Thursday, May 28, 2009

AirAsia bidding for hotel words in Google - Low Cost Carrier embracing quasi-OTA status

Back in December I re-posted a story from 2007 (and one of my original tips from the t-list posts) that contained my three recommendations for airlines that were winning with supplier direct online on how they can improve their online offering.

One of the recommendations was to " invest in being a true online hotel (land) business". We has seen strides from the low cost carriers in this first (for example Easyjet's seamless packaging integration). Now I have seen another next step from a low cost carrier - reports have come in of KL based AirAsia have been bidding on hotel based keywords on Google. In effect competing head to head with online travel agents, hotel only intermediaries and hotel suppliers on hotel sales rather than waiting for air cross sell to provide ancillary revenue.

This has been hard for me to replicate in a screenshot to show you as it looks like they are currently targeting certain Asian IP addresses (ie customers) and not yet targeting Australia. John Fearon of Asiarooms sent me through this shot from an Alexa search he was doing. You can clearly see AirAsia targeting Bangkok hotels along side and others. It is the second time Fearon has spotted AirAisa actively promoting hotels.

I applaud this move by AirAsia. It is consistent with there "we do want we want and love to break the rules" brand message and it embraces my rules for growing airline online share. That said as an online hotel player is gives me the willies. Anyone else seen more examples of AirAsia or other airlines bidding for hotel words to support their ancillary business.?

thanks for the tip John.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

The BOOT in Korea until May 29 - any readers out there from Seoul?

Your BOOT correspondent is spending the week in Korea (via Asiana). Any readers out there from Seoul who are interested in meeting up? I have a few posts I hope to write in the meantime including interviews with the CEOs of Kayak and Tripbase as well as a seat review and a business traveller tip.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

BOOT needs help - are email subscribers receiving posts by email

I have a suspicion that something is wrong with my feedburner email system. As a results email subscribers may not be receiving updates by email from the BOOT. If you are an email subscriber and you have been getting posts please let me know. Thanks in advance.

UPDATE - thanks to all for the comments and replies. It seems that email service is fine. I did find a stream on twitter showing that something happened a couple of days ago but service now restored.

Car meta-search Oodles tops traffic for car in Australia but Twitpic doesn't care

Saw a tweet this afternoon from top BOOT commentator and Oodles boss Steve Sherlock that for the second month running the car meta-search site has topped the Hitwise traffic ratings in the Car Hire category. Beating out budget, Avis, Hertz, Thirty and a host of local competitors. Big snaps for Steve and the team for the result. Their team has worked hard for this with a great product.

Like any good Web 2.0 exec, Steve celebrated by posting a twitpic in his twitter feed. Only downside is that the twitpic ad alongside his celebratory photo was for arguscarhire, a competitor powered by CarTrawler. Photo below. Nonetheless great job by Oodles. As far as I know they are the only meta-search company that are number one in traffic in a category. Do you know of any others?

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Rang7 - the Opodo and Orbitz launch model comes to India or is it a fake marketing trick

One of the disadvantages of being a blogger is that I do not have the time to call around to confirm a story. This is one where I would love to have the time to do some Kevin May style investigative work. But I am a working blogger so it is time to pass on a rumour that it interesting either way

Two versions of this story floating around.

Version 1 - Airlines are coming together in India to fight back against makemytrip, yatra, cleartrip and travelguru.

Intial report from that Indian carriers Spicejet, IndiGo and Kingfisher were to combine with $3mm in funding to launch a full online travel agent (OTA) called Rang7. The source was a press release picked up on IndiaPRwire. I saw it on twitter via a RT from @santoshmaharshi. Was a great story because it immediately brought to mind more parallels between the emerging online travel market in India and the history of the industry's development in the US and Europe. It mirrored the launch of Orbitz in 1999 in the US (backed by American, Continental, Delta, Northwest and United) and Opodo's launch in 2000 in Europe (backed by Aer Lingus, Air France, Alitalia, Austrian Airlines, British Airways, Finnair, Iberia, KLM, Lufthansa and Amadeus). Orbtiz has since shed it's ties to the airlines (NYSE:OWW) and Amadeus has taken majority control of Opodo.

The Economic Times of India has picked up this version of the story.

Version 2 - Whole thing is a possible PR scam then did an update to the story and quote "industry sources" as saying that the the airlines have not participated and they can't get an independent verification of the business being owned by the airlines. The About Us section of their Rang7 site is not very helpful (or maybe it is) as the founders link points to a completely blank page.

If this version is true then an OTA has kicked off its business by misusing the names of three key suppliers - not a great launch strategy despite the buzz it might generate. That said, nothing has been heard directly from the founders (though they do have a blog other here).

My guess the airline JV spin is a fake (or has gotten ahead of the deals being signed). Anyone out there heard anything?

note - Orbitz disclosure in the form of my linkedin profile.
General disclaimer and disclosure

Voyij - Sidestep founders and staff re-enter the meta-search war with a discovery and inspiration twist

One of the first things you learn as a lawyer when doing mergers & acquisitions work is the importance of the non-compete clause, especially the term of the non-compete. That is the restrictions you place on the people selling a company from walking out the door with "your" money, their knowledge and immediately setting up the same or similar business elsewhere. There is not a legal standard for a time period for a non-compete after a sale as it depends on the amount of money paid, the geographies involved and more. That said you would expect any major deal to come with a minimum two year non-compete. One year is possible but for acquisitions of a decent size you would expect to see at least a two year restriction on shareholder/owner managers (ie not "regular" staff, just those with a substantive stake in the business) .

Why am I giving you this little trip down memory lane to my days as a lawyer (even though I have admitted that every now and then I miss being one)? Because in late December 2007 the online travel industry was "rocked" by the meta-search equivalent of Pepsi buying Coke with the announcement of Kayak Buying Sidestep for $200mm. It was pitched as a merger but quickly became clear that the Sidestep brand would disappear and much of the Sidestep management would move on (see my post deal interview with Kayak VP comm Kellie Pelletier for more).

Now some 15 months after the Sidestep sale (ie outside of 1 year but within the typical 2 years) I have come across an announcement that a number of ex-Sidesteppers are back in the travel meta-search business with the launch of (pronounced "Voyage" and much cheaper than trying to buy the inactive but clearly for sale

The press release (care of Business Wire) dates the launch of Voyij as 13 May 2009 and is heavy in linking the likely success of Voyij to the Sidestep pedigree of the founders and staff. According to the Voyij blog work on the product started as far back as March 2008 (ie just after the acquisition). Listed on the Voyij website as founders are Sidestep co-founder Brent Stewart (Voyij CEO), Sidestep Software Architect Nick Atkins (Voyij CTO) and Sidestep UI engineer Paul Kim.

Former Sidestep CEO Rob Solomon is quoted in the press release saying some glowing words but is not listed in the About us section as being either a founder or on the advisory board. To be clear I have no information either way on the post acquisition obligations of anybody but love the idea of seeing former employees of a target company build something to battle back against an acquirer.

Post Sidestep machinations aside, Voyij are coming at meta-search from a different angle to Kayak/Sidestep. I am tempted to describe their approach as a mixture between meta-search and the travel discovery and inspiration sites that we have been discussing so much here at the BOOT. Whereas your typical meta-search business asks you to type in a To/From combination and produces a set of results, Voyij ask for your departure point and an indication as to when you are prepared to leave. It then recommends both deals and destinations. For example selecting SFO as a departure point selected "beyond August" as the departure date recommend flights to Long Beach as being the cheapest options. For Vacation deals the top recommendations were Southwest Vacations deals in Oakland and Las Vegas.

True to their Sidestep origins the Voyij UI design team have produced a well laid out site for refining the sort order by date, price, destination, facilities and more. However the discovering and inspiration pieces are much weaker than the dedicated players that I have looked at such as Triporati (interview with founder here) and Tripbase (interview with founder coming soon). The meta-search part is seamless and attractive but they will need to develop a lot more depth in the recommendation part other than simply selecting the nearest and cheapest option otherwise they will limit their market to nearby weekend get-aways.

Final world - the name is going to hurt them. In typing this post I must have misspelt the name more times that I got it right, even though it should be phonetically easy to remember. Similarly messed up the URL a few times (thankfully without unintended and unsafe at work consequences).

Let's all welcome the team from Voyij back to the meta-search war front.

PS - Dennis Schaal has some interesting thoughts on the Voyjig functionality and the perils of screen scraping here on his post here.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Baggage container meets airline and square peg does not fit in jet engine hole

What happens if a airline cargo box full of luggage gets stuck inside a jet engine of a 747 aeroplane? Have a look at the below video and find out. I can imagine the exchange

"What do you mean you lost my luggage, where is it?"

"um...well.. sir... it is here at the airport"

"It is, great. I thought it might be in Timbuktu. OK. Can you organise for someone to deliver the luggage to me."

"Not really you see the luggage is in the plane"

"Even better. If it my bag is on the plane can't you just send someone over there to pick it up and bring it to me"

"No sir...sorry...I said 'in the plane' not 'on the plane'"

Direct link to video if embedding not working

hat tip to latimes where I saw the story first

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Qantas Hotels - temporarily unavailable

Bad day at the office for First time I have seen on their website a promotion around "no hotel booking fees" and at the same time their "hotel bookings are temporarily unavailable" Oops. Image below.

TUI Online Destination Services Group - digging for details - UPDATED

Update to a post from March 2009. Am trying to collect as much information in one place about the TUI Online Destination Services group. Update drawn from TUI Q1 2009 trading update. Includes a link to a new corporate site (at least one I have not seen before) for the TUI ODS. In turn this points to a one page pdf profile document (called a fact sheet - link will open a pdf). Confirms much of the below but also adds that:
  • the ODS headquarters is in Palma Spain; and
  • "employs circa 8,000 people worldwide"
The "Financial Highlights" Section reports the following








Profit/Loss bf tax




And here is the original post

Yesterday's post of AsiaRooms spurred some BOOT readers to dig around for more information on the TUI Online Destination Services group. I had initially assumed this group to be focused exclusively on online distribution for TUI (as the name implies. Seems there is more to it. This is the group at TUI that is responsible for B2B and B2C. Here is the introductory paragraph from the ODS page on the TUI Travel PLC 2008 Annual Report & Accounts website.
"Online Destination Services combines a portfolio of B2B and B2C businesses providing destination services to tour operators, travel agencies and individual clients worldwide. This includes selling hotel accommodation, organising meetings, incentives, conferences and events (MICE), as well as providing port services, turnarounds and shore excursions to cruise lines."
Shows there is a strong but not exclusive online bent to the business. Goes on to set out three divisions within ODS.

B2B HotelBeds - online accommodation and offline destination services through:
B2B Portfolio Incoming - "network of destination agencies worldwide and includes brand" (not sure what that means). Includes
Combined 2008 online results - 18,298,000 bed nights (not room nights) (up 6% y-o-y)

B2C - Online to consumer. Three brands (as we discussed yesterday):
2008 online results - 6,966,000 bed nights (not room nights) (down 6% y-o-y)

Combined ODS - 2008 underlying profit GBP57.4mm up from GBP49.2mm in 2007

SamIAm also sent through another link for a different profile page for the ODS. At the bottom of this page is a drop down box listing the following (as of date fo this post) as brands for the business. Here is the list of TUI ODS brands from that link:

Monday, May 11, 2009

Asiana or Korean Air lines? Which one to pick? What would recommend?

I am travelling to Korea at the end of the month. I have received a quote from my travel agent for both Asiana (code share with Qantas) and Korean Air. Korean is 25% cheaper than Asiana which normally provider me with a definitive answer to the question - which one to pick (schedules are very similar).

But the wonderful Madame BOOT does not want me to get onto an any aeroplane that does not have stellar safety record. From my subsequent research I came across a new site of the week - The Accident Databse lists by date, carrier or aircraft manufacture all air accidents since 1950. Not sure if this should be definitive in my selection criteria but Korean Airlines has had 11 accidents in the last 29 years whereas Asiana has only had 2. What do you think - am I being a bit to precious by picking the more expensive Asiana based on these numbers? How much of a role should air safety history play in carrier selection?

thanks to Carrie Musgrave / for the photo

Want to know how consumers search for Travel - well NY times has a few tips

Interesting piece here from the New York Times' "Frugal Traveler" called "Research: The Travller's Best Friend". Is an article where the Frugal Traveler gives their tips and tricks to NY Times readers on which sites to use to research, book and manage a trip. There will be no surprises for you the experienced online travel user/abuser but it does provider some useful insight into the advice the the mainstream media is giving the online consumer on where to look and book.

No blogs were mentioned. Sites getting a mention include:
Also some old school recommendations to check out books.

Thanks for Madame BOOT for sending through the link.

Thanks to Kristina B for the fantastic image

Friday, May 08, 2009

The Dung Bettle, Funk Music and nothing at all to do with Travel

I love NPR podcasts - especially Terry Gross' interview series Fresh Air and the comedy news quiz program Wait Wait Don't Tell Me.

I have just finished listening to one of the best Fresh Air podcasts ever. The great thing about Fresh Air is that you have no idea what you are going to get. It could an interview with a former White House Press Secretary on how they came the realisation that torture was wrong, it could be a straight actor on the preparations they went through before kissing another man in a movie or it could be an interview with an evangelical preacher trying to convince you that Hurricane Katrina was the wrath of God against sinners.

Last Tuesday there were two stories that had nothing in common but showed off the best of Fresh Air and its approach to the esoteric yet fascinating and entertaining. Story one - "the Fascinating World of the Dung Beetle". Story two - "Westbound Records: The Sounds of Detriot". Madame BOOT described the Westbound records story as the perfect podcast for me. This is the album lable the first brough Funkadelic (ie George Clinton) out on vinal. In other words the orginators of Funk.

The first story - the Dung Beetle one - is unambigously this years winner of the "story that is least likely to keep you entertained but you will not be able to turn off or stop yourself smiling about" award for 2009. I had no plans in my life to find out anything about dung beetles but here I am telling you that I am glad that I did.

These stories have nothing to do with travel (unless you can somehow link the OTA fee cut war with a Dung Beetle and a man with a long afro and high heel shoes) but are this week's BOOT recommended listen.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

DealBase raises $1million in Series A funding

The deal hunting and publicising websites are appearing everywhere and launching in new markets constantly. In Australia alone we have had TravelZoo and Cheapflights rushing into this crowded and relatively small market.

News today that hotel deal/offer aggregation site Dealbase has raised $1 million in Series A funding from Russ Siegelman, an Affiliated Partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers; Bob Zipp, Managing Director of Amicus Capital and Josh Hannah, General Partner at Matrix Partners and former CEO of was one of the BOOT pick's for the final six at the PhoCusWright Travel Innovation Summit. I chose it because it is has spent time and energy on the display layer. This has resulted in a great browsing and filtering experience generated by the common layout in terms of description, savings etc for each offer and deal. Makes it much easier for the customer to make the necessary comparisons. I am also very impressed by the self loading approach for hotels and inventory providers - at no cost. Is very different to the paid offer approaches of TravelZoo, Cheapflights and others. As with all these things distribution will be the key - especially if they get caught in an arbitrage traffic position where they try to buy traffic from Google at a price cheaper than they sell it to hoteliers. Are currently claiming a 100,000 visitors in March (puts into perspective my 3 years to get 100,000 visitors).

As a reminder here is the pitch by CEO Sam Shank at the PhoCusWright summit.

VirtualTourist and OneTime cost Expedia $85mm according to Venture Beat

Eric Eldon over at the Venture Beat is reporting from an interview with VirtualTourist and OneTime founder J.R.Johnson in his post "No free lunch: The story behind VirtualTourist’s big exit, and".

For those keeping a track of the large number companies bought by TripAdvisor recently, VirtualTourist and OneTime were acquisitions nine and ten in year of frenetic activity by the Expedia owned Tripadvisor (yes...Expedia owns TripAdvisor:)).

Not sure how he did it (and he does not credit Johnson with leaking it) but Eldon has discovered that Expedia/TripAdvisor paid $85mm for the two companies. More back story to the transaction over at the full VentureBeat post.

Hat tip to HotelMarketing where I first saw the story.

United Airlines wants to know everything about me....and I mean everything

While boarding a recent United Airlines domestic flight I was presented with a "Survey America" which is United's customer survey form. You know the type - where an airline asks you a series of questions about you and your experience using the airline. In exchange you all you get is a nice smile and a warm feeling or sometimes (as with United) a nice smile, warm feeling and a slim chance of winning something. Normally I love a questionnaire. It helps pass the time on the flight and I feel like I have a place to vent about the experience on the airline.

But the United "Survey America" contained questions that I am surprised that anyone wants to let any company know about them, let alone an airline. Plus the way you post the form back to United guarantees that the whole world will know more about you than you could ever want.

Below is a (badly) scanned picture of the worst page but let me list for you a few of the questions on this survey that United is crazy to think that consumer would want to answer and consumers would be mad to answer. On their own (some of) these questions might be ok, but put together the would tell United (and a lot of other people) enough about you for United to all but take over your life (ok maybe that is a bit over the top but still).

Selected Questions

18. Including this trip, how many round trips by air have your flown in the past 12 months (by class and airline)?

19. In total how many times in the past 24 months have you flown to Europe, Asia, Latam?

21. List all the frequent flyer programs you are in and which you are an elite for (check box will all the majors)

22. a) are you Male/Female
22. b) Age
22. c) Approximate household income (in thousands)
22. d) Occupation (with check boxes)
22. e) Race (with check boxes)

then - space to fill in your full name with middle name, address, phone, email etc

And here is the best part. When you fold up the questionnaire to send it to United with the prepaid address on the front, then Question 22 (income, age, sex, race) and your name, home address and contact details appear on the back for any and all to see.

Amazing. Who in their right mind would would complete this survey. Here is a shot of the back page.

PS - was trying to put up a link to a pdf version of the whole survey. I used to be able to load pdfs onto Google Base and then do a link but could not get it to work. Anyone know how to a pdf or link to a pdf on a blogger page?

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

BOOT's 100,000 visitors

A brief moment of self-indulgence if you'll let me. A couple of days ago (without me noticing) we hit a speedometer moment here at the BOOT as we crossed over the 100,000 visitor mark (according to site meter - image above). It is very hard with all the syndication that I do and RSS readership that I have to determine total reader numbers but am very happy with the pure visitor stats.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Swine Flu, Triporati and how to recommend alternatives

I am very much a Swine Flu sceptic. I am not a swine Flu denier - clearly it is a dangerous strain of the flu. Rather I believe that there is too much fear going around compared to the fatality rate. Wikipedia is reporting a suspected 101 fatalities to date. While that is terrible for those impacted, we need to take the number, risks and world response into perspective compared to the numbers that die each year in South East Asia from Malaria and in Southern Africa from HIV/AIDS. Some of the responses have been so wildly out of proportion that they defy belief. For example, serious debates were starting in Sydney last week as to how much food we should stockpiling, doctors were reporting people under the flight path worried that they could be picking up the illness from incoming passengers, in Egypt mass pig slaughters are ensuing. All of which is clearly ridiculous.

Aside from the realities for the flu versus the “pandemic panic”, it is clear that there will be a negative impact on Mexico as a travel destination. The combination of the Pandemic Panic with the Decapitation Dread of the drug war and Kidnapping Kaos from travellers being snatched from beaches has caused mass cancellations for bookings to Mexico. I am reminded of the huge reduction in visitors to Hong Kong and Macau during the dark days of SARS in 2003.

Most of the OTAs have responded by building dedicated pages for customers on the site and support staff within their customer care centres (here is the Orbitz page, here is the Travelocity page). Most are also waiving cancellation fees.

While consumers are rushing to cancel trips, they are also looking for alternatives – which feed very neatly into the recent stories on the BOOT over travel discovery and inspiration. Travel inspiration engine Triporati have built a series of pages around the concept of

When a customer goes to this site they can click on the destination in Mexico they were intending to travel to and Triporati’s pages (fed by people and technology) recommend alternatives – by region. For example the top pick alternatives for Acapulco they recommend Fort Lauderdale, Cartegena Columbia, the British Virgin Islands, Mykonos is Greece, Boracay in the Philippines, Durban Coast in Sth Africa, and good old banana bending Queensland.

I like this idea and see it is a good use of Triporati style content to respond to a traveller need. The challenge will be getting the resulting organic traffic. I see the Triporati site rating at number 4 to “Mexico Alternatives” on Google but not on the first page of “alternatives to mexico” (your Google results may vary). Full Triporati press release here.

gracias Esparta for the photo on Flickr

Friday, May 01, 2009

Business Traveller Tip - take it off, take it all off

First in my new segment of Business Traveller Tips is what to wear. I am not going to argue for a throwback to the early days of air travel when people dressed up and treated the affair as an adventure but I think there are good reasons for having two "outfits" for the flight. I have one set of clothes for getting on board and one set for sitting on the flight.

For boarding I wear business casual. Smart pants (or very good jeans) and a collared shirt. I do this for two reasons. Upgrades do not happen as often as they used to but they still do. I have had two occasions in the last 4 years where I have been upgraded from long haul business to first. In terms of segments flown it is not that often but it is often enough to dress well. The second reason is it means one less pair of work pants to pack - which contributes to a tip I will write soon on what to pack for business travel.

For flying I wear either very loose cotton clothes. I supposed you could call them pyjamas but really they are just non descript cotton pants and a t-shirt (OK, you can call them pyjamas). When I change into them I take the business casual clothes that I have been wearing, put them on a coat hanger and hang them up in the coat rack.

Of course this is not necessary for short haul flights but in long haul it is one of my top tips. Loose clothing not only keeps you comfortable, it helps with circulation and is more attuned to the air and temperature atmosphere of a long flight. This is not just a business class or above recommendations. I do this also when I am flying long haul economy. It is harder to hang up your clothes in long-haul economy but you would be surprised how often crew members will hang clothes up for you if you ask very nicely. If they won't I always can find an overhead locker somewhere which has enough space to lay my clothes flat so that they are in fine shape when it is time to land. When I fly economy I bring my own fold up clothes protector just in case.

If you are unable to go the full clothing switch-aroo then the minimum recommendation for all flights is that you take of your shoes and belt before you sit down. Even on short flights your feet will swell and your belt will bite into you (especially up the back of the bus). You will be amazed how the simple act of taking of belt and shoes will improve your comfort levels.

So tip number one is brought to you by Barry White - take it off, take it all off.

thanks to ddjang over at flickr for the photo

Business Traveller Tips - New BOOT segment

Time for another new segment here at the BOOT. The last two years has seen me in the air more than ever before. I am now a top tier flyer on both the One World and Star Alliance networks. Qantas have even handed out a Gold Card "partner" membership to Madame BOOT. I am often asked for what tips and tricks I have for business travellers. Well, here are the answers. Here at the BOOT we will now we doing a regular segment on tips and tricks for the business traveller. I am open to guest commentators and advisors in this segment. If you have a tip you want to share then please email me.

Tips so far

1. What to wear on the plane
2. How to get through airport security as quickly as possible
3. Things to take with you that you will need but don't think you need
4. Which (legal) drugs to pack with you to handle most minor health issues
5. 12 survival tips for staying in a 5 star hotel
6. 7 tips for business travel in China
7. 10 tips for surviving flying economy class/coach
8. Arriving at and leaving from new/unknown airports

PS - if you liked this segment you might like my airline seat reviews

Thanks to thinkpanama for the photo over at flickr