Monday, December 24, 2007

Holiday Break, Wishes to all and See you in London

Dear BOOT readers,

Merry Christmas, belated Happy Hanukkah, Seasons Greetings, Happy New Year and for our European friends
  • Buon Natale e Felice Anno Nuovo 2008,
  • Joyeux Noël et nouvelle année heureuse 2008 !
  • Fröhliches Weihnachten und glückliches neues Jahr 2008 !
  • Feliz Navidad y Feliz Año Nuevo 2008 !
  • Vrolijke Kerstmis en Gelukkig Nieuwjaar 2008 !
I am intending to take a little bit of time off the blog, aiming to be back on January 7. Except that I have a couple of interviews to do or that are done and need to be written up so there probably will be a couple of holiday posts.

Am also going to be in London the week of Jan 14. Hope so see some of you there.

Have enjoyed blogging through 07 - hope you can join me for another year.


Friday, December 21, 2007

Confirmation - Genstar buys TravelCLICK

It was a rumour on the BOOT in September, underground confirmation on the BOOT in November, now official announcement that PE firm Genstar are the new owners of Travel intelligence and marketing firm TravlCLICK. Stay tuned readers - 2008 is going to be fun.

Kayak buys Sidestep for $200mm

Hot of the blogsphere care of TechCrunch and days after I pondered if an OTA would buy a meta-search provider we find that Kayak has raised $196mm, from pretty much everyone on Sand Hill Road and used the money to buy Sidestep for around $180mm (plus $20mm in cash reservers at Sidestep equals $200mm). Arrington has the full story here.

Sidestep will lose 55 staff (out of 75) including CEO Rob Solomon (after 60 day transition.

What are the possibilities here:
  • Do they keep two brands?
  • Do they merge the content businesses that each of them built or bought to do SEO?
The biggest question of course - is this a sign of strength in the market with one and two coming together to dominate or a sign of weakness that they need to get together to survive? Deal of the year at the last moment in the year.

UPDATE - Adam Healey over at VibeAgent has crunched some numbers on the deal putting the combined entity (or new Kayak) at a valuation of $450 million or a P/E of 35 (assuming 15% margin on TechCrunch's reporting of combined revenues of $85 million).

UPDATE 2 - Interview here with Kayak's VP Communications Kellie Pelletier about the deal,

WHOOT: secures AOT shares and secures

WHOOT series update - WHoever Owns Outright has lodged what I am sure is their favourite filing of the year in stating that they have jumped to 82.129% of through an acquisition of AOT's 19% stake. Travelweekly have some good commentary here from AOT CEO Andrew Burnes. Seems he was very interested in securing his distribution through - though would appear he has made a nice profit as well.

There is now no reason for the remaining shareholders to keep a hold of their shares. Wotif have crossed the magic 75% barrier and this deal is over. Now all Wotif have to do is to figure out what to do with three brands in one market, HQs in two cities, two supplier teams talking to the same people, two CEOs, two maybe three technology platforms and a partridge in a pear tree.

UPDATE - 31 Dec up to 83.313%

UPDATE 2 - has declared its offer "unconditional". This means it does not matter if any other acceptances are made or not. Either way Wotif will purchase all the shares that have accepted the offer. To increase the certainty that this will be as many shares as possible, they have also extended the period for acceptance (for a second time) to 31 January 2008. In checking through the filings came across this great piece of advertising placement on

FINAL UPDATE - deal done! Confirmation that Wotif have 97% of the stock and can compulsorily acquire the rest. The offer formally closed today (1Feb08). TravelWeekly

Airline Industry - Sri Lankan style - give the president a seat or get the hell out of town

There is simple rule when you are in charge of a government owned airline - do whatever the president of the country says or pack your bags. Unfortunately Peter Hill the now CEO of SriLankan Airlines (British National) was caught by this rule. Story from e-tid (registration required) that staff at the airline refused to bump 35 passengers from a it scheduled London to Colombo via Maldives flight to accommodate President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his 35 strong entourage. Rajapaksa was returning from seeing his song graduate from the Royal Naval College (ie not official business). There is clearly a bit of he said, she said behind this story. The Airline says quite simply that the airline was full and no notice was given. The president seemed to channel blues great BB King by saying words to the effect of "by I am paying the cost to be the boss", threw in a little bit of "dont' you know who I am" before ending off with "you'll be sorry come Monday morning" (ok I made that bit up). In the end the Prez had to charter a flight to get home. Come the morning Hill's work permit is revoked forcing him to give up the top job at the airline and presumably leave the country. Hill was appointed to the airline by Emirates (who own 43.63%) so hopefully will be quickly saved from the jobless queue. For standing by his customers despite the utmost pressure that can be applied I have given Peter Hill the inaugural BOOT Airline Customer Care Devotee of the Year award.

UPDATE - 8 Jan 08 Emirates has announced (according to TravelToday) that it will not renew its management contract in March with SriLankan Airlines and sell its stake in the carrier. I would guess the deportation of a key Emirates exec must have been a factor or at least an indication of the state of the relationship between Emirates and the Sri Lankan government (though there is nothing in the story to suggest a link).

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

TripIt Sessions: Interview with TripIt CEO Gregg Brockway

The BOOT remarked recently on the entry of travel start-up TripIt into the A-league of start ups for 2007 through its anointment through its admission by Valley A-listers Michael Arrington and Jason Calacanis into the Techcrunch40 conference. I blogged about that and my initial experiences in using the product. Through the power of the interweb this post led to a chance to interview TripIt Founder and CEO Gregg Brockway. Here are some of the stories from that conversation.

Where did the TripIt idea come from

Tripit’s pitch to the online travel consumer bombarded with too much information is to give the consumer one place to send all of the confirmations that are generated from suppliers and retailers to be stored and organised in one spot. From that one spot recommendations and ancillary services can be provided. The idea came to Brockway and co-founders Scott Hintz and Andy Denmark from two related trends

1. booking travel online is hard. It should be easy as online travel is 10+ years old and a mature market but it is still hard to do. Multiple sites, multiple formats and big value items; and

2. the supplier direct market is the fastest growing section increasing the number of sites consumers are booking on to put together a holiday.

Oh – and the founders have an addiction to start ups.

New features coming out regularly. Latest was integration into online calendars (

Where did the founders come from?

Brockway was part of the crew that built up Hotwire and sold it to Expedia (then part of IAC). He then moved into a divisional president role heading up Classic Vacations - the luxury travel and offline part of Expedia. As Gregg admitted, hardly a good home for an Internet focused executive.

How hard is it to connect to a supplier? Do you need their co-operation?

Brockway says they have invested a lot up front in building a system that can easily adapt to different data fields and structures. A new site/supplier can be added “in a few hours” to the list of those that can have there data exported into a TripIt combined itinerary. The selection processes for which supplier to do next is easy – whatever are submitted the most by users that are not already in the system. Biggest challenge to face is PDF itineraries. They recently launched the first version of their PDF reading functionality which is working on a vendor by vendor basis. Once they have that right the number two challenge is when email confirmation is a link to details on a web page.

Other team and company bits and pieces

  • Staff: 10 staff.
  • Traffic: First full month of traffic was 45,000 users. Month two “bigger than month one”. The part I liked about this traffic story was that a mention in Lifehacker drew more traffic than a mention in the New York Times.
  • Users: 40% of users are outside the US. Not what they expected.

How did you raise your money

It took TripIt six months to put the product in a state before it could rais its million dollar round with O'Reilly AlphaTech. Needed to have an alpha to show the businesses. Brockway believes it is a challenging environment for travel startups to get funding. This is mainly because travel is not the hot sector that it once was in VC activity, especially compared to video, social networking, alternative energy etc.



My Take

A lot of the pieces are in place for TripIt to succeed. Brockway and his founders know the space and have thought this through. They have cash. I can see the need for the product. I have just this week booked a flight for Madame BOOT to return to the homeland for a visit (Italy). It involves two separately booked flights on two separate carriers with two separate confirmation slips. Last week I booked a family trip to New Zealand. Three sets of confirmation (air, car and farmhouse). Monetisation should not been an issue. If TripIt can connect to a critical mass of suppliers and generate traffic, then monetisation is easy as travel advertisers love to pay for access to travel consumers. The challenge remains around acquiring the traffic. This is a big challenge. The meta-search start ups get their traffic in an arbitrage game between search engines and travel advertisers. The Travel 2.0 start-ups get their traffic by becoming SEO/Long Tail magicians. Brockway and team are going to the harder route of “build a fantastic product and they will come”. Once out of beta the product should be good enough – question is “will they come”?

UPDATE May 1 08- during the interview Brockway hinted at the imminent closing of a funding round. Announcement a week or so ago that a round closed. Sabre is an investor. See update here.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Meta search vs OTA: Should an OTA buy a meta-search company?

Was asked an interesting question about meta-search and online retail by a share analyst reader. Paraphrased, the question was
We get plenty of Private Equity calls relating to meta-search companies. Most want to know if these companies would work in Europe and who would be interested in buying them. Do you think that an online travel agency could/would buy a meta-search engine?
The main difference between a meta-search company (Sidestep, Kayak, Bezurk etc) and an online travel agency (Orbitz, Expedia, Travelocity etc) is that the first group are media companies and the second are retailers. The common element is that each is after the traveller - wants to attract travellers to the site to commit to a revenue generating activity. However the meta-search media business requires very different approaches to marketing, customer retention and business development than the OTA. This is because the activity the consumer is engaged in is different, the tools for retaining customers are different and the revenue model is different. Will quickly touch on each and then look at whether or not an OTA should buy one.

Customer Activity - You would think that since the activity on both meta-search and OTA is search that there would be little difference in customer activity. However the difference here is what is going on in the customer's mind. A consumer on an OTA is experience hunting. Is looking for advice, support, connection - all of the things a consumer desires from a retailer. In meta-search the consumer is singular in their focus - give me the cheapest price on the exact thing I want. This is why OTAs invest so much in brand and customer care. Meta-searchers are traffic arbitragers - they survive by buying traffic at a cheaper rate than advertisers will pay for referrals.

Customer Retention - Retailers can work to keep customers by offering discounts, exclusive deals and targeted promotions - ie product. Meta-search retention comes through bringing consumers into the search experience through reviews, social networking and new inventory connections - ie content.

Revenue Model - commission vs pay per click; cash from consumers vs bucks from media buyers; selling travel vs selling eyeballs.

OTAs therefore have the advantage in customer retention and breadth of marketing tools. But meta-search has the advantage in ease of access to supply and significantly reduced operational costs (no need for customer care and reduced supplier relations costs).

It is because meta-search is media rather than retailer that the biggest meta-search deal around was Farechase being bought by a media company - Yahoo!. However this does not cancel out an OTA as a potential buyer of meta-search. We have a very power example of success in an OTA buying, owning and running a media company through Expedia's ownership of TripAdvisor. Any acquiring OTA just has to embrace being a media company.

I am a fan of the meta-model but (as with all web companies) it is all about good product and execution. There is lots of success in travel so far for meta-search but comparison experts like Pricegrabber have already failed in moving to travel. The fit with a media company is stronger than that of an OTA. Of course - haunting the whole sector is whether or not the general untargeted search people (ie Google) develop the more targeted tools of meta-search.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Airline Industry - Wharton on Emirates

Very interesting read here from Knowledge @ Wharton on Emirates based on a lecture from Emirates founder Maurice Flanagan given at Wharton.

Couple of interesting points from the note:
  • Airline was started with $10 million 22 years ago. In total the government has invested just $18 million in the airline. Claims that the airline pays the ruling family a dividend of more than $100 million a year;
  • Emirates so far has ordered 55 of the new A380s (at $250mm a pop); and
  • 20,000 employees - none of them with the word "marketing" in their title.
Thanks to Madame BOOT for forwarding.

WHOOT: Slow news day - slow acceptances for Wotif bid

WHOOT series update - WHoever Owns Outright

Latest filing shows that is now up to 60.75% of This is up from 59.2% last week.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Travelzoo Australia is bringing in some help from the mothership

I updated my Travelzoo to launch in Australia post today. I have heard a very reliable rumour that in January at least one maybe more US based Travelzoo staff will be seconded to Sydney for an extended time to help local boss Brad Gurrie with the set up.

Meanwhile despite the market's poor reaction to Travelzoo's recent results (in part because of costs associated with new market launches), the Motely Fool site has put Travelzoo on its list of "4 Internet Stocks to Buy in 2008".

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Qantas is still loading its Christmas Greetings

Poor old Qantas can't win a trick sometimes. They tried to be nice to me and send me an electronic Christmas card and thank me for participating in the Qantas Customer Advisory Panel. But something is not quite right in the email.

They provided two ways to access the card. The second one was this
If the above link doesn't work, view the following url in a browser:

Unfortunately the result of a copy and paste is a static page that looks like this - "still loading" - and stays like this no matter how long you wait. Tried it in both Firefox and IE7.

Thankfully the first way works and ends up at quite a sweet and well put together card. Here it is if you want to see it.

Qantas may have fixed this by the time you have read it so you may have to take my word for it.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Book Review: 50 Great e-Businesses and the Minds Behind Them

Is turning into a bit of a book week here at the BOOT. Recently we had the launch of the Tips from the T-List book (download your copy here). Now I have (finally) found time to read and review a book sent to me some time ago called "50 Great e-Businesses and the Minds Behind Them" by Emily Ross and Angus Holland. Emily was kind enough to send me the book many months ago and I have been slow to get to it. But having read through it now I am very glad that I made the time and wish I had looked at it sooner.

The book aims is to provide start-up advice, management advice and tips on innovative thinking techniques through an analysis of the background and numbers behind top ecommerce companies and service providers. The challenge with attempts at writing profile books on online companies is that the stats and figures are out of date months before the book is published. Ross and Holland have managed this limitation very well by stressing the history and thinking behind each of the companies chosen rather than the numbers. This focuses your attention on the genuinely interesting stories behind successful companies and the entrepreneurial insight from key players rather than the temporal accuracy of the numbers.

For example in the entry on YouTube I was caught up in the story of the founders, fund raising and feature changes and therefore did not care that the intro lists the start-up costs as $3.5mm rather than the total amount raised by YouTube which was $11.5 ($3.5 first round, $8 in the second).

The second challenge in a book like this is to pick 50 companies. Holland and Ross also had to find a balance between Australian and International companies. That have met this challenge by using the word "Great" rather than "Best" to define the entrants. That lets them get away with some quirks such as including the small scale independent property service Stayz (that Fairfax bought for $12mm) on a list that includes super-heavy weights Google, eBay and Amazon and start-up A-list 2.0ers like Facebook, Digg and Twitter.

A number of travel players get a mention - Webjet, Stayz, Kayak (no Sidestep) and Wotif.

Book is well research, with Holland and Ross gaining access to inside knowledge on every company profiled. This made the story behind the companies profiled intriguing as well as being well written. You can get a copy here on Amazon "Available where all good books are sold".

Disclosure - was provided with a copy of the book at no charge but was not obliged to profile positively or at all.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Which planet is Lonely Planet travelling on?

Poor old Lonely Planet - first they missed the Internet revolution and then they had to throw in the towel and sell out to the BBC. But we always assumed that their strengths would hold true. That their editorial standards and world knowledge would give them a permanent place in the travel industry no matter how powerful the wisdom of the crowds became. Now they seem to have misplaced a global city in this article from the Saturday Sydney Morning Herald - look at the title calling Rio de Janeiro the capital of Argentina.

There are of course two punchlines to this story. As those of you who submitted to the torture of watching the sequel to I Know What You Did Last Summer will remember (or used other less convention means for studying geography) even if Lonely Planet had put Rio in the right country it is not a capital.

Of course we can assume that since Lonely Planet has remained in non-US hands that they will at least get it right that Europe is a continent not country and Budapest is the capital of Hungary.

Friday, December 07, 2007

David Saunders gets Acting MD gig for Galileo Pacific

Congratulations to David Saunders who was appointed as the Acting MD for Galileo in the Pacific region while current boss Shelley Beasley is on maternity leave.

Saw the story in Traveltoday

WHOOT: Acceptances have slowed and Wotif needs more time

WHOOT series update - WHoever Owns Outright

In our last instalment of the WHOOT, all seemed rosy for Wotif in its bid for The acceptances were flooding in driving the Wotif stake to 58% with 18 days to go. However in the last week the acceptances have slowed. On December 5 we had a filing for 59.2% and December 6 for 59.74%. Later on December the 6th Wotif tells us they are extending the deadline for acceptances from December 17 until January 11. AOT is still holding on to 19% which means that Wotif needs practically every other shareholder to accept to reach the magic 75% required. This ain't over yet.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Tips from the T-List book now available

Mathieu of radaron started the T-List back in March. In a whirlwind of linking it took off. I posted a version with my top list here. Kevin at Travolution posted his Recommended List here. Now through the efforts of some of the top industry bloggers and journalists, the Tips from the T-List book is here.

I have three entries in the book:
More background on the book here. Key people in production of the book were
You can download a low res copy of the book here.

The best URL for the book is here including information on how to order hard copies

Monday, December 03, 2007

Zuji is dead. Travelocity Lives (in NZ at least)

Back in August last year we saw a new logo for Zuji in Asia Pacific. Important elements were the Travelocity "stars" and font and change from "powered by Travelocity" to "A Travelocity Company". At the time I said that
"you could even start a long odds bet that Zuji will change its name - at least in AU and NZ"
It has taken a while but I have now been proven half right in that long odds bet. News today (from Australian TravelWeekly) that the Zuji NZ business will now be rebranded This follows the termination of the New Zealand relationship with Stella. Is the right step and overdue. Even though Zuji Australia boss Pete Smith says there is no intention to change the AU name, I am sure it is only a matter of time.

Friday, November 30, 2007

TravelClick sold to PE firm Genstar

I published a rumour in September that TravelClick was on the cusp of being sold to a PE firm. Received confirmation today that a division of Genstar Capital has committed to buy the travel intelligence and marketing firm for around US$275mm. Deal closure to happen in about two weeks. You heard it here first at the BOOT - TravelClick has been sold to Genstar.

If you can - please Digg this story here.

Deal confirmed publicly on 20 Dec 2007

Thursday, November 29, 2007

WHOOT: 3 days, 3 notices and Wotif has more than 50% of

WHOOT series update - WHoever Owns Outright

The form 604s are flying thick and fast relating to Wotif's buyout plans for A 604 form is the "change of substantial ownership form". Through these forms we can track just how close Wotif is getting to owning as the Dec 17 offer deadline approaches.

Tuesday Wotif hit 36.86%, yesterday 40.23% and today a massive 58.04%. The acceptances are flying in. No word in any of the filings if one of those acceptances is from AOT who before this rapid fire round of 604s owned just shy of 20% and seemed to be the only obstacle to 100% ownership for Wotif.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Qantas - fly the criminal skies

Aaah Qantas - the "spirit of Australia". So long as you mean old fashioned pre-colonial convict spirit of Australia to steal as much as you can from anyone you can. I have been tough on Qantas in the past. Have complained about the rort that is the Pacific Route, the bad customer service and the faulty (now fixed) Video On Demand system. However I have also defended them as one of the best airlines in the world.

But now we have Qantas effectively pleading guilty to a charge of price fixing and agreeing to pay a fine of US$61mm as a result of a US Department of Justice investigation (e-travelblackboard report here). They have settled an action that claimed they colluded with a number of airlines (maybe as many as thirty) to set prices (ie reduce competition) in cargo pricing.

Let's be clear as to what it means to admit to price fixing. This is akin to an admission of criminal behaviour by Qantas. It is a confirmation that Qantas as a company engaged in a criminal act to defraud its customers (cargo in this instance) of money by secretly agreeing with competitors to fix prices. To engage in secretive activity that resulted in customers paying more than they should have. Anti-competitive activity is the same as corporate theft. A class action is already under way in civil court on behalf of the customers that were ripped off by this behaviour.

Qantas CEO Geoff Dixon seemed to indicate it was a few employees not a company in this comment attributed to him
“Qantas takes its obligations to comply with the law very seriously. We have a comprehensive competition compliance program in place, and expect all of our employees to comply with these requirements at all times,”
...and in indicating that two current and four past employees are not part of this plea agreement. In other words that those employees may be subject to separate prosecution.

Whether or not it was rogue employees rather than company policy - this is still a huge slur on Qantas - and whether Qantas likes it or not it places a cloud of suspicion over all of Qantas' activities.

UPDATE - Jan 08 - Qantas has been taking a dive in the stock market and this price fixing issue is part of the reason (according to the Sydney Morning Herald). SMH has also published the names of the executives that were excluded from the deal (four ex and two current employees). They are Qantas's former head of freight Peter Frampton, the airline's head of freight in the US Bruce McCaffrey, Qantas's general manager of freight sales John Cooper, Qantas's country manager for Thailand and former head of freight in Singapore Harold Pang, Qantas's head of commercial freight Stephen Cleary, and another Qantas freight employee Desmond Church.

Qantas has been given two weeks to pay up.

The Airline Industry - Insider style - Rule 240 is dead

Fare Compare's Rick Seaney has published an Top Ten Secrets of Air Travel Insiders here

Number 10 was a shameless plug for FareCompare - no surprises. However the one that caught my eye was Tip Number 9 - Forget Rule 240. Rule 240 are the filings that each US carrier makes with the DOT stating the rights of a consumer if a US flight is cancelled or diverted. I did a post on Rule 240 in August quoting a travel lawyer that urged all consumers to carry a copy of an airlines Rule 240 filing on every flight just in case you need to show it to a grumpy customer service staff member.

Seaney says this is bad advice. He says that Rule 240 is no longer a government rule and hasn't been one for 30 years. Has a quote from the FAA to say that it is the airlines own conditions of carriage that is now the definitive statement of what you can expect from an airline that bumps or dumps you. That means - you are subject to the kindness of the US airline industry. God help us all. Seaney has a good list of links to carriage conditions for most airlines

via Consumerist

Low Cost Carriers, GDS and Intermediaries are friends, enemies and squabbling children all at the same time

In the early days of Low Cost Carriers (LCCs) the world was simple. No GDS, No intermediaries, No food, No frils. Then LCCs started calling themselves New World Carriers and introducing frils (see my discussion on this re Virgin Blue in June this year). A few news stories have caught my eye in the last couple of weeks which may be pointing to another evolutionary change in the LCC/GDS/Intermediary relationship:
Putting these together and we have the LCC herd splitting into the Hard Core (Ryanair, Tiger, maybe Air Asia) and the New Core (easyJet, Virgin Blue, JetBlue). Last thing we need is new acronyms (the HCLCC and the NCLCC) but is clear that the view of low cost carriers doing it for themselves is no longer universally true.

Friday, November 23, 2007

WHOOT: Another step towards winning the race for

WHOOT series update - WHoever Owns Outright

The Offer period for Webjet's run at acquiring has come to a close and according to the filings this week Webjet has not received any significant acceptances. Webjet ended up with a "relevant interest" in just 20.53% of the stock. Under the pre-acceptance agreement following Webjet's original bid Webjet acquired "relevant interest" in 19.8% of's shares - being a right to get 19.8% of the stock from lead shareholder Co-Investor if some conditions were met. Those conditions were not met so the pre-acceptance agreement is terminated and the stock stays with Co-Investor. Presumably the gap between the 19.8% and 20.53% in the filing is explained by a small number of acceptances of Webjet's offer.

The offer period closes on December 17 (here is the TVL board recommendation of the Wotif bid - also called the Target's statement).

So unless Webjet (or someone else) makes another bid then they are out of the running for and we can presume that it will be all quiet on the TVL front until Dec 17. Or can we...?

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

China News - eLong down, Ctrip up and Qunar in the money

Round of news coming out of the online travel scene in China tells and interesting story:
  1. Number 2 player eLong posted its Q3 results. Good news started and ended with an reported increase in revenue. Bad news was that revenue was only up 12% and losses have widened from RMB2.7mm (USD365k) in Q3 06 to RMB 7.4mm (USD1mm) in Q3 07. Stock is almost half it was a year ago. New CEO Cui Guangfu has a big job ahead of them to catch up with...
  2. Ctrip posted a great result this quarter - beating expectations - announcing an almost doubling of profits to USD15mm for the quarter on revenues of $46mm. In a clear dig at eLong, Ctrip attributed a lot of the credit for the results to rising travel demand. Shares are similarly moving the opposite direction to eLong. But any possible conflict in signals about the market from the different results between number one and number two in China did not dissuade...
  3. Lehman Brothers Private Equity Partners dropped $10mm into local meta search player It was Qunar's second round of funding. First round was in the $2-3mm range with Mayfield leading that round. UPDATE - here is the alarm:clock story including information that Qunar founders Douglas Khoo, CC Zhuang, and Fritz Demopoulos had previously founded and sold the CSEEK search engine to News Corporation and founded and sold the portal to The Tom Group.
Busy days in China.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

WTM Pegasus Sessions: What’s next for Pegasus?

Fifth and final in my series of posts coming out of my interview with Michael O’Connell of Pegasus at WTM (Senior Director – Global Partnership Development).

Michael told us (not surprisingly) that Pegs has no plans to enter the air distribution market. However we should expect to see them launch products focused on land activities in the near future.

WTM Pegasus Sessions: Chains – we got ‘em – but getting the best rates is a matter for you

Fourth in my series of posts coming out of my interview with Michael O’Connell of Pegasus at WTM (Senior Director – Global Partnership Development).

The last area we talked about was chain hotels and Best Available Rate (BAR). The background to this is easy and quick – ever since the rise of the merchant model, hotels (especially chains) have been trying to use best available rate guarantees as a tools for driving consumers to hotel direct sites as opposed to online intermediaries. This has been to the benefit of Pegasus as chains with central rate control have been insisting that intermediaries access inventory through a Pegasus or similar direct connect link rather than via direct to property discussions. But it has also been a challenge for both chains and intermediaries as not all of the properties adhere to the chain rate rules – especially in the case of consortia and brand groups (such as the Pegasus owned Utell).

My question to Michael was a short but direct one – “What role should Pegasus play in helping to secure true BAR from chains – especially those consortia that do not have full brand control?”. His reply “Pegasus is about bringing the two [chain and intermediary] together. We are not structured to get the rates from hotel (ie “a Pegasus rate”). This is always a discussion with the hotel. We don’t control the commercials between the hotel/chain and distribution.”

This answer is to be expected. Pegasus is a connectivity mechanism not an operator. However the success of BAR push of the hotel chains is dependent on the chains ability to enforce it at the property level - something that is not being achieved at at level that co-operative intermediaries need. This is not Pegasus' problem to fix it is one of the chains, consortia and intermediaries to work on. Pegs for now can sit back and enjoy the boost in bookings from the chains BAR push.

WTM Pegasus Sessions: Too much information, so much shopping and eventually somebody buys something

Third in my series of posts coming out of my interview with Michael OConnell of Pegasus at WTM (Senior Director – Global Partnership Development).

One of the challenges facing Pegasus mirrors by theory around the next phase of online travel being about consumers confronted with too much information and needing help and guidance in finding answers questions like “where do I go next?”

Pegasus is being confronted with this in dramatic increases in search volumes, especially from meta-search and optimisation tools. Some involved look to books ratios of 300,000:1 that is a conversion rate so off the chart that if you were at an online retail company you’d either fire you head of marketing or product or both. This is happening because Pegasus gets pounded in a meta-search request not once but potentially dozens of time per search. If you imagine that a meta-search provider is connected to 40 or so retailers and half of them are access the same rate for a chain property through Pegasus you can see than duplicative searches are inevitable and place a burden on Pegasus’ systems.

Pegasus is trying to deal with this in two ways. Firstly by doing deals directly with meta-search providers to lessen the load or at least manage it more efficiently. Part of this is to help the meta-search companies decide which hotels to search through which distribution connections including Pegasus. This should hopefully reduce some of the bursting that comes from meta-search companies. Secondly by using this as a very cheeky opportunity to encourage the meta-search companies to drive this traffic and the Pegasus owned hotelbook booking site rather than the string of competitors that will then pound Pegasus multiple times. The hope being to sell meta-search on using hotelbook as a proxy for all chain property searches. Has a nice ring to it if efficiency of search is your main criteria but am not sure that the CPC hungry meta-search providers are going to buy it.

WTM Pegasus Sessions: Merchant vs Retail – customers don’t care but hotels do

Second in my series of posts coming out of my interview with Michael OConnell of Pegasus at WTM (Senior Director – Global Partnership Development).

I don’t need an introductory paragraph to tell you about the rise of the retail model in online hotel sales. In the online travel world immediately after 9/11 and Expedia’s acquisition of Travelscape the push for all online hotel retailers was merchant, merchant, merchant. However the retail model is back and in a significant way. Not only with the rise of European and Asia based retail model companies such as the amalgamated, Venere, HRS and in Germany and Rakuten and others in Japan, but also with the efforts of the GDS companies to extract Best Available Rate promises from hotel chains.

I talked this over with O’Connell and expressed two interesting points of view

Firstly he believes that consumers do not really care which model so long as they can book the room they want at the price they want. Arguing that the choice of model is a decision made by the retailer and the hotel based on considerations other than what is more desirable to the consumer. I thought about this a lot and am torn right down the middle. This premise is supported by the continued success in Europe of both merchant and retail model players. Further there are plenty of markets where paying up front has played a historical role in travel purchasing. However on the other side in the world of online consumers having “too much information” in booking travel, trust plays such a huge part in a consumer deciding to whom they will give their credit card number. That said, I am confident that more often than not a consumer looks at both merchant and retail sites and makes their purchase decision more on the basis of rate, availability, cancellation requirements and trust than on whether you have to pay upfront or at the hotel.

The other area we looked at was which model the hotel’s preferred and why. O’Connell’s view was that hotels clearly prefer the retail model because there is no payment collection issue and the hotel has a greater chance of establishing a relationship with the customer – effectively “stealing” the customer from the retailer. Therefore the rise of the retail model is more due to the economic good times and shift in power from the retailers to the hotels than specific model decisions made by retailers. On the former point I have always seen the merchant model as being just as beneficial to the hotels as the retail model. While the retail model removes collection issues the merchant model drastically reduces cancellation rates and shifts the fraud and credit card process fee burden to the retailer. But I agree that the hotels are dictating the growth of retail driven by the strong global hotel demand. Merchant will survive and grow in a prosperous times but should/when the market softens then merchant could become dominant again.

WTM Pegasus Sessions: RezView Next Gen to kill the need for a rates cache – but Pegasus needed to buy to make it happen

I had a chance at WTM in London last week to meet up with Michael O’Connell of Pegasus (Senior Director – Global Partnership Development) and briefly Mike Kistner (EVP and COO). O’Connell was keen to tell me about the plans that Pegasus have with their rewrite of RezView, called RezView NG (for next generation). I was keen to talk to him about a few trends in online hotel distribution. In this post will cover our discussion of RezView NG. Will cover our conversation over a series of posts.

The rewirte of RezView came from the acquisition by Pegasus in May 2007 of GuestClick. The aim with the relaunch was to update the platform, consolidate the two older version of RezView into one product and allow for improved functionality in areas of pricing, distribution and real time connectivity. One integrated platform based on more modern web technology (ie the magic ajax). All good aims. It seemed strange to me at first that Pegasus needed to buy a company to relaunch its core product – as opposed to build in house. Kistner made two points in response – first that the technology was not completed when they bought GuestClick. It was “about 70% ready”. This gave Pegasus enough of a product to get a jump in development without being too far advanced that Pegasus could not make the changes it needed to have the product meet their aims. Secondly, they were aware that they needed a big jump in the product. They needed a product that was unencumbered by any legacy issues in the current product. As Kistner put it the GuestClick product was “not perverted by commercial realities. It [GuestClick product] was a technically pure implementation of a CRS not changed to meet the needs of any one customer”. In other words – a fresh start.

Migration will start in Q1 in 2008 and take about a year. The main upside for distributors (ie online hotel retailers using Pegasus) is that the NG product will have an pushed based version for pricing distribution trough UltraDirect. This means less of a need for a cache and I am assured will meet the aim of dramatically increases the accuracy of rates in the first search for all players. I am sure you will join me in a round of “finallys”.

Friday, November 09, 2007

BOOT's away - Back on Nov 19

Your BOOT correspondent is on a work trip that will take him through WTM in London and onto to Tokyo. Will make posting difficult but does give me chance to try out JAL business class for the first time.

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Priceline back for more in Asia with acqusition of Agoda

Announcement today just ahead of the Priceline earnings release that they have acquired the Thailand based merchant hotel website Agoda. No hint as to price in statement but includes a comment that Agoda's 2007 YTD gross bookings (to 31 Oct) were US$31mm up 122% on the previous year. This is Priceline's second go at the Asian market. The joint venture with Hutchison Whampoa is still active in Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan under the name your own price model. Had established a JV in Australia under the brand MyPrice but it folded within days of launch at the height of the dotcom boom years. Is also a model shift for PCLN as Agoda is a pay upfront business, not retail model.

UPDATE - have just seen the 8k filing which puts the purchase price at US$15,074,693 up front (with some in escrow) and potential earn out for three years (or more if "disruptions in the Asian travel market") for up to $141.6mm based on gross bookings and earnings targets (not disclosed)

UPDATE 2 - 7 Jan 08 e-tid are reporting the transaction as closed (reg'd required) and giving the first hints at the integration plans. The article says that the Agoda business will continue to be run independently which we can assume means no brand or business model change (ie merchant to retail). Is inevitable that we such a large earn out component that integration activities will be limited.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

WHOOT: Webjet bidders statement - 10 ways of saying we are offering more money

WHOOT series update - WHoever Owns Outright

The Wotif Bidders statement is out for (TVL). This is the official statement passed on to all shareholders of TVL from Wotif indicating why shareholders should accept the Wotif offer. There are ten reasons listed but as predicted the main one is words to the affect of "we are offering a lot of money, you'd be crazy not to accept". It came out a few days after the TVL board had categorically rejected, unrecommended, threw out and junked the Webjet offer with a target 's statement headed "Do Not Accept The Webjet Offer" (in big capitalised red lettering).

What AOT will do in response to the Wotif Bidders Statement is still the great unknown in this deal.

Trying out TripIt - "a problem with your TripIt submission"

I had a chance to try TipIt and have put together a review. You will recall that TripIt is the well funded booking organiser startup that gained some fame as being the only travel company to make it into the Techcrunch40 list. The theory is that you email all your travel booking vouchers/invoices and confirmation emails to a central TripIt email ( and the service would magically combine it all into one itinerary that can be shared, printed and generally Web2.0ed all over the place

I had wondered in my earlier post how the TripIt technology would go about "reading" all of the different forms of confirmation emails (especially pdfs) that travel companies send.

I conducted a test by sending through to the TripIt mail all the details from a recent trip to Melbourne made up of a Virginblue flight voucher, hotel voucher and Melbourne Skybus airport transfer ticket.

Unfortunately, the common response to each of these three emails to TripIt was
We received your email (Subject Line: [whatever the booking was]) but had a problem processing it. This typically happens when your email is not from one of our currently supported booking sites or when your TripIt To Me text isn't in the right format (for help with TripIt To Me, send an email with a blank subject line and the word "help" in the body to and we'll respond with a list of available commands).

We placed your email into the Unfiled Items section of your account as an unformatted Note for your review. Please follow this link to login to view your Note.

Happy Travels!

The TripIt Team
Not a great first time user experience. It is clear that the confirmation information has to be in a very set format or from the list of supported vendors. There is a good number of companies on the supported list (here) including biggies Expedia, Orbitz, Travelocity and Priceline as well as major airlines and leading LCCs such as easyJet and Ryanair. However there also a lot of well known brands missing such as,, Qantas,, and

The site is still in beta so there is reason to be forgiving. However customers give very few second changes to content/mashup based websites - even those in beta. My conclusion therefore remains the same - great idea but the execution needs to be flawless for the business to work. That is a big ask for any travel start up, even a well funded one. Anyone else have a TripIt experience to share?

Fastbooking raise €35m in fast cash

Online retailer, hotel booking engine provider, marketing firm and reservation connectivity service Fastbooking has raised Euro35mm in venture funding (thanks to m-travel). Money has come from 3i and Edmond De Rothschild Investment Partners (EdRIP). In exchange the two firms gain a 62% stake, valuing Fastbooking at Euro45mm.

Fastbooking operate B2C businesses through and a network of destination/SEO targeted sites under the collection of brands known as Only-Recommended-Hotels.

According to the Fastbooking corporate site, the group processed a volume of more than Euro206mm in 2006 in hotel bookings, representing 1.5mm room nights from 3,500 hotels. What is unclear bout their results is what the split in this volume is between B2C/direct to consumer activity generating commission levels that a retailer would enjoy and B2B reservation services which are presumably of lower margin compared to the volume processed. My sense is that the vast majority of the volume is B2B processing given the valuation of the deal.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Forrester says that online travel has reached a peak...

Forrester's online travel head Henry Harteveldt has been trying to steal the pre-conference attention away from PhoCusWright with the publication of a report called "Are Online Travelers Saying "Buh-Bye" to the Web?"

In this he reports that the number of online travellers both researching and buying travel online has fallen from 68% in 2005 to 62% in 2006. In addition that 63% of leisure travellers that looked online booked online in 2005, rising to 67% in 2006 but dropping to 55% in 2007. Meanwhile the online travel industry in the US is set to be US$104 billion this year up from $73.6 billion in 2005.

Harvteveldt says that all this points to a fall off in travellers, a decline in bookers and the "travel industry [being] increasingly reliant on a smaller group of people who are travelling more" (quote and stats in US Travel Weekly article by Dan Luzadder - registration required). eMarketer was full of similar doom and gloom about the US market earlier this year when they claimed that online growth rates in the US were dropping dramatically. My response at that time was "Baloney!" and I tempted to repeat that analytical summary in this instance.

Instead of being a symbol of the resurgence of the offline world or the end of online, the trends highlighted by Harteveldt are merely the signs of a mature market. Online travel in the US is more than 50% of the leisure market. Therefore we should expect now and into the future that market stats and figures will show ups and downs, as you would with any mature market. Rather than be a example of online travel failing it is a natural consequence of the victory of the keyboard over bricks and mortar. I am not saying that there is no place for a travel consultant or that the big three/four online players in the US can laugh all the way to the bank. Similarly I have argued before that consumers are entering a period in online travel where there is "too much information". But no-one in the US online travel industry should see statistical blips in demand or sky is falling talk from analysts as an indication that the industry is in trouble. If you have scale online in the US and continue to focus on good product, customer experience and driving efficiency then there is no need to worry about the strength of the online travel industry.

Thanks to reader Brian Russo of Bank of America who covers Priceline and Expedia for the Bank. He sent through an NY Times article on this subject prompting me to look further.

Monday, November 05, 2007

More money into meeting and groups as Worktopia raises $5mm

alarm:clock is carrying the story that NY based Worktopia have raised $5mm in funding from DFG Gotham with help from Milestone Venture Partners and High Peaks Venture Partners. That is a quality round of financing. DFG is an offshoot of VC A list company Drapher Fisher Jurvetson. Worktopia offer online meeting room and associated accommodation bookings with about 2,000 properties. Another example along with Groople, asdoo, TripHub and others of the steady flow of capital and interest into the group and MICE markets online. I agree with the conclusion at alarm:clock that 2,000 properties is not enough but with $5mm presumably Worktopia can employ more people in the contracting team.

Worktopia management include CEO John Arenas previously of Stratis Business Centers and EVP Brian McCabe who used to be with Regus.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Travelzoo - results in, offices opening but stock down

They have a new AU GM in Brad Gurrie and Asian offices opening all over the place but the market was not happy with Travelzoo's recent results. Motley Fool is carrying the story that while Q3 revenue is up 13% to $19.9mm they were not up enough to meet market expectations. Operating profits were down 39% however - probably driven by the costs of expansion and opening new offices. These costs are hitting straight at the bottom line. Stock itself is at around seventeen and a half bucks - down by more than a half from high in May and hundred in Jan 05 - but well up from opening of around $3.

Holiday stories in North Korea care of the Economist

Thanks to Madame BOOT for sending through this link to an article in the Economist on having a holiday in North Korea. Nice title - Sun, sex and Stalinism.

Pixsy launches video search on Lastminute - for what it is worth

Spotted an announcement on Techcrunch that video/media search company Pixsy has signed a deal and launched a media search site for The site is Lastminute branded but Pixsy hosted. Duncan Riley at Techcrunch describes the deal as providing the following
The new service will allow users to search millions of travel photos and videos while simultaneously shopping for travel services.
It is easy to see the media search part in action. Just a matter of typing a destination and videos are presented. However, while I am a fan of efforts to bring more media into the online travel retail experience, I do not think this implementation or product is that valuable to consumers or meets the hype.

Firstly I found the quality of media available to be mixed at best and poor at worst. A search of Sydney had some interesting media like a series of photos from one contributor from the local zoo but also contained photos of random people at random events. Relevance is always hard in a UGC environment so this can be forgiven.

What is very dangerous from Lastminute's perspective is that if you click on an image/video/media item the browser opens a new window at the location of the media contributor. This means that Lastminute is referring customers to media sites that it has not reviewed and has no control over. So in the case of a photo of a Kangaroo submitted by contributor Richard Ward I ended up at a media hosting site called Smug Mug another photo sent me to a site called ViewImages. Even though these two sites appear to only have kosher content (ie no porn, no violence) I would always advise against a system that sends customers to a UGC images site that I did not have complete control over. There seems to be a limit to the media providers but they include YouTube and DailyMotion so this is not much of a control.

Secondly the link between the images/media served at the Lastminute booking process is tenuous. I have put two screen shots below to highlight this.

Shot 1 - Other that the Lastmintue frames around the Pixsy search results the only integration is a link next to the search box. There is no integration with an individual image.

Shot 2 - should a customer actually click on this link they are sent to a Lastminute generic search results page. In this example of Sydney the list appears to be a random collection of hotels and generic links to top level pages like flights or holidays. It is not an integrated experience.

This is not compelling an unlikely to drive any booking activity.

The Techcrunch general Pixsy profile is here.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

BA apologises to customers the old fashioned way - handing out money

You may recall that on a recent trip to London on BA I discovered that the new BA in flight video on demand service had caught the "not sure why but it is not working" bug that plagued Qantas for so long. At the time I commented that while both systems seemed to have the same bug that the BA attitude and response was much more apologetic and customer focused than that from Qantas.

Now BA have gone one step further in sending me a letter and GBP100 worth of vouchers to be used in the on-board shop (or mail order). That is an Australian $250 apology for not being able to watch a movie all the way through. The contrast against the "process culture" at Qantas could not be more stark. You may also remember the response from David Cox the E-GM of Engineering when he was asked about the constant failures in the VOD system.
"As with any complex system there have been some technical issues,...The problems usually involve a small number of seats and the passenger can be moved to a different seat in these cases. We are dedicating considerable resources to address these reliability issues, including through the supplier Rockwell Collins."

So while BA apologised and took strong steps to compensate a customer for their VOD failure, the Qantas response was no apology and a statement more like "not a big problem and not our fault".

WHOOT: AOT climbs to 19.9% and Webjet claims it is back in the hunt

Time for another The WHOOT series update - WHoever Owns Outright

Long term (TVL) shareholder and director Daniel Droga has sold more than 9% of TVL stock to the "quiet accumulator" AOT - who can now claim 19.9% of the stock. This is not enough (yet) to completely end the Wotif charge for TVL ownership as Wotif have made it clear tha they would be happy with 75% - bit it is close.

Webjet have also come back swinging claiming that with recent increases in Webjet stock value, the Webjet offer is now worth more than the TVL Board recommended Wotif offer. We are still yet to see the official Wotif bidders statement.

Singapore first class on the A380 – bring good clean fun to 30,000ft

The number one travel industry gossip story is always anything to do with claims about the mile high club. Even here at the venerable and always high moral ground aiming BOOT we have been forced to mention the odd story or rumour about shenanigans in the air.
With the launch flight of the A380, Singapore Airlines has re-launched its first class product with a level of luxury that none of us expected. Highlights include an actual cabin with floor to ceiling coverage, a separate bed to seat, a choice between Dom Perignon and Krug and the ability for the two centre seats to be combined into one larger room with connected (ie double) beds.
We are all thrilled and relived to discover that despite the obvious inferences that can be made about what people could be doing in a double bed suite at 30,000ft it appears from the advertising that all we can expect is a good, hard game of chess. Knight to Queen 4.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

It's raining Samsonite - Bags fall from the sky in Chicago

How is this for the ultimate lost baggage story.

A change in cabin pressure on Delta Flight 4718 blew two of the cargo doors ajar, raining bags across the Midway Airport area. Only two bags were declared missing. One was found almost a kilometre from the airport, the other is still MIA.

What is more frightening:
  • you are in an aircraft and a door "comes ajar";
  • you are minding your own business plane spotting and a carry-all falls on your head; or
  • you turn up to a check in counter for an American airline - any American airline - and the check in clerk tells you "I'm sorry sir you are going to have to check that bag"?
Answers in the comments please...

Thanks to Consumerist for the story (originally from the Chicago Tribune).

Monday, October 22, 2007

NZ - Expedia In, Zuji/Travelocity out

Hot on the heals of Expedia announcing its entry into the New Zealand market, the NZ Herald is reporting that Zuji (the Travelocity operation in Asia) is shutting down its New Zealand site. was being operated under a franchise style relationship with Stella Travel Services. Site will shut down on November 30. There is a chance that Travelocity may try and re-launch Zuji New Zealand with their own team but I think they have more issues to face in growing the Australian business first.

UPDATE - received an email from Phang Shueh Chyan, Zuji's Singaporean based Head of Business Development. Tells me that in while the Zuji/Stella relationship is coming to an end, Zuji will retain the NZ site and operation. We wait to see what resources/team will be used to operate the business when the Stella deal ends on 30 November (assuming that date is still correct).

Crystal ball gazing over at the TourCMS blog

Alex Bainbridge has published an interesting post over at the TourCMS blog where he considers "the future of travel distribution and travel ecommerce". I have added Alex to my RSS feed and Blog roll. If you enjoy reading about the industry I recommend you do the same.

The Airline Industry - IAG podcast style

Received an email recently from Addison Schonland from the Innovation Analysis Group (IAG) recommending that I check out the series of aviation podcasts that he and others publish on the IAGblog. Starting from September they have been publishing an Airline Insight podcast on the aviation industry at a rate of more than one a day. I have listened to a few and these podcast are informative, detailed and focused but also not for the faint-hearted. By that I mean you if you are a passionate follower of the aviation industry you will be very impressed by the level of insight, material covered and access to insiders that comes from each edition. However if you have a only a passing interest in who has bought what aircraft, which bankrupt/struggling airline is going to survive another day or which low cost carrier has found another way to charge its consumers without telling them up front then you may find this heavy going.

To give a taste of the coverage - I listen to the Oct 18 podcast interview with Airbus North America Chair Allan McArtor where he pulled no punches in the he said, I said, you said, I want to kill you war of words between Airbus and Boeing over who gets more from which government. Great to hear a company head not afraid to tear into a competitor. At the other end of the aviation industry I enjoyed the interview with Kate Hanni who you will recall is driving force for an airline passenger bill of rights after her marathon lock down on the tarmac without food, potable water or sanitary toilets. Fascinating though not unsurprising to hear about how she has to convince the US government to stop corporations from locking people in tin boxes without any guarantee of release.

Subscription feeds for the IAG Podcasts are here.