Thursday, February 10, 2011

PhoCusWright 2010 summary video including the BOOT asking Groupon's Rob Solomon a question

Three min video above from the PhoCusWright team with some commentary and summary points from last November's PhoCusWright conference. At the 33 second mark you will see me asking Groupon's Rob Solomon about build or buy for Groupon in Asia.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

TUI on AsiaRooms and LateRooms for Q4 2010

Mega Euro travel company TUI Group have just published their results for the final calendar quarter of 2010 (PDF here).

Online travel companies AsiaRooms and LateRooms make up part of TUI's A&D Sector (for more background on this group see this post on the 2009 performance, this post on the first re-org that combined AsiaRooms and LateRooms and this post on the operational internal merger of AsiaRooms and LateRooms). Here is an extract from the earning release (note where they say Q1 it refers to calendar Q4)

"The A&D Sector reported an improved underlying operating profit of £4m (Q1 10 £1m), driven by a strong increase in roomnights in our accommodation businesses. Our accommodation wholesalers, Bedsonline and Hotelbeds, delivered a 20% increase in roomnights following continued expansion in Latin America, with particularly strong growth in Brazil., our accommodation OTA, increased roomnights by 19% as it continued to increase its market share. The increase in profits was partially offset by marketing and product investment in, where we are increasing our hotel content and translating our website into local languages to address the high growth domestic
markets in Asia."
Accoumpianying spreasheet shows that the revenue for sector increased 7% from £121mm to £130mm.

TripIt/Concur Sessions - talking the TripIt acquistion with Concur's Michael Eberhardt

On Jan 13 this year it was announced that travel and expense management company Concur (Nasdaq: CNQR) would pay up to $120 million for the indispensable travel tool Tripit (Kevin May Tnooz story here and press release here). I had a chance to speak last week with Michael Eberhard, Concur's EVP and GM Asia Pacific (pictured) about Concur, the deal and their combined plans for Asia. Three themes from the discussion

1. Asia is a big priority for Concur and TripIt. They are planning to spend a lot of time and money targeting customers in this region;

2. There will be stronger links to travel booking in TripIt. Concur are a large travel management company and are looking to bring that to TripIt; and

3. The social media parts of TripIt are here to stay. I expressed some doubts about the usage of the social media features but Concur remain convinced that these are important features that will be worked on and pushed.

Full interview notes below.

The BOOT Asks:
What are your plans for TripIt post acquisition?

Eberhard: The main goals of the acquisition was to increase investment into all of the TripIt solutions (free, pro product and core business product). Helps [Concur further target] unmanaged biz travel especially those still craving data at deeper level than an itinerary.

The BOOT Asks: I use TripIt extensively for travel planning and co-ordination, but I have not found the social media parts (finding who is in what location) that useful or result in any connections while on a trip. Do you see value in the social media elements of TripIt?

Eberhard: We see the social media parts as important. Personally, prior to the acquisition I made a connections with friends, including one running a marathon in Asia. Combined with mobile and groups will give friends, family and travel managers information and visibility they have not had before.

The BOOT Asks: What are your non-English and Asian plans?

Eberhard: Concur had a lot a success across Asia with existing customers. We are now moving into AsiaPacific to acquire and service customers locally. We will increase staff in Hong Kong and Singapore and through our joint venture in Japan.

The BOOT Asks: Why did you launch a joint venture in Japan and what is the biggest thing about the Japanese market that surprised you?

Eberhard: some of our largest customers have travellers and employees using Concur inside Japan but we have not been acquiring new customers. To address this properly it made sense to do a JV with a local company (press release here).

The number one surprise about the Japanese travel market is that the market is more fragmented than we expected and processes are unique.

The BOOT Asks: Concur is (in part) in the expense management business. What is the weirdest expense you have seen an employee try to charge?

Eberhard: Most companies have some level of fraud. We have examples of lavish parties, including weddings being charged by employees.

My Take

I use TripIt religiously to help me cover 200,000 miles a year in travel. It is always a challenge to see how a start up will fare inside a multi-billion dollar company. Concur seems like a better home for TripIt than a media company or OTA due to the focus on travel and expense management rather than a retail or media model. As I tweeted when the deal was announced - this the first deal of 2011. Is also the first of my list of seven do-overs/reboots (Triporati, Tripit, NewTravelCo/Travelpost, Getaroom, Voyij, Wego and Hotelscombined) to get bought out.

Concur background

I have to admit upfront that I had not heard of Concur prior to this deal. If you are like me in this regard, let me share with you some of the background provided by Eberhard. At the core the company is a "provider of travel and expense management solutions". Market cap is around $2.7b (as of today). They claim 15 million users in 90 countries including big companies like Unisys, Ericsson, JCPenny and Cable & Wireless.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

The BOOT's Frequent Flyer Gold Rush

After 10 years as a Qantas top tier Platinum Frequent Flyer, I failed to re-qualify. Yet in a twist of frequent flyer magic, just as I was losing top status on QF, through a series of status matches and promotions I managed to get Gold on both Velocity (Virgin Blue) and United. I have also been a Gold Singapore member for a number of years. Making 2011 the first year I have been Gold on four airlines at once. I am sure it wont last into 2012 as even with my travelling load, keeping four in Gold is impossible. But I thought I'd share with you (minus the numbers), the river of frequent flyer gold now available to the BOOT.

My Qantas status is an interesting one. I cannot begrudge Qantas from downgrading me as I failed to accumulate the requisite status credits. In the end I accumulated 1,060 against a target of 1,200 (about 10% short). I called and asked Qantas to do me a favour and keep me platinum (quoting ten years) but the answer was a very polite no. But there is a twist here for Qantas. After years of flying with them I am lifetime Gold (you can see the "Lifetime Member" message bottom right of my Qantas card). Therefore with Gold a lifetime status and Platinum unlikely to be regained in 2011 (re-qualification rises to 1,400 status credits), my incentive to fly Qantas to accumulate status credits drops to zero. If I can't get to Platinum and there is not need to fly to stay at Gold, then it is better for me to push as much as I can to retain my other cards. It is strange how incentives work. By missing out (just) on re-qualifying for Platinum, Qantas and oneworld will likely see a dramatic drop off in my flying and United/Singapore/Star will see a dramatic increase in my travel (prices being equal of course).

Qantas were very polite and charming in my downgrade. In fact they sent me a very well designed white with grey markings pack with my lifetime Gold announcing "Introducing a new way to fly" (photo below)

In addition to the new card and the usual "thank you and here you the list of things you get" note from the CEO and head of loyalty, the pack has two RFID chip based luggage tags. The new card also has an RFID chip. Between the two I can check in (for domestic) and drop off my bags without having to go to a kiosk or visit and agent. Assuming it works it means no more boarding cards or luggage tags (domestic only). More photos of the pack and baggage tag below.