webjet is indicating a preparedness to put in the significant time and money to build the huge scale and regularly updated features needed to be competitive in travel social networking and UGC. However I still advise them to rethink the name. Planitoneath is a big mouthful. It does not roll of the tongue as easily as Tripadvisor or WhereAreYouNow. Additionally, even though they have cleaned up the confusion with Planit the design company, there is the potential for confusion - well really search engine ranking dilution - with PlanitEarth (an environmental research group).
The next announcement care of TravelWeekly is that Webjet's package product/content is just two weeks from launch (after a four month delay). Again a critical step and product for Webjet. I remain confused as to why consumers continue to feel comfortable paying service fees of more than $24 per domestic booking on Webjet when the competition (ie travel.com.au and flightcentre.com.au) charge less than $10 and the airline sites direct charge nothing . Webjet needs to have a package cross sell system to generate the hotel revenue that will allow them to drop this fee before consumers wise up to the disparity.
Functionality will be critical to the success of the packaging engine but equally will be the content and inventory available to Webjet. The article re-iterates the importance that Webjet places on inventory from S8 inventory (very soon to be renamed Stella Resort Group) which will give them most of what they will need for families on the Gold Coast.
However for Webjet to truly deliver on packaging and hotel only plans it needs to establish an in-house product team devoted to contracting hotels property by property, chain by chain. White label deals with Travelport and large scale deals with Stella/S8 will not give them the domestic coverage and hotel influence of a Wotif or HotelClub/RatesToGo, nor will it allow them to compensate for the possible technology lag they will have behind Expedia's packaging. Building such a team will not be cheap - will likely take a commitment much like the $1mm planned for Planitonearth - but if Webjet wants to be a package/hotel player it will be essential.
UPDATE - m-travel are quoting Webjet as saying that planitonearth is out of beta an into full release. Sounds good except as at the time of this post (30 July) the url planitonearth.com.au is pointing to a "Server Not Found" page. Only way to access planitonearth is via the Webjet site itself. They will need to fix that.