Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Hanging up my BOOTs

Dear Readers - It is time for me to hang up my BOOTs.

My first posts were published in June 2006.  Six years later I have more than a 1,000 stories that have been viewed  400,000+ times.  I have met hundreds of people, formed scores of business contacts and dozens of close friends directly as a result of this site.  I made Bloggers "blogs of note list". I have travelled to conferences across the Americas and Asia Pac talking about ideas and company gossip. And I have bored my wife with endless stories of how to travel, what to pack, what to wear and how horrible business travel can be. The writing of the BOOT was the single best thing  I ever undertook for professional development.

But it is time to pause. I won't say shut down as you never know what will come next.  However for now, the BOOTs need to be hung up and the posts to stop.  You can still follow me on Twitter (@hughestim).  Also feel free to stay in touch by email at timsboot [at] gmail.com.

I want to thank you for taking the time to read my rantings.  In particular I want to thank those that have contributed through tips and comments.  Finally I want to thank Madame BOOT and the anklets.  One day (just maybe), I will remerge in social media under the guise of the (old) COOT (consumer of online travel).  Until that time - happy travels.

Thanks to daryl_mitchell for the image via flickr

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Travel Massive June 12 / FED night June 19

Two interesting and engaging events coming up in the next few weeks in Sydney.

On June 12 at Bar 333 in George St Sydney there will be TravelMassive Sydney. Details here. More background on TravelMassive here.

On June 19 I will be moderating/chairing and Fourth Estate Domain (FED) night.  Two very interesting speakers at this event. John Butterworth, CEO of AIMIA and Paul Fisher, CEO of IAB. Lots to talk about around online advertising and media in Australia and elsewhere.  Shelbourne Hotel cnr Sussex and Market street from 6pm.  Details here.

Both will be great events.  See you there.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Tour of the 787 Dreamliner with Qantas and Jetstar

Photo montage/essay below of my tour of the Dreamliner 787 visiting Sydney. Thanks to Qantas and Jetstar for the invite

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

TravelMassive - great meetup group for travel industry people

If you are interested in regular meet ups with travel people - then I recommend you check out TravelMassive.  This is a group that organises informal networking sessions across the world to talk travel, travel tech, marketing, supply and more.  I have attended half a dozen in Sydney.  Each one is different and interesting based on the mix of people attending.  The next one in Sydney is today (May 23).  Then LondonGold Coast/Brisbane and Melbourne on Friday 25, New York on May 29. Between now and the end of June meetings are also planned for Toronto, Colorado, Milan, Vienna and Bibao.  Full details here

For more background I asked Travel Massive Co-founder Alicia Smith a few background questions on the organisation.  Here is the exchange

1. when did travel massive start

Travel Massive (formerly Travel Tribe) was started in 2009 in Sydney, Australia by Ian Cumming (getflight.com) and Alicia Smith (WorldNomads.com), two newly-minted Sydneysiders looking to connect with other people in the local travel industry.

2. what's the aim

The purpose of Travel Massive is to connect people in the travel industry locally, bringing together travel brands, startups, bloggers and socially engaged travelers. From attending the Travel Massive over the past two and a half years, the one thing I have realised is that we have truly created a pocket of people, who, in an otherwise bustling, too-busy-for-thou city, opens its arms to anyone who cares to sit and have a beer, swap travel experiences and share their ideas about the travel industry.

Since we have events globally, and we know that people who attend the meetups are often on the road (for both business and pleasure), the idea is that they can drop in to a Travel Massive event in another city they may happen to visit. This serves as an instant network, a like-minded crowd, where otherwise they may be on their own. 

3. how many cities

We are currently up and running in 20 cities, with a few more on the horizon. New cities tend to spring up from word of mouth, people who have visited a Travel Massive event in another city and come back to their own to start one. In the case of France, the Paris  travel industry started a Travel Massive, as they couldn't let Marseilles have all the fun. 

4. great anecdote about a meeting

When we first heard that two travel companies were working together, that a partnership had been formed, after meeting at a Travel Massive event - that's when we realized we had something special on our hands. Since then we have had numerous cases of travel bloggers, companies and start-ups and individuals collaborating in all of our global meet-ups. We like to think that we've created a network that is bigger than each city, but links the travel industry across the world (or at least in 20 cities). Which may just be why there's a bit of a competition going on among members, to see who has visited Travel Massive events in the most cities - I think Gregg Tilston (https://twitter.com/greggtilston) on Flight Centre holds the current record of 5 cities.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Stuck on a plane with a violin, trombone, trumpet, recorder and a bunch of hippies - what could possibly go wrong

A Canadian Airlines plane is delayed on the the Lemon Bucket Orchestra pulls out their instruments and goes all folk crazy in the da house. Love this. Watch the video and enjoy

Hat Tip the Consumerist

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

The BOOT live at the Fourth Estate (FED) night on online travel, daily deals, social media, search and more

On May 2 I was part of an interview/Q&A session at the Fourth Estate (FED) series of Sydney interviews of digital people.  Video for the event is now live here.  Check out the Video to see me talking about online travel, daily deals, search, social media, Apple, start ups in Australia and much more.

Monday, April 23, 2012

The BOOT live in Sydney May 2 as part of FED networking event

If you are in Sydney on May 2, then join me at a  Fourth Estate (FED) networking event at the City Hotel, 347 Kent Street Sydney from 6pm. Journalist Brad Howarth will be interviewing me and leading a Q&A as we talk through online travel, the daily deal sector, social media, search and more.  Here is the official speil

"The Australian retail sector is crashing down around our ears but travel and deals are booming.  Offline and On – Australian's cannot get enough of buying travel and especially travel deals.  Can it last and what can other sectors learn from the explosion in growth in online travel?  Tim Hughes of the BOOT and Getaway Lounge will discuss on May 2"

The event is free to attend.  Register here

The Fed was conceived by Mike Walsh and Sally Mills.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

BOOT Moderating panel on Social Media at 2011 WebInTravelConference

Above is video of the BOOT moderating a panel at the 2011 WebInTravel conference on Social Media. Panel members included:
  •  Kristof Roemer, EVP Sales, TrustYou, Germany;
  • Danny Oei Wirianto, CEO, Mindtalk, Indonesia; and
  • Margery Lynn, Dachis Group South-east Asia
WIT has an upcoming event in Thailand on April 27 with 23 very interesting presenters - all Women.  Check out the program here and registrations here.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Hyatt Concierge Twitter Feed Hacked

Bad day over the weekend for the Hyatt Concierge Twitter feed. They were hacked by some weight loss spammers. Top marks to Hyatt on spotting it quickly and dealing with it appropriately. Two screen shots below. Firstly the hack and then the response. A quick google search for the text of the tweet shows that a lot of people were hacked around the same time (April 14).

The Hack

The Response

Monday, April 16, 2012

Re-reading the Groupon IPO filing - some of my favourite moments

The Groupon IPO has been a "mixed bag" to put it nicely. They floated at $20 and are currently sitting at around the $13 mark (lastest GRPN quote here). The recent earnings re-statement by Groupon prompted me to go back to Groupon's original IPO filing and read through some of the risks highlighted in that document.

This list of risks highlighted by Groupon start on page 11 and go until page 31. Here are some of my favourites. I have highlighted the best bits.
"Our management team has a limited history of working together and may not be able to execute our business plan.

Our management team has worked together for only a limited period of time and has a limited track record of executing our business plan as a team. We have recently filled a number of positions in our senior management and finance and accounting staff. Accordingly, certain key personnel have only recently assumed the duties and responsibilities they are now performing. In addition, certain of our executives have limited experience managing a large global business operation. Accordingly, it is difficult to predict whether our management team, individually and collectively, will be effective in operating our business."

"Our management team has limited experience managing a public company, and regulatory compliance may divert its attention from the day-to-day management of our business.

The individuals who now constitute our management team have limited experience managing a publicly-traded company and limited experience complying with the increasingly complex laws pertaining to public companies. Our management team may not successfully or efficiently manage our transition to being a public company that will be subject to significant regulatory oversight and reporting obligations under the federal securities laws. In particular, these new obligations will require substantial attention from our senior management and could divert their attention away from the day-to-day management of our business, which could materially and adversely impact our business operations."

"We cannot assure you that we will be able to manage the growth of our organization effectively.

We have experienced rapid growth in demand for our services since our inception. Our employee headcount and number of subscribers have increased significantly since our inception, and we expect this growth to continue for the foreseeable future. The growth and expansion of our business and service offerings places significant demands on our management and our operational and financial resources. We are required to manage multiple relations with various merchants, subscribers, technology licensors and other third parties. In the event of further growth of our operations or in the number of our third-party relationships, our information technology systems or our internal controls and procedures may not be adequate to support our operations. To effectively manage our growth, we must continue to implement operational plans and strategies, improve and expand our infrastructure of people and information systems, and train and manage our employee base."
and last but not least
"We will have broad discretion in using our net proceeds from this offering, and the benefits from our use of the proceeds may not meet investors' expectations.

Our management will have broad discretion over the allocation of our net proceeds from this offering as well as over the timing of their use without stockholder approval. We have not yet determined how the net proceeds of this offering to be received by us that will be used, other than for working capital and other general corporate purposes. As a result, investors will be relying upon management's judgment with only limited information about our specific intentions for the use of our net proceeds from this offering. Our failure to apply these proceeds effectively could cause our business to suffer"

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Revenge, attacks and possible gaol time: just another day in the life of a start up

Have you ever used YouSendIt? I use AirDropper but have used YouSendIt in the past. Did you know that one of the founders of YouSendIt has just been convicted of computer fraud for attacking YouSendIt's servers and is facing possible gaol time? You didn't? Well, you have to check out the full story over at Inc magazine titled "A Silicon Valley Tale of Humiliation and Revenge". Finally Game of Thrones comes to life in Silicon Valley.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Tnooz post: four Australian start-ups revolutionising travel search

We are 15 years into the online travel revolution and travel search is still in its infancy. In a post over at Tnooz I discuss four Australian based start-ups trying to recreate the travel search experience. Check it out

Profiled in the piece are the following start-ups. Click on the links for detailed Q&A profiles

Friday, March 23, 2012

Scoot - new airline, still a lot of SEO work to do

Scoot is the new (mid to) low cost carrier coming out of Singapore. They launched sales yesterday and have just commenced the first push in Australia with a sale for departures in June and October. Unfortunately they have not prepped properly for their launch. Have a look at the below Google search results for keyword Scoot. Lots of code in their ranking and Jetstar news article in number two. Gentle (if not firm) reminder how important it is to get SEO right at any time but particularly before a launch.

PS - they also need to get their twitter planned sorted out. @scootariline is not them and neither by any stretch is @flyscoot

Australian Search Start ups profiles

The next below four posts are profiles of 4 Australian based start-ups working to revolutionise the way travel search is undertaken. These posts are a prelude to a story I have written on Tnooz that will go live next week.

Getflight profile: exchange with Getflight founder Ian Cumming

Below is a Q&A exchange with Getflight.com.au founder Ian Cumming (pictured here on stage at WebInTravel). This is an instalment in my profile series on Australian travel search start-ups.

BOOT: Date founded

Cumming: January 2011

BOOT: Name of founders

Cumming: Ian Cumming

BOOT: Name of backers/investors

Cumming: Timothy O'Neil-Dunne (t2impact), Gill Hazel (travel industry advisor), Don Takaya (PR and media relations)

BOOT: How much money have you raised

Cumming: None.

BOOT: Description of the business

Cumming: Multi-channel distribution of sale airfares across web, social and email.

BOOT: What is the revenue model

Cumming: On the B2C side - Affiliate advertising (hotels, tours, car hire), and on the B2B side - Licensing of a white-label solution.

BOOT: Any success metrics you are happy to share (traffic levels, customer numbers, revenue numbers, number of searches)

Cumming: 8,723 alert subscriptions, 52,597 deals found, 268,652 deal alerts sent, 70,972 unique visitors, 47,935 searches to airline websites.

BOOT: Something you learnt along the way

Cumming: Online distribution of airfares is complex and innovation is in a stale-mate with the conversion rate.

BOOT: Something you wish you had done differently in launching a business

Cumming: Launched in an emerging market.

BOOT: What's next for the business. What are you working on that is exciting

Cumming: We are focused on developing a licensing model which allows OTAs to re-brand and integrate the GetFlight technology platform to increase distribution of their inventory and increase user engagement.

BOOT: Favourite non-travel website

Cumming:: readwriteweb.com

Flightfox profile: exchange with Flightfox founder Todd Sullivan

Below is a Q&A exchange with Flightfox.com founder Todd Sullivan (pictured here right on Mt Kilimanjaro with co-founder Lauren McLeod ). This is an instalment in my profile series on Australian travel search start-ups.

BOOT: Date founded

Sullivan: January 2012

BOOT: Name of founders

Sullivan: Todd Sullivan, Lauren McLeod

BOOT: Name of backers/investors

Sullivan: Startmate Startup Accelerator

BOOT: How much money have you raised

Sullivan: $25k to fund proof of concept

BOOT: Description of the business

Sullivan: Flightfox is human-powered flight search; we use humans to beat machines. For a finder's fee, flight experts all over the world compete against each other to find you the best flights. Unlike most flight search engines (and travel agents), our experts search all the major airlines, budget airlines, special offers, newsletters, forums, and frequent flyer programmes. They use their many years of flight "hacking" experience to route you through the best cities, get you on the best flights, and save you as much money as possible.

BOOT: What is the revenue model

Sullivan: We take a cut of the finder's fee, but with future investment we'll also generate commissions on flight bookings.

BOOT: Some examples of savings and interesting routings that people have comp up

Sullivan: Our most unusual trip was for a customer travelling with 3 cats. Of course, Expedia and Kayak don't cater to cats, and most travel agents will direct you to the airlines, but on Flightfox, our experts had experience travelling with pets and knew all the tips and tricks. For example, there are strict regulations regarding weather; in winter, many airlines restrict travel for pets. In terms of savings, we've saved people over $5,000 on complicated and premium class trips. Even on short domestic trips, our customers offload the searching to us and have peace of mind that our experts have found you the best price. On our average trip, which visits a few cities internationally, we save customers 27%.

BOOT: Any success metrics you are happy to share (traffic levels, customer numbers, revenue numbers, number of searches)

Sullivan: 5,000+ users and over $30,000 in finder's fees, all in our first 8 weeks since launching our beta product.

BOOT: Something you learnt along the way

Sullivan: Firstly, Startmate is the best decision we ever made. The pace at which we iterate and the access to successful mentors, seems to make start-up success so much more likely. Our other big lessons are all to do with marketplaces. But we're only a few weeks in, so I imagine we've barely scratched the surface.

BOOT: Something you wish you had done differently in launching a business

Sullivan: we'd learned many lessons from a previous travel start-up, so there's nothing significant this time. For example, this time we spent no effort on logos, business cards, company registration, SEO, social media, etc, until we'd proven the concept and had confidence in its sustainability.

BOOT: What's next for the business.

Sullivan: What are you working on that is exciting - we're currently raising a seed round of investment to catapult our growth. We don't necessarily need investment, but we have big plans and want to make the most of the opportunity. Specifically, we have a plan to multiply revenue per customer, but for that we need investment. We have pitch days in Melbourne (27th March), Sydney (30th March), then San Francisco (3rd April) and New York (17th April). Investors are more than welcome to contact us for more info.

BOOT: Favourite non-travel website

Sullivan: 99Designs.com

Adioso profile: exchange with Adioso founder Tom Howard

Here is a Q&A exchange with Adioso founder Tom Howard (pictured right with co-founder Fenn Bailey). This is an instalment in my profile series on Australian travel search start-ups.

BOOT: Date founded

Howard: January 2008

BOOT: Name of founders

Howard: Tom Howard and Fenn Bailey

Both of Melbourne, Australia

BOOT: Name of backers/investors

Y Combinator, Paul Buchheit (Gmail, Friendfeed, Facebook), Alexis Ohanian (Reddit, Hipmunk), Stephen Bartlett-Bragg (Qantas, Sabre, EB2) and a handful of other investors from Australia & Silicon Valley

BOOT:How much money have you raised

Howard: $380,000

BOOT: Description of the business

Howard: Adioso is a travel search & discovery site that allows you to:

- search without constraints on dates & destinations ("Sydney to South East Asia late May", or "Brisbane to anywhere under $400")

- 'follow" destinations and search phrases to receive alerts as soon as new inventory is found that matches your interests and budget

BOOT: What is the revenue model

Howard: Initially, commissions on transactions facilitated via the site.

Later, services to airlines and suppliers.

BOOT: Any success metrics you are happy to share (traffic levels, customer numbers, revenue numbers, number of searches)

Howard: We don't consider our traffic particularly boast-worthy at this stage, but our we're approaching 100K visits/month, and we refer about $2million/month in leads to airlines. We're expecting much more rapid growth in coming months once we start rolling out the new features we have in the pipeline.

Our favourite stats are:

- Avg session is > 8 minutes

- Average active visitor worth >$45 in referred airline revenue

- Our user-satisfaction survey told us that 95% of visitors would be at least somewhat disappointed if we didn't exist; 50% of those said they'd be very disappointed.

BOOT: Something you learnt along the way

Howard Travel's an awfully tough business for start-ups as you're up against decades-old technology and business practices. But if you can persist long enough to find a way through, the opportunities are vast and exciting.

BOOT: Something you wish you had done differently in launching a business

Howard: Though a lot has gone wrong, I wouldn't wish it to be any different. We'd be better off if we hadn't taken so long to get our back-end technology working properly, and sometimes I lament the 12-18 months we've been delayed due to going about that the wrong way.

But because of that challenge we've been forced to learn so much more about the fundamentals of the travel industry and of building a great company, and have had to do it on a shoestring budget, so overall we're much better off,

BOOT: What's next for the business. What are you working on that is exciting Howard: Just last week we turned on the new version of our site UI. It doesn't actually have any major functionality over the previous version, but it gives us a platform to start doing a lot more cool stuff.

We're in the process of finishing our new search platform, that will enable us to scale to handle global airline inventory, including full-service carriers via GDSs (to-date we've been limited to low-cost airlines).

We've been trialling a hotel search feature, using HotelsCombined and Airbnb as suppliers, and we'll soon be adding this into the new version of the app.

We've also been trialling our "following" feature, that allows people to subscribe to alerts on destinations, flights, hotels and activities that are of interest, and get highly focused notifications when relevant products and deals become available.

Finally, we've conceived a new approach to browsing, sorting and filtering search results, that is testing very well with users.

We're gearing up to start rolling out these features steadily over the next few months. We're pretty excited to get it all out there.

BOOT: Favourite non-travel website

Howard: HackerNews

BOOT: Where did your name come from

Howard: It was on a brainstorming list that Fenn came up with. "Adios!" seemed to nicely represent the idea of finding a cheap flight to an exotic destination and spontaneously taking off out of town.

We wanted something that was short, had the .com available, and wasn't overly literal like so many travel product names. Most of the discarded options were things like "Save-o-flight". I'm so glad we didn't go with something like that, and I'm surprised even today how many travel start-ups have these kinds of name

Rome2Rio profile: exchange with Rome2Rio founder Michael Cameron

Below is a Q&A exchange with Rome2Rio founder Michael Cameron (pictured left with co-founder Bernie Tschirren). This is an instalment in my profile series on Australian travel search start-ups.

BOOT: Date founded

Cameron: September 2011

BOOT: Name of founders

Cameron: Michael Cameron and Bernie Tschirren

BOOT: Name of backers/investors

Cameron: None to date

BOOT: How much money have you raised

Cameron: Nothing, so far we are bootstrapped.

BOOT: Description of the business

Cameron: Rome2rio is a platform for organizing and searching the world's travel information. We have built a unique repository of train, bus, ferry and air routes across the globe. Users of the site can discover how to get to any city, town, or landmark - rome2rio will show several alternatives routes by air, rail, bus, boat and car.

BOOT: What is the revenue model

Cameron: Our consumer site makes revenue through hotel and rental car commissions. We also receive revenue from airline and transport provider affiliate programs. Going forward, we also aim to make revenue through partnerships licensing rome2rio's search technology and transport repository.

BOOT: Any success metrics you are happy to share (traffic levels, customer numbers, revenue numbers, number of searches)

Cameron: In January we recorded our 1 millionth query, and broke 120,000 unique users for the month. We marked this milestone with a blog post.

Something you learnt along the way

We've been surprised by the popularity of rome2rio in India; rome2rio has received more Indian visitors than visitors from any other one country. We believe this is due to a number of factors, including a burgeoning middle class and popularity of rail travel in the subcontinent. Also, rome2rio so far has received most of its visitors from English speaking countries, so we have started work on translating the site.

BOOT: Something you wish you had done differently in launching a business

Cameron: So far, on the whole, we're happy with the approach we've taken to launching rome2rio. We launched the site early, with a minimum viable product, and used lean start-up principles to iterate and refine the product. As the product has developed and gained traction with users, we've now started to focus on the business model.

BOOT: What's next for the business. What are you working on that is exciting

Cameron: We're continuing to add more transport to the site. We recently added trains in Japan and Sri Lanka. Coverage in Australia has been expanded too. We almost have complete rail coverage, so we'll be focusing on adding more bus and ferry routes this year. We also plan to add support for building complex, multi-hop itineraries; a feature that has been requested by several users.

BOOT: Favourite non-travel website

Cameron: Who can go past the amazing digital resource of Wikipedia?

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Where to find 130+ travel APIs including Expedia, Kayak and Hotelscombined

A typical email to me from a start up founder will go something like this

"Dear BOOT

Where can I access lots of information on APIs from travel companies. Building out all the data is really expensive. Are there any short cuts? Any indexes to travel APIs?"

Until now I have had replied with muted answers and near consultant babble speech about places to look and people to speak too.

But now I may have a better answer. This morning I came across a directory of 134 Travel APIs care of Programmable Web

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Seat Review: Qantas A380 International Economy Class

I have reviewed Qantas long haul economy before but recently had my first chance to try out the new(ish) A380 version of economy class. I have long held the view that the A380 is just another plane and not deserving of the hype and theatre that accompanied its launch. Sure it is a lot quieter than other aircraft but it is still just a box in the sky with customers doing whatever they can to get through the next 24 hours tightly packed with 500 other souls. That said, Qantas have taken the time with this new aircraft to revamp their very good economy class product. Unfortunately, in classic Qantas fashion there are parts of the product that fall a long way short of the promise of the marketing. But on the whole the BOOT was very happy with the experience. The BOOT rating for Qantas International. Economy on the A380 is 4.5 stars out of 6 or "Great Seat". Here is the detailed review

Getting on Board

Score 0.5

I may have lost Platinum status (call me Ivanka) but I am still Gold meaning I can enjoy premium check in either when in economy. Oddly there were only two premium counters in operation in Singapore when I was checking in. Meant that even though my status should provide boarding benefits above the normal economy experience, I spent a more than usual amount of time waiting to be checked in. The delays were extended at the gate where there was poor demarcation between premium and non-premium boarding queue. This made for a delayed and close to disorganised boarding process. If boarding for an economy class passenger with high status is confusing and slow, we can safely assume that for regular economy class customers there are still a lot of kinks and improvements for Qantas to make in boarding this large aircraft quickly and efficiently.

My status also affords me business class lounge access. The Qantas Business Class Lounge in Singapore has all that is needed in areas of space, quiet and Wi-Fi. There is plenty of room such that an A380 full of people on status does not overcrowd the lounge. The seating and facilities allowed for all that is needed to get comfortable, connect to power and get to work. However the food and drink selection left a lot to be desired. Only a limited selection of drinks, some cheese and crackers and poor selection of tea and coffee (Ivanka I really do miss you) . I have seen better food selection in the Qantas lounge at terminal 2 at Sydney domestic (the backup lounge at Sydney domestic in the Virgin dominated terminal).

The Seat

Score 1.0

By design I was a long way down the back of the bus - row 80. Top tier flyers at Qantas can no longer rely on being assigned exit seats. Qantas how charge $80 for access to an exit row. I am 185cm so paid the extra money. The leg room improvements from the exit row are substantial and for a business traveller worth the extra costs. But there are also some clear downsides to the exit row. You need to measure the gains in leg room over the losses in video access and a narrower seat. With no seat in front of you, there needs to be more in the arm rests. Having the video screen and tray table in the arm rest reduces the width of the seat meaning that some of the gains in leg inches are lost in the width. I found myself in a bank of four seats 80D-G with three other large businessmen. All of us had paid the extra money for the exit precisely because we were larger than the average traveller. Four bigger guys in four narrower seats is not as uncomfortable as four bigger guys in four seats with cramped leg room but it does make for a very tight elbow experience (making eating and computer usage a cirque de solei like contortionist experience). The other disadvantage is that while Qantas has finally made the upgrade necessary to launch their entertainment system prior to take off, with the video screens in the arm rest exit row passengers need to wait an extra 30 minutes until the plane is in the air.

The Seat itself has some nice touches. It has a twin recline movement. As the head-rest goes backwards the seat of the seat slides out. Means that while the backwards recline is on par with one's expectations of an economy seat (ie not much), the effect of the seat sliding forward is a much more comfortable and perceptively deeper recline.

Last comment - it may just be an issue for the exit row, but the tray table sat oddly against the video screen when both were open. Left me with my hand permanently on any drink when I was watching a movie with the tray table fully open for fear that glasses on the table were not stable enough

The Service

Score 1.0

The crew on this flight were in a good mood and this translated into good service. They were particularly helpful to me in agreeing to hang up my suit bag. I like to carry a suite and a couple of shirts onto the plane in a suit bag. If I can hang this up for the flight it dramatically reduces the need for ironing at my destinations. Staff on this flight were kind enough to hang up my bag in the business class coat area.

The Food

Score 0.5

Qantas continue to deliver in the food area. They provide the best economy food in the sky. A complaint in past reviews has been around out of meal service request for food and drink being handled badly by QF staff. I have found this in business, economy and premium economy of Qantas. If I press the call button and ask a crew member for something to eat or drink outside of a particular service, then Qantas staff often respond with a face that says "can't you see I am resting here" rather than one that says "welcome to the new spirit". Qantas have tried to compensate for this with their new economy class galley/bar area. The fancy flash A380 sales piece on Qantas.com talks of a self-service bar area filled with fruit, ice-creams, snacks and more. The reality is another Qantas promise to reality crash landing. On my flight there were four different cans of soft drink and two types of cookie. Hot drinks were not on display. A very limited selection tucked right and the back of the plane. Not worth the walk.

The Entertainment

Score 1.0

The area of biggest improvement across all Qantas classes in the last two years has been in their entertainment system. Four big improvements. Firstly the screen is a massive size and is clear. I used to squint looking at Qantas screens from the size and from the darkness. With old screens I was leaning forward and pressing the brightness button constantly wishing it went to a brightness setting of 11 to finally realise that watching movies with night time scenes was just a waste of time on Qantas flights. Now the screen is big enough and the resolution good enough that these problems have gone away. Secondly the system is faster. On some Qantas flights I felt like I was watching the interstitial "Q" symbol as much as I watched movies. Now loading times have dramatically increased and programs start almost immediately. Thirdly the audio. Qantas have not stumped up for noise cancelling headsets in economy but they have put in a very nice sound feature. When the entertainment is interrupted by a PA announcement, the volume through entertainment system goes down. This means that movies are interrupted by a quiet word from the captain rather than an ear splitting and brain shattering scream about reaching 35,000ft (I assume this is a deliberate feature). Finally they have a easy to find "kids button". A one push that opens up all of the kids entertainment options. A little touch that spares parents from the shuffle around every 30-90 minutes to help their charges navigate through all the explosions, rom coms and episodes of Top Gear and find the demanded Pixar, Dora and smurfs that children prefer.

BOOT Factor

Score 0.5

There is something really strange about plane design when it comes to the simple things. In the non-plane world we have fantastic designs for simple things like taps and seatbelts. With taps you can turn them on, wash your hands, then turn them off. With seatbelts, everyone from age 5 and up can put on a car seatbelt without the need for a detailed in car instructional video. But on planes these designs gains in the ground-based world were forgotten. Taps need three hands. One to push the buttons and two to be washed. Seatbelts need instructional videos and roving staff to help. Qantas have changed all this. In a hardly revolutionary but very welcome move they have taps that can be used to wash hands easily and a seatbelt that looks and works like a car seat belt. Previous BOOT factors have been much more glamorous than taps and belts but in the airline world sometimes the simple things need a special mention

Final Score

4.5 - Great Seat

Details and scoring system for airline seat reviews

Thanks to Tim Riley via Flickr for the photo

Friday, February 03, 2012

Living social lost $558mm in 2011 on revenues of $245mm

Living Social may not be under the same level of public financial scrutiny of the now public Groupon, but performance data is out there and it makes for interesting reading. All Things D have posted a summary of the Living Social results and sales for 2011 as drawn from Amazon filings (Amazon owns 31% of Living Social). Here are the main numbers for 2011
  • Revenues: $245mm
  • Net Loss: $558mm
  • Total value of sales (gross bookings): $750-800mm (not including some foreign investments)
  • Current valuations: $4-5 billion based on Amazon's book value of it's 31% stake in Living Social at $208mm
For more and comparisons to Groupon's results check out the full post at All Things D

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

2012 Predictions: Part 3 - The promise of social media and the rise of the ecosystem

Third and final part in my three part “Predictions for 2012” post. Part 1 here, part 2 here.

Part 3 - The promise of social media

Good News: We know where to go to find people in social

The good news is that where to find people on social is known. There might be a 1,001 social media sites but as Om Malik confirms in this recent piece on some comScore data Facebook is dominant followed by well known names like Twitter, Linkedin, Google+ and Tumblr. [as an interesting side note, it looks like MySpace still has a decent amount of traffic (more than Googe+ though no activity or time on site to speak of) and the hot to trot pinterest is gaining followers fast.]

Marketing platforms are emerging for each of the leading sites. Meaning the marketing departments at travel companies (suppliers and intermediaries) have suites of tools to work with in attracting social audiences. There maybe a lot of debate around whether or not social is a fad or meaningful (underhyped, overhyped or somewhere in the middle) but the tools to take advantage are known. The easy prediction (and good news for the large social media companies) is that advertising dollars will flood into social media in 2012.

The more detailed good news, I predict that money can actually be made with smart advertising on social media. It was thought in 2011 that social media was just for brand building and customer engagement. In 2012 we will see the first hints of sales and direct marketing activity on social media. Get ready and prepared to see and buy ads on Facebook, Linkedin etc that look like ads on Google.

[side note – here is a link to my 5 tips for launching a social media strategy]

Bad news: four eco-systems, four business models

While the growth of social means more opportunities for brand building, customer engagement and (I predict) sales, it has also been part of fracturing of the web media and content worlds into a series of different ecosystems with different content and revenue models. Google, Facebook, Youtube, Apple and maybe even Amazon. In each ecosystem the means of gaining prominence and then generating revenue is very different – so different that it takes more than just an adjustment or tweak to do it properly. Instead it takes a full-scale effort.

In Google you get prominence from inbound links, quality of content, site structure, bidding capability and dollars spent. The reward is traffic that may or may not results in sales depending on how good you are at monetisation. The ecosystem is completely open. Content is created or published on web pages, open for the world to see and search.

On Facebook prominence comes from customer engagement. Getting customers to like you, use your app and then continue to read you and hopefully comment. To stay engaged for a very long time. The potential rewards are a long spectrum of possibilities from the warm and fuzzy (customers engaging with the brand) to direct response (clicks onto booking engines). But the big money inside the ecosystem is restricted to Facebook and some gaming companies. Everyone else is at the warm and fuzzy side of the spectrum. The ecosystem is closed. Consumers may screw up and put public content intended to be private but inside social media there are terabytes of content excluded from the Google and the general public.

For Apple prominence comes from developing an app. A good app is very very different to a good website (or a good Facebook page). Not only does an app need to work on a smaller screen, in a perfect world it should work offline and online. The best are purpose built and targeted to people in different states of mind. But the rewards can be more immediate. Customers are happy to pay money upfront for apps and content from Apple. Less so in travel than in pure entertainment and games worlds but there is money being spent on Apple for language guides, local transport planners, destination guides and more. The ecosystem is closed.

Finally inside Youtube prominence comes from video content. The production quality does not have to be expert but the content needs to be entertaining. Great videos can generate numbers that make TV executives want to cry. Viral hits can out-rate the best of Hollywood. But - there is no formula or rule book (yet if ever) for a YouTube hit. The rewards are…..not sure. There is some advertising and there maybe some brand improvements but the dollars are small and outside of a megahit the brand benefits low. For a travel company there is no answer yet to either “how to make money on YouTube?” or even “how to build a brand on YouTube?”. In short there is an ecosystem in YouTube with monstrous amounts of traffic but no one knows how to use it other than to post and hope for a viral hit.

The bad news here is that for now you need to pick. Need to pick which ecosystem you are in and hit it hard. You can flirt with others (ie hit Google hard and flirt with Facebook). But you need to pick the main one and double down efforts. I predict that a lot of money is going to be spent and wasted by companies trying to play in all four to the same level.

[for more on this see these articles. Interview with Phil Simon on the “Age of the Platform”, post by Jason Calacanis on “Founders defining reality” and Nigam Arora’s post on the recent Google earnings announcement for the stock consequences]

Thanks to jooyoung.kim from Flickr for the image

Monday, January 30, 2012

2012 Predictions: Part 2 - The Promise of the mobile web

Second part in my three part “Predictions for 2012” post. Part 1 the promise of recovery is here

Part 2- The Promise of the mobile web

The Good news – mobile is DONE in major markets

The mobile internet is effectively ubiquitous in the major online markets of the world. The stats on iPhone, android, blackberry and Windows mobile phones tell a story of enough smart phones in pockets to drive the promised 10% of online travel business that was mentioned at conferences throughout 2010 and ‘11.

We also know that mobile no longer means on the move. Studies show that people are sitting in-front of their televisions, eschewing their laptops for tablets and smartphones as a means of consuming multiple forms of content simultaneously. This is great news for travel content companies (all types such as TripAdvisor, Lonely Planet and Travelfish). With smart phone customers are looking for the mobile to fill in the scores of daily “gap moments”. Those brief periods of time when nothing is happening and pockets of boredom set in such as commuting, television advertisement breaks, waiting for a food order etc. The default for people in that moment is to pick up the phone and start surfing. Smart travel content companies will take advantage.

Expect to see content companies devoting more energy to mobile through even more apps (if that is possible). Also expect to see content broken up into more and more chunks or small pieces and quick reads. This is so that content can be in short enough forms to meet the small amounts of time that are available during the “gap moments”.

[for more on this keep a regular watch on Norm Rose’s site TravelTechnology – here is a great recent post on mobile including an well crafted infographic]

The Bad news – mobile will help intermediaries over suppliers

The back half of the 2000s/naughties in online travel was dominated by hotels and airlines clawing back online share from online travel agents. Particularly airlines and chain hotels.

Intermediaries have an advantage in mobile as it is much harder to look at more than one screen. Customers are looking on mobile for one app or site to provide the answer. This favours the intermediaries. Expect to see the intermediaries run hard with this by launching more and more sophisticated apps and upgrading them regularly. Expect to see suppliers spend lots of money trying to figure out what to do to regain share. They will look at better booking apps for searching and booking. They will also spend money on apps and services for on-property activity, They will try new (maybe recycled) business models including ideas like RoomKey. And – they will try to launch content and destination business. Unfortunately for them a lot of that money will be wasted. As the mobile web is now and will be through all of 2012 there is a natural advantage for intermediaries. Barring a mobile web technology or platform shift, suppliers are going to need to innovate unlike they ever have before to maintain their web based share in the mobile web.

thanks to m for matthjis via Flickr for the photo

Sunday, January 29, 2012

2012 Predictions: the BOOT has good news and bad news. Part 1 - the recovery

2011. 2011. 2011. I have to type it three times, to remind myself how big year it was. So big, it has taken me almost a month to get over the end of it and publish my predictions for 2012. I turned 40, which makes me about 100 in Internet years. I started a new job and launched a new business. Meanwhile the online travel world ignored my aging and changing - it just kept powering on. Smashing through a world economy that can’t decide if it is in boom or bust. But what of 2012? Here is what a 40 year BOOT thinks will happen in 2012. There are three exciting things about 2012: the promise of economic recovery, the promise of the mobile web and the promise of social media growth. Like all wizened old grouches, I have good news and bad news about these three promises. And.. like those aging bloggers who are writing less than they used to I have split these predictions into 3 parts.

Part 1 - The promise of recovery

The Good news - another wave of online demand is coming online

Next year will mark the year that everyone born in 1994 turns 18. This is more insightful that it sounds. It is significant because 1994 marks the year the world wide web was born, meaning 2012 is the year the first true 100% internet generation comes of age.

By coming of age they become economic entities that get jobs and make their own decisions on where to spend money and when to go on holidays. This generation and those three to five years older than them will fuel another burst of growth in online travel spending.

Combined with the growth of middle classes in China and India, 2012 will see a greater shift in offline to online than we saw in 2011. I predict products will continue emerge/grow online to catch this wave (ie P2P travel such as Airbnb).

The Bad new - It is 2008/2009 all over again

2012 will not deliver the economic growth and renewal that has been hoped and predicted. As a result we will see a general drop in travel demand even as online share increases.

This drop will not be as bad as – but will be a reminder of – the declines in 2008/9. I expect this to drive a drop in travel supply prices (hotel, air, cruise).

Unfortunately I predict that we will see some further announcements by suppliers in the areas of bankruptcy, closing of brands and disbanding of joint ventures.

It will however give deals a big push – both for dedicated deals sites and for the general online travel agent market. Watch the deal market and businesses grow (even if we lose some players along the way).

[FYI - here are my 2011 predictions]

Thanks to merwing on Flickr for the photo