Friday, May 30, 2008

If you are planning a Moose Hunt - get cracking. Frontier is increasing Antler transport costs 33%

Quick Friday fun. You thought $15 for the first checked bag on American was bad. Frontier has announced that from Jun 10 the cost of transporting antlers will increase by a whopping 33% from $75 to $100. So if you are planning a hunt get going. Thankfully it is still cheaper to breed than to hunt. The price of unaccompanied minors in only increasing 25% (from $40-$50). Alternatively it is poppy harvesting season right now in Afghanistan. Which wont cost you anything - in fact could be quite lucrative if a little risky. Contact Ariana Afghan Airline for travel arrangements.

hat tip to the ever-lovin' Consumerist

thanks to rrogersphotos for the photo from flickr

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Roamfree "Team" link now missing from the website

Was browsing the website today and could not help but notice that the link to "The Team" has gone from the left hand navigation area. See side by side shot below of the old home page left hand nav bar and the current one. The link used to point to [] which now simply points to the About Us section. Looks like the company has taken down its Team page. Not a good sign. Regular readers will know that Roamfree is going through a transition after making 50 or so staff redundant last month.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Branding in Hotels - why is a Days Inn in China luxury while in the US it is...well a Days Inn

Hotel franchise networks have been expanding through China and India at frenetic pace. I understand the desire to access markets that include 2 billion plus people and are expanding rapidly. [see a recent post on the Indian market here]. But I am confused by some of the brand choices that chains and franchise groups are making. For example the Wyndham hotels owned Days Inn is a well know old school highway motel. The brand has all you would expect from a solid 2.5-3 star motel. Clean rooms, robotic staff, vending machines, plastic cups in little paper bags. Traditional but thoroughly acceptable motel accommodations. The Days Inn mantra is "Friendly. Courteous service. Clean". Brand message is clear and delivery is consistent across the US.

But Days Inn have been in China for a few years now and have adopted a completely different model.

Here is a photo of a typical US Days Inn from Nowheresville Washington State. Everything about this says motel, and certainly says "Friendly. Courteous service. Clean"

But here is a photo of the Beijing Days Inn (and you can find more here). The first line in the hotel amenities for this property is "5 Star Rating". Here we have a brand synonymous in Hospitality for cheap but reliable and yet the emerging market launch is all about luxury, quality and amenities. I don't understand. Either all things American are viewed as inherently better in China (which I do not thing is true for one minute) or there is a mistaken belief that you can run a global brand with vastly different DNA in two different markets. I just think it is a mistake. Inbound business travellers are not going to look favourably about staying at a Days Inn in China and Chinese travellers to the US are certain to be disappointed and surprised if they are expecting the quality of the Chinese product out of the domestic US properties.

I don't get it. Do you?

Monday, May 26, 2008

Last minute model is on hiatus - but is it dead? Wotif to go 365 days

This logo on the left is a relatively recent version of the logo. Two simple things in the logo - the name and the model. Clear indication of what Wotif is all about - "28 days of great deals". But here is a copy of the new logo that has justed started to appear. Can you spot the difference - and I am not referring to the change in colouring. Rumours have been running around for Australia for weeks now that Wotif is going to be abandoning its last mintue model and moving to have inventory available 365 days per year.
When Wotif first launched it was only 14 days out. Then in 2004 they extended to 28 days. Now a couple of months after entering into the full service business with the acquisition of, Wotif is on the verge of abandoning a big tenet of its brand - last minute deals?

I have been thinking about this for the last few weeks and wondering if this is an indication of a wider trend that I have been watching. I had been noticing that's hotel growth was coming from its secret hotels, not last minute purchases. I could not help but read about's continued growth in Europe - the sense I get (no data to back it) is that there is nothing particularly last minute about this non-stop growth. Other players have been extending their booking windows also. Finally - despite softening in the US economy and high oil prices it is still boom time for hotels. With occupancy rates so high, hoteliers seem less and less interested in seeking help for last minute distribution. Bring these together and it looks like until we see another change industry dynamics there is at the very least a hiatus in the last minute model. But I am not convinced that the model is dead, another shift in demand (read continuing economic downturns) and hotels will look to last minute again and the distribution houses will be right there to pick it up. Meanwhile - look for the Wotif goes 365 press release very soon.

What do you think? Am I right in sensing a movement away from last minute distribution of hotels? If so do you agree that its just due to the economic environment or there a more fundamental shift here.

UPDATE - thanks to a reader that sent through an ASX filed presentation from Wotif. From 8 May this presentation is an update given to brokers. It includes on slides 9 and 31 commentary that 365 day inventory is "in development" and "coming". Also updates on and AsiaWebDirect. You can find a copy here

BOOT Recommends - stayed at and love the Luton Hoo Hotel Golf & Spa

In the early days of the BOOT I was asked by Guillaume Thevenot at hotel-blogs what the top three hotels were that I had stayed at. It was an easy choice at the time -Palazzo Versace, Gold Coast, Queensland Australia, Banyan Tree, Bangkok, Thailand and Le Meridien Piccadilly, London, England.

But I now have a new clear and unambiguous winner of the BOOT's top choice award. Last month I spent an amazing weekend at The Luton Hoo Hotel Golf & Spa in Bedfordshire England.

The first thing that strikes you about this hotel is the arrival. A long drive up an entranceway lined with green fields, trees and (I'm serious) wandering pheasant. The approach is rounded out by the building itself. A magnificent example of your ideas of a what an English country estate should look like. A beautiful front view on a water feature, side areas with manicured lawns and fountains, an entrance way with high arches, columns and waiting attendants. Beautiful. The hotel conversion has only just be completed so the facilities are all near perfect and new. High ceilings, large rooms, huge bathtubs, period but comfortable furniture...everything you could need to sink into the world of a luxury weekend in the country. Facilities are rounded out with a top class swimming pool, fair sized gym, near perfect croquet lawn (what a view) and a number of bars, high tea lounges and dining areas.

I looked for some areas to imperfection and found only one. The restaurants and food service areas (like the rest of the hotel) are new. As a result they have a few teething problems around getting good out one time (and accurately). This was annoying at meal times but did not detract from an amazing experience and would expect it to improve as the staff get used to the new set up. The prices are not cheap and this one was on my own dime. But it was a fantastic experience and re-defined in my mind the whole concept of spending a weekend in Luton.

The Airline Industry - NPR Style - Interview with Scott McCartney of the WSJ's Middle Seat

Interesting listen via a NPR Fresh Air Podcast with an interview with Scott McCartney, of the "Middle Seat" column for The Wall Street Journal. Interview discusses domestic air travel issues in the US, particularly the trend towards more and more hidden fees such as bag check in and changing approaches around being standard on the tarmac. I touched on this in my Gotcha Capitalism post. While the interview is targeted at consumers not industry insiders I found it a good update on the last year's worth of effort by US based airlines to extract extra bucks from consumers. At the thirty minute mark McCartney discusses some the revenge tactics that wronged consumers have been using against airlines - through the leaving of discussing things in the middle seat.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Will Travel 2.0 work in Asia? Yes - just as soon as the ad dollars flow faster

I was asked in an email this week about whether or not social networking sites will work in Asia. The question referred to a range of players such as Tript, triptouch, tripwiser and WAYN.

I have spoken before on the criteria for what makes a successful content (read Web 2.0) company in online travel. You can see that post here. I also did a post that discussed a lot of different approaches to content called "Content, content everywhere but who is getting the traffic". However this question asked me to think about this from the basis of the consumer market from a regional perspective rather than from a product and traffic perspective.

Content/Web 2.0 companies need two market based environmental factors to succeed. They need lots of containers and lots of advertisers.

Containers - this is a phrase I have adopted from Adam Healey. He used it to describe social networks, news readers and other web based products that capture a lot of user time and interaction. Critically these are the places that users build integrated online experiences with widgets, applications, social interactions and user generated content. This is needed because it shows that consumers are moving to the next level of interaction online and are open to product based web companies.

Advertisers - because they have the money. They are the business plan.

In Asia we have the containers. Friendster all but died in the West but is alive and kicking in Asia. MySpace and Facebook are fighting back against Friendster's early lead. Finally we cannot discount Asia's home growth social networks such as Cyworld in South Korea, Mixi in Japan and in China (Richard MacManus has some interesting analysis here). Naturally to hit these local players then local language is critical.

However in Asia the online advertising lags the West. This is just a matter of time but it means that the market for Web 2.0 is a few years behind. The US online advertising market for 2007 in the US was $21.1bb according to the Interactive Advertising Bureau (via TechCrunch). In Australia 2007 was US$1.2bilion. The UK reached GBP2.8bb in online advertising spend in 2007. Japan is clearly a global power-house in online advertising (one estimate put 2007 online advertising market at $5.5bb). But other parts of Asia are a little bit behind.

So in the case of Containers the pieces are all there but in the case of online advertising the pieces are almost there but not yet.

thanks to JayMoney in flick for the photo

BOOT in USA Today thanks to VibeAgent

Thanks to a competition run by VibeAgent the BOOT has made it into the USA Today in the Sky blog. The VibeAgent Facebook application - JetSetter - is about (promoting VibeAgent and) letting people compete with friends on how many miles have been flown and destinations visited. I managed to win the Blogger Edition of the competition with 144,142 miles, winning out over big travellers such as Jens Thraenhart of Tourism Internet Marketing (113,828 miles) and Ben Mutzabaugh of the USA Today’s “Today in the Sky” (56,202 miles). Full results here. However as I'm based in Australia and work for a company with offices in Chicago and London this gives me a big advantage over North American competitors. As I said to VibeAgent's PR guy when they told me I had topped the poll "Thanks. But not sure my family thinks it is something worth celebrating." So public apologies to Madame BOOT for the travel.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Red Herring is still alive and thinks Trivago is the next big thing

I thought Red Herring was Dead Herring. Back in the day (the boom) Red Herring was The online industry magazine and news source. Pre- TechCrunch, paidContent, GigaOm etc, Red Herring was a must read. Then it missed the online boat (who'd have thought) and the a-list blogs took over as the must reads. Valleywag has put the whole of Red Herring on Death watch.

But it seems that Red Herring is still (irregularly) putting out the magazine and (a little more regularly) continuing to host events. Last month in Malta Red Herring hosted a conference to announce/promote the Red Herring Top 100 Tech Startups in Europe. Among the winners - the Dusseldorf based trivago. Nice looking site with social networking, user generated content and a meta-search engine. I cannot see in my initial review what brings it ahead for the pack that includes the power houses TripAdvisor, Kayak, Virtualtourist, WAYN, Cheapflights etc. It may be enough that Howzat (investment vehicle for David Soskin and Hugo Burge) have invested in the trivago.

Les Explorers blog has an interview with trivago's head of PR Ulrike Pithan that has some good background on the company.

TVTrip (hotel video guides) also had a mentioned as a finalist.

Friday, May 16, 2008

I was caught in this fog yesterday (see photo). Trip home from London took 10 extra hours

Everyone loves the weather of Australia. Except when the Sydney Morning Fog comes in. For the second time in BOOT history I found myself almost home only to have the plane shoot right over and land in Melbourne. Four hours on the tarmac, four in the lounge and one and half more in the air and I was finally back in Sydney. Home at 4.15pm not 7am. So, who do I hate right now? Do I blame Zeus (Greek God of weather, thunderbolts, etc)? No, I blame the Sydney Airports Corporation for a crappy substandard Instrument Landing System (the dohicky that lets aeroplanes land on instruments only). I have landed a European airports with fog so thick that I have only known that we have been near the ground with the thump of the wheels hitting the tarmac. Time for an upgrade Sydney.

photo from the Sydney Morning Herald article.

Wego becomes Bezurk - but dodges the Trip name bullet

With the ink barely dry on my recent post to my recent post "Kango becomse UpTake, Vailoma becomes TripSay - seems it is easier to buid a product that get a good URL these days" comes news that Asian based meta-search company and News Ltd investee Bezurk is now called Wego. Here is the press release. New name comes with some additional features around trip planning and some very SEO friendly looking destination and flight routing looking links.

I exchanged a an email with founder and Chief Marketing Office - Craig Hewett to understand more. Here is an edited version of our exchange.

BOOT: Does this mean that the name Bezurk will fade away or will you keep the two in parallel?

Hewett: We will slowly transition users to over the next few months, so until then both sites will run in parallel but the intention is to eventually redirect to

BOOT: How hard was it to pick a new name and get a new URL. Can you share some names you rejected?

Hewett: Coming up with brand names which we liked was the easy part the hard part was finding ones which were available as a dot .com as well as the key country domain extensions.

In the early part of the process we kept up coming up with made up names which incorporated: trip, search, flight and they all sounded too similar to other exiting travel site names.

We lived on which tells you instantly as you type whether a domain is registered – speeding up the search process. We ended up combining different words together and searching close to 2000 names and landed up discovering wego by pure luck.

Fortunately for us Wego was owned by a company in the US who had acquired the domain when they acquired another company a few years back and had no real use for it and happened to put it up for sale a few days before we came up with the name. So we snapped it up straight away.

ed -
Craig also mentioned that some of the names researched and rejected by the Wego team included tripsearchr, triptasia, tripseekr, tripkiv, tripsecretary, trippa , tripblender, tripdecision and trippursuit. But as Guillaume over at Hotel-Blogs points out the last thing the industry needs is another "trip" based name.

BOOT: Still focused on Asia or pushing out to other parts of the world?

Hewett: ...primary focus will be on Asia Pac consumers. We are fortunate that as a brand name lends itself globally should we have global aspirations

Pithy ending - I like the new name (but was also a fan of the Bezurk name). Am glad that Craig and Martin dodged the "Trip" name bullet. New name and News funding = busy 2008. Their only worry now is that people confuse them with the World Evangelical Gospel Outreach (yes it exists).

Disclosure - in the past I have consulted to Bezurk/Wego

Thursday, May 08, 2008

BOOT meetup and drinks - Mon May 12 London - Butchers Hook and Cleaver in Clerkenwell

As mentioned last week, if you are in London and would like to meet the BOOT and other travel professionals please come to the first BOOT meetup.

Where: Pub - Butchers Hook and Cleaver. 61 West Smithfield, London, EC1A 9DY, United Kingdom
When: Monday May 12 from 1830 - 2100 (maybe longer)
What: no agenda. Will just be there to talk about online travel in Europe
Who: all welcome
Cost: None - just buy your own drinks

No need to confirm attendance. Just turn up (I am not organised enough to take up Guillame's good suggestion to use eVite or similar).

UPDATE - was a great evening out in the sun in London. First time for Kevin May, Guillaume Thevenot and me to meet as a group and talk shop. Also joined by Jason from Sisilili. Yes that right - the great meetup BOOT revolution drew a crowd of 4!! Kevin has a photo from the event with me holding up a silly looking BOOT sign and Guillaume holding a business card an embarrassing piece of direct marketing handed to us as we were drinking in the sun.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Buzz and $$ around Yapta

I missed the early stories around the fund raising of Yapta (Your “Amazing” Personal Travel Agent). In July last year they announced the raising of $2.3M from First Round Capital, Voyager Capital, Swiftsure Capital and Bay Partners. This came shortly after their May 07 beta launch and news (from TechCrunch) that they had put the product together on the basis of $750k in angel funding and 5,000 private beta testers. I was traveling at the time of their raising and had little to add the blog reports such as that from But buzz and news is coming from other sources since the fund raising.

On the traffic level, the company is now claiming that 250,000 shoppers have used the engine to track flight spending. CEO Tom Romary (ex-Alaskan Airlines, ex- Real Networks) translates this into searches of flights of a value of more than $400mm. On the staffing level, the company has been boasting board numbers with the appointment of David Falter as a Director. Falter is a ex-Cendantite having served as President of Galileo Americas.

Yapta’s meta-search functionality twist is it operates on the site of the supplier rather than its own site. With old school meta-search like Kayak a customer enters in search terms and waits for the results on the Kayak site before being sent to the site of the supplier to book. With Yapta the consumer tags/bookmarks the search combination on the supplier’s site with the Yapta tag. If the price drops Yapta sends an alert to the consumer. Reminds me of recent chat with VibeAgent CEO Adam Healey where he described the web and social networks as “containers” with product based companies like VibeAgent and Yapta providing the applications that sit in the container. To work it requires and download and currently only works on major US carriers so there is still work to do to go global.

Here at the BOOT we will keep a watch on this buzz. Just (I am sure) like the Yapta execs are keeping a watch on the $115mm cheque that Microsoft signed to get their hands on Farecast.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

In India the $2billion online market is creating an industry: discussing India online with Ram Badrinathan of PhoCusWright

I have been meaning to write for a while of my experiences in India. Readers will know that I traveled to Bangalore for work last month. My work visit there was around operational activities but I took it as a chance to think about the state of the online travel market in India.

I went there knowing that money was flowing and entrepreneurial spirit was flying around online travel. You only need to look at the last few months of deal announcements to get a feel for the level of activity.

Makemytrip (the number one player) has a new engine and claims to be hitting break even at the end of this year. This is off the back of some $40mm in funds raised, US$280mm in gross bookings and a claimed 45% share of the OTA part of the market according to CEO Deep Kalra (who is already talking up IPO plans);

Yatra (founded by ex-Ebookers Dhruv Shringi (CEO) and Manish Ami) raised money from Reliance Capital, Promod Haque’s Norwest Venture Partners (NVP), and the Television 18 Group (story here). Now there are stories of them combining with the Indian unit of Carlson Wagonlit Travel to try and acquire its Kuoni’s Indian business travel arm, Hogg Robinson Sita. They are claiming US$210mm in gross bookings;

Not to be left out of the PR war – Cleartrip CEO Sandeep Murthy is claiming that Cleartip is the “leading OTA in India” on the back of a usability and user friendliness survey from a research organization. They also recently raised more money ($18.5mm) from big names Draper Fisher Jurvetson and Mahindra Group. Makes a total of $30.2mm raised to date; and

Travelguru went on the acquisition trail – picking up Desiya for around $25 mm (Rs. 100 crores). Is aiming for break even in 2008 also on the back of $80mm in TTV ($42mm last year)

Additionally these companies are trying many creative and different things to the established “old world” online travel companies. Ideas like:

I often think you can also tell a lot about travel by simply looking at the media (newspapers, television, outdoor) and looking for agents in the street. Other than one outdoor advertisement for a tourism college and the appearance of a travel agent and tour operator in a five star hotel in my first four days in India I did not see a single mention of the travel industry. Not an ad for an online or offline player or supplier. Not a single agency. Not a hint of travel experience and or a drive by the population to look for ways to spend their travel Dollars/Rupees. It was only on my final day that I came across three separate travel ads in the one edition of the newspaper (presumably the weekly travel edition). All three were online players including a wrap around from MakeMyTrip. Here is a market with a billion plus people, fast growing economy, faster growing middle class and more low cost carriers that anywhere else in and yet I can only find the barest hint of a travel industry.

I discussed with this Ram Badrinathan of PhoCusWright before I left. He has been working on a special report. Badrinathan put this phenomenon in the simplest of terms. “This,” he says “is because travel as a category simply did not exist in India.” He goes on “the reason the online travel category is exploding is because the whole category did not exist before”. There are no nation-wide offline agents for the online industry to compete with (like the big four have taken on Amex in the US, or Webjet has taken on Flight Centre in Australia, or Expedia Lastminute and Ebookers have battled TUI in Europe). The online travel players are the first national travel industry players. What a fascinating and unique phenomenon – well at least I think it is unique to India.

If Badrinathan and PhoCusWright are right then the market has grown quickly to $2billion – he expects $6 billion in 2010. If Kalra of Makemytrip and the above numbers are right then the OTA industry is just north of US$500mm. The balance (assuming we can match the numbers) is therefore spread mainly between the 7 low cost carriers.

The online hotel market is not of significance according to Badrinathan. A lot of this is cultural. Domestic leisure travel happens in larger family groups and tends to be VFR related. Chain penetration is low and hotel quality is varied. This makes it hard for travelers to book domestic hotel inventory sight unseen. Trust and knowledge is limited. This is the space that HolidayIQ is trying to fill. Pitching themselves as Indian TripAdvisor, HolidayIQ is sitting on 8,500 reviews of domestic properties. Currently this is on the fringe (TripAdvisor is closing on 20 million). With English language being common among the Indian online travel customer HolidayIQ finds itself competing directly with TripAdvisor as well as needing to build the content/advertising model in a market that has not yet established a merchant/retail model. But it is clear that trusted hotel information is a necessary part of helping the online hotel business to catch up to the growing air business.

I found it fascinating to see the contrasts of India. Not just the typical contrasts of wealth, dynamism and poverty (which are mind boggling) but also the contrasts of what I read and see of the potential for online travel in India and the difference in the marketing and monetization approaches compared to other emerging markets.

Do you have any online travel experiences in India you would like to share?

Friday, May 02, 2008

TripIt raises money - and Sabre is one of the investors

I am a week or so late (on a lot of things) to comment on the story around TripIt raising funds. As a quick reminder to those that don't know, TripIt is a a tool for combining all of the disparate booking itineraries into one and adds in a little bit of networking for flavour. I interviewed CEO Gregg Brockway here. In that interview Brockway hinted at an imminent VC round.

A week or so ago the TripIt announced a Series B of US$5.1mm on top of the Series A US$1mm from O'Reilly AlphaTech. I was about to do a simple update to my interview post when I looked closely at the entities participating in the round. O'Reilly AlphaTech are back for more and have been joined by the EuropeanFounders Fund. The big news is that Sabre Holdings have joined the round. This is noteworthy for obvious reasons - OATV and EFF are funds - but Sabre is not only an operating company, they are an operating company with significant existing only assets (Travelocity, Lastminute, IgoUgo and so much more). I was drawn to the fact that there is no quote from a Sabre executive in the story on

This is interesting for two reasons:

1. It is a very small investment for Sabre. Even if they put in the largest share, this is a very small deal for company that was privatised for $5 billion. It takes more than just an investment return for a multi-billion dollar travel company to spend the time needed for a $5.1mm dollar deal; and

2. Sabre is presumably an operational investor rather than a returns investor. That is Sabre is presumably looking for eventually taking operational advantage of the technology or reach or both of TripIt rather than a simple investment return. It also eliminates a lot of potential buyers. What are the chances of Expedia, Priceline, etc buying TripIt with Sabre as a shareholder?

If I read this right, Sabre would only invest if it has more than a investment return plan. If it had plans to bring TripIt into the business at one point - likely some part of the Travelocity media sections (including IgoUgo). Any readers from TripIt or Sabre care to make a comment?