Saturday, February 21, 2009

Expedia to launch meta-search. But... don't they already own OneTime

A Kevin May @travolution tweet pointed me to a Travolution story "Expedia mulls launch of meta search engine". Contains a quote from Expedia CEO Dara Khosrowshahi considering a move into the meta-search model. I found this a little odd as back in July last year Expedia subsidiary TripAdvisor (yes...Expedia owns TripAdvisor:)) bought meta-search company OneTime (my post on the story here). Couple of possibilities here. Maybe the OneTime engine is not good enough and Expedia needs to start again. Or maybe Khosrowshahi has signed off on so many acquisitions for TripAdvisor that he forgot about one. Most likely it is just a sign that of the long list of TripAdvisor subsidiaries one of them (OneTime) is going to be getting a lot more attention than the others.

Update - getting lots of feedback in comments, twitter and email saying the OneTime should not be considered a meta-search company. More a deal finder. Looks like Option 1 above is the right one (OneTime engine is not good enough).

Friday, February 20, 2009

Marriott, Hilon and Omni reporting growth in sales via mobile - but I still believe that 2009 is not the year for mobile

Advertising Age's Rita Chang has a story in Advertising Age on increased mobile distribution for hotel chains called "Mobile Hotel Bookings Show ROT in Recession". Highlights from the story are:
  • Marriott reporting US$2million in sales via mobile from Aug 2008 to 31 Dec 2008;
  • Omni Hotels claiming 85% growth in traffic to the mobile in just six months - with conversion rates of 25% (compares to 3.5%-7% on the web version of their site); and
  • Hilton Hotels talking about a 22% "return on investment" (whatever that means) including $1.4 million in bookings "in an average 100-day period" (again not sure what that means)
In my predictions post for 2009 I said that 2009 will not be the year for mobile in the travel industry because most distribution players will focus on their core products rather than new distribution ideas. This is not a popular prediction. PhoCuWright (respectfully) don't agree with me both through their Trends for 2009 report where they predict that "Mobile Arrives (finally) - and Gets Contextual" and in Norm Rose's reply to my prediction is here. My former Cendant colleagues at Hudson Crossing also don't agree in their Trends in Travel Investment 2009 report (pdf) where Mike McCormick predicts that Mobile will begin to "emerge, converge and finally arrive in travel". More than half of the commentators in Travolution's Predictions for 2009 also disagree with me.

The beauty of this Advertising Age report is that each of us can use the numbers to support our case. I can say that the results are so small and off such a low base that they show that mobile is still a year or more away from having the impact we have been waiting for since 2000. The pro-mobile camp can use the growth rates, the penetration of smart phones and the return of the last minute model - all before the end of Feb 2009- as proof that mobile is picking up speed and headed for victory in 2009.

So where do you stand? Am I mad to swim upstream against the other commentators on mobile in 2009?

Update - Jakob Neilsen has an interesting post on the usability on Internet via mobile called Mobile Web 2009 = Desktop Web 1998 that (I think) supports my view (found it at

Hat tip to nakedbearmedia for sending me the Advertising Age link

thanks to Matthieu :: over at flickr for the photo

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Priceline Singapore is still alive and claiming 10% growth

The headline above does not make for that interesting a read, unless I tell you more of the background. First to the story and then to the background. I came across an piece on the Nanyang 100 website with an announcement from Pauline Chian - a manager at Priceline Singapore - that sales are up 10% at Priceline Singapore (despite the recession). She attributed the success to (primarily) the absence of a booking fee on flights and (less importantly) the name your own price model.

The reason I found this interesting is that it is the first news report I have come across in years referring to Priceline Asia. Priceline Aisa is a not a wholly owned part of Priceline Incorporate (PCLN). It is a joint venture between PCLN and Hutchison-Whampoa - with Hutch as the major partner. Hutch is Asia's biggest company - into everything from property, ports and telecommunications. Up until 2006 Hutch was also the largest shareholder in PCLN. The JV is not related to Priceline's other businesses in Asia (Agoda and offices).

Formed in 2001, the JV spent a lot of money in the early days on staff and marketing. A lot of the marketing was in kind with related Hutch companies providing in-store and media contra marketing. A large investment, lots of momentum, unmatchable buzz .....and near zero results. The business soon had to reduce staff, dramatically scale back marketing and bring in other products in addition to the Name Your Own Price model. The Asian market place simply did not take to the NYOP model. One insider told me that they believed that the discounts were simply not enough. That campaigns advising consumers of a potential 20% saving for NYOP did not provide enough of an incentive for the consumer to risk opacity in suppliers in Asia. Another theory was that NYOP needs a very large domestic market with relative similarity between air suppliers and star rating certainty in hotels - factors which do not exist in Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan. Either way the business fell of the radar screen of observers like me and travel suppliers and customers that I spoke with.

I can't recall the last time I saw and announcement or marketing piece from Priceline Asia. I haven't even heard them mentioned in those now ubiquitous press releases from meta-search companies announcing a distribution deal with an intemediary like they were M&A deals.

Thus my curiosity is piqued. If Priceline Asia is growing and starting to make industry noise again, then are they trying to make a come back? Or is it just that by adding more and more news feeds to my reader I am simply coming across more stories that I used too? Any Singapore, Hong Kong or Taiwan based readers able to tell me if they have been hearing any Priceline Asia noise recently?

Monday, February 16, 2009

Friday, February 13, 2009

Hilton buys Crown Plaza (according to Google)

Industry friend sent me a great screenshot of a Google search for the term"Crowne Plaza Cambridge". Google mapping or indexing pushed the result to Ooops. Unfortunately I can't replicate the result as I am an Australian IP address and my friend was in the UK but here is the screen shot.

Update - Xotels boss Patrick Landam has solved the mystery. The Cowne Plaza Boston/Woburn was rebranded the Hilton Boston/Woburn after a $10mm refurb in 2008. Shame that Patrick's good research killed a great Google conspiracy story and shown me up to be nothting but a haphazard blogger :).

Seat Review - Qantas international economy class

Recently I flew economy class on Qantas from Sydney to Singapore and back. It was the first time I had flown long haul economy in about 5 years. I was nervous but by keeping the flights to single legs and flying during the day I found it manageable. The Qantas economy experience was better than I expected with some pleasant surprises but still some disappointments in service delivery and entertainment. The service elements drags down an otherwise great experience.

The BOOT rating for Qantas International Economy is a 3.5 out of six or "Good". Here is the detailed review (Details and scoring system for airline seat reviews)

Getting on Board

Score 0.5

It is hard to give a fair measure of the economy class boarding experience as my Qantas frequent flyer platinum status means I can check-in via the first class window and board early. That said the people around me appeared to flow quickly. Sure we took off late - but that is now a given at Sydney airport

The Seat

Score 0.5

Snaps to QF for giving me the best economy seat they could (exit, aisle, left hand side). The seat itself is comfortable (standard 31'' pitch). The recline is standard economy with the adjustable headrest being a real bonus. The controls for the video system are in an odd spot. They are at knee height meaning each time I moved while watching a movie I bumped the control and interrupted the film. Eventually I needed to take it out of the holder and hung it over the side of the seat.

The Service

Score 0

Qantas runs a process culture at present. Meaning that staff are well versed in processing a customer through the stages of each flight. But they are missing the important part of customer service - meeting the unexpected needs of the consumer. Great customer service comes with a customer is surprised by how quickly their needs are anticipated and met. During the flight I made a number of requests that were ignored or took too long to fulfil such as request for drinks outside of food service and requests for another pillow. Am hoping to find out more about planned improvements here soon.

The Food

Score 1.0

Food is one of Qantas' consistent strong points. The meals were tasty with fun touches in desert and snacks

The Entertainment

Score 0.5

I come to any review of Qantas inflight entertainment with a bias drawn from continued system failure and apparent ambivalence from Qantas (previous stories here). On this occasion the entertainment system worked and there was a fine selection of movies but there were sill three annoying features:

1 The placement of the control (see above);

2. The time to activation. Qantas seem to delight in waiting as long as possible before turning on the service and playing compulsory videos to further delay the time before I can press play and zone out. Competitors in this space make videos available as soon as the seatbelt sign is off. On QF it can take as much as 20 mins past that point; and

3 Limited TV shows. Competitors such as Cathay and Virgin Atlantic are offering whole seasons of shows (watched a whole season of '24' on a recent CX flight). These are missing from Qantas.

But it was working so can't complain (too much)

The BOOT factor

Score 1.0

Two things pleasantly surprised me about the flight

1. A trolley service after the main meal with hot chocolate and peppermint tea came as a complete and very pleasant surprise. I would not have thought to ask for peppermint tea but it hit the spot on refreshment mid flight

2. A trip planner leaflet was handed out listing when during the flight things would occur such as meal service. This little thing (which I've not seen before) made the flight more enjoyable as it took out guess work from the flight

Final Score

3.5 - Good Seat

Details and scoring system for airline seat reviews

thanks to fboosman on flickr for the photo

Airline Seat Reviews - New BOOT segment

New segment here at the BOOT. Last year I flew more miles than any time in my life. This year does not look as frantic but I still feel there is a lot of ranting and boot putting in to go with airline seats. I also have found myself flying international economy again giving me another perspective to share with readers. I will be rating seats based on five categories

1. The getting on board - covering check in and boarding

2. The Seat - facilities, comfort etc

3. The Food - quality, quantity, timing etc

4. The Service - how they treat me

5. The Entertainment - how they keep me entertained

6. BOOT factor - is there something special or notable about the flight

When someone asks me a question about a seat on a flight they don't want an answer that is a score out of ten. Instead they want to know if the seat on a flight is either "not good", "good enough" or "great". Therefore this will be my (simplified) scoring system. I will give each category either a score of zero (not good enough), half (good enough) or one (great). A total of less than 3 means a final score of not good enough, between 3 and 4.5 means good and 5 or more means great. Critically the scoring will be in reference to price/expectation. Therefore it is possible for an economy seat to get a score of great and a business class seat a score of good. Enough with the preamble - let's get to the reviews.

Reviews so far

1. Qantas international economy seat review

2. Singapore international business class (Raffles Class) seat review (inc A380)

3. British Airways Club World long haul

4. United Airlines Business Class

5. Japan Airlines International Business Class

6. Qantas international premium economy (A380)

7. Virgin Atlantic Upper Class

8. British Airways World Traveller Plus

9. Cathay Pacific Business Class

10. Air New Zealand Economy Class (trans-tasman)

11. Virgin Atlantic Premium Economy

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Travelzoo bought and has now relaunched - looks familiar

Email/Deals marketing firm Travelzoo (TZOO) bought the domain name for US$1.76mm a week or so ago (more over at Travolution). Today I saw a story announcing that has been relaunched as a meta-search beta. New model for them. I wonder where they got their inspiration. Here is a screenshot of the new website. Free 1 year subscription to the BOOT for anyone who can tell me which site the website looks the most like. Any guesses? There is a hint below.


Update - just saw a post from Tom Botts of Hudson Crossing where he reviews some features from

Alfonso Castellano Interview - on TripSay, content models and staying focused (part 2)

This is part two of my interview with TripSay’s new board member Alfonso Castellano. In part one of the interview Castellano and I talked through the online industry in general. We covered topics like the pressures confronting the OTAs (complexity, margin pressure, marketing costs), meta-search and the impacts of the global financial crisis (GFC).

In this part we talked about TripSay and the travel content model. Castellano believes that the next “ten year space” for travel is the 90%+ of the travel experience not captured by the OTAs – the discover, search, research and decision process that goes on before the trip and the collaboration, sharing and recording that goes on after the adventure.

His view is that TripSay will focus on the planning and sharing element using the traveller’s own community as the best resource.

Balancing UGC and Editorial Content

A challenge we discussed is finding the right balance between community generated content (UGC) and editorial content (see earlier discussions here and here). TripSay’s approach to this is to work with partners that have editorial content and combine with the TripSay community content. This does not mean doing a licence deal with a Frommers or Lonely Planet to white label the content on TripSay. Instead they propose to provide the TripSay as a white label community system for a travel company. TripSay provides the community content and platform, the distribution partner provides their traffic and editorial content. I like this idea. Giving travel companies like destination sites, tourism boards, tour operators etc to use TripSay in a software-as-a-service style model for launching a community structure. I see how this works towards a good balance between UGC and editorial content.

Monetising Travel Content Traffic

Castellano and I agree that if you can build travel content traffic (and make it sticky) then the advertising and paid traffic revenue will come. This places the monetisation pressure on the TripSay marketing team. On traffic acquisition, Castellano admitted that TripSay does not have a lot of money to buy traffic. Therefore the traffic plan combines with the biz development strategy for content acquisition. Using the partner deals for content generation to also drive traffic to TripSay. This will be driven through the acquisition of online affiliate partners but also through a push to sign up travel agents into a industry based community.

Focus and product development

The final challenge we discussed – which impacts all startups – is keeping the business focused on the product pipelines. In effect channelling the enthusiasm within the business. The GFC plays are role here too according to Castellano. Keeping an enthused entrepreneurial team focused on products that can make an immediate impact. Their hope is that they can do this faster and more nimbly than the larger companies.

I agree with these strategies but the main downside is that it places an involved (and complicated) biz dev obligation on TripSay. From my rules for content companies – this will take time. They will need great sales people and patience (read financial backing).

The last part that interested me was when asked about competitors he mentioned that the only other major player in the same space as TripSay is Travbuddy. I do not yet have my head around the distinctions between (or if there are distinctions between) the different travel content, review, planning, community etc sites. This came up in a comment in recent Tripwolf fund raising post. There clearly is some sort of categorisation between these sites but I have not figured it out yet. It is important to have categorisation because that helps with the development of competitor fighting and customer acquiring strategies. But done badly, categorisation can lead to the wrong focus – witness the distortions in parts of the online hotel sector in creating distinctions between last minute, full service, retail model, merchant model,etc when all consumers care about is booking a room. What do you think?

Friday, February 06, 2009

Kayak to take on UpTake (or is it the other way round)

Quick post, as I am running around today

Meta-search behemoth (poised to hit a billion searches in Q1 09) has announced that it is adding hotel review meta-search to its engine (care of HotelMarketing). Two interesting points caught my mind here:

1. (nee Kango) came to this model first and has raised money and profile to go after it. But Kayak clearly has traffic to burn; and

2. I interviewed Kayak's VP Communications Kellie Pelletier back in Jan last year after thier acqusition of Sidestep. At the time Sidestep had a lot of content assets (such as the now dead TripUp). Kellie made it clear to me that Kayak was not looking to pursue a content based strategy - rather would rely on their engineering lead to beat the OTAs and "regular" search companies. I am trying to decide if this move into meta-searching content is a change in strategy or not. On the one hand it is embracing content but on the other it is using engineering to collate and organise someone else's existing content.

Need to think about his more but Uptake - watch you back!

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Qantas and BOOT are talking

Quick update - My post yesterday generated a nice response from the Qantas Media Office. Will share with you soon what I find out about their new customer service training centre

Wotif to sponsor Canadian Football Team London City

How is this for a marketing first? An Australian based online travel company buys space on the shirts of a Canadian Football team named after an English city. have announced a sponsorship deal with London City football (Canadian team) that will include logos on the clothing and fan accommodation booking site (LondonCityAway). Not the first time we have discussed sports sponsorship in online trave here at the BOOT. Wotif as a company (up until recently) is not famous for pure brand spent marketing. If you'd ask me to bet on what would be the next brand spend announcment, then sponsoring a Canadian football team would have been a long way down on the list of items that would have got my wager. What do you think? Crazy for an online player to sponsor a football team?

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

HomeAway buys Homeliday with part of their cash mountain

Back in November US based vacation rental listing company HomeAway raised a staggering $250mm at a billion dollar plus valuation. Sitting around at PhoCusWright with other bloggers we speculated who they would buy with the money and whether or not they would use the money to get into Europe. Now care of a Kevin May Travolution story we know that they have spent some of it (no idea how much) on acquiring the French based Homeliday.

Other vacation rental business owned by HomeAway include:
Hard to pass any substantive judgement without knowing the price paid. Generically speaking the vacation rental business is (like any media business) a scale game, so improvements in scale (including brand breadth) are a good thing. That's right, I said "like any media business". Don't let the look and feel of HomeAway fool you. It is not a retail/sales model like an OTA or online hotel company or the HomeAway competitor VacationRoost. HomeAway operate on a listing model - properties pay to list on the site. The base package is a flat listing fee (this I know for sure) which might be supplemented with premium listing packages and fees (this I am speculating). Think of the model as a targeted, online yellow pages model. Summary - a media business not a retail business. Media loves more and more scale and HomeAway are happy to buy their way.

Qantas feeling world pain and wont return my calls

Despite a revenue growth of 2% to $7.92 billion, Qantas has joined the list of airlines being beaten up by the economic smack-down. Profits are down 66% to $210mm for the second half of calendar 08 from $618mm the previous year. Shares are currently in a trading halt - at time of writing - pending an announcement on a capital raising (full news story here care of SMH). I would not normally run a post on declining results for an airline like Qantas (because that is what we have online newspapers for) but in this case it reminded me that I have been trying to get in touch with Qantas media/comms staff and have heard nothing.

Last week Qantas announced a new $10 million customer service training centre. This peaked my interest as I have regularly commented that Qantas appears to have a culture of process rather than service. I wrote to the media contact at Qantas (bottom of the press release) and asked if they would be interested in giving me a briefing on the new facility. That was last Friday. As of today - Wednesday - no reply.

Now it is possible that they think I am so negative on Qantas that it is not worth giving me a briefing. But that would be an unfair assessment of the BOOT. While there are plenty of critical comments on the blog about Qantas - especially on the glitches/failures on of the in flight entertainement system - I also have positive comments such as my post "In defence of Qantas" and have rated Qantas as number 5 on my list of top 5 airlines. But even so, surely they would want to talk to any commentator - especially negative ones- about service improvements. The other possibility is that that the Qantas media/PR team simply do not reply to bloggers. If that is true, then they have their heads in the old media sand. There are so many examples of social media impacting on Qantas as a brand. My blog is the number two hit in Google (on my results) for "Qantas VOD". Message board and info-blog is the number two in Google for "QFF" (the shorthand for Qantas Frequent Flyer). Twitter is awash with commentary about Qantas etc etc etc

I hope the real answer is that they just haven't gotten round to writing back yet. If so, Qantas - if you're listening - email me.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

TVTrip raises another €7 million. Total raised now almost $14mm

Hotel video review site has just finalised their Series B round raising €7 million (first saw the story over at TechCrunch). Brings total raised so far to just shy of $14mm (depending on how you convert Euros to Dollars and not including initial angle rounds). Investors included Balderton Capital (portfolio includes Bebo) , Partech International (portfolio includes Dailymotion) and AGF Private Equity (portfolio also includes Dailymotion). The latter new to this round.

I get the video review space. I can see clearly how consumer conversion will increase based on better hotel descriptions and videos. What is not settled in my mind is how to do the perfect Video. Clearly consumers have short attention spans. We know that the length of the average video viewed online is less than a few minutes. We also know that consumers are looking mroe and more for content from actual guests/users/

There is thus a huge challenge in getting the right balance between supplying video but making it short, sharp, relevant and real.

At PhoCusWright in LA a Video back-end provider/production company TripTelevision (CEO Kulin Strimbu) waxed lyrically about their auto clip technology that takes short sections from a long vidoe and auto-compiles it into a 30 sec spot. So that in 30 seconds you can see a bit of the lobby, room, pool, restaurant etc. A click on the video at any time will take you to the longer version video devoted to that particular part of the hotel. TVTrip has approached with a sliding channel approach where options on which part of the hotel you want to look at are provided as different channels to select from.

Video is here to stay but these layout options need further work. TVTrip now have millions of dollars to spend on working it out (and keeping up with increasing broadband costs). Congratulations to CEO Marc Ruff and team.