Thursday, July 31, 2008

e-Travel Blackboard covering Tim Hughes (i.e. me) at eyefortravel

Just back from chairing Eyefortravel Asia Pacific Sales and Marketing conference. eTravel Blackboard have a report on my presentation (ie the non-chairing part) here called "Online consumers need help to understand too much information". More on the conference and other posts as soon as I can get through work and inbox backlog.

Techdirt article on Airlines against meta-search

Thanks to a tipster for forward this article from Techdirt article on Airlines against meta-search called "The Airlines' Ongoing Struggle With Price Aggregation Sites". Worth a read.

Snaps to matt.hintsa for the photo via flickr

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Online Content and Advertising: Are the Eyeballs drying up?

Old school online travel was about selling travel to people. Consumers would search, put in a credit card and end the process with a done transaction. New school online travel is about content and eyeballs. I have talked before about the "zero percenters" - sites which control none of the content on their website, instead relying on user generated content. Even more recently I spoke of the significant ad network that is now the TripAdvisor Media Network. I have also come across a dedicated ad network for travel content sites called - in a very creative move - The Travel Ad Nework. All of these sites and networks depending on eyeballs and advertisers willing to pay for those eyeballs. There is trouble on the horizon for ad dependent players. ValueClick Media (the second biggest of the independent advertising networks) pre-anounced their results last week. They are predicting revenue of $163-$164 million versus expectations of $166-$170 million. This slight miss caused the ValueClick stock to plunge 18% in one day. A few days later and the stock is down almost a third. Are the dollars chasing eyeballs drying up???

thanks to sean dreilinger from flickr for the photo

Preparing some questions for Lonely Planet

I wrote a post a couple of weeks ago on an announcement by Lonely Planet of plans for an offline store at Sydney Airport. I was critical of the focus, time and energy being spent on something other than online. Since that post I have had a number of emails sent to me with some recent Lonely Planet online activity. I have also been doing some reading of my in preparation for next week's eyefortravel Asia Pacific. One of the speakers for the event is Andy Conroy, Global Online Director, Lonely Planet. Here are the series of announcements that I have discovered:
Am looking forward to talking to Andy Conroy on how these things all come together.

UPDATE - unfortunately looks like Andy is no longer able to attend eyefortravel. Will have to save my questions for another occasion.

Start up tips from founders of businesses that did not make it

Jeremy Liew of Valley VC group Lightspeed Ventures has a good post on this blog this week called "Post mortems on two failed startups from their founders". Touches on two stories from two different startups that failed. First a list of 7 mistakes from Monitor110 (raised $20mm) and the second a top ten list from a company that did not raise money.

If you are in the start-up business, then this is worth a read.

Thanks to bootload on flickr for the image

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Winner of ticket to Eyefortravel Asia Pacific

I have been running a competition for one free two day (bronze) delegate pass (normally A$1,395) for a lucky BOOT reader to the eyefortravel Sales & Marketing in Travel Asia Pacific conference at the Shangri La Sydney on 29 and 30 July.

The competition was for the best question in the comments for a conference speaker.

Prize Winner

Jonathan's question for Martin Symes of Wego (see below)

First Reserve

Gath's question for Andy Conroy of Lonely Planet (see below)

Second Reserve

Adam Vance's question for Richard Noon of Webjet (see below)

What Next??

Can Jonathan and Gath please send me their contact details to timsboot [at] gmail [dot] com? If I hear from Jonathan by noon Sydney time Wednesday then he wins the prize. If not it goes to Gath. If I have not heard from Gath, then it goes to Adam (Adam I have your details).

I need your Name, Job Title, Company, Email and Phone numbers.

Here are the questions.

For Martin Symes of Wego With price parity increasing in popularity, do they perceive the decreased volatility in accommodation pricing as a threat to their business model, and if so then how do they plan to react/adapt

For Andy Conroy of Lonely Planet As free downloadable city guides take off (eg for iPods, iPhone, Amazon kindle etc) how is LP planning to keep up production on their guides as revenue from book sales diminish.

For Richard Noon of Webjet Due to the current economic climate in the US, we are seeing a number of major online travel agents rolling back the plethora of fees they charge in a bid to attract travellers away from the main airline websites. Given that comments in the past have indicated that up to 60% of your revenue comes from these types of fees/charges - what impact would this have on your business model and how could you mitigate this potential risk moving forward as the economic climate cools in Australia and consumers become more aware of how to "beat the system"? Would you agree that it's not a matter of "if" but "when"?

Monday, July 21, 2008

Qantas Frequent Flyer Any Seat change - a 1 cent slap in the face

I have been fuming about the recent changes to the Qantas Frequent Flyer program. In classic Qantas speak, they have announced a revolution in their program through the launch of Qantas Any Seat Rewards. Rather than limiting the number of seats available for purchase with frequent flyer miles, they split the seats that can be purchased into two types.

There are "Classic Award" seats. These are seats available under the same fixed points basis - 64,000 for one way to London Economy. How many of these are available on any particular flight is anyone's guess.

Then there is the new Any Seat Awards which do not limit the seat availability (other than number of seats on the plane) but it is price on application. Qantas will only tell you the Any Seat points price once you call them. Shocking stories are emerging. Over at they are running a competition for the "Most Expensive Anytime QFF Award". A couple of examples.
  • Perth to Alice Springs under classic is 16,000 points. Under Any Seat 203,000 points; 1169% premium;
  • Perth to Sydney to LAX to New York return in first class under classic is 384,000. Under Any Seat 2,459,244 points. A premium of 540%; and
  • Sydney to Frankfurt business return in June 2009 (a full year away) is 256,000 under classic. Under Any Seat 1,137,133. A premium of 354%.
Only Qantas could have the outrageous gall to spend millions on marketing to promote as a benefit to me a program designed to increased the cost of frequent flyer seats.

One of the people posting raised a fantastic example of Qantas using this program to rip off consumers. User "platy " tracked a Honolulu to Sydney one-way flight departing in a month's time for 128,000 points. This is a flight that can be bought for $400 inc taxes. That means 320 points per dollar. Eight times the usual redemption rate. On a business class trip to the US I usually collect around 42,000 points (including status benefits) at at cost of around $12,000. That means I am getting about 3.5 points to the dollar. If it costs me 320 points in the dollar to get an Any Seat reward then Qantas is valuing my loyalty at a reward of about 1.09 cents in the dollar. For every dollar I spend they want to reward me with a 1% rebate. I suspect that we are seeing the end of value in the Qantas Frequent Flyer Program.

In a world where they consider to reward loyalty with a 1% discount then there is no longer any point balance value to loyalty with Qantas. There maybe other value drivers for customers such as lounge access but points are no longer a reason to be a QFF.

If you think it is just bloggers that are mad then check out the rant by Paul Sheehan in the today's Sydney Morning Herald under the heading "Qantas Burns a Precisous Resource" . He concludes that
Qantas enters the oil shock era as one of the world's strongest, largest and best-managed airlines. But the last four times this once doggedly loyal Qantas frequent flyer went to Europe he flew on Air China, Etihad and Finnair
Note to Qantas and Qantas Frequent Flyers. Singapore Airlines has been running an Any Seat Reward style program for years. The difference they tell you up front the price for redeeming a seat not allocated to frequent flyers. The difference is simply double.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Airline Revenue Management in India - one price to rule them all

I have been enjoying my regular email and phone exchanges with Ram Badrinathan of PhoCusWright on the online travel market in Asia. Our last few chats have been on the Indian travel market because 2008 has been such a boom year for the industry there and he recently put together a special report on the region.

Yesterday he sent me through this fascinating screenshot from a Cleartrip flight price tracking graph. It shows over a three week period the prices for flights from Mumbai to Chennai. The different colours show the different airlines (ie Black is Spicejet with the cheapest price and Red is Magenta is Kingfisher with the most expensive).

The reason this is fascinating is that there is virtually no change in price regardless of the departure date. Each of the airlines has effectively set themselves price for the flight regardless of day of week, day of departure, competitors price or days out from departure. Revenue management has been thrown out the window and replaced with a single price strategy. Badrinathan contrasts this to October 2007 when he was putting together his report. During this time he noticed wild variations in pricing including dramatic decreases in price the closer customer's booked to the date of departure. Clearly the industry is trying to find a strategy to mitigate against the exploding costs of fuel. It has swung from constant and almost irrational change to no change.

You have to believe that the best strategy for an airline to survive staggering fuel costs would be to improve and increase revenue management activity rather than to adopt a one price to rule them all approach. Thanks to Ram for sending this through.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

UPDATE - Last Chance: BOOT has one free pass for Eyefortravel Sales and Marketing in Travel Asia Pacific July 29-30 (Sydney)

UPDATE - last chance to submit questions to win a free ticket to eyefortravel asia. Will extend deadline to Monday 21.

On 29 and 30 July your BOOT correspondent will be chairing the eyefortravel Sales & Marketing in Travel Asia Pacific conference at the Shangri-La Hotel in Sydney. This conference will be a great opportunity to hear the latest on the travel industry and network will colleagues. Eyefortravel have passed on to me one free two day (bronze) delegate pass (normally A$1,395) for a lucky BOOT reader. I have an idea for a competition, with the winner getting their hands on this delegate pass. This is a great opportunity to have the BOOT audience contribute questions for speakers at the conference. So here it is. The pass will go to the best question sent to me to be asked of a speaker at the conference. Steps to enter are:

1. Look at the agenda (here) and the speaker list (here);
2. Draft a question in the comments of this blog clearly identifying which speaker the question is for. Clearly you will have to put your name or identifier in the post;
3. Make your entry on or before July 18 July 21;
4. I will announce the best question and contact the submitter on 21 23 July; and
5. If I can't track you down to tell you then I will pick another winner and keep picking until I can find someone.

The winning question and other questions will be put to the speakers at the conference.

If you want to listen to my introductory podcast for this event then click here.

If you want to register for the conference then click here.

Goes without saying that the pass cannot be redeemed for cash or transferred. Transport and accom and all other costs of attending are a matter for the winner. Judges decision is final and please don't be a pain in the arse and bug me or Eyefortravel over any aspect of this post.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Expedia buys news at 11

Am on the blacberry so no details to give but announcement is clear. Expedia has bought the Italian dominant First foray of EXPE into the retail model and it must multiply their Italian biz by 3-5 times. More as details come through.

Poker Break - BOOT gets wiped out by a Royal Flush

A break from travel to share a poker story. Above is a photo of my first and (hopefully) only loss in no limit hold'em to an honest to God royal flush. My hand is the suited ace nine up against the suited queen four. The community cards came down from left to right (ie flop ten, ace six). I raised pre-flop and was called by the competitor with the queen four. I checked the paired aces that came down, he went all-in and I called. We turned cards to show me in the lead with the pair of aces and him on a flush draw. Not only was I beat by the flush drawn coming off on fourth street king of spades, I was then destroyed and humiliated by the Royal Flush on the river with the jack of spades. The chances of a Royal Flush in Texas Hold'em - 649,740 to 1.

BBC confirms paid GBP £89.9m for 75% of Lonely Planet at a trailing P/E that looks to be higher than Expedia

At the time of the announcement of the acquisition by BBC Worldwide of 75% Lonely Planet there was no mention of the price paid by the BBC. This week the BBC Worldwide have published their 2007/2008 annual review containing the some more information.

The BBC acquired 75% of Lonely Planet for GBP £89.9m valuing Lonely Planet at GBP £119.9m. The sale included a put option for two years (expire 31 Oct 2009) for the remaining 25% to BBC.

Travolution is also reporting (more) plans for a website relaunch and reports that Lonely Planet's sales to March 2008 were £23.1 million for a trading profit of £4.3 million. Ultimately there were losses of £2.1 million due to site development costs and the web business losing £3.2 million from sales of £2.3 million.

That puts the multiple for Lonely Planet's valuation at somewhere around 5.2x trailing revenue. To put this in perspective Expedia is trading at 1.85 times trailing revenue (according to Yahoo! finance). To be fair, this not a very good comparison as I am sure the margins on publishing (Lonely Planet) are significantly higher that than the margins on a business still heavily dependent on air (Expedia). However if we assume that Lonely Planet's profit is a good proxy for earnings then their trailing P/E is 27.9x compared to Expedia's 17.83 (according to Yahoo! finance). That seems odd to me (unless I am getting my numbers wrong).

Here is the full Lonely Planet section of the review
"On 1 October 2007, BBC Worldwide acquired a 75% shareholding in the Lonely Planet group of companies for a total cash consideration (including acquisition costs) of £89.9m. Goodwill of £73.2m was recognised and is being written off over its estimated useful economic life of 20 years.

Under the terms of the purchase agreement the other Lonely Planet shareholders may exercise an option to sell all or part of their 25% stake to BBC Worldwide at any time up to 31 October 2009. As the minority shareholders are deemed to have retained the risks and rewards of ownership for their 25% shareholding, the put option liability has been recognised in reserves rather than as an increase in the cost of investment."
My analysis back in October last year of the sale announcement is here.

Olympics. Good for China Tourism or bad. Here are two views

Will the Olympics be the "Authoritarian Games" or a chance for "Hotels [to] enjoy a roaring trade". Roy Graff has both side of the argument over at his China travel industry blog.

thanks to Nod Young on flickr for the I love Beijing image

Friday, July 11, 2008

US Airline industry embarrasses itself by blaming woes on oil speculators

Most of the major US airlines sent round an open letter blaming the skyrocketing oil prices and resulting economic consequences on
"Speculators [who] buy up large amounts of oil and then sell it to each other again and again" (here is the letter in full)
They have even supported a very serious looking website called "Stop Oil Speculation Now (or SOS NOW)". The ludicrous argument by the airlines is that when speculators enter the market they sell the oil to each other with no intention of delivery with the only consequence is driving up the price. This is an absolute lie.

The airlines are the first to tell the markets about their financial genius when they successfully hedge against fuel increases and save $$$$ in fuel costs. Hedging can only occur because there are speculators in the market that are prepared to bet the other way. If you remove speculators, then hedging disappears and the airlines will have no facility at all for planning ahead of time for fuel purchases. They will have to do what you and I do - turn up to the pump and pay the price on the day. There is no one in the airline industry that wants to do this and therefore remove speculators and hedging.

If speculators disappeared then it would dramatically increase the uncertainty for airlines in fuel prices resulting in increases in prices rather than decreases.

This is a blatant and almost pathetic smokescreen to cover up efforts to beg for government support/handouts and set up someone else to blame when the chapter 11 bankruptcy filings start.

Thanks to Mark Ashley at the Upgrade:Travel Better blog where I first saw this story. He has some good analysis of this in his post which I encourage you to read.

Shame on you airTran, Alaskan, American, Continental, Delta, Hawaiian, JetBlue, Midwest, NWA, Southwest, United and US Airways.

thanks to frunt on flickr for the image

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Lonely Planet to open an offline store at Sydney Airport with help from Lagardère

Last week TripAdvisor announced another step in its plan for world online travel content domination with the acquisition of a meta search engine ( and a large travel social network (Virtual Tourist). Lonely Planet - arguably the number one offline travel content company - has gone completely the other way by announcing plans to open a Lonely Planet concept store at Sydney Airport. This store (I am quoting from the DFN Digital article)
"...will sell the full range of Lonely Planet books and a range of travel accessories and gift items. It will also feature online interactive portals showcasing Lonely Planet’s digital content, and staff will be trained to offer specific travel advice to travellers."
In other words, books, magazines and young people who should know what they are doing. The store will be operated by Lagardère Services Asia Pacific who are famous for running Airport book stores and news agents.

I had hoped that after the sale to the BBC, appointment of new online staff and attempts at launching new onlien products that Lonely Planet would finally take the steps necessary to turn themselves into an online content company and join the now 15 year old online revolution. But instead the quote from Lonely Planet sales and marketing director Howard Ralley about putting the Lonely Planet brand on a store front is that it is
"an exciting evolution for our brand. It's something we've discussed for some time."
I think that this was time that should have been spent opening up the brand, site and content to online distribution. Am I being too harsh? Do you think that the next frontier for Lonely Planet should be offline?

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Transit Cafe - Asia's most influential women in travel

The Forbes list of the Most Influential Women in Travel was interesting reading but had an Americas bias. Siew Hoon over at the Transit Cafe (and organiser of the WiredinTravel conference) has put together an Asian focused list with her pick of the top 8 of Asia's most influential women in travel. Unfortunately no online travel leads made her list but interesting reading nonetheless.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Uptake nee Kango raises series A of $3.95 led by Shasta Ventures

Quick news thanks to alarm:clock that review meta-search site UpTake (previously Kango) has closed a series A fund raising round of $3.95mm lead by Shasta Ventures. The number of destinations covered by UpTake is expanding fast and presumably the cash will accelerate this. More on them here and an interview with CEO Yen Lee here.

New Marketing for Zuji - can the Travel Guru and open the Beans

The above is a image of a real can of beans being used to promote the Travelocity owned in the Asia Pacific region. I am (again) late to comment (too much work and sick recently) but here are my thoughts on this.

Zuji is used to spending money on big marketing ideas and used to it not working. Back in 2003 Zuji burnt through cash in a bonfire of marketing activity not see since the pre April 2000 dotcom boom days. It looked like they bought out Sydney Airport with posters and paraphernalia everywhere. On television and radio they ran a very peculiar - almost psychedelic - series of campaigns around how the Zuji Travel Guru would help customers find the right price and right product. I have been (unsuccessfully) searching high and low for an online copy of the ad to show you as it cannot be described accurately in words. M&C Saatchi put together the piece under the tag line "your online travel guru". Even as a travel insider the ads made no sense - all I understood at the time was that a lot of money was being spent for no gain.

On Martin Kelly's Traveltrends I first read that Zuji was trying a different but no less weird marketing tack some 5 years after this less that successful TV effort. The new campaign is to promote the savings from Zuji's dynamic packaging through selling cheap consumables. First beans with toothpaste and toilet paper to come. You don't believe me. Here is the video. I had my mouth open in disbelief watching this campaign outline.

My tip to Zuji - this is not a good idea. It trivialises your brand by associating it with a basic food stuff. In addition you are asking consumers to make a complicated link between the beans and your product. Finally if you think somehow that this is working with beans for the love of marketing do not put your brand on a packet of toilet paper.

At least they are sticking to the famous marketing idiom "if at first you don't succeed spending millions on a Travel Guru idea, then spend more on FMCG". Oh - that's right there is no such idiom.

Virtual Tourist and join the TripAdvisor Media Network

I have been off the grid so am late in commenting on TripAdvisor's acquisition of social network Virtual Tourist and meta-search company (deal press release here). alarm:clock is crediting the nine year old Virtual Tourist with 5 million uniques and 30 million page views a month. reported in April that Virtual Tourist had passed the million member mark. The release says that VirtualTourist General Manager Giampiero Ambrosi and OneTime General Manager Dena Yahy will stay with the company but no word on what will happen witth Virtual Tourist founders J.R. Johnson and Tilman Reissfelder.

I have been saying for a while now that TripAdvisor is an advertising network
. They are already calling themselves the TripAdvisor Media Network (see the bottom of this press release as an example).

The combined network is carrying some 32 million unique users per month. To put this in perspective I understand that ValueClick Media is the second biggest of the independent advertising networks (here is a list of the top ten from Dec 07). By independent I mean one not owned by a large publisher such as (AOL), BlueLithium (Yahoo!) and aQuantive (Microsoft). ValueClick claim 137mm uniques it their ad network. 32 Million for TripAdvisor is still well short of the ValueClick mark but still more that enough to be a top network. I predict that very soon TripAdvisor will start selling ads for sites they do not own.

I have been keeping a running list of the TripAdvisor acquisitions. Here it is
All of which is owned by TripAdvisor's parent Expedia (You would be amazed how much Google traffic I get based on the search "who owns TripAdvisor")

Guillaume over at hotel-blogs has generated a nice graphic to capture them all.

Update - report that Expedia/TripAdvisor paid $85mm for VirtualTourist and OneTime.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

The BOOT discussing content, Travel 2.0, online marketing and more

I have been working with the organisers of the upcoming eyefortravel Sales & Marketing in Travel Asia Pacific conference (July 29 and 30) on some background materials. Below if you are interested is the text of a recent email exchange/interview. In it I talk through a number of topics that will come up at the Conference including the content business model in online travel, loyalty, UGC, blogging and CRM.

Don't forget the BOOT competition for a free ticket to the conference.
Can also find a podcast I did with the organiser here.

(eyefortravel version of the interview is here)
Question:Earlier this year, you mentioned: interesting to see the Australian market having reached a new stage where a media/advertising supported travel business model is attractive enough to support expansion plans. Can you expand on the same?

BOOT:Online advertising in Australia was more than A$1.35 billion in 2007 (Q1 2008 was $385mm alone). On a per capita basis Australia is number two in the world behind the UK in online advertising based on data from PricewaterhouseCoopers and others. These stats prove that the online advertising money is there for content companies that can generate an audience.

How do you assess the battle among various online travel agents in this region, especially in the wake of consolidation in the last few months?

BOOT: The intellectual and operational challenge of competing in the Asia Pacific online travel market is that there is no one single, region wide answer to questions about facing off with competitors and associated consolidation. We have to look market by market and sector by sector. What is true in analysis for the online hotel business in Japan is not true for analysis of the online air market in Australia. But we can say this - the big four are all in Asia Pacific, in different ways and with different strategies. Expedia appears to be continuing the market by market slow and steady organic approach that proved a success in Europe (except for eLong and these rumours circulating around TravelGuru). Travelocity - again like their approach in Europe - has a multi-brand approach to the region based on a mixture of acquired, local and international brands. Priceline - in another European strategy mirror - is ignoring their initial efforts to launch the name your own price model and are instead focusing on an acquired online hotel region wide business (Agoda). I will leave it to others to comment on how Orbitz fits into that mix.

Question: Site performance and site scalability continue to be core issues for growing travel content providers as they focus on increasing their online bookings and building customer loyalty. What trends have you witnessed in this arena?

BOOT: If you want to seen online you have to be live online - all the time and with stability and security. These are now basic requirements. Environmental requirements. What is challenging now is that traffic is going up exponentially. In the past traffic growth came from more consumers coming online. Now it is driven by three factors - more consumers, searching more often and using tools that search even more often (ie meta search). Pegasus is talking about look to book ratios now on thier system of 250,000 to 500,000:1. If you want to be an online player be prepared to buy a lot of servers and a sophisticated network architecture. As to loyalty, the best way to build loyalty is to build trust, best way to build trust is to have the site work, give great customer service, great rates, great availability and market a brand that has meaning. In other words - old school delivery of customer expectations. I reject the notion that brand is dead but as I said in this post it just has a different meaning in the online world.

Question: There are advantages to increase UGC and video on sites as it will be beneficial in driving traffic through natural search, but at this stage the content must be unique as there is an enormous amount of content that already exists. What's your viewpoint regarding the same?

BOOT: Content drives traffic therefore content is good. This is the general rule but it is more complicated that this. I put together some rules for success for content companies (see here). I also put some thoughts here on the balance needed between UGC and editorial content. I also did some analysis here on the different approaches to content. Quick summary of all these is that while content drives traffic it is not enough to adopt a "write or collate it and they will come" approach. You need to have a functionality and consumer story behind the content.

Question: The travel industry is witnessing the emergence of "Travel 3.0 intelligent agents" such as UpTake's founder says the very success of the web 2.0 travel sites and content types is making the planning process harder for travelers. What sort of role do you foresee for such sites near future?

I have blogged at length about the challenge of "too much information" and discussed this with in a recent interview. It is clear to me in this phase of online travel that consumers are using the web to ask open ended questions for the first time (ie "where should I go next") rather than the traditional close questions of the earlier phases of online travel (ie "what is the cheapest price for a flight to Sydney"). The response to these open ended question is an avalanche of answers and information from a almost limitless range of content providers. Consumers need help sorting out the informed bloggers from the ranting idiots, the spurious fake reviews from the true user experience or the up to date editorial guidebook from the mothballed backpacker guide that still hasn't recorded the falling of the Wall. Am not yet ready to say that is the answer but there certainly is a need for indexing, searching and content management to help consumers sort through "too much information"

Question: An online travel agency recently launched a blog, powered by its employees. Should intermediaries or even suppliers look at driving audience from e-mails to their own web 2.0 sites like these and strengthen affiliation with the brand?

BOOT: a single editorial blog is a nice to have but not that significant a traffic driver. As good as a thematic blog like a Gridskipper is, it will generate nowhere near the traffic that a deep content initiative like a TripAdvisor will. My advice to companies is launch a blog but make sure you fully appreciate the low scale nature of it.

Question: CRM has taken new dimensions with the way the self-service technologies are integrating the customization to the customer's end. Social media can assist the customer in increasing awareness of what is available to them before the property or the airline familiarizes them with the options available. How do you assess the situation

BOOT: Consumers have always trusted word of mouth more than advertising. Social media is making word of mouth easier and faster to distribute. No one has figured out has to market properly to social networking . Then again this is no surprise as no one in the history of marketing has yet figured out the magic way to set up a guaranteed word of mouth generating campaign. People are looking for the magic solution and assuming that very soon we know exactly how monetize and advertising on social media. I am not so convinced. Instead I think we will see a continuous and never ending race as marketers try to catch up with consumers through word of mouth generating campaigns.

Expedia and TravelGuru - the deal is going to happen

A post yesterday on Expedia investing in TravelGuru was followed up by an update with a very undenial worded denial from TravelGuru. A source tells me that both parties are deep in negotiation and have either signed or are at least sharpening the pencils and lining up the celebratory streamers. Still no word on final valuation number but we can assume that the eLong experience is driving Expedia to be very conservative.

A deal is never over until the fat lawyer sings but if rumours are right then I can hear the light sounds of legally trained vocal chords warming up.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

New York Times: Interview with Ctrip CFO Jane Jie Sun

Just spotted over at the New Times website - an interview with Ctrip CFO Jane Jie Sun. Another indication of Ctrip's strong desire to expand their customer base outside of China. Claims 50% of the online market and tha tthe online market is 1-2% of the overall travel market. In addition they have another 2-3 % of the overall travel market through call centres. Claim total Chinese travel market is $150billion (Chinese domestic plus foreign inbound). That would put the online travel market at $1.5-3 billion confirming other numbers we have seen.

Rumour - Expedia buys into India with $17million investment in TravelGuru - is there a scary eLong parallel here

contentSutra has a story (in conjunction with VCCircle) that Expedia has spent $17mm to gain a stake in the number four indian player TravelGuru. Intial reports put the valuation at around $30 million giving Expedia a majority stake. An update in contentSutra puts the valuation at closer to $75mm - though the headline still claims that Expedia has a majority stake.

UPDATE - CEO Ashwin Dameria has written to with the following comment

I’m disappointed that mere speculation is being published in the form of a “story”. Many people have called me based on this hearsay and what they have read online.

There are many inaccuracies in these reports – the biggest being – there has been no deal signed! (my emphasis)

What more is there to deny?

Warm regards,

He does not say "no negotiations are under way" or "no chance". Rather says "no deal signed". Assuming there is a deal - here is my analysis.

I did a background piece on the India market a few months ago. In researching that piece it became clear that TravelGuru was very well funded - having raised as much as $25mm from Sequoia and Battery. First round was $10mm with just Sequoia and then a combined Sequoia and Battery second round of $15mm. TravelGuru has used some of this to do acquisitions of their own picking up Desiya for around $25 mm (Rs. 100 crores). While well funded and used to acquisitions, the research put TravelGuru in fourth place in the market with around $80mm in TTV planned for 2008 (up from $42 in 2007). This puts them behind Makemytrip on around $280 TTV, Yatra on $210 and Cleartrip (>$100). More in this post here.

I am trying to understand this play by Expedia. Using acquisition as an market entry technique is not typical Expedia behaviour (on the leisure side). Of course in France there was the original joint venture with SNCF and there have been a string of investments by TripAdvisor. But the entry of the Expedia brand into a market has usual followed a organic path of launch hotel/destination services while the air engine is localised. Then a year or so after brand launch they bring on the air engine and ramp up the marketing. In the case of India with have the hotel only launch of and then four months later the investment - but not full buyout - of a local player. The obvious and scary parallel for Expedia is their entry into the Chinese market through a majority investment in eLong (August 2004). This has proven to be a disaster for Expedia. eLong is onto its third CEO since the investment (fourth if you include the interim work of Expedia Asia Pacific President Henrik Kjellberg) and the stock is near a two year low of around $7 only just above the investment price of $6.21 (though it would be fair to say that I should keep comments about poorly performing online travel stocks to a minimum). Much like eLong and its market standing compared to ctrip, TravelGuru currently lives in the shadow of larger rivals.

It has taken Expedia 4 years to ready themselves for another part investment in an emerging market. I am sure they are hoping that they have learnt a lot from the lessons of eLong.

Just a rumour at present as the CEO TravelGuru Ashwin Dameria has (sort of) issued a denial. Either way - the Indian market is continuing to heat up.