Monday, November 30, 2009

Expedia trialling Wotif display format in Australia

Care of a tweet from Kristi Barrow I came across a hotel sort order and search display experiment by Expedia in Australia ( Below is a screenshot of the new display trial.

As you can see it is a grid approach rather than the typical list and details approach. I am convinced this is only a test as I was only able to get these results in one of four searches I tried. Likely they are doing multi-variant (or A/B) testing here.

You may be wondering why Expedia would trial a new (and arguably less user friendly) display on their Australian site. The reason is because of the market power of Wotif - the largest seller of online hotels in Australia.

In case you have not looked at the Wotif site, they have a very different look and feel to a typical online hotel retailer. Instead of a list of hotels with a lead in room rate, they have a grid that shows all the hotels on the left side, dates at the top and then availability and price in the middle. In other words a dramatic increase in the amount of information shown to a consumer. The sacrifice being depth of hotel information, sort order management and date accuracy (ie a specific date range for a search). It is now standard in Australia but very different to other markets.

By standard I mean it has influenced other players. Local competitors such as needitnow (AOT group) checkin and quickbeds (Fight Centre) have followed suit with this layout. Clearly Expedia has also caught the Wotif bug and is interested in trialling this layout in Australia.

Thanks to Kristi for sending the story around.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Thursday, November 26, 2009

SkyMall Follies: DIY traction. Please no auto-erotic asphyxiation jokes

The NeckPro Traction Device
This is the second in my series of SkyMall Follies posts. A look at the best and worst from the mile high catalogue of fun, games and madness that is the SkyMall.

Last time it was WWII Chess set. This time we have the "NeckPro Traction Device" ($50.95). A picture is supposed to tell a thousand words. But in the case on the NeckPro its promotional picture tells just 16 words - "Don't try this at home unless under the supervision of a trained bondage and discipline professional".

Targeted at both the do it yourself uninsured health care fool and the I want to live and die like David Carradine manic, this product contains a head noose/cradle/support that is attached to a pulley like structure which in turn can be affixed to a door. Yes- I could use those exact same words to describe a hangman's noose. Because that is exactly what it is except without the eye-holes, trapdoor and a series of drummer boys tapping out a death march costs extra.

Sexual and capital punishment innuendoes aside, if you suffered from chronic neck or back pain, then surely the last thing you would want to do is self medicate while wearing khakis and loafers.

Welcome to the Folly Files NeckPro. May the actor who posed for the photo in this advert one day be able to hang his head in shame.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

WRI sold for $340mm, Nolan banks $100mm - TechCrunch

Thanks to Josh over at hostelmanagement for pointing me to the TechCrunch article confirming the terms of the WRI sale to Hellman and Friedman for $340mm netting boss Ray Nolan some $100. More at the post titled " owner made $100m – but not from Boo". My original post on the sale plan is here. Latest financials for the business were (according to TechCrunch)
"Hostelworld was the cash cow for WRI, bringing in €18.3 million profit on revenue of €38 million from €350 million worth of transactions last year"
No wonder that Nolan's co-founder Fergal Mooney looked happy at PhoCusWright last week.

Resurrection of ReadyRooms - New life for former Qantas online hotels brand

In July 2004, Qantas proudly announced the launch of ReadyRooms (another announcement story here). An online last minute hotel booking system to take on Wotif, (then owned by now owned by Wotif) and RatestoGo (owned by Orbitz). Then sometime around late 2006 early 2007 the ReadyRooms brand disappeared from Qantas sites. It was replaced with a generic "Qantas Hotels" brand. I noticed the brand confusion in this review post of the Qantas online hotels product.

I have just discovered that the ReadyRooms brand and product is back. I spotted a banner advert for the new site and clicked through. Subsequently I have seen a post over at the Publicis Digital site (an advertising firm) saying that they launched the campaign for the new site on October 21 2009.

This new version of ReadyRooms is not being operated by Qantas. Instead, the brand is part of Jetset Travelworld - Australia's number 3 offline travel company. But this does not mean that Qantas has complete divorced itself from ReadyRooms. In June 2008 Jetset Travelworld bought Qantas Holidays off Qantas in exchange for Qantas taking a 58% stake in Jetset (PDF press release here). The "new" ReadyRooms a look, feel and colouring that is not at all like Qantas so there is a clear desire to establish a new and separate brand. But the search results, pricing and hotels are exactly the same as the Qantas Hotels product. Like the Qantas version Jetset's ReadyRooms charges at $4.95 booking fee (called a credit card fee) [note - no fee charged on debit cards. Just credit cards]. Critically - unlike ReadyRooms, the Qantas version of the product comes with frequent flyer miles. In other words Jetset's ReadyRooms is the same product as the Qantas Hotel's product but with less benefits. Not sure that will work.

Jetset have also launched ReadyFlights to sell air. Clearly Jetset have decided their strategy is to go online with a whole new brand approach to get around frachisee issues.

Monday, November 23, 2009

MakeMyTrip in India - US$5mm in profit off $500mm in gross bookings

Came across an post today called " The Story of Online Travel Booking Startup" on the WorkHomeMoney blog. Is an interview with MakeMyTrip founder Deep Kalra. MMT is the biggest of the four local OTAs (other three are Yatra, Cleartrip and the now Travelocity owned Travelguru).

Assuming the quotes are correct there are some interesting size and performance metrics in the post.
"1. is now making $5 million in US dollars of profit this year.
2. The gross booking reached about $500 million.
3. Revenues are up 88% during the recession.
4. One-out-of-every-twelve domestic flights in India is booked via
5. It sells 2,500 of railways tickets (the second largest category in travel) every day."
Other facts from the post I did not know is that MMT have 20 physical stores

For more background info on Indian market see my post from last year here.

Also Interview with Travelocity/Zuji regional boss Roshan Mendis on Travelguru acquisition here.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Secret to Innovation - technology and social movement together. Thoughts from PhoCusWright Innovation Summit

Another follow up from yesterday’s Travel Innovation Summit at the PhoCusWright. During the presentation I saw a lot screens and tech diagrams from innovators showing the latest in Web 2/3.0 technology. Lots of impressive looking technology touching on search, collaboration, analytics, content aggregation, mobile and more. Despite the impressive nature of the technology on display I came away reminded that technology is not enough for innovation. With innovation there is also critical need for an execution element and timing the product with social readiness for its adoption. For a new piece of technology to be capable of becoming an innovation it has to be timed to match the social movement and consumer readiness to use it (or be capable of holding on long enough for consumers to catch up).

This was particularly front of mind for me because only recently we learnt about Yahoo! finally shutting down GeoCities (TechCrunch story here). A business it bought for $2.87billion. At the height of GeoCities (wikipedia here) popularity it was the number one place for user generated content and destination information. It was the blogging platform before there were blogging platforms. Countless personal GeoCities pages were set up by individuals to talk about their lives, animals, home towns, travel experiences and more. Millions of words of local content were available through GeoCities years before TravelMuse, Nileguide, Geckogo, Tripsay, TripAdvisor, Uptake, etc were a glint in an angel funder’s eye. Yet it died. Clearly not for lack of user generated content. Sean Keener of BootsnAll said at breakfast yesterday that GeoCities died because Yahoo! blew it because they did not know what to do with it. There is something in this. But another reason why GeoCities died was that it came out too far ahead of the desire for consumers to share themselves with the InterTube world. When GeoCities was at its peak in 2000/2001 the traffic was high, the usage was ok but there was no revenue model (no AdSense or equiv) and no sharing and distribution mechanisms (twitter, facebook, URL shortening). The consumer trend for writing, sharing and engaging in social commentary was not there to support the business. The product/technology was launched too far ahead of the social desire and trend to use it.

Don’t believe in this need for technology and social change to be together? Let me give you another example. In 1996 – as a young lawyer- I was excited to load PointCast as my screen saver. Without me having to click a button or search a site, news and information was pushed to me. All the information I used to have to surf around to find was coming to me in a means that was more convenient, faster and “hands free”. Everybody in the firm followed suit and downloaded the product. Then in Jan 1997 (wikipedia story here) Murdoch offered $450mm for company. While PointCast was holding out for more money network admins across the corporate world were finding their network s crashing down under the load of constant information queries. Employees were banned from using PointCast. Without complaint we shrugged and uninstalled PointCast. The critical part was “without complaint”. We liked the feature but did not need it. It was not that big a deal to go back to reading the local paper, BBC and CNN online. Within moments Murdoch pulled the bid and PointCast was later sold for (a paltry) $7mm and shut down a year later. Fast forward to 2009 and each of us has a newsreader indexing hundreds of information and news site. If companies tried to block newsreaders there would be an employee revolution and drop in productivity. PointCast was the first prototype of a news reader but socially we did not need to fight for it and did not miss it much when it left because there wasn’t enough content out there to compel the need for an aggregation product. Technology came too early for the consumers.

My point from these two examples is that when trying to innovate it is critical to focus as much on timing and social readiness as it is to focus on the technology and product. Making sure consumers are available and ready to pick up what you are building.

I talk about this in my EveryYou concept. Our ability to develop a specific and targeted recommendation of one based on the unique combination of desires, needs and interests of each individual at any moment in time is only now becoming available because of the matching of technological capability (near unlimited processing power) and consumer desire to share information and data and receive targeted advice and replies.

What do you think? How important is timing in innovation?

thanks to Vermin Inc for the photo

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Final 4 PhoCusWright Travel Innovation Summit

PhoCusWright boss Phillip Wolf just announced the following as the final 4 for the Travel Innovation Summit. These four are off to the next round.

1. Amadeus IT group (Amadeus Affinity Shopper)
2. Gliider
3. Global Motion Media Inc (EveryTrail)

My predictions were
1. Dapper
2. Traveltainment (anothe Amadeus entry)
3. Tourabout
4. x+1

In other word 0 / 4 for the BOOT

My predictions and background are here

"Smarter" Travel search vs profiling and recommending at the PhoCusWright Innovation Summit

I have been reflecting back on the PhoCusWright Travel Innovation Summit. At this event 33 companies (start ups, established companies and entrepreneurs with ideas) pitched new products seeking fame and recognition for their innovation. The final four will go through the rest of the conference competing for the Travel Innovation Summit winner prize.

At the Summit a series of companies presented on new ways to do online travel search.

Goby presented on a travel search system with three questions to generate search - what, where, when. Aim is to present a more targeted and consolidated results rather than the site list that come from a Google search.

Exalead presented on a search platform that can be used to provide other companies with a search engine with profile saving metrics.

Planetism the first alpha of the presentation (no site live). Comes to search from a budget perspective (see my discussion on that here). You enter dates and budget and then are presented with a list of options to refine and select.

I have also interviewed a number of search and discovery sites - most recently Joobili.

The reason why people are trying to innovate so much in search is that the current search process (type question into Google and press search) was designed to support closed answer questions such as "cheap flights to New York" and "Hotels near the Opera House". Questions where a single site can provide a single answer. This approach is no longer sufficient as it does not answer open ended questions that people are now asking such as "where should I go next", "I have to get away this weekend, what's good and cheap". Answers to these questions will not be found on one single site. They can only be answered by bringing together information and content from more than one place.

My recommendation to the above companies and others trying to innovate in search is to be very careful betting the business on search innovation and make sure you spend time on recommendation and inspiration. The step beyond search. The proactive approach to search. A focus on pure search brings you head to head with Google and might risk missing the real next step.

I am convinced that the answer to the problem matching the excessive amount of content available and the desire for answers to open ended questions is not to reinvent pure search. Instead I think innovators and other online travel companies should focus on developing processes for profiling and recommending.

What do you think? Is there room for search innovation outside Google and Kayak like meta-search companies? Should start-ups steer clear of search?

PS - if you would like to see my pick for the top 4 click here.

Tnooz: PhoCusWright Travel Innovation Summit

Over at the tnooz site we have just posted an article called "Four of the best travel innovators and four more to believe in but can’t". Includes my pick for the best four out of thirty three for the PhoCusWright Travel Innovation summit.

My four picks are Dapper, Tourabout, [X+1] and Traveltainment. The reasons why are in the post - so too the companies that I wanted to vote four but something stopped me.

More at the story

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Twittering from PhoCusWright Orlando

I will be twittering all week at PhoCusWright in Orlando. Follow me @timothychughes or watch hashtags #phocuswright and #pcw09.

SkyMall Follies: "brightening the room" with WWII Chess

Plenty of reasons to hate domestic travel in the US - age of the aeroplanes, on board food (or lack of it), the "no way am I going to pay $25 to check this, it will fit in the overhead locker" attitude that has added 25 plus minutes to the boarding process etc. But I love reading SkyMall. This is the ubiquitous and free magazine that contains 200 plus pages of junk, crap, stuff, items for the discerning consumer.

I love this magazine because (much like Las Vegas, K-Tel and un-missable DVD collections of the Dean Martin Show) it shows that human beings can come up with just about anything to take money from you. In between this busy week of PhoCusWright posts and activities I am going to share with you three or four of my favourite SkyMall items. The ultimate in discerning items for the ultimate in discerning customers.

SkyMall Follies Item number 1 - WWII Chess Set and Storage Box $219.99.

Themed chess sets are nothing new. From Elvis to the Simpsons and everywhere in between companies have been reinventing the look of chess through replacing typical black vs white and rook and pawn with multi-colours and character pieces.

But now I have seen - through the magic of SkyMall - a remodelling of chess that not only breaks the rules of neutrality in the two sides of the chess game but carries a level of insensitivity that even a mindless kitsch product developer should have picked up.

In the spirit of "brightening the room" (their words) and "fun to play" (again their words) with the WWII Chess Set you can elect to either lead Franklin D Roosevelt (white king) and the American Military or Adolf Hitler (black king) and his German Troops. That's right for just $219.99 plus tax and delivery you can relive your fantasy of leading a "hand painted" and "detailed" 3.25 inch Adolf Hitler into strategic battles against the forces of freedom. Bargain. Staggering. Madness. A classic SkyMall folly. More to come

Interview with Joobili boss Jared Salter - Part 2 - timed search, refinement and turnips

This is part 2 of my interview with Jared Salter, CEO of time based travel discovery and inspiration company Joobili (pictured here to the right of Joobili Co-founder Tamas Gabor). In Part 1 we discussed the founding of the company including raising money in Budapest with just a powerpoint presentation. In this part Jared and I talk functionality, discovery and inspiration online and turnips.

BOOT: Your site starts of with a time based search rather than destination based search. You need a lot of data to provide consumers with information on every event and activity around the world. Where do you get the data from and how do you plan to get more?

Jared from Joobili: We started off by creating it in house with a team of writers scouring the web, collecting events and writing up. We needed to do this to get us started, however clearly there is a scalability issue with approach. Now we are partnering with local tourism offices to access their content. In this area there is a big advantage is being in Europe. We now have deals with 12 or13 European national tourist offices, 25 regional tourism boards and 75 plus local promoters. They have joined us Joobili pro members. We give them a back end to upload and manage events.

BOOT: Where are you in the evolution of the product?

Jared from Joobili: Very early. We only became visible to Google in the last month as we were so focused on the front end. I am not worried about this as I feel this is pretty common with start ups.

BOOT: A challenge with a discovery and inspiration site is to decide how to balance up front searching and refinement. How much to you request from the consumer before a search is conducted versus how much to you move the consumer information collection to the post search refinement stage. I could not help but notice that in a random search I have just conducted for Nov 11-18, the number one recommended event is the Raben-Chilibi Turnip Festival in Richterswil Switzerland. Clearly I will need to refine this search for there to be valuable information (not that I have anything against the Swiss or Turnips). How did you balance asking for information upfront versus refinement?

Jared from Joobili: It was a big internal debate and am not sure we have found the answer yet. We made the decision to err on the side of simplicity by having only a date search at the beginning. You might seem more filters on the front page in later versions but for launch we erred on simplicity with just time search up-front.

We will need a much need larger content base before pushing the filter angle and profiling. Paraphrasing TripAdvisor’s Marc Charron– when it comes to profiling “rather than figuring out who you are, it is about figuring out when you are”. Completely agree with your EveryYou idea. We are saying to the customer – “tell us when you are and then filter who you are”.

BOOT: Another challenge for a discovery and inspiration site is building customer loyalty. Getting the customer to use the product more than once. How have you through about the challenge of customer retention?

Jared from Joobili: According to Google, the online travel research process is 29 days from inspiration to book. Therefore we are planning to introduce a save search parameter. We know you want to go on holiday on a certain date – so we will let you save that search. We can then provide email notification any time a new event is added to the database. Or eventually build a recommendation engine based on that search parameter.

The next part will be integrating price into the results through partnerships with other sites. One other trend is that price is no longer the sole motivator as discounting becomes permanent. For example we have been working with Wizz air [Low cost carrier in Europe]. They offer a 50 euro flight to Rome. It is always 50 Euro. There is not longer an urgency around the discount or low price because they always a low price. Therefore Wizz need to match the cheap flight with time sensitive inspiration to build in a sense of urgency. Price is an extremely motivator for travel behaviour but it is becoming not enough to drive urgency in consumer behaviour.

BOOT: What else in online travel has you excited?

Jared from Joobili: I am so focused on the discovery space that I have not thought about other areas. Everyone is talking mobile and Augmented Reality which is going to going to be great and interesting. But there are fundamental issues with online travel that we have not yet figured out and discovery is one of them

BOOT: How radical do you think the change will be in how we search and book travel online? Are the big four Online Travel Agents facing the same sort of radical change and industry shift that the offline agents faced in the 1990s and if they are not careful the OTAs could be in real danger?

Jarend from Joobili This period of change is not exactly the same [as the 1990s early 2000s were for offline]. The big OTAs will not be the innovators in the industry but have such a controlling part of the pie. Joobili can innovate the discovery process but need the big guys to make the booking. We hope we generate more interest in the discovery stage.

This will be more than just about content – as consumers have to know what you are searching for. All of these sites are throwing in content for SEO benefits but still asking consumer to type in what they want. Is not about the content it is the interface or experience to help the consumer to discover something new.

My take and summary

I enjoyed this chat with Jared. Not least of which because it was good to get a European perspective on the travel discovery market. Joobili is still in seed stage so we need to be a little bit forgiving on the “turnip” result but it highlights that there is a lot of data collection and back end refinement/recommendation work that Joobili needs to do before the product is ready for any dramatic marketing investment. I think Jared knows this. For more on the challenges in starting a content company see my 3 rules for starting a UGC business.

Part 1 of the interview is here.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

3 rules for what is needed to start a consumer information or UGC based online travel start-up

User/crowd generated content available through the mega review site TripAdvisor has done a lot of things to the industry. On the consumer side they arguably changed the purchase patterns by putting user generated content at the heart of the decision making process. On the hotel marketing side they generated a whole industry of review gaming and UGC manufacture. And...on the start-up side they have convince online travel entrepreneurs that there is a business model based solely on attracting customer because of users contributing their experiences, ideas, content and more is unbeatable.

I had one such company write to me recently called cost4travel. Their plan is for consumers to share with each other their experiences on the costs of travelling to various destinations and for various activities. The idea is that consumers will share the prices they have paid for the greater good of allowing other consumers to get user supported price estimates. Allowing users to search by cost as a first point of reference rather than by destination. Interesting idea and reminiscent of Joobili's idea of coming to the search process on a time/date basis rather than destination. The challenge for cost4travel and any business that needs a scale of user content or data is how to get that scale. In the perfect world consumers add all of the data you need. That, like TripAdvsor, thousands, then tens of thousands and eventually millions of consumers will add the content for you. The challenge is how to get the consumers to volunteer information when the initial content collection is sub-scale - when a contribution by the earlier users is not going to be responded to on mass by the contribution of other consumers. Finding a way to build a business model that depends on consumers contributing the answers and information before...well...consumers have contributed the answers and information. You can call this the UGC paradox.

I have been trying to think back on the early days of TripAdvisor as surely they had this issue but I cannot recall how they managed it. Can you? Therefore I moved to looking to two non-travel examples for inspiration. From these 2 I suggest 3 rules for starting a consumer information (UGC) dependent business in online travel. First the rules and then the inspiration.

My 3 rules on things you must have to start a consumer information or UGC based online travel start-up

1. You need a source of data to kick things off. Look for and index available data first. There will be little incentive for consumers to search or contribute without a baseline of data. When looking for this data do not be afraid to use expert or professional data. In fact seek out great quality existing content and add value to it by being the best index and distribution mechanism for it;

2. Reward consumers for entering data and content. Altruism is not enough to get consumers to give you data. You need to give them an reward. For example make data contribution a "cost of entry" for consumers. You have to give something to get something. Make it so that if a consumer contributes data, then they get a better result; and

3. Syndicate, distribute and get it out there. Make it easy, very easy for consumers to send the information around, blog it, share it, tweet it, swap it....get it out there.

Inspiration number 1 - Payscale

Payscale is a Seattle based salary and compensation site. Anyone can open a profile, enter in their skills, experience, location and job title. Payscale then matches you against everyone else in the Payscale universe of contributors and returns salary and compensation comparison information. Another UGC play that requires scale. It can only provide an information seeker with a valuable experience if there are millions of consumers contributing their skills, job descriptions and salary information. Scale they have. In Oct 2008 they reported 15 million profiles. But at the time of launch they probably only had a few hundred profiles (assuming they beta-launched with info input by friends, family and founders). Thus they kicked off the business and populated their database with statistical data from a variety of external (read non user generated) sources including government sources. Plus before you could access the data they had collected from others, you had to submit your own data. Means there was enough initial data to provide a answers to early customers and those customers had to submit more data. We learn from this that you need to collect some starting point data to kick of the business and will be more success if you reward consumers for entering data (in this case by making it a cost of getting a response).

Inspiration number 2 - YouTube

YouTube is the biggest UGC site on the web. Without user generated videos YouTube is dead. The purist YouTube UGC argument is that YouTube over came the UGC paradox through timing in technology and social desire. That is launched itself at exactly the right time - when the desire for consumer sharing of videos matched the technology capability to shoot and upload in moments. However the real truth (OK arguable truth) is that what made YouTube popular enough to attract scale in UGC videos was not UGC videos. Rather it was copyrighted material. In particular consumers uploading and then sending to each other copyrighted material from Viacom (Daily Show, Colbert Report, MTV videos) and NBC Universal (Saturday Night Live). Before videos like Dancing Matt and LonelyGirl15, the huge YouTube hits were videos like SNL's Cronic of Narnia (no longer avail on YouTube). YouTube was built on the back of sharing professionally produced copyright material not UGC. Don't believe me? Then think back to the first time you were sent a YouTube video. I'm betting it was a clip from a TV or a music video. Still don't believe me? Then look at the list of top watch videos of all time. Seven of the top eleven are music videos or clips. YouTube's early value was in being a repository and distribution means for non-UGC. The learning from this is don't discount "expert" or professional data. If fact you may want to encourage it. Secondly we learn - make it easy, very easy - for consumers to send it around, blog it, share it, tweet it, swap it....get it out there.

So from YouTube and Payscale I have developed my three rules for launching UGC based start-ups. There will be more rules for making it a success but these are my view on what you need to get started.

Anyone one out there remember the early days of TripAdvisor well enough to add to the list of rules? More ideas in the comments.

thanks to richbeechina for the crow shot

Priceline on Agoda - extracts from Q3 earnings call

As always Seeking Alpha have posted a very useful transcript of the Priceline (PCLN) Earnings (Q3). With no other source of information the performance of Priceline's Asian based I will keep on with my program of extracting and sharing with you Agoda information shared in the earnings call

PCLN CEO Jeffrey Boyd on Agoda results
"Agoda also reported improved growth in excess of 100%, which contributed to the sequential improvement in worldwide merchant gross bookings growth from 22% to 33%. Agoda's growth rates reflect weakness in the prior period due to economic conditions and civil unrest in Thailand, and there are also signs of economic improvement in Asian markets."
PCLN CEO Jeffrey Boyd on hotel numbers- asked " I think you only added 2,000 hotels in the quarter. Any reason that might have slowed down a bit?. "
"...we don't look at the absolute hotel count as defining the market. Our counts on a year-over-year basis are still up significantly. And it is still an important part of what we're doing not just internationally but here in the United States to add hotels to all of our programs, and potentially more important to make sure that we've got the right rates and availability from the hotels that do participate with Priceline and and Agoda. That can be as meaningful to the output of the business as adding new hotels."
PCLN CEO Jeffrey Boyd on competitors- asked "anything new on the competitive front that you're seeing in Europe or Asia? "
"From a competitive perspective, I think that you have heard in the conference calls of the two competitors that are publicly traded that they're very focused on the international hotel opportunity, that Expedia is making an agency product available to hotels, and Orbitz is really trying to reorient its organization to focus primarily on hotel bookings. So it continues to be very competitive out there. And we work very hard to keep track of what's going on with the competition, but we also try very hard to make sure that we're doing what we think is right for our business and not necessarily trying to map what they're doing."

"And if you look at the great results that we're seeing in Asia from Agoda and from in its new markets, what you're seeing is that every time we enter into a new market we are doing it from a stronger position than we did in the last new market. And so it just gets us very excited about Asia and the Pacific and what we're doing in the Middle East and South America and in North America for and the international traveler. "

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Google bought AdMob, Norm was right, the BOOT was wrong - time to eat humble pie

In my predictions for 2009 (back in January) I said the following
"2009 will not be the year of mobile for the travel industry: Every year since 2000 we have been talking about the mobile revolution in online travel. This year I rejoined that chorus of mobile revolution fan boys while at PhoCusWright in LA. With the Global Financial Crisis (I am told there is even an acronym for this - GFC) in full swing I think the larger players will pull back from their mobile plans and focus on core products, costs control and customer loyalty. Mobile will have to wait until 2010; and"
Many disagreed including Norm Rose, arguing that the proliferation of smart phones and mobile apps would prove me wrong. But I would not be talked out of it. In September I reaffirmed by prediction saying
" The argument in favour of my prediction is that bookings of travel via mobile phones apps (outside of Korea and Japan) are still very small and arguably inconsequential to the $150+ billion online travel industry. "
Here we are in November and I was looking forward to debating my position with Norm at PhoCusWright next week. But with barely a week to go before seeing Norm in Orlando, Google won the debate for him by buying AdMob for $750 million. AdMob is/was a Sequoia backed mobile display advertising platform.

This means that Google's third largest acquisition ever (after YouTube and DoubleClick) is of a company with maybe $40mm in revenue focused on putting adverts on iPhones, Android phones, smartphones etc. We now have a revenue model and distribution for advertising on the phone. Add that to the travel app bonanza on iTunes and elsewhere, the levels of smartphone penetration, augmented reality and more.

You got me Norm. I concede. Google has closed out the year with a big M&A deal proving that 2009 is indeed a year for Mobile. See you in Orlando for a piece of humble pie.

More on the deal read these two TechCrunch posts
thanks to smiteme for the pie photo

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Interview with Joobili boss Jared Salter - Part 1 - rasing money in Europe

While the fees, sales and my promo is bigger than your promo claims that are the battle of the OTAs in the US has ramifications for the state of the industry going into the second decade of the 21st century, I continue to be most excited by the innovation coming out of travel discovery and inspiration sites. Sites set up to help customers answer the open-ended question “where do I go next”. A question that is only now being asked of the online travel industry on Google, Twitter, Facebook and elsewhere. The sites that are at the forefront of data analysis and projections in line with my EveryYou concept of using the technology and social transformation in front of us to develop a specific and targeted recommendation of one based on the unique combination of desires, needs and interests of each individual at any moment in time.

I have already done a number of profiles in this area including one of the Budapest based Joobili (pronounced Jubilee). Now I have had a chance to spend time over skype with Jared Salter the founder and CEO of Joobili to hear about his experiences in founding a online travel company in Europe, on time based travel inspiration, on the balance between pre search information requesting and post search refinement and the rights and wrongs of attending a Swiss turnip festival.

In short Joobili is a time based travel search, discovery and inspiration engine. At the entry screen you select the date range you are interesting in travelling on and Joobili replies with a list of festivals, activities, events and time based entertainment that are on during that time period. Options for refinement are then presented to help narrow down the list to a short list of trips. Joobili starts with the question “when do you want to go?” rather the standard OTA question “where do you want to go?”.

As with other interviews, this is best suited to a two part blog post. In the first part we will talk about the set up of the company especially raising money in and running a business from Europe. Then in part two I will share our discussions on the functionality of Joobili and the travel and inspiration market/industry.

The interesting summary of part one of this interview is that Jared and his partner Tamas Gabor managed to raise seed money for an Eastern European based company without a prototype. They had a business plan and powerpoint that so impressed or struck the Swiss born Esther Dyson that she gave money without a working site and despite the possible challenges of monitoring a business off the beaten track (VC wise).

BOOT: Where did the idea come from? Do you have a history in tech or travel?

Jared from Joobili: I moved to Budapest from a corporate job in San Francisco to do an MBA. There I met my co-founder of Joobili Tamas Gabor. It was his idea to look at calendar based travels. Other sites start with the destination. We spent the first few months scouring the internet but could not find anyone doing calendar search. We built the initial business case during the MBA. The product took off when we secured funding.

BOOT: At what point did you decided to seek funding? Had you built a proto-type yet or did you manage to get funding off the back of a powerpoint deck and business plan?

Jared from Joobili: It is different for each entrepreneur but as neither of us had a tech background we had to raise money with just a business plan. Which was tough. But we needed money to build a beta site.

BOOT: Europe is not famous for lending money on a ppt only. Traditionally Euro VCs want to see something built, if fact more often than not they are looking for series B work. Did you have to go to America to get angel funding with nothing built.

Jared from Joobili: Yes Had been going after a lot of different Euro investors and VCs. We were lucky that Ester Dyson (investor in Orbitz, Flickr, Delicious, Dopplr and more) was coming to Budapest as part of some Euro boards that she was on. We got a meeting with her to show her our detailed plans and forecasts. It ended up being just a one hour but she committed. “This is something that belongs on the web” was her quote.

BOOT: Budapest is not the first place that springs to mind when I think of online travel and tech innovation. What has it been like trying to run a business from Budapest?

Jared from Joobili: From a standpoint of travel and start up it is a bad thing- as you miss out on the networking opportunities. So we do frequent trips to London. Last September we were involved in Seedcamp – one of only two travel companies. This month I will be at WTM so we get out as much as we can. That said there is a reason we started here and I would do it again. It is very cost efficient to develop technology here. There are some talented developers in Budapest. Given the amount of seed capital we raised, we would never able to build this business in San Francisco or London.

BOOT: Are you looking for more funding?

Jared from Joobili Fair to say that any start-up is always on the hunt for more money to develop new features. The list of features we want to build is longer than we can afford. And this is a tough market, especially for the discovery part of travel as it is the least tapped space of the travel process.

In part two we will talk about the Joobili business model and travel discovery and inspiration business.

Update - here is part 2

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Interview with Wego CEO Martin Symes and Product Boss Ross Veitch on Content, Advertising, ADR, Meta-search and (naturally) Twitter

It has been a frustrating conference season for me this year. I had to leave TRAVELtech early this year to rush to the side of a sick relative. Then I missed WebInTravel altogether because of a back injury. As well a missing out of a lot of schmoozing and boozing, I missed a chance to catch up with Martin Symes and others from the Singapore based meta-search company Wego (aka Bezurk). Martin is an online travel veteran with stints at Zuji/Travelocity, BA and American Airlines. He is also an entertaining presenter and dinner companion. Through Wego he is at the forefront of meta-search in Asia so an interesting person to hear from. Last week I had a chance to catch up with Martin and Wego Product Boss Ross Veitch by phone to hear the latest on Wego, meta-search and the Asian travel market.

Here is some of our exchange. [nb- I was not smart enough or well trained enough to include in my notes which of Ross or Martin answered my questions so in the below I have blurred them into one respondent]

BOOT: How’s business?

Wego: Great – steady growth in all the metrics we look at. Traffic is up 200% year on year and revenue about the same. The recession has been good for us as it has brought to us looking for distribution and has added to the price sensitivity of consumers. Move from Bezurk to Wego brand and new platform has also helped, especially with SEO traffic. [SEO] Now makes up 50% of our traffic so acquisition costs are low.

BOOT: I noticed you have a new feature of ranking hotels by popularity in the sort order. Does a meta-search company have to choose between being a price based search engine or being a a mechanism for recommending hotels to consumers?

Wego: See them as complementary. We have adopted the same philosophy toward UGC aggregation as we have to price aggregation. Have not tried to do it ourselves. For content it is critical to get a mass of reviews so have crawled hundreds of different review sites and then broken down the content, created indexes and built a snapshot of what people are saying. The volume of hotel reviews for larger properties is overwhelming. We can help customers cut through the reviews and the price.

BOOT: The theory was that the recession/GFC would drive down CPM rates and drive up CPC rates as advertisers shifted their marketing budgets from display advertising to direct response. Is this true? What have you seen?

Wego: Hard to say as our display business is coming off such a low base. June on June we have had a 600% growth in display revenue – again a low base. Also for most of our customers we are selling integrated packages for display and direct response [clicks - BOOT]. An example is Hotel Spotlight [three hotels at top of search– BOOT] which is generating a dramatic increase in click through rates to not only the spotlight itself but organic listing further down the sort. Now trialling the hotel inserting their twitter feed messages into the Hotel Spotlight. Giving hotel a chance to put fresh content into the promo spot [now available in Singapore and coming elsewhere soon – BOOT]

BOOT: What about other plans for Asia? There is some tight competition with Qunar in China and Ixigo in India.

Wego: Some days India is our biggest source market for traffic. Though the click through rates are lower than other markets. Even so we think that it has more potential as a market than Chian. Very hard to monetise traffic from China. Our Chinese language sites are launched we have a few more languages planned

BOOT: ADR declines are hurting everyone. You are able to see prices from so many different angles. Where do you think ADR is going next year?

Wego: Agree, we saw big declines in ADR this year. Can’t see too much continued downside next year without another recessionary event. We hope to see rates stabilise and then we can get into targeting of deals. We are having discussions with suppliers about targeting to different user groups. This is the exciting next step for us and OTAs.

BOOT (to Martin): Final question about conferences and presentations. Twitter and instant blogging are now an unstoppable feature of presentations at conferences. How has it changed the way you present and prepare?

Wego/Martin: With presenting you now have to be aware that things will be taken out of context, re-twitted and sent around in seconds.

PS – Apologies again to Ross and Martin for (other than the last question) losing track of who was answering which question. Chances are that the answers I have above are a merger of comments from both of them

PS 2 – disclosure: Back in 2007 I did some consulting work for Wego

Monday, November 02, 2009

Kuxun acquisition takes TripAdvisor further into China

Expedia's TripAdvisor is to buy Chinese meta-search company Kuxun (at least I think it is a meta-search company) (according to Dow Jones via TripAdvior CEO Steve Kaufer would not give away how much was paid but is quoted in the article as saying he has US$50mm to invest in China in 2010 and 2011 but this includes setting up the local version of TripAdvisor Also said he plans to double the number of staff in China from 80 to 160. My guess (no basis just a hunch) is Kuxun will be used as the tech behind Daodao with Kuxun's brand to disappear soon after the deal.

In case you are wondering about meanings. I am reliably informed that Kuxun means Cool Information or Smart Information and Daodao means To Reach, To Arrive.

Her is my updated list of TripAdvisor Acquisitions in the last few years:
I always close these stories with the reminder that Expedia owns TripAdvisor as you'd be surprised how much search traffic I get asking the question "who owns TripAdvisor"