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.
Friday, July 31, 2009
Is Google doing keyword memory and delayed paid search responses (or just broken)? What do Cairo and Machu Picchu have in common?
I am not sure what this means. One possibility is that Google is convinced that I continue to be interested in Cairo despite having entered other search terms. That (through me being logged in) it has run some algorithm on my past searches and Cairo comes up again and again. The other possibility is that the "broad match" bidding advertisers are doing is now getting more and more broad in terms of keyword matching and maybe even session time. Or - Google is busted. If the former options then the matching that Google is doing is not right as I do not have a history of searching for Cairo hotels. But is shows that Google is experimenting with behavioural targeting techniques. If the latter option (Google is busted) then a lot of advertisers are going to be very unhappy about the click costs that result.
Do you know what is going on here?
UPDATE - GOOGLE have confirmed that is part of broad matching.
Here are the screen shots
Results for "Hotels in Cairo". Sponsored results all make sense
"Hotels in Machu Picchu" with Dubai and Cairo results
Lies, damn lies and statistics about Jetstar
I came across a piece on TravelWeekly (AU) titled "Jetstar edges out rivals in share battle". Summary of the piece is that the Qantas owned Jetstar is now ahead of Singapore Airlines and Air New Zealand in Australia in term of international market share. This (in theory) puts Jetstar in the number two international carrier spot behind Qantas. Jetstar's share (according to the article) is 9% of the international market in May up from 6.1% the previous year. But over the same period Qantas' share dropped from 26.2% to 22.4%. A large part of the drop in Qantas is because Jetstar flights replaced Qantas flights. A simple carrier for carrier switch by the parent company. Clearly the near 3% lift in Jetstar numbers was helped by the near 4% drop in Qantas carriage share. Jetstar CEO Bruce Buchanan (in his press release on this story) clearly attributes the results to the performance of the airline and does not credit being given free traffic and passengers by Qantas. By "free customers" I mean customers they did not have to earn by marketing to and beating a rival to acquire.
At a conference last year a Jetstar rep put up a graph showing the domestic number passengers that Jetstar was carrying per month since its launch in 2004 and compared that to the number of passengers that Ryanair was carrying four years after its launch. On that comparison Jetstar was way ahead of Ryanair, the clear implication being that Jetstar is a better LCC that Ryanair at this stage of their development. They supplement this on their website by praising themselves for winning awards such as the "Top 5 Carriers for Passenger Growth 2009" award.
However just like international it is unambiguous that Jetstar owe more of their domestic passenger growth to the huge amounts of "free" traffic/passengers they were given from Qantas routes being handed over to Jetstar than to any creative marketing or pricing on Jetstar's part. In fact I would argue that a number of their marketing campaigns would do more to turn customers off the airline rather than on. Whereas Ryanair had to steal/lure away each customer from BA, easyjet, Aer Lingus, Jetstar simply had to wait for the customers to turn up looking for a red rat tail and then resign themselves to being served by people dressed in grey and orange.
I am not arguing that Jetstar is a bad airline. They have a much more enjoyable product offering than Ryanair and other LCCs I have flown. But to celebrate this growth as if they had started from a zero base (like Raynair and Virgin Blue) is disingenuous to say the least.
Am I being too tough of Jetstar? What do you think?
Thanks to StarvingFox at flickr for the photo
Airline sector to lose US$9 billion this year - Wharton
The article tries to point to some good news such as fuel back below $100 a barrel, increasing consolidation and teaming up by airlines and new technologies helping to reduce costs.
The final part of the article gives some specific and detailed analysis of the LATAM aviation market.
June 2009 stats from IATA (care of e-tid registration required for link) are tracking June revenue on international markets down a horrifying 25-30% with load factors of 75.3%, down from 77.6% in June 2008.
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
Top 5 ways to know that your airline is trouble
5. Like USAir flight 1549- Kamikaze Canadian Geese are seen in the vicinity for your aircraft;
4 Like United Airlines - you put your very creative but completely incomprehensible sea orchestra advert on Youtube and hit 16,500 views. Then an unknown Canadian country and western band do a cheesy song on your baggage handling stupidity and who cares customer service attitude and it gets 4.3 million views and a distribution deal with iTunes;
3. Like Alitalia - the leader of your country (Berlusconi) promises to revolutionise your national carrier (Alitalia), keeping it in local hands, restoring it to its former glory and bringing back profitability, sunshine and smiling children. Result a much smaller airline, part owned by foreigners Air France, merged with a smaller rival (AirOne), still stuck with the same union contracts and children crying over lost baggage;
2. Like Qantas - you spend 2 years developing a brand new video on demand system and claim that it is the best in the world. It does not matter that it is not the best system in the world but it does matter that for more than two years the VOD system does not work ; and
1. Like Italian Low Cost Carrier MYair - your airline is so badly run that even the Italian Civil Aviation Authority feels compelled to suspend their lunchtime nap and annual "bring your mates to work" day celebration to suspend your licence.
Update - had to add a number 6 that I remember
6. Like World Focus Air - your airline has a "W" as the key brand icon and changes its name from "World Focus Air" to "Ank Air" but keeps the "W" prominently displayed on the plane (check out the original post and picture if you do not yet get the almost not safe for work reference)
What other signs do you have for an uncertain traveller to watch for?
thanks to break.com for the photo
Sunday, July 19, 2009
Business Traveller Tip - things to pack that you don't think you really need
1. An eyemask - Even though 100% of business class tickets and more than 50% of economy long haul airlines will give you an eyemask there have been many times when have a spare one in my bag has been invaluable. Recently I need to get a 7am flight from Gatwick to Venice. Meant leaving the hotel at 4am. Was able to catch an extra hour of sleep in the taxi because of my spare eyemask;
2. Cordless iPod headphones - You already know the value of having portable music and podcasts but the iPod experience while travelling is dramatically heightened with cordless/bluetooth headphones. These enable you to put your iPod in your bag or leave it at your seat and listen with no cords. Cords that get caught on arm rests, tangled on tray tables, tied into knots with your laptop power cord and more. If you would like some podcast recommendations then here is the list of podcasts that I listen to;
3. Individual power adapters - it seems obvious to recommend a power adapter but the difference here is the type of power adapter. If you take a universal power adapter (all counties in one mega unit) or power adapters with the wrong angles and shapes then you risk being caught out in recessed power outlets. A recessed power outlet is common in Continental Europe, Japan, Korea and many other locations. It is a power socket that is not flush with the wall. Instead it is sunken into the wall by between 3-5cm. Therefore even if you have an adapter with the right number of pins, if it does not sink into the wall when needed then you are...well...powerless. I therefore recommend against universal plugs and recommend straight on adapters (not angled) such as the Korjo range;
4. Aspirin/paracetamol - no explanation needed but a real pain to be without;
5. Copy of the Economist - it is the perfect travel mag. Lightweight, takes up very limited amount of space and (most importantly) can keep you entertained/busy if you are caught on an aircraft on the tarmac for a couple of hours waiting for Godot with nothing to watch other than re-runs of Taxi;
6. For men - spare cuff links and shirt collar inserts - I keep a cheap pair of cuff links and stiff collar inserts and the bottom of my bag. A lost cuff link can wreck a business meeting, so carry a spare pair. And - as I said before - switch to shave oil from foam/gel;
7. For women - Madame BOOT tells me that she finds solid stick perfume indispensable when travelling. That is fragrance in a solid stick format rather than a liquid bottle. Currently she is travelling with and recommending the Crazylibellule and the Poppies brand. She tells me it gives her access to fragrance without the liquid hassle and without the risk of breakage in the bag;
8. Elastic bands - I hate cords and even with cordless headphones I can't avoid cords. Blacbkerry, iPod syncing, phone charger etc all have cords. I find an elastic band makes them manageable. I roll them all up and then secure them with an elastic band before putting them all in one old airline wet pack; and
9. A butterfly clip - I started carrying a spare butterfly clip about two years ago and have already used it in the least obvious but entirely useful ways. Holding shut a zipper on a bag that broke, keeping up my sons pants after the elastic snapped and reattaching an address tag on a bag. I once even used it to keep some related documents held together (ie what it is meant for). It takes up such a small amount of space but is the perfect McGyver inspired travel accessory.
What other tips do you have? What interesting things to you always pack?
Thanks to dressy.doll for the photo care of flickr
Thursday, July 16, 2009
Seat Review - Japan Airlines International Business Class (Executive Class Seasons)
There are two good things I can say about flying JAL International Business. Firstly I get to visit the Qantas first class lounge. Secondly it is better than long haul domestic on a
The BOOT rating for
Getting on Board
There was ”nothing special” about the boarding experience on JAL.- which (unfortunately for JAL) will become a phrase that will quickly become a theme for this seat review. As above, the best thing about flying JAL out of
Narrow and not flat. It is a brand new seat with the pod like look that you find on Qantas, United and others. However it too narrow for me, which combined with the incline made it hard for me to comfortable sitting or sleeping.
I can’t complain about the service but neither can I praise it. On the positive side the staff are very responsive to the call button and effective with their service. However it is…well…nothing special either.
I am struggling for words here. I am on the aircraft so don’t have great access to thesaurus materials to inspire me with synonyms f or “nothing special” so as engage you long enough to continue reading this revenue. But I am tapped out for words, maybe even a little weak from lack of food, maybe a little dehydrated or foggy due to the clogging of my arteries from over salted food either way I am out of words and off the air so you’ll have to settle for…”nothing special”...as the best I can do to describe the food.
Finally I can break away from the “nothing special” theme in this seat review because the video entertainment system is terrible. Described generically it sounds good. It has the basics of VOD, AOD, interactive remote, easy navigation, multi-lingual etc. But entertainment is all about content. Put sharply, there are not enough movies and the ones they have are terrible. “Highlights” from the list of choices include “17 Again”, “Back to the Future” (one and two) and the crime against the arts the is “the Pink Panther 2”. Absolute dross. I am not so much of a public broadcasting watching, Chardonnay swiller that I have to have a list of David Stratton approved award winners with each flight. But if I am to pay thousands of dollars to be stuck in a seat for nine hours on a Sunday then I deserve a hell of a lot more than “Sister Act” and “National Interest”.
The BOOT factor
I kind of like the sweat shirt like pull over they give you. But other than that there is well…….you know what I mean
2.0 - Bad Seat
Details and scoring system for airline seat reviews
Monday, July 13, 2009
Meta-search vs Online Travel Agents: the three main differences and why they matter
Difference 1 - The Customers Are Different
While both OTAs and Meta-search are about linking bookers with suppliers, they do it by focusing on different customers. The OTA (the retailer) owes their livelihood to the punter, to the customer. The person they get their money from is the consumer making a booking. The meta-search company owes its livelihood to the advertiser, to the supplier. They get their money from the click buyers, suppliers and media companies that buy the eyeballs looking for travel. I concede that there is cross over as many OTAs have large media/partner marketing businesses. But this does not change the dynamics of this difference. If you believe that to "follow the money" reveals the truth then the difference in where the money comes from for each business and therefore who the customer is for each business is significant.
Difference 2 - The Marketing Levers Are Different
Both businesses are websites, both participate in organic and paid search, each operates off-line brand campaigns and online affiliate networks but there is a critical part of the marketing funnel (assuming we still believe there is a marketing funnel) that is very different between the two models. The front end of the funnel for both are similar but it is in the management of repeat customers and customer loyalty (the back of the funnel) that the two businesses are very different. OTAs build loyalty through deal hunting, sales, customer service, customer contact and building unique product. Put another way, by looking to own the entire customer experience of booking travel. Associating themselves in the mind of the consumer as the whole travel experience and only person that can be trusted. Since meta-search companies are not the ultimate destination, they need to build retention through convincing consumers that only meta-search can provide the best price. A one dimensional way of retaining customers that can be very powerful if you get it right but hard to execute on. OTAs focus on owning the customer to bring return visits, whereas meta-search focuses on a (hopefully) repeatable series of "wow, check out that price" moments.
Difference 3 - the size of the prize
With OTAs and meta-search being in different businesses (retail vs media) they are actually competing in markets that are very different in dynamics and most important in size. Let me use the US market as an example of this.
PhoCusWright estimate the size of the US online leisure/unmanaged travel travel market for 2008 was around US$95 billion in their latest US Online Travel Overview Update. This is the market that the OTAs are fighting for against other OTAs and supplier direct.
The Internet Advertising Board (along with Pricewaterhouse Coopers) issue every year an Internet Advertising Revenue report. In their March 2009 report (PDF copy here) they cited the 2008 online advertising spend in the US as US$23.4 billion. On page 12 of the report (again PDF here) they say Leisure Travel as a category was responsible for 6% of the spend - or US$1.4 billion. That is the meta-search battle zone.
There is no clearer indication of the difference between two businesses than evidence that they are chasing different pots of money. The OTAs are fighting with suppliers and each other for a $95 billion dollar market. The meta-search companies are fighting with Google, the portals and other meta-search groups for a $1.4billion dollar market.
To be fair, the IAB report does not fully track affiliate commissions and CPA deals. They track three classifications - Search, Display and Classifieds. Within that they are tracking cost per click inside Search and lead generation payments. But in all likelihood they are understating the size of the market for meta-search. However, even if you double or triple the leisure online travel market measurement it is still only a fraction of the size of the market for sales of online travel. Which make sense. The advertising market for an industry has to be smaller than the industry itself.
I don't raise any this to say that retail is better than media. If I did I would have to find a way to combat the argument that media should have a much higher gross and net margin than retail. Instead I raise these to highlight that the CEOs of meta-search companies and OTAs are looking at very different things when they are planning and executing in terms of customers, marketing channels and the markets they are chasing. If you agree they are looking at different things then you agree they are very different businesses.
Though different business, the interdependence is clear. Good meta-search has the power to shift share away between the OTAs and to supplier direct. Similarly the OTAs have the power of offering discounts and sales to direct customers that meta-search cannot match.
It is a great battle to watch (and be a part of). But in watching (and joining) this battle we need to know the differences if we want to set the right tactics and strategies. What to do you think? Between OTAs and meta-search which one is Rocky and which one Hulk Hogan?
Hat tip and thanks to Steven Gong from Wego.com (funnily enough a meta-search company) for answering my tweet for online advertising market size with a link to the IAB report.
Thursday, July 09, 2009
90 days is enough for Wotif for now
"[Wotif if are] unlikely to launch the 12-month window in the next 12 months but would instead turn its attention to 'more exciting projects'"More exciting could refer to the new air engine they have launched over at Lastminute.com.au (wholly owned by Wotif). Functionality soon to be expanded to the Wotif brand. Or it could mean that going 365 in the back end was very very hard to do. As I said back in January the current Wotif front end design does not support an easy migration to year round inventory. It would involve having to put in place new date based search functionality. I also imagine it was very hard to convince hotels to load a years worth of rates in the back end. Once you start looking beyond a few months hotels have to be much more careful with fair/event/seasons/peak period dates/ close outs etc it becomes very hard to ask hotels to manage the extranet without expensive inhouse database support.
On the extension to 90 days, Cooke is claiming a 7% uplift in sales (according to TravelToday)
Wednesday, July 08, 2009
TripAdvisor needs to move to a "no stay, no say" approach to reviews to protect brand and online reviews generally
While that has been going on in the background, the front end of TripAdvisor looks like an Onlnie Travel Agency site with tabbed header, a search widget middle left, deals and promos in the the C column and content and search help below the fold. Clearly a move to compete directly with the OTAs in drawing in consumer loyalty and repeat business.
Despite all the changes, the heart of TripAdvisor is the reviews. The dedication of the user base to write detailed, descriptive, useful and Google friendly content to attract lookers and bookers. This all ties to the baseline of the TripAdvisor band and their tag line - "get advice from real travellers". Unfortunately stories are coming out about possible flaws in TripAdvisor's mechanism for ensuring that reviews are only written by "real travellers".
Just recently the Times in the UK ran a piece called "Who's really writing the reviews on TripAdvisor". The story quoted one hotelier as saying "the system is laughably easy to manipulate....I was even approached by PR first offering to write my reviews for me." Newsweek also covered the story in their article "TripAdvsor tries to respond to fake hotel reviews". In that story journalist Sean O'Neil noted that he did not understand why "TripAdvsor didn't duplicate Amazons "Real Name" feature, which offers third-party verification that a reviewer is the person he or she claims to be".
The question is not whether or not their are fake reviews on TripAdvisor - clearly there are. The question is how many are there and what influence do they have in hotel rankings, especially in smaller destinations. Consumer Travel uber Blogger Chris Elliott put the question best in his story "Does TripAdvisor hotel manipulation scandal render the site completely useless".
The official word from TripAdvisor (care of Elliott's post) is that they have a zero tolerance for fake reviews (they call it fraud) and a three methods for policing this policy. Quote -
An example of this approach can be seen on the entertaining TripAdvisor We're Not Making This Up Blog (in the post called "Exactly") where an irate hotel DOS is complaining that all of the reviews he is writing for his own hotel are being pulled down.
"1. Every review is screened prior to posting and a team of quality assurance specialists investigate suspicious reviews
2. Proprietary automated tools help identify attempts to subvert the system
3. Our large and passionate community of more than 25 million monthly visitors help screen our content and report suspicious activity"
What is missing is independent confirmation that the customer actually stayed in the hotel. My view is that these three steps are not enough. Technology and human review will simply not be enough to screen out the "gamers". The only way to be truly clear of fraud is for TripAdvisor to move to a "no stay, no say" rule. A means of verifying that the person writing the review has stayed at the hotel. This could be achieved though a combination of approaches such as a feature like the Amazon Real Name service, using the enormous amounts of transaction and searching data that the Expedia Inc empire collects, drawing on information from advertising partners and other verification mechanisms.
The counter view is that this would be too hard for TripAdvisor as they do not do any of the bookings, that is left to the advertiser. While there is some truth to that argument, between the data collected by TripAdvisor on click behaviour, information provided by advertisers and information from what must be a massive Expedia Inc privacy killing data warehouse, there is (I am sure) more than enough data available to TripAdvisor to verify. I would not be cheap or easy to do, but in my opinion necessary
What do you think - should TripAdvisor move to a "no stay, no say" rule or is the fraud so small that it doesn't need to?
If you are looking for more commentary on this story also check out
- Yeoh Siew Hoon's post "the ugly face of social media"
- Darren Cronian's post "Ten summer travel tips from bloggers" which includes the tips "You’ll find good reviews and bad reviews for nearly every destination" and "Treat all online travel reviews like mildly entertaining fiction."
- Dennis Schaal "The truth About TripAdvisor and Professional Hotel Reviews"
- Martin Kelly at TravelTrends with a personal experience called "TripAdvisor Cleans out Reviews for Fiji Resort"
Tuesday, July 07, 2009
Rakuten looking to Taiwan and Korea for expansion
Couple of highlights:
- This year's expansion push will be Beijing, Hong Kong, Korea and Taiwan;
- In Taiwan will be selling inventory through Taiwanese player Eztravel. [BOOT note - EzTravel is part owned by Ctrip - who in turn used to be, but are no longer, part owned by Rakuten. But back in 2007 Rakuten sold out of Ctrip and in 2008 announced further plans for pushing into China ; and
- To enter the US market through setting up an office in Hawaii "next month". [BOOT note - we presume this is for inbound only].
Monday, July 06, 2009
TechCrunch on Rakuten
BOOT joins 21st Century with groundbreaking URL strategy
Finally the BOOT has gotten off the lazy boy relaxation approach to marketing with a ground breaking URL marketing strategy. After battling with GoDaddy for about an hour I managed to secure http://www.thebusinessofonlinetravel.com/. I even manage to figure out how to do a redirect to the blogger address. One day I may even generate the courage to migrate the blog to Wordpress/SquareSpace, host the thing on some dedicated servers and get really serious.
Will be back soon with some posts as well including an Interview with Ram Badrinathan of PhoCusWright, seat reviews for JAL and Cathay business class, a business traveller tip on how to eat on a plane and industry thoughts on branding, meta-search and more