12 May 2007
I encourage the reader to check out Robert J Serling's Aviation History Series which is a pretty good chronicle of greed and chutzpah: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/search-handle-url/102-8178272-0316913?%5Fencoding=UTF8&search-type=ss&index=books&field-author=Robert%20J.%20Serling
So it is with some sadness and hope that we see David Neeleman being kicked upstairs. There is no sub-plot. The airline was caught wrong footed twice this winter. Its customer service strategy was simply inadequate and the operations manual was - well just plain wrong. It has been fixed (we are led to believe) but the damage is done. So the Founder takes the fall and is kicked upstairs.
However there is a footnote to this which I believe is important to consider. jetBlue decided to use the strategy of low cost carrier, (LCC like Southwest) but full product. The differentiation being that unlike Southwest - B6 would treat its customers to a better experience and charge a premium over true low costs carriers. Thus boosting the bottom line with a higher margin than either the top cost (Legacy, Full Service Network Carriers - FNCs) or the bottom player LCCs. This was a good attempt at hybridization or HVC - Hybrid Value Carriers.
There are 2 flaws to the jetBlue strategy in my opinion.
Flaw 1 - JFK. Not the best place to have a hub due to longer lead times and other endemic problems with the airport and staffers.
Flaw 2 - Competition. Assuming that the others will stay stupid for ever is a temporary strategy at best. Delta has emerged with a focus on JFK but for different reasons (International). The net is that Delta's value proposition is better than jetBlue's when the carriers are compared on a more common set of metrics.
Both these two flaws along with a failure to continue development of a "secret sauce" differentiator by jetBlue is inhibiting its growth profile. So the stock market darling of the early part of the decade is now mired in the same sets of issues and obstacles that it sought to throw rocks at. It is for this reason that jetBlue's customer service failure has more impact. Neeleman wanted this to be the big differentiator.
Wisely there is going to be a seasoned hand on the tiller. Let's all hope that the focus returns and that jetBlue can continue to give the others a run for the money. We all love the underdog. But are we willing to pay for the good feeling? Ultimately no. Its as always - price/service mix.
11 May 2007
The UK market is closer to the US than any other. The maturity of that market is now self evident (at least to Expedia and Priceline). Both of whom have pointed to this in their latest quarterly earnings. With the sea change of the VTOs merging from 4 to 2 now assured the market dynamics are pretty much set.
This essentially gives us an interesting view that we can now say that the UK is about 2-3 years behind the USA. And here its time for me to confess a bad prediction I made 10 years ago. I claimed that the UK market would not be behind the US but rather would evolve differently and in some cases at a faster rate. Well i was partially right. The UK market did evolve differently and clearly the driver was not the OTAs but rather the the LCCs. Expedia (my alma mater) failed miserably in attracting the LCCs into its fold. That failure stunted the growth of the Onlien giant and will continue to do so for many years to come.
So what can we see for the future? Is there a model for the other Tier 1 markets? Germany and France are all on slower slope curves, which will result in both of them reaching maturity later. Adopting in Tier 2 and 3 markets are more constrained due to the physical limitations such as government regulation, expensive telecoms, lack of web accessible households etc. Thus the maturity of these markets will take longer and have less profit maximization capability as the global supply chain continues to aggregate.
We will make one prediction. with this maturity occuring, we believe that the battle for the second tier markets (such as Italy and Spain) will heat up with acquisitions being a preferable way to accelerate the market. Expedia recently launched expedia.es to compete with such local industry heavyweights as eDreams. Still they cannot seem to crack the LCC market, although the WTTC/Ryanair deal does give them a toe tip into the sector.
We can all be assured that next year the scouts for Orbitz, Travelocity and Expedia will be out in force. The battle grounds will not just stop at the top and second tier. We already see massive competitive in 2 of the BRIC countries. What about Brazil and South Africa? Its still a wild ride folks. Come along
10 May 2007
However the LCCs continue to power ahead with their ancillary revenue streams. The ever ebullient Mr O’Leary from Ryanair has made no secret of his desire to broaden the base of his airline to a point where he will be actually paying people to fly. With significant revenue streams from its partners in the Car Rental business (Hertz) and Hotels (Formerly Travelport/Octopus and now Expedia WTTC) he is clearly showing that this can be done.
Similarly EasyJet has some proof of this trend. Ancillary revenue per seat for easyJet has increased by 18% to £3.81 during the first half of its financial year, with ‘partner revenues' from car hire and insurance, rather than hotels, driving the growth. The largest single source is from Credit Card fees. All airlines should sit up and pay attention to this. With Google Checkout offering zero fees for processing – we still cannot understand why no airline seems to be partnering with Google for this way to drop cash to the bottom line.
T2Impact is a strong believer in opportunities for non-transaction based revenue opportunities as a core part of any travel site’s gross income.
When the overall travel market goes soft we expect to see a rush hunt for new revenue. Better be prepared now rather than later.
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Timothy J O'Neil-Dunne
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08 May 2007
Check out the new site: www.inthekno.com
Also check out the commentary blog - www.inthekno.blogspot.com Altitude with Attitude.
Will this cycle be any different?
Many would argue that this is the top of the cycle and we are approaching the peak of the airlines' net earning capability. Barring a catastrophe - of either an economic or socio-political variety, the airlines as a group should be very profitable this year. But the dynamics are very different this time around.
At T2Impact we believe that we are headed for a long term fundamental shift in the structure of the airline system. Here are some pointers to monitor.
1. We are approaching practical capacity constraints in certain key junction points within the system. For example - The US system is already crowded at peak times yet the investment in ATC infrastructure by successive Administrations has been laughable.
2. Barriers to entry are much higher than they have been - witness the number of new airlines starting in the US market has dwindled to a trickle. In Europe there is a surfeit of LCC startups. Even the robust growth markets of GCC and Asia Pacific are not experiencing a growth of new players.
3. The massive savings gained over the last 10 years in labor cost cuts, distribution cost reductions have been offset by massive increases in fuel. Frankly there are no more major cost cutting areas left.
4. Yields are at historical highs.
5. There is going to be significant labor unrest due to the afore-mentioned labor reductions. Is it time for payback? AMR's AA pilots think so with an opening round request for 30% pay increases.
What are the airlines doing with the cash?
Plowing it into service improvements.
Still off-loading unprofitable marginal routes to affiliate partners.
Buying new planes.
What worries us is that there is no fundamental effort to address the core issues. Neither is there a regulatory mechanism for addressing the true scarcity value of the whole trip and the attendant resources consumed.We believe that a future airline sin tax regime will be introduced. If for no other reason than the usual sin tax revenues on cigarettes (for example) are starting to wane.Our belief is that the Government bodies - both national and pan-national - and the Industry should be working on improving the efficiency of the system.
A fair user fee basis of regulatory payments needs to replace the outmoded and clearly now unworkable 1944 Chicago Convention.
Finally - how about a rainy day fund?In the coming months we will explore different ways that the airlines should be responding to the future.
With our new partner InTheKno (www.inthekno.com) we will be examining business models for airlines and the impact on the whole of the Travel and Tourism sector.
Timothy J O'Neil-Dunne
Managing Partner - T2Impact LtdGlobal Travel eBusiness
Tel (US) +1 425 836 4770Mobile (US) +1 425 785 4457
Mobile (International) +44 7770 33 81 75Fax +1 815 377 1583
UNIVERSAL VOICEMAIL BOX +1 425 749 4221
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07 May 2007
Lets hope that it lasts a little longer for Air Canada. Incidently Northwest retained the name for its Cargo system. Today it is called Polaris. But for how much longer we wonder!
The USA has long had a ban on interstate gambling. The US Gambling lobby is pretty darn strong. For example the current junior Senator from Nevada's father was formerly President of Mandalay Bay Resort Group (now part of Kirkorian's MGM). In the day and age when the US is espousing open commerce for all is seems ironic that one of the Web's best businesses is denied a chance to flourish in its largest market.
For a personal reference I dislike gambling - but that is a matter of personal taste. I defend anyone's right to gamble if they choose.
So I hope that the WTO does indeed sanction the USA for this absurd situation. Selective trade scope seems to be rather protectionist. Perhaps Costa Rica and Antigua should declare war on the USA and then we can have a real headline match. Reminds me of a Peter Sellers movie http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0053084/
Suffice to say - APA (basically McQuarie and TPG) - received a bloody nose from the regulator and the stockholders and said - you cant ride roughshod over the national icon. The problem is that the perception of value and the actual value in the marketplace are not aligned. The shareholders all believe that there was some monkey business with a bleak future prospects put out when the bid was announced. Yet the performance of QF and the various subs has been much better than the regime of Mr Dixon would have us all believe. Plus the chaps at TPG were really struggling to make the deal work. It was marginal at best.
The Flying Kangeroo is somewhat therefore in limbo. The senior management find themselves in a quandry because unless APA or either partner makes a bid very soon - then at least the Chairwoman's head must roll.
The market for airline stocks is going to be good for the summer and in Oz perhaps even longer given the tight lock that QF currently has on the market. But perhaps not for long. The Canberra government cannot fend off SQ's desire for a seat at the US-OZ highly lucrative market. Not to mention the start soon of Virgin/Pacific/Blue Something's 777 service coming in 2008.
With AMR looking to suffer a summer of labor discontent (Pilots want 30%+ raises) those PE (Private Equity) Funds need to find somewhere to put some of that cash. Remember the old adage - how to make a million? Start with a billion and buy and airline.
Good Luck QF - Flying Solo is probably your best option at this point. But do make sure that you focus on the back door... there are many barbarians at the gate and you cannot rest on your laurels. (I love a mixed metaphor or 3)!