Sunday, September 30, 2007

The BOOT is on the road - back Friday Oct 5

Unlikely to have a chance to post between now and Friday Oct 5 - but given the rumour bonanza of the last week, who knows.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Its true - TUI acquires Asiarooms

Once again search engine traffic proves an indicator of M&A activity and finally a rumour from the BOOT proves true. The confirmation is in that TUI has indeed bought Asiarooms (newswire article here). Can't believe they did it. Thanks to Nathan from Bangkok for sending through the news link. Press release claims that Asiarooms is doing 4 million bed nights a year (about 2.5million room nights) but that sounds inflated to me.

UPDATE: with help from a loyal reader have found a filing from TUI that indicates the purchase price of Asiarooms of $67.5mm ($49mm in cash and $18.5 in assumed debt). Here is the quote

With effect from 28 September 2007, Pacific World Singapore Pte. Ltd. (Singapore) acquired a 100% share in Asiarooms Pte. Ltd. (Singapore), a company operating in the hotel accommodation agency business. The goodwill (33.1 million GBP or € 47.4 million), capitalised on a preliminary basis as at the acquisition date, was determined on the basis of the purchase price including incidental acquisition costs of 49.0 million USD and negative net assets of 18.5 million USD.
We assume Pacific World is a TUI vehicle. Anyone out there read this differently?

Friday, September 28, 2007

Is there another buyer in the wings for Travel.com.au?

It was supposed to be a done deal. The number one player - Webjet.com.au - buying the number two player - Travel.com.au. But things are never easy.

The online version of the Australian is reporting that Travel.com.au has "received an unsolicited third party proposal". Travel.com.au has not said who but are quoted in the Australian as saying - "no assurance can be given that such party will proceed with an offer for the company". Here is the official filing document from Travel.com.au so at least you have me finally reporting something that it not just a rumour.

So - who could it be? Please speculate in the comments section. A large offline retailer maybe? An Australian media company?

Thanks to the interested reader that sent me this so quickly.

UPDATE - Webjet have come back with an announcement saying in effect that they are the only bidder on the table, have the full support of the Board and already have 19.9% of the stock (enough to block any other bid)

Can search traffic be used to start a TUI acquisition rumour?

I receive a lot of strange search engine traffic. There is the simply weird stuff such as the period when I was the number one result on the German version of Google for the search term "price of an elephant" and there is the traffic that seems to confirm things such as the building stream of traffic around TravelClick acquisition rumours. Then there are the times when search engine traffic is the number one predictor of a deal - I remember the flood of Worldspan and Galileo traffic immediately before the announcement of that deal. This has put me on constant watch for strange search terms driving traffic to the blog in case I can spot something building that will lead to a rumour that will lead to a deal. Today I spotted the weirdest of the lot so far and had to share it with you.

Traffic hit the BOOT today from Google for this search term - "TUI purchase of asiarooms". Here is the traffic report. Tell me that can't be true? How is that for a combination of words that none of us would ever expect? TUI - as you know - is the European tour operator giant. They said just this week that "Acquisitions are a priority". Asiarooms is the Thailand based Asian online hotel provider famous for their very small margin mark ups of operator rates, marginal customer service and French owner. One piece of traffic on one search term is not enough to qualify as a rumour let alone getting close to being a basis for anything but scuttlebutt. Nonetheless had to share this with you.

Rumour confirmed - Opodo no longer owns Karavel

As predicted by Opodo staff member Mario Gavira (and reported here by me) , Barclays Private Equity has been confirmed as the new owner of Karavel.

UPDATE - Onelinetravelcrunch that first broke the story has been shut down. Kevin May carries more of the story here.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

The BOOT goes to London

Am off to London on Sunday night for two days of meetings. I have to be back in Sydney first thing Thursday so will be breaking the number one business travel rule which is - spend more time on the ground than in the air. Will have a chance to the way to try out the new BA business class (I think). Will let you know how it goes.

New boss for eLong - Guangfu Cui

5 months after the departure of Tom SooHoo, eLong have announced the appointment of a new CEO - Guangfu Cui. Press release here.

Here is how they describe his background

Prior to joining eLong, Guangfu Cui was the Managing Director for FedEx Kinko's China. Under his leadership, Mr. Cui positioned the company as market leader in digital printing industry in China with 16 centers and 300 employees within four years after he joined FedEx Kinko's.

Prior to joining FedEx Kinko's, Guangfu Cui worked for Procter & Gamble China for over 12 years, including two and half years working in the United States. He was instrumental in building Procter & Gamble China's distribution network and retail coverage system.

Guangfu Cui is 38 years old, holds an MBA from Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University and a BA in Law from Peking University.
This allows Expedia Asia Pac president Henrik Kjellberg to give up the role of interim CEO and get back to his day job(s).

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Rumour of the Week - Amadeus/Opodo to sell off Karavel to Barclay's Private Equity



UPDATE - Onelinetravelcrunch that first broke the story has been shut down. Kevin May carries more of the story here.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Low Cost Carriers and Low Cost Hotels - when the Pods come with perks

The original hallmark of the low cost carrier (Ryanair, Southwest, Virgin-blue, easyJet etc) was "you get what you pay for". The brands pitched themselves as about cheap fares and no-frills. A seat, a destination and for everything else there is Mastercard. There have been some changes here and there such as Virgin-Blue opening a lounge and having a frequent flyer program and even Southwest announcing a plan to change parts of it's famous "cattle call" board system. But by and large the trend has been to keep the brands focused on price and to find ways to change the product to introduce more things you can charge for ( see Ryanair charging for check in baggage). So in the airline business we have a history of low cost providers with a common brand shtick around cheap, cheap, cheap - you get what you pay for.

It has been very interesting to observe that the low cost hotel model is taking the opposite approach. Accor's Formule1 was among the first to offer a low cost but dependable hotel experience sticking with the airline approach to marketing the brand. Since then we have seen a boom in brand launches around a concept of a Pod Hotel or Modular Hotel or Cabin Hotels - basically a step up concept from the world famous Japanese capsule hotel. However the brand focus for these new breed of low cost accommodation has been around "hip, happening, young, funky and convenient" - not around "cheap and no frills".

Here are some examples of these types of hotels that are trying to combine low cost with cool/chic:
I was wondering what else the low cost hotels would do differently to the low cost airlines - especially in the area of distribution and pricing. I had an email exchange with Patrick Landman from Xotels - who are providing revenue management services to and are a shareholder in Qbic - to help answer some of these questions.

As expected they make not distinction between business and leisure travellers and as a result do not do corporate rates. What was interesting though is that unlike the airline brethren, they are happy to distribute through third party websites. In the case of Qbic Patrick said that
50% of the business is booked through the own website or are small groups referred from the website to the call centre, the other 50% through 3rd parties and a tiny piece of GDS only
So in low cost hotels we have two significant differences to low cost air in terms of brand and distribution. Is a clear reflection of the greater competition and supplier spread in the accommodation business.

If you are interested in reading more about some of the hotels mentioned here check out the Smart Travel Asia article Bods in Pods by Vjay Verghese.

UPDATE - Guido Van Den Elshout at the Happy Hotelier blog has a story on the ultimate cube hotel. The Hotel Everland has set up a one room suite on the roof of the Paris Palais de Tokyo where Guido reports it will receive guests for an overnight stay and museum visitors during the day until the end of 2008. Great pictures in Guido's post.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Qantas to and from US great, American Airlines terrible

I call it when I call it. Qantas have let me down a lot but not this time. My flight and experience with them was great. Started with the new first class lounge which is fantastic. It has a full top class restaurant and has a beautiful, open and relax yet smart layout. The staff were attentive - more so than any other Qantas experience I can mention. They kept coming up to me looking for ways to help out. One small criticism was that there was no free wi-fi. I later found out from a friend that there is but you have to ask for it. This lounge is now on par with the Cathay Pacific Wing lounge in Hong Kong as the best I have been in.

Both flights were as I have been hoping for with Qantas. The VOD worked (finally), the food was served soon after take off and the staff friendly. Only complaint is that while the staff are friendly they still do not match the Cathay and Singapore staff for attentiveness. They continue to disappear for hours during the lights-out period and have to be prompted to water. But huge improvement.

They were however let down by their code share partner American Airlines who continue to serve rubbish food, downgraded me twice because they oversold and then required me to pay for food and were delayed for more than three hours out of Chicago on the way home. This meant that while I made it to my connection in LA (but only because it was also delayed), my luggage did not. I had my luggage arrive this evening (36 hours after me) but one of the bags is now missing a wheel. Is there a line here about how the wheels have fallen off American?

T-List is back, soon as a book

Mathieu of radaron started the T-List back in March. It grew exponentially from there to the point where blogs such as Kevin May's Travolution have issued Recommend Lists with reduced numbers to make it more manageable. My own version is here.

Now a book is the offering. Jens Thraenhart has started a project to turn the T-List into a book. Support is growing across a number of conferences including
Editors are:
If you would like to participate then Kevin has a copy of the steps here.

When is a jar of olives not a bomb - when it is in the right plastic bag of course

Have just returned - barely - from the US. My flight out of Chicago was delayed by more than three hours. Thankfully my connection from LA to Sydney was also delayed meaning I managed to make it home rather than be stranded for the night with Tom Bradley and all his friends (my luggage has not yet made it home but that is another story).

Coming through security I encountered one of those great moments in Transport Security Administration automatism. You know the type where seemingly half-intelligent TSA offices apply a bizarre rule so strictly that they make themselves and the whole of the USA government look like a cross between a Eastern European border guard from 1983 and Southern European circus clown from 1973.

My trip through security was uneventful (if you include taking off half your clothes, stripping down my computer like it was a AK-47 and extracting my nasal spray from my bag as uneventful). The guy behind me was not so lucky.

"You're in big trouble" said the burly TSA guy gleefully grabbing a backpack off the x-ray machine and whisking it over to the inspection table (where I was sitting getting dressed, putting my computer back together and wondering if I really needed to keep the three year old nasal spray).

The TSA agent digs deep into the bag as all of us around prepare to duck, cover and soil ourselves depending on what comes out of the bag. He wiggles, heaves and strains before with an enormous sense of satisfaction his hand emerges from the backpack holding a clear, sealed plastic bag containing two very dangerous looking items - a jar of pasta sauce and a jar of olives. You would think that would be OK. We have what is obviously food in a clear plastic bag. But to the men and women of the TSA it is a non-compliant plastic bag and therefore a risk to national security.

"You are going to have to throw it away or find a ziplock bag" the agent demanded.

As the couple considered what was more valuable and which was to be chucked - the wife's perfume or the husband's food, I decided that my three year old nasal spray was well beyond it's shelf life, tossed it away and performed by good deed of the day by handing over an old, crinkly and slightly nasal spray wet zip lock bag to a couple of now very thankful almost olive jar terrorists. Thus a national emergency was averted and order to the universe was returned because the food was in a quart sized zip locked bag. True story because I could not have made this up.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

The BOOT at Wired In Travel - Singapore November 29 & 30

I am presenting at Wired In Travel on November 29 & 30 in Singapore. There are two sessions I am in.

On day 1
- The Wired Debate II: The Future of Distribution – What Will Customers Want?
The different online business models in a row – love them or hate them – these are the games consumers now play. What will customers gravitate towards – the multi-choice platform, the specialists, the generalists or the search masters? Each speaker will have 10 minutes each to champion their business model. Which will rule in the future – you decide.

and

On day 2 - An Angel Ate At My Table: An Investment Session
Looking for funds to start up a bright idea? Or additional funds to rev up your business? Find out how to make your business proposition attractive to the right angel investor in this session.

Look forward to seeing you there

UPDATE - unfortunately had to pull out of the conference. Wish I didnt as will be a fantastic conference

Friday, September 21, 2007

TripIt - Now we know what they do and that they are in with the "in crowd"

I passed on the news in April that TripIt had raised a million dollars in funding. Now the site is live (in beta of course) and we have more of an idea of what they do and what CEO Greg Brockway plans to do with the money.

TripIt is a travel organisation and collaboration site but with a real twist. Instead of the now usual Web 2.0 approach of letting you tag pages or save pages or integrate pages from various booking and content sites, TripIt works by extracting all of the confirmation information you have from your booking emails and putting it in the one consolidated form. Here is how they describe it
Here’s how TripIt works: A traveler simply forwards their travel confirmation emails – no matter where they booked - and the TripIt “Itinerator” instantly incorporates them into their master itinerary. Then, TripIt puts that information to work on the traveler’s behalf by automatically anticipating basic needs to make the trip easier, such as adding daily weather, local maps and directions, helpful destination information and more by using information pulled from a variety of other popular websites. Travelers can then print out all their bookings neatly in a single document to take on their trip.
If they get it right then the opportunities for upselling and profiling consumers will be fantastic.

Two challenges -

1. Getting consumers to use it. It a world of instant gratification it will challenging to convince consumers to email and wait; and

2. This presumably requires some very complicated technology. The system will need to be able to extract different types of booking information from thousands of possible sites, all with different itinerary formats. Assuming they build up the consumer base, the technology will have work perfectly every time or else it will lose the main draw card - convenience.

Love the idea but big job to get it working.

The PR campaign is already working. TripIt has proven itself to me a member of the VC/Valley in-crowd. They were the only travel company in the Techcrunch40, the just completed web startup demonstration conference hosted by tech/VC blogging A-listers Michael Arrington of Techrcunch and Jason Calacanis of Mahalo.

Here is the crunchbase profile of TripIt and here is an earlier post I did on Mahalo.

UPDATE - Another of the A-lister sites, GigaOM, is not giving TripIt much of a chance.

Opodo are back in the online hotel game - with a little help from Hotel.de

After a well known, expensive and subsequently abandoned effort to enter the online hotel game, a question has hung over what would Opodo do to increase its product mix. Now we have part of the answer with an announcement that online and corporate booker Hotel.de is going to provide inventory for Opodo in Germany, the UK, France and Italy. Nothing replaces having your own inventory and engine but it was/is critical for Opodo to move quickly an find hotel options.

Here is the Hotelmarketing.com story
.

UPDATE - thanks to Kevin of the Travolution blog who in the comments section passes on that this deal does not actually include FR and IT inventory.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

A little bit of Amadeus + A little bit of Sabre = Moneydirect

Press releases have been flying all over the place confirming the name and nature of the Amadeus and Sabre Euro announced last month. The version on AsiaTravelTips tells us that the new venture - called Moneydirect - do payment processing and collections. They describe it as
an industry solution for secure, automated payment processing, clearing and reconciliation for the travel and tourism industry
This is not completely a new business. The Australian arm has been in operation since 1991 and claims to already have 6,000 customers, including Australian based offline giant Flight Centre (according to the customer comment section of their website).

I wonder what if anything can be read out of the announcement that it with be the Sabre rep - James Filsinger - that will be CEO with the Amadeus rep - Laurent Chartier - coming in as the COO/number 2. Someone always has to be number one in a company even in a 50:50 JV but this is one with two competitors and one of those competitors is the boss. Could be very interesting to see or maybe I am trying too hard to find a bit of spicy conflict to liven up the story.

UPDATE - Amadeus have given us some more insight the comments section. Sadly no conflict or spice.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

The BOOT is on the road this week - why not subscribe while I'm gone

Your correspondent is travelling this coming week. Might have time for a post or two but likely will be a bit quiet on the blog until the week of the 24th of Sept. In the meantime if you like the BOOT then why not subscribe by either email or RSS through either of the options below.

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Friday, September 14, 2007

Interview with Peter Campion, General Manager of Travelocity's IgoUgo

No need to begin this post with an intro to the battle between OTAs and content based sites. You, dear reader, are smart enough and well informed enough to know that we are in a stage of online travel where the content/media/review/meta-search sites are challenging the old/newish online retailers for dominance in viewership, unique Us and traffic rankings. In looking into this area I published a post a number of months ago looking into the price that Sabre Inc paid for review site IgoUgo as part of Travelocity's bid to join the battle against Expedia's TripAdvisor. At the time I was eager to know more about how IgoUgo would fare in this fight.

After this post I was approached by a PR firm linked to IgoUgo to organise a follow up interview. I was looking forward to a good chance to discuss how to balance a retail business and a content/UGC business in one of the largest leisure travel companies in the world. Was also hopeful of a bit of insight into how IgoUgo would fight it out with the leader TripAdvisor.

I received recently a reply to my questions from Peter Campion, the General Manager of IgoUgo. You will see from the answers that IgoUgo is pitching itself as being a deeper travel experience than TripAdvisor. Peter talks about "inspiring travellers" rather than simply offering reviews. He also touts a greater depth of photos and experience based content as the big differentiators. On the relationship with Travelocity he tells us that IgoUgo is operated very independently. On strategic plans he says there are no current plans to either launch non-English versions or to follow TripAdvisor's site roll-up acquisition strategy.

I was hoping for more fighting words from Peter in his responses about TripAdvisor but he did not want to be drawn into a commentary around a battle against competitors. That often happens in an interview driven by a PR company. It is a hallmark of media training to work on how to tone down the fighting words or anti-competitor rhetoric and instead focus the message on your activities, not that of your competitors. However this a blog not BusinessWeek so we all would have preferred to read something from IgoUgo that had a little more vigour, passion and spice. There is some nice insight in the full text of the interview below but at times the comments stray a little too much into press release speak. This pitch reveals the areas of product differentiation with TripAdvisor but IgoUgo is going to need more than that to be competitive and own the online traveller eyeball market. Everyone involved in traveller content space - IgoUgo included - need to fire up their product, marketing and sales teams with a hunger to take on and beat the big and niche competitors coming at them from all angles.

Here is the full text of the email Q&A.

The BOOT Asks: What do you think is the best thing about IgoUgo?

Peter Campion Answers: The best thing about IgoUgo is that we offer travelers a variety of different ways to share information and experiences. Our members can contribute anything from a single travel photo to a full trip summary, complete with multiple reviews of hotels, restaurants, activities, and numerous photos. We then present the content in such a way that it is useful to the person looking for reviews and aggregated ratings or more in-depth travel stories and photo galleries. It's important to us to be about the whole travel experience. Our members are more interested in sharing three-dimensional travel stories and journals than in complaining about their hotel rooms.

The BOOT Asks: Is there any common theme around why consumers come to the site and use it?

Peter Campion Answers: Consumers come to IgoUgo to find useful, inspiring content contributed by other travelers. There are so many amazing travel experiences out there, and most people don't have more than a few weeks per year to enjoy them, so they want to make sure that the destination, hotel, or activity they choose is going to offer the best experience possible. IgoUgo serves as an invaluable resource for making the right choice.

We also have lots of visitors who aren't in the midst of planning a trip, but continue to return to the site to share their travel experiences and connect with others who have had similar experiences (or experiences they hope to have!). IgoUgo taps into the aspirational element of travel, as well as its ability to bring people together from all over the world. Our members come back to connect through a shared passion and keep up with each other’s latest travel experiences.

The BOOT Asks: What has it been like being part of the Travelocity group especially when attracting advertising from outside the group?

Peter Campion Answers: IgoUgo operates as a fairly independent part of the Travelocity group, but we are certainly able to leverage their expertise. Travelocity’s advertising team has done a great job with connecting IgoUgo to the many endemic and non-endemic advertisers that want to partner with us. IgoUgo is also a great addition to the Travelocity portfolio: as a content-based site, we can link directly to endemic advertisers' sites, which is a nice complement to Travelocity's practice of working with travel suppliers in promoting their products through Travelocity.com.

The BOOT Asks: In the "battle" against TripAdvisor what do you think are the two or three things that you have that will help you to catch up?

Peter Campion Answers: I definitely wouldn't use the word "battle." Although there is certainly some overlap between what the two sites offer, I think IgoUgo.com is more entrenched in travel inspiration. Yes, we make sure to organize our content so that someone who is searching for reviews can learn more about the top-rated hotels or activities in a destination. However, we also support the person who wants to share his or her entire trip story, because a hotel room is only part of a vacation. If you are reading reviews of a particular hotel on IgoUgo.com, you are only a click away from reading more about the reviewers' entire trips in more fully fledged travel journals. Our IgoUgo members take a lot of pride in sharing their whole travel experiences, and we take a lot of pride in being able to support them. We want to inspire travelers, not just offer them one-off reviews.

Another thing IgoUgo offers that makes us a great resource for travel inspiration is our robust photo library. In addition to supporting individual reviews, our photo gallery is a great place to browse through pictures from destinations around the world-all taken by real travelers. It's a great first stop for the traveler looking for ideas and inspiration or just the person sitting at his or her desk and wanting to do a little virtual traveling.

Finally, we wouldn’t have all this rich, experience-based content if it weren’t for our extremely loyal member base. IgoUgo members are passionate about travel in a way that goes beyond churning out hotel reviews. These people love travel, love going above and beyond popular destinations and trips, and love sharing their experiences with each other, and many of them have been around since IgoUgo started 7 years ago. We’re fortunate to have such excellent writers and photographers contributing to our site and making our content what it is.

The BOOT Asks: How about the two or three things that you need to catch up?

Peter Campion Answers: We have a fairly intense product roadmap at IgoUgo over the next twelve months that includes enhancements such as maps and an enhanced site search. In general, our key goal is to make it easier for our members to share their travel content and much easier for others to find it. In that vain, one of our top priorities in the coming months is to update the content submission process. We also plan to leverage our community’s enthusiasm with the use of know-how in rating and organizing content.

The last few years of UGC in travel online has been about reviews and community. Destination focused information where people exchange information and can build up common trust and interests. What do you think will be next and how will IgoUgo take advantage?

One of the next challenges in the industry is to improve the relevance of the content that is presented to a user. Today, sites leverage user profiles and filters to help their users find reviews written by travelers like them. I think there is a lot more that can be done to provide a user with content and recommendations that are tailored to their travel needs.

There are different factors that make an experience great for each traveler. For example, I may think a vacation is great if my hotel offers unlimited access to a bicycle or a heated pool, but those things may mean nothing to the next traveler. These are factors that aren't usually considered in rating content, and so the challenge is to help people use content to discover the best matches for them. IgoUgo can take advantage by leveraging its existing profiles, and by involving the community in rating content and tracking those ratings to determine specific preferences.

The BOOT Asks: What are the thoughts on international expansion and non-English versions?

Peter Campion Answers: A significant percentage of our visitors come to us from outside the U.S., so we certainly understand and appreciate the value of the international audience. I'd love for us to be able to provide better support for non-English-speaking travelers, and I expect that here at IgoUgo, we will focus more on that area in 2008.

The BOOT Asks: TripAdvisor has expanded through acquisition into targeted verticals (i.e. SeatGuru). What do you think about this strategy and do you have any acquisition plans and thoughts?

Peter Campion Answers:It's an interesting approach, and one that I'm sure they can leverage for an SEO advantage. We are always open to pursuing various options, but our current focus right now is on enhancing the IgoUgo.com site.

TRAVELtech: the BOOT presentation

I have had a number of requests for a copy of my presentation from TRAVELtech so here it is (pdf format). My post summary of my presentation is here and my general commentary on the conference is here.

Goes without saying that you are free to download the presentation and read it but the copyright in the work remains all mine and usage of it without my permission is poor form.

Hey Qantas - the BOOT is back

It has been a very strange travel period for your BOOT correspondent. My last long haul flight was August last year. The longest long haul travel gap since 1997. Has been a large number of reasons but I am back in the air saddle with a work trip to the US starting tomorrow. This will see me back on a Qantas flight. Long (and even short) term readers of the blog will know of my love hate relationship with Qantas especially around the failures of the video on demand system and the poor customer service culture (have also offered some words of encouragement and defence as well).

Since my last trip, Qantas has relaunched their business class product and spent a lot of money promoting their service and customer care. So, dear readers and fair Qantas I will report back early next week on whether or not Qantas has surprised me by living up to its new hype.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Harvey World Travel is back in the online travel game - but there is more to do

One of the largest offline players outside of America is fighting its way back into the online travel race. Congratulations to James Gaskell the Stella GM of Online Services at the the Australian based global offline travel giant Stella Travel on the re-launch this week of the central website for Harvey World Travel. The page looks good, has contextual links to drive a customer enquiry to a store and has an air engine with GDS and non-GDS carriers.

Even James will admit that this is just a start and there is a lot more to do (see his comments here in the Australian Travel Today where he says just that). James' boss and Stella CEO Keith Stanley announced at the recent TRAVELtech conference that he had set a target of 20% of turnover online in the next few years. So much more to do but the will is there.

Disclosure - it is well known that I did a bit of work helping Stella Travel put together their online travel strategy (if you didn't know you can check out my linkedin profile).

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

.travel and Tralliance - a tourtured history and limited future


I have been keeping a track of the latest at Tralliance the operator of the "I don't get it" domain .travel (or dot-travel) with updates in the text of a post from last year. The US version of Travel Weekly have a great piece from Dan Luzadder (registration required) on the company including confirmed rumours that the ousted former President of the company Ron Andruff had made an offer to buy the company off former partners Michael Egan and Ed Cespedes. I don't think it matters who owns this baby as I do not see how the .travel concept is viable.

UPDATE - Jan 08 - Jens Thraenhart (of Tourism INTERNET Marketing Blog 2.0) has a detailed history and commentary on Tralliance and dot travel called "dot travel | The Rise And Fall Of A Brilliant Concept" (originally spotted at Hospitality.net)

Rumour of the week - TravelCLICK to be bought out by a PE firm?

I have received an unsubstantiated and potentially scurrilous rumour that travel technology, data and information firm TravelCLICK is about to be purchased by a private equity firm. Very limited details so far. This rumour is rated as "who knows" on the likelihood scale UPDATE - this rumour is gathering pace and is looking more and more likely to be true. Will still need formal confirmation and a deal is never over until the lawyer hands the Monte Blanc to the client (famous legal phrase) but have definitely upgraded from "who knows" to "looking possible" so we will have to use the tried and true commentary of "we'll have to wait and see if it is true". TravelCLICK previsously received investment rounds from Bain Capital and Trimin Capital (and maybe others).

UPDATE - 25 Sept - traffic has been flying into the blog this morning from searches in Google like "TravelCLICK PE" and "TravelCLICK acquisition rumour". If history is anything to go by, deal announcements come soon after Google traffic flow.

UPDATE 2 - 29 Nov -deal confirmed. TravelClick sold to PE firm Genstar

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

More search engine optimising tips

I carried a report a few weeks ago of Yury Shar's very informative presentation at TRAVELtech. It contained a number of tips for improving on natural rankings in search engines especially in the comments section when Yury added some more colour and advice. If that post interested you then you should have a read of the post on Kevin May's Travloution blog from guest blogger Andy Atkins-Kr├╝ger called "Top 10 errors of international SEO". Is well worth a read. Carriers a number of messages but my key take aways are do not think you can cheat Google and think international as well as local. Great post Kevin and Andy.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Trade Me launches Travelbug

NZ online auction giant Trade Me announced in March this year that it was going to enter the online travel market in NZ. The site - Travelbug - has just been launched, focuses only on New Zealand accommodation and claims 1,500 accommodation providers.

As I mentioned in my post on their announcement, there is a challenge for any ecommerce company from a specific category to shift traffic to another market sector. Pricegrabber in the US famously tried to add travel to their online shopping meta-search model in 2005 only to shut it without a word sometime in early 2007. As I discussed in a post covering that closure there is a history of retailers trying to move from selling electronic, clothing, music, books and toys to travel and failing.

Trade Me has such a traffic lead in ecommerce in New Zealand that it might prove the (short) online history books wrong.

I picked up the launch story in the nzherald blog section.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Addio Luciano

Luciano Pavarotti who's voice was described by Madame BOOT on NPR.org like the universe vibrating inside your body died a few moments ago after a year long battle with cancer the ABC is reporting. His voice can be associated with some many travel experiences and feelings. Addio Luciano. You will be missed.

Webjet to buy Travel.com.au - Introducing Traveljet.com or Webminute.com.au or Travelwebminute.com.au or lastjetminute.com.au

News hot off the press from Travel Weekly (Australia) that Webjet - the number one air intermediary in Australia - is to acquire all of the stock of Travel.com.au. Travel.com.au is the number two player and owner of the Lastminute.com franchise in Australia. Will make the combined entity the clear number one in online intermediary air but still a long way behind the airline direct sites.

Travel.com.au was valued at AUD$31mm before a trading halt. The deal is for 10 cents in cash and 0.23 Webjet shares per Travel.com.au. This values the company at $42.3mm based on the last closing price of Webet or a 20+% premium.

Couple of questions from this:
  • What will happen in the management area given the very recent announcement of a change at the top of Travel.com.au. Chris Meehan was due to take over from Adam Johnson as CEO in the new year. Webjet already have both a CEO (Richard Noon) and a Managing Director (David Clarke);
  • What will happen to the Webjet board. Current Travel.com.au shareholders will come away with large stakes in Webjet and may want a board seat;
  • What will happen to the Travel.com.au brand. Would be madness to lose the Lastmintue.com.au brand but surely we will see a merger of the Webjet and Travel.com.au brands; and
  • It finally gives Webjet a position in the online hotel business with Lastminute.com.au. What will this mean for Lotsofbeds.
All fun stuff to watch cannot let ourselves get distracted from the online hotel battle in Australia and Asia which makes a sideshow out of the intermediary air wars.

Thanks to the army of tipsters who sent through the story

Group/Travel organision sites on a (cash) roll: Dopplr

The money and VC interest in group and travel organisational tools is rolling in faster than I can type. We have touched recently on the latest for Groople, a round for Kango, Ex-Expedia staff pouring into TripHub and early on an interview with Travelgator. That latest to join this trend is the Helsinki based Dopplr who announced on their blog an angle round of funding from Martin Varsavsky (who also backed Ya.com including viajar.com), Joichi Ito (serial entrepreneur who's investments include Technorati and Last.fm), Reid Hoffman (the father or linkedin) and The Accelerator Group led by Saul Klein (former Skype senior exec).

Again we have a deep in private beta site so cannot tell you what they do but the description follows this trend we have been tracking around group travel and online organisational tools.
"Dopplr lets you, via an invitation system, share your future travel plans with a group of trusted fellow travellers whom you have chosen. It also reminds you of friends and colleagues who live in the cities you’re planning to visit. For example, Dopplr might tell you that three of your trusted friends and colleagues will be in Barcelona when you are there next."
Founding staff are Lisa Sounio, CEO; Matt Biddulph, CTO Matt Jones, design director; and Dan Gillmor, "founding traveller" (not sure what that means).

Not sure how to put my head around this trend yet. The growth of enhanced organisational and collaboration tools fit with my theory that we are moving into a period of online travel where consumers are confronted with too much information and need ways to digest, understand, share and manage it all. But I had anticipated that this collaboration would initially come out of the large scale social networks (MySpace, Facebook, Bebo etc) or out of tools from the large OTAs, not niche product specific providers because travel organisation would form part of a consumers general online social interaction or online travel purchasing behaviour. Now I begin to wonder if we are moving to world where these niche providers can either stand on their own or connect to social networks as applications or connect to the OTAs through distribution deals. A lot more to think about and track in this area. Would be interested in your thoughts.

Thanks to the new UK version of paidContenthere I first saw this story.

UPDATE - TechCrunch are also carrying the story and provide a screen shot of someone's page on the private beta and a link to an InviteShare page with (maybe) some invitations to the Dopplr private beta (login required).

UPDATE 2 - alarm:clock have brief little piece called TripLife vs. Dopplr vs. TripUp

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

The Airline Industry - BusinessWeek Style

My "now I admit it is a series" series on the the US Airline industry continues. As the US comes to the end of what people are calling the worst summer travel season ever we now have BusinessWeek chiming in with a view on who is at fault and what do about it. It is often said that when BusinessWeek spots a trend you know it is too late to do anything about it a very mature trend. This week's cover story is Fear & Loathing at the Airport and all about the US airline industry. I caught the story through the interesting series of podcasts they run on their cover stories.

The problems are well known - endless delays, constant cancellations and horrible customer service. There have been a few highlights but mainly an antiquated system collapsing under the weight of mismanagement and inefficiency.

The central question discussed in the BusinessWeek podcast is "who is to blame?". I sat starring at my ipod in anticipation of an answer, to have a name/body/group to blog about under the heading "here is the culprit!". Unfortunately in an expected but disappointing conclusion, the answer is everyone and no-one. The BusinessWeek journalist Chris Palmeri describes the problem as a result of a "fundamental organisational failure". The result of deregulation and industry neglect is that between the FAA, TSA, Airlines and Airports no-one has sole responsibility and the problems need a fix from all four.

A great example from the podcast of the hell caused by all this is the editor John Burn discussing a recent trip from JFK where the backlog of planes trying to take off was 4.5miles (7.2kms) long. So long that it had to take up a whole runway having the double whammy effect of reducing the number of planes that could land and increasing the diversions.

The conclusion of the podcast is that no longer can the online travel consumer just make flight purchase decisions based on price and time of departure. The on-time record has now become as critical a piece of information and how much, when and who is flying.

Monday, September 03, 2007

And I thought group travel was a niche...

Alarm:clock is rumour spreading that stealth mode start up Kango has raised some money from venture firm NG Ventures (ie angle Elliott Ng). What caught my eye in this deal is that it builds on the story that is forming around niche/sector focus businesses and online group travel. Kango's pitch is to help family's plan travel through organisation tools, reviews and editorial content. Site is "almost alpha" (which means somewhere between static web pages and private beta) so impossible to judge but am now officially keeping a watch on co-ordination tool sites and see if they go on to prove my theory that we are entering into a phase of industry development where consumers need help dealing with "too much information".

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Meta-search and GDS: Bezurk and Amadeus do a deal

Asian meta-search company Bezurk.com and European GDS giant Amadeus are officially working together. A deal was announced last week for Bezurk to use the Amadeus web services product known as Meta-Pricer. This does not mean that Bezurk will move to doing its own bookings. Rather the deal is to reduce the toll that Bezurk places on the websites of its airline partners. Here is the press release.

It is an unexpected twist for a meta-search partner to seek out a deal with a GDS so I wrote to Bezurk CEO Martin Symes to get the inside scope. Here is our exchange.

BOOT Asks: Why do you need GDS help?

Martin Symes Answers: Using Amadeus MetaPricer to access airline fares and availability does a few things for us:
  1. Improves our supplier proposition – offer airlines a no cost solution
  2. Streamlines number of places we need to go to get fares/availability
  3. Speeds up response times – gets results to users faster
Most important is the first reason. The airlines we work with have a wide variety of approaches to getting their fares on to their websites. Some connect straight to their host systems from their internet booking engine (IBE). Some have a cache sitting between their host and the IBE. Some use the host of one of the GDS's. Many use a third party IBE which accesses their own host. Each of these arrangements has it's own technical constraints and economics associated with giving 3rd parties access to the data on any sort of scale.

Many carriers that embraced search engine marketing some time ago offer travel search engines access to API's, which typically query a cache populated predominantly by natural search traffic. Unfortunately many carriers don't yet offer these direct API's, although some have plans to do so. In some cases, we have been asked to provide advice on the design of these.

This has meant that screenscraping has been the next best means of us getting access to airline data. Screenscraping works perfectly fine for many airlines which have a system with sufficient capacity, are fast enough, can control and track access, have a layout that doesn't require multiple page requests per query and who aren't getting billed per query by a 3rd party company running their IBE or host for them.

So for reasons both technical and economic, screenscraping is not always a viable means of us getting the data we need. In these situations Amadeus MetaPricer is a good solution because there is no cost to the carriers or extra load placed on their websites because we are querying fares and availability via the Amadeus system. The only thing the carrier needs to do is distribute their fares to our Amadeus Office Id's for each point of sale.

BOOT Asks: Why Amadeus?

Martin Symes Answers: We issued a mini-RFP to all the GDS’s; Amadeus’ response was the most appropriate from a functionality and price perspective. We have also found them to be very responsive to deal with.

BOOT Asks: Who's paying?

Martin Answers: We pay a nominal fee per query; which is more than covered by the revenue we generate from the commercial agreements we have with our airline partners.

BOOT Asks: What about the non-GDS participating airlines like Air Asia, Virgin Blue, Jetstar, Tiger?

Martin Answers: We continue to maintain direct connectivity with non-GDS airlines; many of which are able to provide access to their inventory through API’s or via screenscraping their public websites, where they have given us permission to do so.

BOOT Asks Are non-airline sites (ie hotles) concerned about the number of searches you are doing? If so, what's the plan?

Martin Answers: We work closely with our OTA and hotel partners and have developed unique search methodologies for each partner to minimise any impact. The conversion rates and therefore incremental revenue benefit we drive for our partners far outweighs any search cost issues they may have.

I was going to write that this was the first GDS and meta-search deal but after some investigating found that back in 2001 Amadeus did a deal with Sidestep. Am told by an Amadeus spokesperson that this 2001 is very different to the Meta-Pricer deal with Bezurk. The first difference is that the 2001 deal was a lower level of connectivity (an API vs Web Services) and secondly it was not for the full searching capability that is in this deal - this one includes fares.

Will give them the benefit of the doubt and agree for now that this is a first of its kind. UPDATE - Kevin at Travolution points out in the comments that Kayak and Amadeus entered into the first meta-pricer deal.

It raises some interesting questions about the ability of supplier and OTA sites/systems to support the pounding that meta-search companies threaten to deliver and of the GDS' companies continued efforts to re-invent themselves as technology companies. I get the product reason behind Bezurk's decision here as they need to continue to improve the product delivery to their inventory providers. Is further proof that the meta-search model is still in development and I hope that this deal helps Bezurk continue to grow its product range.

Travel industry vs the Appliance Industry: round 2

I ran a post earlier in the week from TRAVELtech about the emerging battle for discretionary dollars between the travel industry and the appliance/consumer products industry. With travel being difficult to do, consumers are considering giving their money to TV makers over Airline companies and hoteliers. Through some tips from insiders and a bit of digging around I have found some evidence to prove this theory.

First some research from Tourism Research Australia (the research arm of Tourism Australia). Their 2007 report "Changing Consumer Behaviour" (pdf) blamed a drop in domestic travel spend in Australia in part on the increasing share of discretionary spend going to consumer goods. Here is how they put it
"the increasing competition for share of wallet and of time, the industry may need to accept that domestic travel is unlikely to return to historically high levels....‘spending patterns and the benefits derived from it vary across the generations, although there are some constants: technology, cars and furniture...Generally those who are younger or more under pressure spend more on compensatory items to make them feel better about life. These tend to deliver instant gratification in a way that travel cannot."
Lots of bureaucratic speak for people a buying bigger and flasher TVs, cutting into their travel spend.

Secondly there is a marketing example. Jetstar (low cost carrier offshoot of Qantas and previous winners of the BOOT "worst marketing idea of the week award"). Have teamed up with a large Australia consumer goods retailer called the Good Guys to give an appliance to one passenger on every flight between now and Nov 5. The hope being to convince customers that they can have their TV and beat it all at the same time.
Prizes range from a blender to a plasma screen though it is unclear from the T&Cs how to know which one is up from grabs in a particular flight.

Either way we have marketing and research evidence of this new battle front for the travel industry.

The BOOT in the press part 2 (kind of)

The Media section of The Australian ran a piece on blogging networks and making money called blogs. Piece is called "Network expects blogging to pay off". Touches on Allure Media which I set up while at Netus and includes a quote from me. Unfortunately the BOOT doesn't get a mention.