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.
Saturday, October 31, 2009
PhoCusWright: Organising appointments and meet ups for Orlando Nov 17-19
Tnooz: BOOT on Lonely Planet on Tnooz
1. Content Expansion: Make more and more of the content currently only available in books available online with the aim of being the number one organic search results for every major destination search item. It might hurt some book sales but winning in organic search will be more valuable long term;Tnooz editor Kevin May has followed up with a post "We love Lonely Planet and want to see it get better says the BBC", where an interesting debate has started.
2. Open Syndication: Increase syndication capabilities by allowing bloggers, writers, transaction sites, Facebook pages and more to access content material is an open way. Similar to point #1 above, it might cost a few book sales but being the social network content source of choice will be more valuable long term.
3. Facilitate and Make EveryYou Recommendations: Invest in recommendation technology to allow the community forums and information to be combined with the editorial content, booking behaviour and other data available to put Lonely Planet at the forefront of the development of specific and targeted recommendations of one based on the unique combination of desires, needs and interests of each individual at any moment in time. See My EveryYou concept. It will cost money and development time but the future of inspiration and content sites are targeted recommendations.
Thursday, October 29, 2009
Bing Maps: Helping you find the middle of nowhere whether you want it or not
I have been house hunting recently and "accidentally" used an integrated Bing Maps feature on Internet Explorer. It failed miserably...in an entertaining way.
Here are the screen shots that tell the story. Shot 1 - the house in 138 Underwood St Padding (suburb of Sydney just next to downtown business region) that I was looking at and me highlighting the address and selecting map with Live Search/Bing. Shot 2 - the result. No only is the mapping result nowhere near Paddington, it is some 4,000 kilometres away on an Aboriginal reserve in the North West corner of Australia. In other words...somewhere near the middle of nowhere (with all due respect to the people who live there).
Shot 1 - me doing the search
Shot 2 - the result. We now know where the middle of nowhere actually is.
Described by Bing as "138, Aboriginal Land, Western Australia". Other than the number 138 there is nothing in common with the address I was searching for
Let me put shot 2 into perspective with Shot 3 showing how far away this is from the actual location of Underwood St Paddington
Shot 3 - how far apart the locations are
Think this is a one off? I tried the same for a property in another part of Underwood st Paddington (this time number 14 not number 138) Shot 4 is the result. At least this time in Sydney but still some 30-40kms away and under than the number 14 - nothing in common with what I searched.
Shot 4 - closer but still not close enough
Showing 14 Underwood st Paddington as 14 Bilgola St Newport
If Bing wants any chance at fighting Google, Kayak or the OTAs in travel search they will have to do dramatically better than this in the mapping area.
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
Mile Run: Frequent flyer miles, obsessions and what to do with my relationship with Qantas
So I started a forum thread over at FrequentFlyer.com.au on whether I should chase Qantas Platinum status for another year or move my main frequent flyer account over to BA, CX or American. The discussion is here.
At the same time I cam across this video on the fantastic Elliott.org blog. It is a 18min video documentary of flying enthusiasts/nuts chasing mileage status and bonuses. Including an amazing story of a guy that paid people in northern Thailand to fly a particular routing on Thai four times a day to collect Star Alliance points. Reminded me of the famous Pudding Guy (David Phillips) who earned 1.25mm frequent flyer miles in 1999 just by buying 12,150 yoghurt container sized serves of chocolate pudding.
If you don't have time to watch the video then here are some of the statistical take aways from the video are (in part drawn from a great Economist article from 2005 called "Funny money; Frequent-flyer miles" - pdf version here):
- There are 17-20 Trillion unspent frequent flier miles in circulation;
- This is enough for redemption for 800 million US domestic trip;
- This is enough for 160 million first class trips form the US to Asia; and
- (according to the Economist), this is more in circulation that there are dollar bills in the US.
Frequent Flyer from Gabriel Leigh on Vimeo.
thanks to msmail for the photo at flickr
Monday, October 26, 2009
Long Tail and travel - Chris Anderson shows data
I have no doubt that searches for body and tail destinations are up and growing but we need more that just the Long Tail theory to allow demand for the tail to be unconstrained. We need targeting, recommending and discovery tools that allow consumers to find things they did not know they wanted to know about and trust the answers they get. [Broken record time] we need to use the technology and social changes made available to generated individuated search responses to open ended web queries.
Web Reservations International (WRI) up for sale for GBP 275mm (the Times)
The Times is reporting that Web Reservations International (WRI) is up for sale with a price tag of £275m.
WRI is owned by Ray Nolan and U2 Manager Paul McGuinnes. It operates
- boo.com - the former fashion/clothing site and poster child for the dotcom bust in Europe is now a meta-search company
- Hostelworld.com - online booking for hostels, backpakers and budget accommodation
- Hostels.com - more hostels and backpacker bookings with content
- Trav.com - more budget accomm including cheap hotels, motels, guesthouses, bed and breakfasts, youth hostels, holiday apartments, campsites, inns and lodges
thanks to joshhostels where I spotted the story first on Twitter and Hostelmanagement where he spotted it.
Sunday, October 25, 2009
Seat Review - Cathay Pacific Business Class (Herrinbone style)
I have lost track of what trip I am reviewing as I have consumed a lot of Cathay Pacific business class in the last few months. I have taken trips to
The BOOT rating for Cathay International Business Class is a 5 stars out of 6 or "Great Seat". Here is the detailed review (Details and scoring system for airline seat reviews)
Getting on Board
I am not a big fan of what should be an impressive airport in Hong Kong. I would like the gates to be a little bit better organised to improve the flow of people onto the plane. Most of the queues degenerate into a confusing mass of people. That said, the world class CX business and first class lounges more than make up for the annoyances of getting on the aircraft. Qantas has fought back with their
I like it. I like it a lot. There are two challenges in setting up a herring bone style seat. Firstly privacy. If you get the angles wrong then you spend the flight staring directly at the person across the aisle from you. 9-13 hours is a long time to be staring a stranger. Secondly width. The herring bone design is based on length – trying to give the longest seat in the smallest amount of space. If done badly it can end up too narrow or starting wide at that top and ending up too narrow at the feat. CX have avoided both of these issues in their design. I can see the top of the head of the person opposite but nothing more. As to width it is a little tight on the elbows when typing but if not working (ie resting, watching or sleeping) there is less of a tight coffin like feeling that I have experienced in other herringbone seats. The buttons and gadgets are in the right place. One minor complaint is that the design of the table and TV screen means that it is impossible to have a computer open and watch a movie at that same time. Makes it very hard to be watching a crappy movie while pretending to do work.
Smooth, seamless and attentive. I like being recognised for my status - even though it is one world not Cathay specific. On the flight where I flew with a bulging disc in my back (very painful) there were staff everywhere after I landed making sure that I was taken through customs and immigration to a doctor.
This is the only weak-spot for CX. The food is not that bad. Certainly not at the level of blandness that I have had on Thai, JAL or Malaysian. However the food is closer to "satisfying" and "OK" than to "enjoyable" and a long way from "memorable". I have two issues with it. The food itself could be improved. There are often too many flavours on the plate and the vegetables overcooked. I also dislike the silver service nature of the distribution of the food. On Qantas they have mastered delivering plates one at a time meaning the food arrives hot and fresh. On CX they place all of the plates on one tray and serve the whole cabin from the one service tray. Unless you are early in the service order your food is cooler than it should be and sauces on the way to being solid. The first issue is hard to fix as requires a reworking of Cathay's catering approach but the second is a serving issues and CX should fix it.
In the world where all of the top flight products are during audio and video on demand and noise cancelling headsets it is harder to find differentiation between the leading airlines. The three areas are entertainment selection, control comfort and timings. In each of these CX excel. In the selection area they have a long list of TV shows, movies and audio on demand. Their Studio CX system claims 100 movies, 350 TV shows and (a very luck sounding) 888 songs. The controls are easy to use and most importantly are located in a way that you do not accidentally bump them (something that happens far too often on other carriers). The area I like the most is how quickly they turn on the system. BA, QF, VS and others take a long time to turn on the entertainment. Often forcing you to wait until the seat belt sign is off and then sit through a 20 minute intro video before allowing you to use the system to its fullest. But not Cathay. The system is available from the moment you are in the air (sometimes before) until the last minute before landing (and sometimes after). This is a little thing but a very noticeable benefit.
The BOOT factor
I love starting a flight with the latest copy of the Economist – freely provided. I also need to put in another plug for the first class lounge cabanas. A Cathay experience does not have the "great to have you here" feel of a Virgin Atlantic flight or (naturally) the "looking forward to bringing you home" feel that (some) Qantas crews deliver. But I do feel like everything I need to have happen will happen to make the flight smooth and productive.
5.0 - Great Seat
thanks to Xmansti on flickr for photo
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
Guidebook Economist Style: Doing business in Sydney
- "by and large waiting times at immigration are not that onerous"; and
- '"usually no wait for taxi's" [at the airport].
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
WebInTravel: WIT presenation 2009 - Recommendations, Long Tail and EveryYou
On doctor's orders I had to cancel my trip to WebInTravel this year. Here with slides and audio is the presentation I would have given today if I had been there.
Key themes are
- the long tail theory is now 5 years old. That is "decades" in Internet years. It is time for a rethink;
- we now have access to effectively unlimited computational power (technology change);
- consumers are voluntarily giving us data and information about themselves - often for no obvious tangible gain (forwarding links, writing reviews, uploading photos, setting up detailed traveller profiles etc) (social change); and
- if we work to put together the technology change and social change we can target EveryYou rather than Everyone. Can develop specific and targeted recommendations of one for an individual. Rather than a recommendation based on demographics, a recommendation of one based on the individuals unique combination of desires, needs and interests.
Monday, October 19, 2009
3 + 3 recommendations on how offline travel can save itself
Just recently in separate reports leaders of two of the largest in the Pacific region reaffirmed their online travel disinterest.
Peter Lacaze is the CEO of Stella Travel. One of the Pacific's largest network of offline franchise travel agents, corporate travel and wholesale/consolidators. Lacaze is confronted with a lot of challenges. Today he announced plans to cut franchise fees and other measures to retain stores/members. Despite the challenges to his business, he does not believe online is the answer. In fact he has gone beyond just ignoring online to being positively negative on it. In a recent TravelTrends post he said “not in my lifetime” in response to a question about the internet taking over half the market in
Graham Turner (Lacaze's rival over at Flight Centre) continued the "denier" talk during the presentation of his FY09 annual results (see TravelToday pdf here). Telling the audience and media how little he was worried about online travel companies and that they were not a threat to his business.
How to get serious about online
I regularly write stories on this continued denial by the off-line players. In response I am often asked by email and at conference either "how would you know if the online companies 'got it' and started a real push into online?" or "what would you tell an off-line CEO that he/she needs to do to be serious about online?" The answer to both questions is the same. There are three things that players like Stella and Flight Centre need to do right now to take online seriously:
- Hire a new person and restructure: Appoint a senior exec to be the boss of online. Critically they need to report direct to the CEO and be free of any "cannulisation hand-cuffs". That can buy, invest and drive online without fear of the sales taken away from the store-front;
- Set a specific Target: Make a company aim and shareholder commitment of a number of transactions (or dollars) that will come in from online bookings by a certain date; and
- Embrace Technology: Accept the fact that technology is critical to selling travel well. Hire a team of developers (or do a deal with a technology company) devoted to online only activities, reporting to the new online boss.
To be fair, I do not expect a 100% off-line company to become a 100% online company. Therefore I am going to add three more recommendations on how off-line players should use technology to protect their existing business and stay relevant to consumers looking to fulfil their more complicated itineraries off-line and therefore protect their revenues from complex itineraries. They are:
- Destination Experts/Complex Product Methodology: Brochures and Famil trips are not enough to provide off-line agents with the level of information they need to sell complex itineraries to consumers better than the web. To effectively compete with the scale of information online, off-line agents need to be able to add their skills to a deep content library of destination information and a discovery and recommendation system to help sort through all that is available;
- Massive CRM investment: Off-line agents get to see their customers, online don't. This means that off-line agents can make decisions about purchase intention and consumer activity that online can't. Also means they can ask more detailed and targeted questions about consumers than off-line. This improved access to information on consumers is currently wasted by the major off-line agents because they either don't collect it, or if they do, they don't know what to do with it. I recommend a massive investment in a CRM systems tied to the desktop sales tools and to the incentive plans for staff; and
- Rewrite store experience (copy the supermarkets): The travel agency store layout has not changed in my lifetime. The rows of brochures in no particular order with deal led window displays look the same today as they did in the 70s, 80s and 90s. Meanwhile other retail organisations (especially supermarkets) have invested heavily in consumer retail pattern research and store layout. The location of items, stores and promotional spaces has become a science. All designed towards bringing the customer to the store, keeping them inside the store and directing their purchasing behaviour. Travel companies have to do the same. They need to rewrite the consumer experience to make more of the merchandising opportunities offered by access to customers walking around with their wallets in the pockets.
thanks to salinadarling at flickr for the great photo
Gnome Speaks: Sam Gilliland Interviewed in Dallas News
- On sales to forecast: "...in terms of our planning we've come out basically even" - meaning leisure travel sales growth has offsett steeper declines in corporate travel;
- On marketing: "...I'm imagining we'll spend up" - meaning that he doesn't have to disclose how much he spends on marketing but will tell us that he is spending more than last year;
- On 2010 plans: "We're investing a lot in the hotel sector" - meaning that the airline sales business continues to be only borderline profitable
- On private vs public future (ie IPO): "It will depend a lot on where the market is and where the economy is, but I do also think that we'll be looking for revenue growth before we do it," - means no timetable or immediate plans
Sunday, October 11, 2009
Business Traveller Tip: The best drugs to take with you
- For throat pain: a tray or four pack of medicated throat lozenges. I prefer Difflam but Strepsils will do. Un-medicated ones like Anticol or Butter Menthol are just candy in (a poor) disguise;
- For head pain: A tray of paracetamol or aspirin. I prefer paracetamol for flying;
- For really bad head pain: I have suffered back pain on a long haul flight and can tell you that flying plus back pain is as bad as travelling gets. I would not have made it through the flight if it it had not been for the small amount of prescription pain medication that I carry with me just in case. I recommend carrying a few tabs. I am not saying that you should have any hillbilly heroine or hollywood starlet party drug with you but if you can have a couple of tablets of Di-Gesic, Panadeine Forte or another combination of codeine and paracetamol then you have a fool-proof “back-up” plan for acute pain. If you are unable to get a prescription then a top of the range over the counter med like Nurofen Plus will do;
- For the flu: A cold and flu med with pseudo-ephedrine will fight sniffles, snuffles and snoozles that come with a cold. There is something about pseudo-ephedrine that can make a jet-lagged, flue ridden, early morning meeting manageable;
- For sleeping: Work colleagues and friends swear by Ambien, Stilnox and other sleeping pills. I manage to get by with lower grade (non-prescription) drowsy pills like Unisom or Restavit. I don’t know the chemical terms or inputs but these are the drowsy parts of antihistamine or flu drugs without the anti-sneezing or anti-flu parts. In other words they won't knock you out like Ambien but will make you very very sleepy. I also carry melatonin for fighting jetlag and adding to the all over tired feeling;
- For the rest of you: band aids (or insert brand name for strips of fix all gauze and medical padding) are a must; and
- For the queasy among you: If you suffer from motion sickness, Madame BOOT swears by Travacalm as the means of eliminating the awful green colour that comes over her at the mere mention of the word plane, train, boat or automobile. The ginger stuff like Travel Calm is a waste of money.
Please put more recommendations in the comments.
PS – it goes without saying that I am not a doctor, this is not medical advice and you are smart enough to base decisions on what you stick, jab, ingest, eat, spray and more in to your body on more than a random blogger recommendation. In other words go sue somebody else if the above are no good for you.
thanks to Sherlock77 for the photo on Flickr
EveryYou in Germany
Sunday, October 04, 2009
AsiaRooms and LateRooms complete merger of operations - my guess from reading between the lines
I have picked up is more information on executives and team numbers on AsiaRooms care of an update from Siew Hoon at the WebInTravel website called "“Bad boy” no more, AsiaRooms moves to commissionable model". I recommend you read Siew Hoon's interview with LateRooms boss (and therefore AsiaRooms boss) Chris Morris but let me walk you through a highlight from the interview and how it led me to conclude that LateRooms and AsiaRooms are now one.
First to the highlight - we now know the name of person in charge of leading AsiaRooms into the direct to hotel contracting business. According to the interview Kathy Gwinnett will head up contracting as Hotel Relationships Director – B2C Division. She will be backed up by a team of 25 in Asia. Not clear if all contracting staff or have a mixed contracting, database and content role. Also not clear yet where the commission collection group will be run out of. Gwinnett (according to her linkedin profile) is a long term LateRooms employee (8 years) and is Manchester based. Looks like she is heading up a combined AsiaRooms and LateRooms hotel contracting team.
Second to the conclusions - I think this interview makes it very clear that the LateRooms and AsiaRooms business have been fully merged. I draw this conclusion not only from the shared staff members but also from a recent technical glitch at AsiaRooms which resulted in the AsiaRooms website pointing to a LateRooms error message page (c/o the franz). Finally (and conclusively) the sort order results for both LateRooms and AsiaRooms on a search for Singapore are exactly the same. Both have new layouts that but for colours are exactly the same. Means that while we have different brands and site skins, the hotels, ops, tech and execs behind LateRooms and AsiaRooms are likely the same. Means we can expect a very rapid roll out in the new direct to hotel model and further brand integration.
BOOT is on holiday - back around Oct 12
thanks to DeusXFlorida for the flickr photo