Thursday, March 29, 2007

Qantas In-flight Entertainment: Stranger Than Fiction

You will recall from yesterday that I was set to fly Qantas today, domestic long-haul to Perth. I genuinely went with a fresh mind and non-critical heart. Enjoyed a great breakfast in the lounge, had happily checked-in online and passed smoothly through the gate with a stack of free lounge acquired newspapers under my arm.

15 minutes into the flight the CSM/Pursar starts the usual announcements
- welcome aboard etc
- you may now move about the cabin etc
- we will soon be serving breakfast etc

we apologise but the audio/video system on this flight is not working and has had to be shut down

I could not have planned ths story better. Quoting the movie temptingly advertised in the inflight magazine but desparately unavailable - Stranger Than Fiction.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Back on the blog April 2

As mentioned am off to Perth for business trip - a busy schedule will keep me off the blog. Will be back with more news Monday.

Trade Me vs Wotif

Nice little battle (maybe) about to emerge in New Zealand between online auction giant (by NZ standards) and Fairfax subsidiary Trade Me and regional online accommodation super star Trade Me have announced (according to a tie up with travel tech firm Vianet to
to build a tourism website where people can book rooms in New Zealand's hotels, motels, campgrounds and other accommodation.
There is some blahblah in the press release about how this will be different to Wotif because it will target "ordinary kiwis" while Wotif is focused on businessmen. Don't believe it. Assuming the site is launched this will be an old fashioned battle between an established brand leader (Wotif) and a new entrant that hopes to push traffic from one form of ecommerce to another. At this stage it is clearly - advantage Wotif.

UPDATE - have an update on this story. Including:
1. 1,000 hotels already signed up
2. Trade Me parent Fairfax Media has acquired a 12.5% stake in Vianet International the company building the software behind the product (hey...Vianet are one of the few using a .travel domain)
My general warning for Trade Me is do not assume that ecommerce traffic from one style of business (in this case auctions) will always translate into sales in another category (travel). For example eBay have never been able to achieve the results in travel that their brand would indicate. On a more local level, has never been able to shift the demand it generates in hotels into air sales despite efforts to incorporate Expedia's dynamic packaging technology.

Expedia continues a trend of Pay Per Kick Marketing

Expedia AU is now the "official online agent" for the Sydney Swans (who - for my international readers- play a type of football only played in Australia). Part of the deal is Expedia branding on the football at home games introducing almost a world online travel first of pay per kick. Is not the first time Expedia AU boss Arthur Hoffmann (seen here with Sydney coach Paul Roos) has been active with an offline branding campaign (you will recall the lovely ladies in lemon). It is also not Expedia's first foray into kick based sports sponsorship. For a period around 2002 (and maybe longer) Expedia was a mat sponsor of the brutal sport of Ultimate Fighting Championship. As you can see from the image, left that was pay per kick, smack, wack, hack, twack and break your back marketing at its finest.
football photo courtesy of UFC photo courtesy of UFC

UPDATE- See also the video on Kevin's Travolution blog that has a [lost for words] video of dancing Expedia suitcases for more on Expedia's global branding drive.

UPDATE 2 - Expedia AU have now appointed a local PR firm - Sefiani Communications Group - to help with Australian marketing and profile building (according to B&T magazine). No word on plans.

Am I too tough on Qantas?

Am travelling to Perth tomorrow for work. My first time to Perth and my first long haul Qantas flight in economy for a very long time. Was talking through this with a friend last night from a travel start-up that I am helping with fund raising when he commented on his own experiences with Qantas economy long haul. As a reader of my blog he was aware of my almost non-stop barrage of negative commentary on Qantas, especially around its customer service and VOD system. His summary -
"The VOD was working perfectly, the seat was great, the product is not that bad"
It turned me to thinking about why I am so tough on Qantas and a realised the answer. It is not because I do not want to fly them. In fact the contrary is true. I have previously and would again rank them as my number 4 preferred long haul carrier (though I have not flown Emirates or Virgin Atlantic). They have a very good product. The seats good, the food among the best in the sky and the lounges great (especially the showers). My problem is not, "do they have a good product", it is "the product is not as good as they say it is". Service industries are about delivering to the expectations you set. I am annoyed and angry with Qantas because they say that their seat is the biggest in its class, the VOD system the best, the service the friendliest, the pillows the fluffiest, that devaluations of frequent flyer miles are in my best interest and that their focus is purely on its customers when the truth is that Cathay, Singapore and BA beat them on all those functional fronts and that cost cutting and efficiency are the number one thing on their mind not service.

So maybe I am being tough on them because they do offer a great product and I will continue to consume it but I re-issue my warning to them (and any potential new owners) that when/if they lose the duopoly on the Pacific Route or the anti-competitive deal with BA on the Kangaroo route their will be a flood of high end customers like me for whom a "great product" will not be enough to retain our custom.

Will let you know how I go with them to Perth.

Monday, March 26, 2007

"Expedia's Dead" Michael O'Leary

UPDATE 15 October 2008 - looks like the deal (described below) is dead

Back in November you will recall the announcement that needahotel and Ryanair had terminated their long standing hotel sales relationship under which needahotel powered Ryanair Hotels. I found this strange as even though Ryanair are renowned for being a hard and demanding client, the volumes were so significant that everyone wanted that account. It was especially strange given that Cendant's whole pre-Travelport days reason for buying needahotel was to gain this business. Needahotel itself was basically a reseller of Octopustravel. The greatest part of the story was that despite Ryanair's whole business and brand being based on being the cheapest there is, the needahotel/Ryanair Hotel prices were normally 6% plus more expensive than the rates on Octopus to enable three players to be fed from the commission available on a hotel booking.

That said Jeff Clarke of Travelport described the Ryanair relationship as an "under-performing affiliate" in the Q3 earnings call, so I assume that in the post-Cendant world the huge commission cheques to Ryanair could not longer be justified.

Not surprisingly there was a queue of suppliers lined up outside Dublin airport clamouring to take over the business - with Expedia's WWTE emerging as victorious. The question that arises from this is whether or not Expedia had to "drop their pants" for Ryanair. The struggle that most competitors had in trying to steal the business from the needahotel/Octopustravel combo was the huge commission that Octopus is able provide given its operator margin inventory. On a raw dollar for dollar basis Expedia does not have the margin to offer the same to Ryanair unless it effectively makes a loss. My interest is definitely piqued as to whether or not it was Expedia taking loss here to gain the volume or Ryanair took a hit and finally realised that the needahotel margins were unsustainable for all.

I am also reminded of a panel that I found myself on with Michael O'Leary (Ryanair CEO) back in boom time 1999 when I was working for Expedia. I spoke before Michael and in his opening moment he said words to the effect of
"There is no place in the world any more for travel agents....Expedia's Dead" (in a fantastic Irish accent)
I assume the Dead pay cash....

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Either hotels and operators in Europe are still out to lunch on the Internet or the EC is

Guest Editor Post from Michael Potts of e-interactive

I noticed today that AFP put out an interesting press release on the back of the ITB 2007 Travel Fair held in Berlin earlier this month called “Internet becoming indispensable to European travel industry”. Related to the use of internet by European travel retailers, it mentions that the European Commission (no reference dates provided) has published data on the proportion of European travel suppliers and intermediaries providing the ability for customer to booking online.

According to the figures only 36% of tour operators provide online booking services, whilst 40% of package operators (the difference is subtle between these two, perhaps too subtle for the end consumer who wouldn’t notice a difference) and 62% of hotels allow booking online.

Only 36% of tour operators? Wow….! 38% of hotels don’t have a website? I’m in the right business it seems! I have tried to find the full version of this research and failed, however these numbers do feel incredibly low for a mature market.

Given that in the US, online travel revenue will exceed offline revenue in 2007 (PhoCusWright's U.S. Online Travel Overview, Sixth Edition, 2006), I would imagine that the percentage of suppliers and intermediaries providing online services is much higher. Is this a great opportunity for worldly wise 3rd party sellers and OTA’s like Expedia to offer a web development service for these 1000’s of hotels? And is this why so many of these 3rd parties are being allowed to advertise on European hotels brand names?

Friday, March 23, 2007

A few notes to American Airlines

Have given American Airlines a hard time recently
The unspoken advice in all of this was that American needs to focus a little more on the customer experience and a little less of just assuming that the word American would be enough to ensure continued customer patronage. Never imagined that I would have to give advice that American Airways should employ airline pilots that were not drunk!!! News out yesterday that an AA pilot was 6-7 times over the airline flying limit as he stumbled into the cockpit, with plans to fly from Manchester to Chicago. So a new list for American to improve its service - better seats, better business class seats, stop trapping customers on your planes for hours at a time with no water and keep the drunk guys away from the controls.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Google hates AC Hotels

Interesting post here from Blog On Travel - on the rumoured removal of AC Hotels from Google listings. It is a long read but has a useful analysis of dark art of SEO.

UPDATE - even more from Blog On Travel here - great read

Taxes, we dont see no stinkin' taxes 2

Enjoyed this week's guest post from Mike Potts and wanted to add my two cents to the taxes debate. Read that post first before reading this.

Mike mentioned that there are two forces a work - Legality and Profit. I also think there is a third force - Complexity.

In some cases it is genuinely very hard to keep track of variable tax regimes all around Europe especially when they vary within a country. I do not excuse those sites that use this complexity to and deliberately hide the taxes to under-quote fares but at the same time I think the authorities should take some of the blame for the scale of the problem. For example there are a number of towns across France charging city taxes of around a Euro or so a night. Taxes that go up and down without warning. This complexity particularly hits those sites that have developed simple one size fits all extranet approaches (ie, RatesToGo, Wotif) because the algorithms needed to cover every city and every country would require a team for 5 to update and manage. It especially hits those companies that have a full or part pay on check out model (ie and RatesToGo) as it is on the hotel to make the final determination and enforcement - the customer service impacts of making a mistake are enormous.

That all said - I agree with Mike that it a consumer protection dark zone where most countries force airlines to put all the taxes and charges into advertisements for fares but hotels and hotel intermediaries are free to hide the final price. The intermediaries need to be as up front as they possibly can about taxes as soon as they can and not use any problems associated with complexity as a false price competitive advantage and the EU needs to do something useful and (best case) standardise some of this across Europe or (achievable case) put out a definitive guide for intermediaries to hotel taxes.

Taxes, we dont see no stinkin' taxes

Guest Editor Post from Michael Potts of e-interactive

A critical question is arising around the inclusion of taxes and services charges in online hotel commerce sites. The question is…should independent hotel websites hide taxes in favour of displaying a cheaper rate, or will this just make for annoyed customers?

Picture the scene: you walk into a clothes store, and quickly spot the perfect Friday night shirt. You look at the price – 19€ - perfect. You take it to the counter, the check-out guy/girl scans it, then says, “that’ll be 25€ please.” You look at the check-out guy/girl quizzically, smile and point at the price on the ticket, to which they answer, “oh, that is the tax-excluded price.” Personally I would either ask for the manager, or more likely walk out of the store in disgust.

I am used to a tax-included price in the store. I am not used to waiting until the last minute until the final price is presented to me. I am not, ever, going to buy a hotel stay at for exactly this reason. doesn’t include a tax-included price in its website, even at the point where the customer is adding their credit card details to the page. In fact, is not alone in this practice. Many hotel aggregators quote tax-exclusive prices, at least in the first step of the purchase process.

So then, back to the original question. How does the humble hotelier, hoping to get some 0% commission sales through their own website, price the stay, especially knowing that the same room is appearing on their distributors sites without tax included? Do they make me happy and provide a fully inclusive price, or accept that their wannabe customers are actually shopping around and finding (very unclear) tax-exclusive prices on their resellers websites?

Their appears to be two forces at work here. Legality and profit.

Dealing with profit first, the decision appears to be a difficult one. Does our hotelier risk customer dissatisfaction after the purchase when they realize that the price has changed for the worse (and risk a cancellation perhaps), or risk not having that customer at all?

It might be that this issue is best answered by looking at how the hotel resellers are displaying prices and thus understanding better what the customer sees when they are shopping around. I did a little research and there appears to be three main ways of displaying prices:

  • Taxes included every step of the way
  • Taxes displayed in the total price during or after the first step, but not in the “per day” rates
  • Taxes not even displayed at the point where the credit card is asked for.

The following is a list of the way that some of the popular travel sites display hotel prices


Display on 1st results page

Full price quoted at point of credit card

Per day prices without taxes, total on results page taxes and charges included


Tax included


Tax included


Prices without taxes



Prices without taxes

No prices on this page

Active Hotels

Tax included


Rates to Go

Prices without taxes


Three of the seven sites I looked at don’t even quote the final price payable on the page where the customer adds their credit card details. It looks like, HRS and Ratestogo don’t really mind the negative feelings that could occur here. Perhaps then customers don’t have a negative feeling in this case.

For most hotel websites the fact is that if their rooms are displayed on any of the tax-exclusive sites then they might be better quoting tax-exclusive rates, at least initially. This would at least lead to a level playing field where comparison shoppers are concerned. It might increase conversion rates, and reduce distribution payments also. What is also clear is that pricing, regardless of the tax issue should be clear about what is included and what is not.

So what about legality? Legal or not, it appears that some large organizations with deep pockets are operating a tax-exclusive pricing policy. Perhaps then hotels shouldn’t be worried about the legality as long as far more visible websites are practising this.

UPDATE - Some nice friends and others have rightly pointed out that often the tax pricing situations I have described occur in countries where taxation is more difficult to deal with. My market of interest is Spain, and for Spain all the information written above is true. For other destinations it may not be. However, having worked for many years with the development side of online travel I have to mention that not correcting this problem is less because it is impossible to solve, but because a high enough priority has not been assigned to solve it. Let’s hope in time that common sense prevails and clear pricing practices are forced on all travel vendors.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Sabre rumour-mongering

Sabre have delayed the date on which shareholders will vote on their buy out plan. News report from US Travelweekly is that this is
"to give shareholders more time to review disclosures that it made to the Securities and Exchange Commission March 19."
It is strange that Sabre is making disclosures so late into the process and therefore risking the possible negative perceptions that comes from a delay in the vote. From the Travelweekly report there does not seem to be anything peculiar in the disclosure but the rumour-monger in me finds it strange that it happened at all.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

RIP Cendant - Here are some more of them

A belated update on a very old post called "RIP Cendant - where are they now". Former Cendant / Travelport execs and colleagues Andy Hermo, George Roukas and Ed Silver have (according to the US version of TravelWeekly) teamed up with Tom Christopoul (ex-Cendant's Financial Services unit) and former Cendant TDS Hospitality & Leisure uber boss Mike McCormick to form Hudson Crossing. Aim of the group is (according to the website)
"[to help] business owners raise the financial performance of their travel, tourism and hospitality assets. Through the execution of bold ideas.."
Not exactly sure what that means - sounds like a mix of consulting services, capital raising/corporate advisory work and corporate planning. More details here. It is great to see that team back together and will keep an eye on the PR wires as their client list developments.

Wotif and Stella Travel combine to bring down the Autralian Government

OK - that may be a over statement. stock trades and a capital raising that included s8 are some of the 70 plus share dealings that now ex-Australian government minister Santo Santoro engaged in and "forgot" about, forcing his resignation.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

A bit of self indulgence

According to Technorati I have cracked the top 100,000 blogs in the world with a ranking of 87,290. Watch out Engadget and Boing Boing - here I come.

Online Travel Exec presentations

Thanks to Guillaume of Hotel Blogs who spotted that the presentations from the JPMorgan Global Internet Conference are here in audio streaming (login in required). Includes presentations from Priceline, Expedia, InterActive and more. The slides from the Priceline presentation can be found here.

Orbitz float plans confirmed

If you are keeping up to date on the news wires you don't need me to tell you that Travelport has confirmed that it plans to float Orbitz Worldwide (Orbitz, eBookers and FlairviewTravel) in the third quarter of 2007. I heard the news in an email update from e-tid (though could not find a link on the site to confirm at date of publication). I first reported the rumour here.

UPDATE - here is the Red Herring article.

Asian online travel numbers from Euromonitor

When talking growth projections - happiness is a low base. and are reporting on numbers out from Euromonitor stating that India is the fastest growing online travel market in Asia- and by reporting growth numbers of 271.6% between now and 2010, presumably the world also. Parita Chitakasem of Euromonitor says that the Indian travel market will be worth US$2b in 2010.

270% plus growth in 4 years sounds fantastic but we need to put $2billion in perspective. The US market in 2006 was in the range of US$70-80mm depending on who you believe, poor cousin Australia is currently in the US$3-4billion range and PhoCusWright put Japan at close to $5billion.

Also it is very important when looking at online market size projections to understand exactly what is meant by online. You would expect that online should mean the whole transaction is completed with only the use of fingers, keyboard, mouse, Internet connection and credit card number. However a lot of markets and researchers include web referred bookings (started online but concluded on the phone/in a store) and pure call centre sales. The latter is especially the case in Chinese numbers.

That all said, US$2billion is a good market size. Though the market seems incredibly daunting with a billion plus people combined with complicated (and often inconsistent) regulation and technology requirements there is the attraction that the main markets both in terms of cities and demographics (ie middle to upper classes) are quite concentrated.

UPDATE - Jared at the Online Travel Review has a nice piece here on the Indian online travel market

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Bad day for eLong, Good day for Henrik

eLong's recent financial results are in and...ouch...they are not good. They announced a a fourth-quarter loss of $234,000 - while a big improvement on the same time last year loss of $1.1 - it is down on the third-quarter profit of $337,000. The stock took a pounding, dropping 22% of Friday and are now trading at almost a two year low.

The race to catch up with Ctrip is now not the main area of concern for the moment. Instead focus must be on a return to profitability.

New arrival to Asia but experienced online exec Henrik Kjellberg has been promoted to Chairman to coincide with his new role as Expedia's AsiaPac President. Congrats to Henrik - lots of work to do.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Welcome to the BAcast

Thanks to Claudio Branno of who let me know that, his client, BA have just launched a podcast series on sleeping patterns and techniques while flying. Three podcasts are up already with three more promised. I have listened to the first one and found it interesting. There is of course BA branding in the podcast but it is not overwhelming and does not detract from the very interesting content. I like it as a marketing approach - great for generating viral buzz (hey I fell for it) and for continuing to grow the brand of BA's business class bed.

I did have some technical problems accessing the stated URL - - as the site kept wanting me to tell it which country I was from and then sent me to the home page. I was able to subscribe very quickly and easily from iTunes.

Expedia tries to save its supply line by opening Expedia Spain

Guest Editor Post from Michael Potts of e-interactive

Expedia have told some of their travel suppliers in Spain that they are to launch in April or May this year. My thought about this future event has always been “great, they will grow the Spanish online travel market and make a good return for themselves” (see an article I wrote for Megustaelturismo here). However I now think there is another primary reason that Expedia are opening Spain – to make sure that they still have a supply of hotels in the months and years to come.

Why is this the case?

1. Expedia has lost huge ground in market share to their local European competitors over the last 18 months. and Venere are selling particularly well, and local Spanish OTA’s are becoming more valuable distribution for hotels as the Spanish start to buy online themselves

2. Expedia are viewed by many hotels and chains in Spain as a very expensive way of only attracting English and German guests

3. Expedia’s commission rates are extremely high (normally 25%) compared with most others at 15% ( for instance, who are now bigger in sales for hotels across most of Spain than Expedia). Already we are seeing long negotiations between the chains and Expedia for supply deals, with NH in particular having disappeared from Expedia’s listing (try and find availability on any Expedia site!)

Without opening their supply chain to the growing demand for domestic online travel, Expedia were increasing likely to lose many of the mid-sized chains and even independent hotels whose share of market is dominant. It will be interesting to watch this development and see how the hoteliers, and those buying travel online in Spain, react to

Bringing guest editors to the BOOT

I have decided to have a few guest writers join us every now and then on the BOOT - particularly looking at the European market. I have been looking back at the blog and realise that the longer I spend away from Europe the more I need to turn to people on the ground for insight on what it going on.

For the first in this series I wanted to do a post on Spain. It seems that Spain is the last frontier of the major European markets in online travel. Not to say that there is no online travel in Spain - far from it. Rather it is behind its more developed Continental friends and neighbours. So I asked my former work-mate, long term friend, SEM guru and honorary Spaniard Michael Potts of e-interactive to write a guest post every now and then on the European market with the kick-off post to look at Spain and Expedia threatened moves there. I hope this is the first of many from Mike and others.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Travelgator profile

I had a great opportunity recently to chat for 45 minutes or so with Travelgator CEO Chris DeBrusk. Travelgator are trying to fill the new need I discussed this earlier post to help online travel consumers answer the question - "where do I go next, what do I do next". Site is just out of beta.

I like the functionality of Travelgator. It lets you save ideas, articles, deals and offers in the one place - called a Travelplan - without locking you into a purchase path. Future product plans hope to expand this feature with plug ins that would enable you to draw in content, deals etc from other sites. In effect adding a targetted tagging/ style functionality. Of course there will be user generated content but also in-house content from a paid editor (claim more than 1,000 articles so far). All of this can be shared and have communities built up around it.

On product they want to stay out of the meta-search price comparison game. Mainly because they feel that Kayak and Sidestep are too far ahead in functionality to catch. But recognising the need for a engine have partnered with one of them (in this case Sidestep). The business model therefore comes back to good old fashioned targeted advertising campaigns. Claim to already have 30 click through deals in place.

As I say, I like what I see and Chris knows the market. I see two main challenges for him and his team to make the business work:
  • Obtaining traffic - Search engines and word of mouth are the two main (possibly only) sources of traffic. Travelgator are going to be competing with three different types of businesses for eyeballs (to different degrees). Content behemoths like TripAdvisor, membership powerhouses like WAYN and USG/blogging post companies like Travelpost (now owned by Sidestep); and
  • Focus - as per my previous post there comes a point in UGC, community based and targeted sites where too much choice is offered to consumers. They either become confused, frustrated and leave or you have targeted so tightly that the addressable audience is always too small.
To mitigate against these Travelgator has to find a delicate balance between picking their markets to be able to compete against the bigger (read better funded) competitors while ensuring that the focus is neither too tight nor the options too broad.

Sounds hard - well it is, not just for Travelgator but all of the new wave of online travel content and search players. Travelgator have made a very good start.

Funding to date is all private and angel. Clear to them that a travel provider is the only real exit. They need to build up the traffic and product to create a story around a critical and unique feature that a travel provider can only obtain through acquisition.

Silcon Valley & "in flight entertainment"

Seems that advanced "inflight entertainment" is available to more than just movie stars and Qantas crew. The word from Silicon Valley gossip and insider blog Valleywag is that one of the princes of Silicon Valley - a founder of Kazaa, Skype and Joost - was seen with a companion enjoying the in-bathroom entertainment system on a Virgin Atlantic flight. Here is the Valleywag story.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Site59 goes to Area 51

Site59 is no more. The Travelocity owned US based last minute travel brand is changing its name to the best last minute travel brand in the Travelocity family - This makes sense. The basis behind the Site59 brand - booking at the last minute of the hour - is interesting and quirky but does not have the simplicity and catchy nature of its UK based partner. The only argument against the change for a US based company is that there could be some confusion with second tier player owned by Travel Holdings Inc. While not as well known as Site59, LastMinuteTravel has been around since 1997 so have some claim to consumer recognition and association with the Lastminute* concept.

No change yet in the actual branding at the site at the time of writing and apologies for the shocking headline...

UPDATE - Rebrand has finished and 28 June announced relaunch in the US.. Note the little Travelocity stars are now combined with the pink logo of (picture below). I have not seen that in any other market.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

New look (Australian JV operation) have re-launched the site. I like the look - keeps the young, activity focused feel while at the same time (finally) devoting more crucial site real estate to travel rather than biscuit boxes, magazine subscriptions and other "lifestyle" (read low margin) products. Congrats to Adam and team.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Online Travel, Travel 2.0 and More - when it there too much choice for consumers?

I had a very interesting conversation a week or so ago with the CEO of 2.0 start up Travelgator - Chris DeBrusk. Travelgator is a two year old company, their site came out of beta in August 2006 with their major release hitting the cyberways early last month (Feb).

Like a lot of the new travel services companies Travelgator are looking to build a community around travel – around helping people find out what they want to do next in travel and help them draw on the experiences of other to decide. More on the company and how they are trying to differentiate themselves from the pack in a latter post - first, the prospect of speaking to Travelgator turned me to thinking about the market history that has led to this new wave of travel companies and what inherent needs they have for success.

In thinking through this I thought back on the phases of online travel - I decided there have been three broad overlapping phases.

Phase 1 (1995-2003) – I know where I want to go, find me the cheapest price.

Expedia, Travelocity and (the subsequently acquired) Preview started the market by turning the green screen around and giving early Internet uses access to travel agent booking processes. This made visible the dark art of booking travel. The low cost carriers followed quickly as did start ups on other locations such as Lastminute in the UK and (with much less success at the time) in Australia;

Phase (2000-2006) – I want to find a deal on where to stay, can you help me with rates, availability and advice.

Expedia buys Travelscape (and eventually HRN) and the merchant model goes mainstream (by the way good Expedia history here). Soon everyone is contracting directly with hotels, a pace that accelerates as the hotel industry tries to recover from the horrors of 9/11, SARS and more. TripAdvisor (soon to also be part of Expedia) adds the next piece to the puzzle with the power of group based recommendation.

Phase 3 (2005 – now) – what do I do next, where should I go next.

A global audience that has travelled, enjoyed booming economies and is comfortable sharing everything and anything with a keyboard and mouse, has bought the wisdom of crowds mantra and wants to know what the world knows. Out of this comes social networking in TripAdvisor, investments in WAYN and start-ups like Travelgator.

I remember meeting in 1999 the founder and members of a company called TravelDonkey. Now little more than a traffic page – at the time the business model was to capture the experiences of travellers from the entire world and share them. People would be able to write in with their trip notes in real time. Search and matching algorithms would match like minded travellers and enable them to interact and build community. The CEO of the time (Sally Meecham – side note I had forgotten Sally’s last name but Googled “Sally Travel Donkey” and naturally found it) shopped this story throughout Europe – door-to-door and conference-by-conference. No-one bought it but looking back it was simply out of phase.

The big question for Phase 3 (and something I will discuss in the context of Travelgator in a later post) is - when does the provision of options, choice and possibilities confuse customers. In Phase 1 and 2 I sat through usability labs and customer surveys that showed that the more choice you gave a customer through buttons, links, options etc, the less they did. There are famous surveys in old school retail proving that a point is reached when you give a customer so much choice that they choose nothing. Each of the phase 3 business models therefore have an near impossible challenge – how do you provide choice, how do you meet the need from the consumer to find out “what to do next” without either providing too much choice or (to go to the other extreme) targeting in on a niche that is so small or focused that there is no money in it. Don’t know the answer but am looking forward to thinking on it more, watching others and finding out. What do you think?

Will target this thinking in tighter with comments on Travelgator soon.

The T-List - Travel & Tourism Blogs

Mathieu of the Radar blog has started an interesting idea to have travel and tourism bloggers generate a bit of buzz for each other through creating a T-List - a list of the favourite blogs of travel bloggers. A list that builds on the lists of others.

Here is current list (drawn from additions by Travolution) with my contribution:

Hotel Blogs
Social Media on the Fly
Les Explorers
Chrispitality Media Blog
A Luxury Travel Blog
Travel Rants
Travel Weekly Blog
BootBlog (Bootsnall)
Erin Julian
My Travel Backpack
Happy Hotelier
The Travel PR Blog
Online Travel Review (Spanish)

If you are a blogger and would like add to the list then
  • Write a post.
  • Copy/paste the link list from the post you’ve discovered the T-List into it.
  • Make sure the links are active and correct.
If your blog is on the list, remove it. This is not a self-promotion post. As Tim Fehlman (Z-List) said: “Don’t worry, because if your name is on mine, it’s on others and will spread.”
  • Add your favorite tourism and travel blogs on it
  • Add the url of the blog where you’ve discovered the T-List as well.
  • Publish the post.
  • People will notice the T-List and continue it.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Flight Centre and Lastminute Australia updates

Two parallel but unrelated activities going on in public traded travel companies in Australia. The Flight Centre bid collapse and potential build up to a potential sale of the joint venture. There is some great commentary on this from Tom Boreham in the Australian on both of these public companies and the public travel market in general. Interesting read.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Italy vs Australia - World Cup round 2 (Italian Government vs Qantas)

Had two very interesting and (I originally planned) to be unrelated travel experiences/plans today. First step was to go to the local office of the Italian consulate to register my new daughter for a passport and the second was to go to a Qantas office to have a minor change made to an airline ticket (for the same daughter). So two stops, with two famous pain in the arse bureaucracies. Good chance to see who is worse at customer service - the Italian government or the flying kangaroo. You can see where this is going. The visit to the Italians took 40 minutes including the initial queue up, time with the consul assistant to process a stack of documents, to pay the processing charge and for the admin assistant to add the name of my daughter to mine and my wife's passport. At Qantas it took 40 minutes for a person to put a very small sticker on a ticket. At the Italian embassy every staff member was perpetually talking to someone. There was a turnaround of people and constant flow of documents, issues and responses. At Qantas I counted 8 staff members, sitting at their customer service desks, doing nothing. Not on the phone, not typing on their computers, not doing anything- actually that is not quite true, two of them were talking to each other about clothes shopping. Meanwhile three customers and I sat patiently "waiting for Godot". There was no-one at the Qantas office looking at the situation of customers without service and service agents without customers and doing the obvious thing.

I was not and should not be surprised. As I discussed in this post, their is no customer service culture at Qantas any more. Instead they have a "process" culture. That is a culture based not on "how can I give you the best experience as a traveller" but instead "what is the process that needs to be followed to get these people from A-to-B in the fastest, cheapest, least impactful way."

So in the world cup final of bad bureaucracies Australia has beaten Italy, avenging the outrageous defeat of Australia by Italy in the real world cup. Forza Qantas...

UPDATE - nice/tragic post here on Travelmole from a travel journalist trying to book a "free" frequent flyer ticket with Qantas. My own experience is here