28 February 2009

Are Bloggers Journalists?

In truth - I have always thought the answer was NO!

However the definition is a hard one to nail down. Many journalists are not full time, many are not classically trained. Most have good ethics.

But as we all know the law can be an ass in trying to define things.

So it is with much interest that I see that the US Congress has decided to take the matter into its own hands. And thanks to the folks at WebProNews for showing us this little one.

It seems that the two versions of the Bill set out to achieve the same goal - defining what is a journalist and then seeking to protect that definition and the attendant rights, as such both the Senate and House agree on what a journalist’s duties are and what journalism entails:

"the regular gathering, preparing, collecting, photography, recording, writing, editing, reporting, or publishing of news or information that concerns local, national, or international events or other matters of public interest for dissemination to the public."

But the House version which has more people, defines further by adding:

"for a substantial portion of the person's livelihood or for substantial financial gain and includes a supervisor, employer, parent, subsidiary, or affiliate of such covered person."

So, in effect, if journalism is a hobby or passion you do as a public service, or if you are a freelancer without a boss--both of which easily describe a blogger--then the government reserves the right to force you to tell them who told you something, much like the government tried to do with New York Times journalist Judy Miller under the Bush Administration. Of course if you are a blogger anyway - you should not have the same rights.

Oh boy - this means that all you Bloggers and Twits out there are going to have to be careful how you do - what you do and about whom.

And that includes me.


27 February 2009

Brits Return to Butlins

Ah sweet nostalgia.

When I was a wee nipper - I badgered my parents to take me to Butlins. The haven of wonder, all inclusive all the fun you can consume.

And yes there is a Wikipedia article on it:


Butlins itself somewhat lost its glamour when the Brits discovered the fleshpots of Europe and then learned that contrary to (then) popular lore the Wiley Oriental Gentlemen didn't really patrol the harbour of Calais.

Fast forward to today's sobering economic crisis and the lack of affordable holidays, and we see that the Brits wont be leaving their shores in such droves this year. Many of them will simply stay home - Staycation will creep into the vocabulary again. But for many the second year without a holiday away somewhere is just not tolerable. So they are packing their sandwiches and heading to Butlins.

And this isn't your grandfather's Butlins (or its arch competitor Pontins) either. Sure there are the Redcoats. But the ghost of Sir Billy and his son (also sadly deceased) do not haunt the remaining 3 "villages". Mother-in-law jokes have been banned but the nobbly knee contests remain. And the venerable Chalets are still there in some cases.

Ah sweet nostalgia....

26 February 2009

LAX Suffers Downturn - What It Means For Some.

I thought I had agreed with myself not to spread more doom and gloom. However I like to dig into the statistics of what happens and why. I am obsessed with data within data.

OK so in looking at LAX's January numbers - there are some nasty pieces about the drop off in traffic. The reality is not quite as horrendous as it sounds. However ONT - also covered by the LA Airports authority took a huge bath and has lost a lot of scheduled traffic, including 5 airlines altogether.

For LAX one of the premier gateways in the country and 3rd or 4th largest airport frequently - the downturn is still pretty significant.

Passenger counts are off by 11.3% LAX btw does about 25% of its traffic internationally. So if the drop off is in International traffic then LAX hurts more than the rest. Because of its location Pacific travel is obviously very high as it is the main US-Asian gateway airport.

So looking at the number of pax its down with a higher number international than domestic. OK so far makes sense. But LAX stats are rather good so you can see who actually took the hit. It seems that the tenants in
Bradley (International airlines) dropped 6.34%
Terminals 2 (AC, VS, NW and ANZ dropped 10.85%
Terminal 4 (American and Qantas) dropped 40.45%
Terminal 5 (Delta) dropped 48.18%
Terminal 7 (United) dropped 41.36%

This makes it interesting to see that the US carriers to International points outside of the Americas are doing worse than those locations airlines. It also shows that the traffic to Asia/PAC which in GDS terms was off (according to Travelport) by more than 20% a real basket case and far worse than US or EMEA.

With the large jump in traffic between Taiwan and China - you can see that there is a real change occurring in the profile of travel. What we are seeing is not just a general decrease but a change in world order.

That is interesting


GDS Innovation - An Oxymoron? A Challenge

The interest over the Sabre decision to rescind one developer's contract seems to have ignited a big debate.

Sabre is very much on the defensive for its decision. Travelport seems to be fence sitting. However Amadeus seems to be taking a more open approach. I encourage readers to go the the BEAT website and read Dwayne Ingram's letter in response to Pass Consulting's Michael Strauss.


But let's just challenge a little of the assumptions here. Is GDS "innovation" actually an oxymoron?

The definition of "innovation" seems to have been lost in the shuffle. Also the investment by the GDSs needs an examination.

A GDS's stock in trade is maintaining currency of its platform. So there are armies of developers and functional analysts inside a GDS who sit there all day consuming 1000 hours of time each year of time (1 man year) in "development". In reality much of this - not all but by far the largest portion - is just standard sustainability activity. The analogy I would use is that it is like paying for a change of tires on your car. If the tire model is changed, the rubber is modified or the service is better etc etc it doesn't change the fact that its a tire (or a tyre) and that you need a tire to run the car. Will it get you to your destination faster?

Of hard core innovation and research into it - there is precious little being done at the GDSs. I am sure someone will disagree with me but please show me where that money is being spent and I will happily recant if a GDS can demonstrate true innovation expenditure.

When I was at Worldspan - we did hard core R&D but it was never funded that way. We funded it out of people's time and some egregious sleight of hand, and the budget never reflected it. More than once did I get my knuckles wrapped for that behavior. But in the end my team delivered new products and services which today power a significant amount of Worldspan's gross transactions. Is that what the GDSs are doing today? You be the judge.

Nope rather the GDSs are actually delivering LESS functionality than they did years ago. There is in reality now a technology gap between what counts for real innovation and additional functionality vs. maintenance of the status quo.

In defense of the GDSs - this is all that they can do. The demands of the business have grown to such a level that it is impossible for them to maintain the totality of service that they used to provide. They have eliminated in the past 10 years: Networks, workstation software, hardware etc etc. At the same time they have in general abandoned the back office and mid office markets to third party developers. Their remaining platform of solutions is significantly below what it once was. Yet their revenue from the airlines has continued to rise (percentage wise) despite implementing the Full Content contracts. Just look at Travelport's latest numbers. It is very transparent.

Today almost every GDS based booking touches a third party developer's application in some shape or form. So the value of the third party developer to the equation is critical. Indeed the third party developers almost to a man (sorry or woman) are doing what the GDSs are no longer capable of - namely providing that missing functionality, content access or efficiency - that the GDS used to provide. So in truth the third party developers are actually helping the GDSs stay in business.

The GDSs should actually acknowledge this and stop some of their arcane "certification" processes. Wouldn't life be wonderful if we had a platform that didn't need "certification".

Perhaps that symbiotic relationship is going to change. Clearly the innovation edge goes to third parties and not to the GDSs. So Amadeus's approach is the right one. I only hope their actions match their rhetoric. One thing is for certain - the barriers to entry are decidedly lower than they used to be and the relative value of a GDS to the distribution mix is similarly lessened.

So here is my challenge to the GDSs. Adopt the Open Source GPL (General Public License) model. It includes any abuse provisions. If you are truly open then put that out there.

For anyone who is interested one of the best articles on the subject from a legal perspective can be found here:


Lets get real here and perhaps a little more honest with ourselves....


*Air.* Loses Yet Another Battle

Remember that airline that has been trying to get started in South Africa and sell flights by the hour. Well after losing just about everything they had - now they are going to lose their name as well.

Here is a recap of a summary ruling:

The court ordered that:

• Airtime shall not use the company name ‘Airtime Airlines’ as a trademark
• The carrier is interdicted from using the word ‘ifly Airtime’ in relation to its services and business, including the advertising and marketing of its products and/or services.
• The carrier is interdicted from passing off its products, services or business as being that of 1time, by using the colour red and/or the word time, otherwise than in its ordinary descriptive sense, without distinguishing its products, services or business from 1time
• Airtime is also interdicted from misrepresenting its products, services and/or business to be that of 1time, or associated in the course of trade with 1time.

Gotta respect the law

25 February 2009

Travelport Reports - Its Ugly Out There

In the last quarter of 2008, Travelport's bookings plummeted. And there is no reason to believe that Sabre is not down by a similar amount. Amadeus is probably doing a little better but not by much.

GDS based total transactions were off a stunning 15%. What was a worry in August at the Q2 numbers has turned into a full scale rout and ensuing panic with these numbers.

Once you peel back the usual corporate BS - you see that there is some very worrying underlying trends.

Trend #1 - move to a late booking environment. This has not been seen in the USA for a long time if ever. In Europe the switching of consumer behavior occurs often. Early vs late has therefore become something of a game between sellers and consumers. For the US sellers this is a very worrying trend. Even more so when US players have to play by the quarterly report microscope rules.

Trend #2 - traffic is just off. its off 10%+ at the end of last year judging by all the data with a pretty steep dive at Xmas and also January started way off.

Trend #3 - all markets are similarly affected with the exception of LATAM (which is relatively small) and GCC also relatively small at around sub 10%. What is also noticeable is that Europe seems to be holding up about the same as the USA but that Asia Pac is really off. This bodes better (but not well) for Amadeus but not for Travelport and Sabre must be really hurting, the latter as a result of powering Abacus.

Trend #3 - GDS based bookings seem to be falling off faster than total pax. This is very worrying and I have written about this before. This is driven by two factors: less corporate traffic (which is way off as we have seen from premium airlines like Cathay and BA) and by more shopping which has resulted in leisure shoppers moving towards buying direct (as we have seen from Expedia).

Travelport therefore stated that Q4 2008 "overall volume declines and 9 percent lower GDS revenues. GDS bookings fell 14 percent in the Americas, 15 percent in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, and 21 percent in Asia-Pacific." Moreover Gordon Wilson head of Travelport's GDS business reported that traffic was even further down in January of 2009. Still a 6% point delta between GDS revenues and transactions points to airlines paying more. This will further exacerbate the conflict between airlines and their former GDS children.

Interestingly in this debate - what we see are the first signs of an acknowledgment of the sea change. The withdrawing from the holistic one size fits everything model has finally come to be acknowledged by the external analysts and even the GDSs themselves.

Former Thomas Weisel stock watcher Jake Fuller--last week hinted at the Masters' Program conference - that the Private Equity players would not be able to sell their GDS based assets in a recovering market any time before the seminal 2011 airline contract negotiating period. Thus the value of the GDS write downs will have to be massive. In turn this would trigger concerns of the debt holders and also any bank to lend more money for basic services such as continuing "normal" investment at usual levels let alone investment in any fundamental changes to cope with a downsized GDS business.

Even Jeff Clark hinted at a number of scenarios such as a return to the NMC/NDC model. he said "If in 2010 and 2011 we continue to go down by 15 percent per year, all bets are off. At that point, you start to look at very different types of technology to move fewer volumes, you start looking at different regions in different ways, and perhaps go to different partnership agreements. Today we're investing in sales and marketing organizations because we have enough scale in those markets to do it. You might go back to (NMC/NDC type) relationships at that point to 'variable-ize' your cost structure."

That type of commentary makes Sabre's recent comments on being THE aggregated source for content sound pretty hollow. Especially when being used to beat up on emerging potential competitors.

I will say this again. The GDS model is definitely wonky if not completely broken. Someone just needs to be honest about it and address the reality of the new world order. Sounds like some people already have it on their radar.


What Should The Topic Be For Blog #1000?

OK Dear readers

We are closing in on Blog number 1000. So I have a question - what would you like the topic to be?

In the past 3 years since I have been running this blog - I have covered a wide variety of topics. Almost all (except for the odd frivolous ones) are focused on the market segment of Aviation, Travel and Tourism - with a particular emphasis on distribution.

The first blog I ever did was May 16th 2006. Over the first year - there was not a lot that I posted. Just comments on things that were interesting. It wasn't until Feb of 2007 that I started to blog on a serious basis.

To date we have had over 100,000 people visit the site, subscribe in an email or access the content via RSS. This includes our partners who have syndicated the content. And there have even been people who "borrow" some of the words and try to make it their own. I have received thousands of comments - not all of them complimentary but in the most part (except for a Hotel in India) valuable.

So what do I write on for the 1000th blog?

Top stories have been:

The death of the GDS model
The LCC revolution morphing into a regular business model
Poor Airline Service
Stupid Customer Service tricks
Obfuscation by people and companies who should know better
New forms of distribution
Brickbats and Bouquets for all manner of seller behavior
Really Cool Stuff
Road Warrior experiences.

If you have another topic - let me know and I will probably try and do a series for the blog entries 995 through 1005.

Let me know.

And as always - thanks for reading and...


24 February 2009

Air Arabia Steps Gingerly Into Europe

Most folks in North America and in Europe have never heard of Air Arabia. It never seems to quite make anyone's list. Yet it is today a powerhouse in the GCC states. It is today probably the most profitable airline in the world with yields that most legacy airlines can only have fantasies about.

It has built an extensive network feeding the the GCC markets into Southern Asia and even beyond. It has steadfastly avoided stepping into the territory of the European based LCCs. Well dream no more. Air Arabia has announced its first Western European destination - Athens. Albeit with a very modest 3x a week ATH-SHJ service. This will not be the last of their European destinations.

With Dubai's new LCC - FlyDubai rearing to go this year - Air Arabia must spread its wings and continue to develop more cross feed and keep ahead of the its Emirates neighborhood cousin who is surely going to make a big impact in the LCC market arena when it arrives later this year.

While technically not its first flights to Europe (the carrier already serves Istanbul and Kiev) this is the first step into a major European gateway.

Welcome to Adel Ali and his team. it would be interesting to see if Ryanair is going to fly to Sharjah! I wouldn't put it past the Irish.


Simple IBEs Are - Well - Passé

Jim Peters is the CTO for SITA, himself a pioneer having developed one of the earliest IBEs with the Bookit Suite in the mid 1990s which subsequently became part of Datalex, he knows a thing or two about the booking engine process.

I am not sure if I agree with him on his predictions of the end of the conventional IBE. If so then his former company could be in for a hard time since that is their major product line.

“Web 2.0 technologies will transform airline websites into travel planning portals that go far beyond date and location. By making it faster, easier and more cost-effective to provide real-time content from diverse sources, Web 2.0 technologies meet travelers’ demands for greater information and personalization," he said at SITA's 60th anniversary.

Some of the European Union's legislation on privacy might get in the way of this bold vision.

However Jim has a good point, the days of the simplistic Web 1.0 access focused IBEs are clearly reaching the end. The consumer has - as a direct result of their experience with Web 1.0 stuff - become smarter in their purchasing processes. So much the better. But its just not enough.

Someone asked the Professor this week what he thought the real impact of Web 2.0 was? After careful consideration - I am of the opinion that Web 2.0 has been a little over-rated. Ask anyone which is the definitive Web 2.0 travel site and most people will scratch their heads. Trip Advisor? If not them then who?

There is a great book - The Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki. I still find it hard to believe but the book makes a compelling case about crowd "intelligence". But can this theory be applied to travel and travel purchase processes? My belief is that Web 2.0 has been somewhat over-hyped. However because it is so nebulous that the chances are that whatever comes along now can be construed as Web 2.0 - heck even this blog is Web 2.0.

What is more interesting to me is how you harness the power of this "Wisdom" with expert advice to create a series of guides and assistants that makes wizards really and truly wizards. Smart, intuitive and overall useful yet still letting the user remain in control.

Sadly though - and perhaps this is Jim's point - the technology that exists at the heart of all of these processes remains essentially a GDS like purchasing process. The portals of which Jim refers just cannot be powered by that old clunky GDS model technology. Something newer that is more closely aligned with the Consumer is required. Those systems are few and far between. The challenge to create new systems - truly next generation and not just lipstick on Sarah Palin's proverbial pig - that are actually built around the customer is just too much of an opportunity to miss.

Now that's interesting!

Do you agree?

Gol Is American's New Gal

with TAM running around with Star in her eyes, American is clearly feeling jilted. This means that the rearranging of the deckchairs is going on in LATAM. So the JJ/AA code shares look like being swapped for UA/CO based Code Shares. So this puts American at a disadvantage. Not to be outdone (well they waited a while before they started officially dating), so now the American Broad has a new gal - GOL.

AA with up to 69 flights a week US to Brazil clearly needed a new dancing partner. So AA and Gol (yes another LCC interlining) will go steady for a bit. Whether it becomes more, remains to be seen.

And over in the blue corner remains Skyteam with almost no one in LATAM to dance with.


22 February 2009

Ryanair: Relentless on No Frills

With 2008 a not so happy memory for Europe's largest LCC - profitwise, Ryanair is wasting no time in taking another step in the road of reducing "frills". It is going to eliminate one of the last vestiges of a service based airline. The Checkin Desk.

By the end of the year - most airports will have no check in desks and just a service desk and a bag drop facility. Some might say that this is taking the concept too far - but I applaud Ryanair for continuing ways to reduce the infrastructure cost of running an airline.

While it already has one of the lowest footprints at the checkin area of any airline - it is looking to follow the example of others such as Southwest and Alaska in reducing its airport footprint.


29 March - New GDS Rules in Europe

So with a whimper more than a bang the new GDS rules will be taking effect in Europe next month. What could have been a radical change of the market will largely result in a legal status quo. For those of us who filed comments and followed it - this is an interesting result.

The politics won in the end - intense lobbying efforts by Amadeus ensured that the change was somewhat watered down. Happily at the end of the day the impact of their efforts was largely negated by common sense.

What I find most interesting is that one of the big issues - carrier ownership in a GDS - has been largely overtaken by the divergence of the needs of the former family/partners/friends.

The increasingly ugly fights that are now going on - LH vs. Amadeus over the Preferred Fares Program and AA vs. Sabre over a large number of issues - point to the facts that their businesses are now fundamentally at odds. The GDSs must shoulder the blame here fore milking the cash cow model too long.

How will it end? We don't know yet. But speculating - we will definitely see different set of relationships emerging and I believe that there will be a new world order emerging in 2 years. Smarter heads will prevail.

One thing is for sure - the days of GDS dominance in distribution are nearing sunset. The sun has already dipped behind several buildings. Night is fast approaching. In my opinion it will not be a lingering and slow change, rather we will see a moment of change that will be radical and indeed for many people astonishingly rapid. Buckle up! The time for dancing around the issues is long gone. Planning and option evaluations leading to action better be high on your priority list - no matter where you sit in the continuum.


JetBlue Now Loves the GDS - Higher Yields...BUT...

I find this an interesting discussion. For some stats - click on over to the Beat's website and check out David Jonas's blog on the subject of jetBlue and its relationship to the GDSs:


The GDSs and the Hotels have long argued that the GDS represents a higher yield channel. And actually it probably does. But lets consider the reasons before drinking all the KoolAid and rushing headlong into the arms of Dallas, Madrid and Atlanta.

The Travel Agency market has largely lost the small travel agency. While pockets still exist - the travel distribution market has fundamentally changed within the last 15 years. There are very few Mom and Pop type businesses that sell airline tickets. That business has gone online and for no commission the remaining business is split between the OTAs and the airline direct business. However the Corp market has largely not changed. Even though GetThere and other online versions of corporate tools have been out for a long time - they have not fundamentally changed either the profile - or more importantly the habits of the Corporate travelers. So the TMC remains a largely captive GDS market. A fact that the GDSs still hang onto. A word to describe that process would be - FEROCIOUSLY.

So with jetBlue wanting to access the business travel market as its own model matures - it is seeing a higher yield emerging from the GDS channel. Indeed Southwest and in Europe EasyJet are seeing the same thing and are so pursuing it. But I caution, this is not a function of the GDS model itself but the market. And this is where the non-sequitor exists. The self fulfilling prophesy means that there is a very tight symbiotic relationship between the GDSs and the TMCs. Hence Charles Petrocelli's statements at PhocusWright in LAX in November to that effect.

However as I talk to real travellers and workers who live with the constraints of the TMC/GDS based booking services made by people who (the travellers believe) have little or no consideration of their needs, its become obvious that the situation is not sustainable for the long term. The move to a tight budget environment has travellers making decisions on what is the cheapest flights rather than the most convenient. This pressure has been there for the SMEs for a long time whose yields have always been lower for airlines as they tend to book direct or via OTAs.

Now in today's new reality, the bigger Corps are feeling the same pressure. If you want to travel for business you had better chose the absolute lowest cost solution or not go. Guess what? In droves business travel people are going to their managers and showing them the lower prices available on the OTA or direct websites.

This is a dirty little secret that none of the existing players - the Suppliers, GDSs and TMCs - really want anyone to notice.

I am not slamming anyone for this behavior. Convenience always trumps price in a conventional environment. But these are not conventional times. The creativity that used to be applied to maximizing frequent flyer points is now being applied to justifying trips that the corporate travellers absolutely need to make so that their businesses can actually stay afloat. Survival drives some radically different behavior.

Bottom line to all this - the GDS/TMC model is due for sea change. Already we see this occurring in that there is competition creeping into the mix. The GDSs are now competing with their best clients (Travelocity for Business as an example) and TMCs are developing their own holistic full content supply chain management systems for which the GDS is not the sole/exclusive source.

I will conclude by reminding you dear reader - that I, fundamentally and for a very long time, have believed that fragmentation is a way of life. You cannot legislate against it or prevent it. It is inevitable. Those who embrace it will be winners. Those who deny it will be road kill. 'Nuff said?