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