Tim Hughes puts the boot into the highs and lows of the online travel business (with an Australasian/Asian bias) with some blogging about consuming and loving travel thrown in.
Wednesday, January 31, 2007
Flight Centre - doing in right in corporate travel
Have to end this quote with a "curse you Google" moment. Is it just me or is publishing using Blogger becoming a risky business. This is the second time I had to write this post due to Blogger eating the last attempt.
Blogger fighting airline delays
“There is some dispute over exactly how dire the circumstance were on that flight. I do have flight attendants reports saying no toilets overflowed. We ran out of bottled water but we still had plenty of drinking water.”Another piece of brilliance in airline customer service. You are a customer stranded on an American Airlines plane - no real food, no bottled water, no way off, surrounded by screaming kids, receiving irregular updates on what may or may not be happening, dreading the stench from the toilets and the passengers etc etc etc - but according to the airline there is uncertainty as to how bad things were.
I have almost been there. On a trip last July from Sydney to New York I had the "pleasure" of AA from San Fran to NY. We landed in NY ahead of a storm but were stranded on the tarmac for three and half hours waiting for the lightening to clear to allow the ground crew to return to work. That was a tough period - especially as we were 50 meters from our destination - I can only imagine how bad it would have been for more than twice that time. On a good day you cannot find a seat on an AA flight that anyone would describe as good.
Tuesday, January 30, 2007
Qantas Entertainment - a Very Obvious Defect (VOD)
I am used to Qantas management being immune to the complaints and comments of its customers. Now however there is news from the Qantas cabin crew that they are suffering significant abuse from customers due the constant failures of the system. The Sydney Morning Herald is reporting that this is resulting in stress related issues and physical illness. As a result on Jan 19 the cabin crew association wrote to management to alert them of the constant abuse and failures. Here is the response in the article from the manager in charge David Cox (E-GM of Engineering)
"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."
In other words - this is not a big problem, if you don't like it move seats and it is the suppliers mistake not ours. Shame on you Mr Cox and shame on you Qantas. Your customers are telling you the system is busted, your staff are telling you the system is busted and the best solution you can come up with is moving seats. This is completely useless advice for two reasons. Firstly the flights I have been on the VOD system has been broken in whole sections, if not the whole plane. Secondly, I mainly fly Qantas to the US and UK. These are very busy (or monopoly routes) and I cannot remember the last time I was on a plane with spare seat. In fact I spend half my time on wait-lists in effect begging to get on a flight. My suggestion to Qantas is to can the useless, head in the sand advice and over-haul the system.
Saturday, January 27, 2007
Subscribing to the BOOT - now with email updates
Of course there is also always the option to subscribe to the BOOT via RSS - follow the icon on the right hand page or click here
Wednesday, January 24, 2007
2007 - the year of the Travelport break up
UPDATE - in related Travelport news here is an interview with Graham Nichols (Worldspan vice president and general manager EMEA) on the merger between Worldspan and Galileo. The questions I most want to ask is "What is the future of the Worldspan brand?". Here is Graham's answer (or non-answer as the case may be)
Should the merger proceed as expected, Worldspan will become a Travelport company and will operate under its own brand, similar to how Galileo currently operates. Until we are merged we will operate as two separate companies.
Monday, January 22, 2007
Expedia "Strikes a Deal with Tripadvisor"
Expedia Australia has struck a deal with travel community website Trip Advisor [sic] in a move to step up its user generated content and to improve conversion rates.The natural inclination as an online travel blogger is to poke fun at TravelWeekly for not knowing, realising or checking to find out that Expedia owns TripAdvisor. Following this train I would make particular fun of this sentence in the report
No commercial terms for the deal have yet been finalised.However there is actually a very serious side to the internal negotiations between the TripAdvisor site owners and each of the Expedia point of sale operators within the EXPE mothership. Kevin May at Travolution broke the European part of this story in October. There is probably a lot of internal ego and P&L ownership behind this. My guess is that this is driven by that fact TripAdvisor staff are measured with a stand alone P&L and want compensation/target reduction for any activity that potentially helps an Expedia Point of Sale (POS) owner obtain traffic that would normally go to TripAdvisor.
There is a bigger picture also for Expedia. Part of the power of user generated content is the natural search/SEO benefits that the unique content provides. TripAdvisor's strength in this area ensures that it is the top ten natural results for now very expensive key words like "Hotels in New York" or "...London" or "...Sydney". This ranking is maintained by the unique and "independent" nature of the content on TripAdvisor (white hat SEO marketing) and contrasts to the activities of other travel content/affiliate providers that build a seemingly unrelated series of websites based on the same content that link to each other to book rankings (black hat SEO marketing). Black hat SEO marketing can be very lucrative as it short cuts the need to build a huge library of content, links and relevance. However it is also very dangerous. When Google finds sites involved in black hat techniques it typically responds quickly and mercilessly by cutting off the sites involved. Therefore if an Expedia POS was simply to cut and paste TripAdvisor content it runs the risk of (in the best case) hurting the rankings of TripAdvisor or (in the worst case) causing both TripAdvisor and the POS from being banned from Google's natural results. I am sure Expedia is aware of this and that is why they are treading very softly (with just Australia and Canada announcing full deals) are promoting the illusion that it is an arms length commercial deal. Expedia needs to do this as the integration of UGC and booking functionality is the number one characteristic of Travel2.0. Expect Expedia Inc to continue to push this strategy but to do so very carefully.
UPDATE - Sydney Morning Herald has also picked up the story in a good PR piece for Arthur and team. However they too have not mentioned the common ownership of Expedia AU and TripAdvisor.
And finally to TravelWeekly, here is a link to all of the brands owned by Expedia Inc so that you can avoid a mistake like this one.
UPDATE 2 - This is a word for word quote from the print addition of Australian business publication BRW in their "Australia Online" addition dated Feb22 - April 4 (cant find an online version so you'll have to trust me).
"In January, Expedia signed a deal with Tripadvisor...The Expedia tie-in with Tripadvisor is another parthership in a sector that seems ripe for consolidation" (my emphasis)This is the number 1 or number 2 business publication in Australia (depending on how you measure it against the Bulletin) and yet they fell hook, line and sinker for the notion that Expedia and Tripadvisor are separate companies. You'd be surprised how often I see in my search logs "who owns tripadvisor". I should be ranting about how badly this reflects on BRW, but instead, I am impressed by the great sell job Expedia is doing keeping these brands separate in the minds of the general public and "educated" media.
Keep up with Cameron Jones
Friday, January 19, 2007
HRS enters the UK
This is a smart strategy for them - maybe a year or two earlier than would have been perfect but a good move. The market is crowded and they will have to work hard take on the cocky and growing Pricleine (through Activehotels and Bookings.org - hey speaking of which I have not yet seen the implementation of the proposed name change) the entrenched and all powerful Expedia and Lastminute.com and the perpetual successful sleeper site combo of HotelClub and RatesToGo. They have the right content mix to fight with these player but will need to work on traffic and marketing from the UK (obviously) but may also have to abandon their long held belief in keeping the display unbiased. In a cut throat market like the UK you need to use revenue management tools to make the most of out each piece of traffic you get your hands on including sort order biasing and display management.
EXPE vs AA - No wonder AA are cocky
Thursday, January 18, 2007
Blog Name Change - BOMST - the Business of Meta-Search Travel
I have been talking almost non-stop about meta-search since returning from my break - come to think of it leading up to the break as well. The activity in this sector is running at break neck speed. The BOMST acronym is nowhere near as catchy as "the BOOT" so will resist the urge to change but that will require either the meta-search boom to slow down or me to find other deals to write about.
I owe few responses in comments, particularly to Hotelsbycity on their engine and AsiaTravelMarket. Am working on those for next week.
Tuesday, January 16, 2007
AsiaTravelMarket - Even in comparative shopping brand is important
They will need two things to compete with with more established comparative shopping players (Sidestep, Kayak and to a lesser extent Bezurk in Asia).
First they need some more content deals. The search I conducted did not have results from either Travelocity (or lastminute) or Expedia. Online shoppers that are experienced enough to use a comparative shopping engine will know to check one of both of those players. If you do not have them in an ex-UK devoted comparative shopping play then customers are less likely to trust the results.
Secondly they need a new name. AsiaTravelMarket sounds like a good idea as it is a clean description of what they do. But there already exists an Asiatravel.com and an AsiaTravelMart.com. Each has their problems and issues but each has been around since the beginning (ie the first boom). Additionally AsiaTravelTips have been around for a long time providing industry information (well press release delivery at least) and hotel booking capability. Even though comparative shopping engines feed off the content and to an extent brand of other players they need to build their own brand as well. AsiaTravelMarket will struggle to secure brand recognition when a Google search for "asiatravel" is guaranteed to favour these older players. I know it is a tough recommendation to receive when you have just come out of stealth but maybe this is also the best time. Reminds me - I must secure the domain names AsiaTravelMarketStore.com, AsiaTravelMarketStoreShopper.com and AsiaTravelMarketStoreShopperSite.com before anyone else does....
Monday, January 15, 2007
Headaches at Opodo but is a sale really in the offering
The next part of the story is whether or not Opodo is up for sale. Independent is reporting that Opodo have
"the first steps towards a sale that could value it at well over £100m"The over a hundred million part I get. Even though Opodo is losing a fortune, it has a turnover of Euro140mm plus and is growing despite the big marketing spends of Expedia and Travelocity / Lastminute in Europe. Heck if eBookers was worth £200mm plus then Opodo is easily in the hundred million range. (OK - we all know that eBookers was never worth £200mm but it has to be part of the story somehow).
The tone of "we have said goodbye to all of the top management, now are ready to sell" I dont get. Not sure how you can sell as either an ongoing concern or as a strategic investment a company that has lost its CFO, Country Manager for largest market, Head of Product and Commercial, Head of Tours and is just breaking in a new CEO (no matter how talented/experienced Ignacio Martos may be). Amadeus is clearly rethinking its online strategy globally (as evidenced by its exit from Travel.com.au mid last year) but they are unlikely to obtain the best price for Opodo until after they have rebuilt the management team.
Friday, January 12, 2007
EXPE vs AA - who will be the strongest warrior
UPDATE - m-travel.com are quoting an AA source as saying that AA and Expedia could not
“come to economic terms”should be clear confirmation that AA wanted to lower commission and Expedia refused to accept. For their part Expedia says that the reason was
“...the result of Expedia’s choice to cease processing AA bookings using the Worldspan GDS at this time...[and]...independent of any negotiation issues with AA”
Thursday, January 11, 2007
Another Lonely Planet Play
I am late to report their newest efforts - the launch of an invitation only online accommodation site, the HayStack. There theory behind the site (according to eyefortravel) is to limit the available properties to those reviewed by Lonely Planet reviewers. From the press release this means
"Haystack launches with over 390 properties from 20 countries and will develop rapidly from launch."This sounds like a good idea - a way for customers to book reviewed hotels online. But I think it is too little too late. Lonely planet was founded in 1984. Online travel took off in 1995. Online travel became a serious business in 2000 (with Travelocity's acquisition of Preview Travel). Launching a booking product in Dec 2006 is at least 6 years too late for Lonely Planet.
I want Lonely Planet to "win" online as I have so many fantastic travel memories from by backpacking youth that involved a Lonely Planet book by my side. I should also give them some credit for launching new products on a regular basis. But the next generation of backpackers all own mobile phone and will all have accounts with the large scale community and review sites (the Tripadvisors and WAYNs of the world) connected to their phones and local internet cafe, reducing the relevance and need for a Lonely Planet book tucked in the back pocket.
UPDATE - have just read the interesting post on the Compete blog analysing the (limited) traffic flows from the Lonely Planet main site to the Haystack booking engine. Makes for interesting reading
The BOOT on Hotel-Blogs
Tuesday, January 09, 2007
Jumping good, Booking bad
On the fun side - I love the bed jumping competition photos section - huge collection of photos of people doing jump after jump after jump including wackos in their birthday suits, dressed in costume and risking life and limb.
On the features side - they have an outline map of a hotel showing the rooms/locations of photos submitted by users (here is an example from the Grand Hyatt in San Fran. Note - not all hotels have this feature.
On the business model front - there is strong consumer benefit in having access to photos not fluffed by the hotel. Further (assuming they have the scale they claim) this is great at driving repeat visitors and customer retention. Their business model seams simple - use photo driven content and community to drive traffic to the booking engine. That said, I made three searches in three cities and could not get a rate or booking option. Hotel results were posted with photos, maps and reviews but attempts to get to a confirmed rate and booking page failed every time. The main error message was that my check-out date did not come after check-in but (a) that was not true (I triple checked each time) and (b) there is no chance to confirm or correct on the error page, you have to use the back button. So - great content, great PR generator in the bed jumping but can end up a waste of time if people can't book anything.
Monday, January 08, 2007
Airlines spotting and nostalgia
- Flight Aware - An airline will never be honest with you in first instance about how delayed their flights are. I remember one time I was running late for a Virgin-Express flight from Heathrow. I called the customer care line and asked if the flight was on time or running late. Was assured it was on time. I pressed - "are you sure, because if it is on time I will miss it". "OK" admits the agent "it is probably running about 15 minutes late". "That's not enough" I say "I will probably get there about 30 mins after scheduled departure.". "Well", the agent confesses, "that should be fine, as the flight looks to be delayed by about a hour and fifteen minutes". It took three attempts to have the airline tell me the correct information on the delay in the flight. On another occasion I was at the gate checking into a flight from Frankfurt to Barcelona when the staff apologised for the delay and announced that boarding would commence in fifteen minutes. I went up to the counter and double checked with the counter staff. "Excuse me - did you say that boarding would start in fifteen minutes." "Yes" she replied "apologies for the delay". "How can boarding start in fifteen minutes, when there is no airplane connected to the air bridge" I say pointing out the window to the obviously lack of anything on which we could board. She eventually admitted that the plane was fifteen minutes away, that it would take fifteen minutes to get the passengers off and at least another ten minutes to prep the plane for our boarding - so boarding would be forty minutes away. Flight Aware claim to provide flight tracking data and info free of the airline spin.
- Departed Flights.com it is a crude and not very attractive site but here you will find old route maps for most major US airlines - including many of the defunct airlines such as Pan Am. Unfortunately is not interactive or searchable but provides a nice trip down memory lane. Other parts of the site have eclectic collections of old airline advertising campaigns including this oldie on how fantastic the 727 is/was.