20 March 2009

Sabre Launches ProfilePlus.

As regular readers know - I am not a huge fan of the GDSs. But occasionally they do something right.

The new Sabre ProfilePlus product which will replace the old and now very tired STAARS product (actually does it still have 2 As in it?) it has used for so many moons.

All 3 GDSs are now working on the non-TPF hosted Profile system. I cannot comment on the others because I haven't seen the Amadeus and the TravelPort products. However I think it is definitely a product type whose time has come.

Prying open the GDS to allow access to the core functionality of the GDS without necessarily changing the underlying components, would have been heresy even a few years ago. Today with products like LUTE's Open Office Platform and Travelport's new workstation product, the unbundled model is indeed becoming a reality.

It should be remembered that the GDS sits on 3 basic platform legs.

Content and access to supply e.g. Airlines Inventory and pricing
Applications e.g. Shopping tools
Customer File Management e.g. PNRs and profiles

The unbundling of the GDS model has been something that has needed to happen for a very long time.

ProfilePlus represents a good way forward. It is huge. 1600 data elements. It is however still host based. The old flat file based profiles are replaced with significant capabilities and useful tools. It is based on web services model with a GUI as the front end and interfaces using both a command line or a Graphical front end. It is also 2 way although the initial release will be the traditional unidirectional tool. it is tightly coupled to MySabre but in the future will support external services such as Merlin in Germany.

Among the new capabilities are:

1. Templates that will make profile creation a lot easier
2. Filters that enable the display of only critical data a lot easier
3. A master (Oracle based) database for the management and manipulation of profiles
4. PNR interaction via a new *PI function
5. Profile migration tool which is essential
6. A future road map of many functions
7. Interaction with both local and remote applications

There are many elements that will be familiar - A.O.N - Always, Optional and Never move components.

In the discussion with the product folks today, they described how Sabre has a vision for recreating the PNR by "flattening" the structure. This is a pretty radical departure for a GDS.

Product roll out will occur in Q2 2009 with migration complete by the end of 2010. There are already about 25-30 users on the system in test.

Frankly the power will be more than 90% of what agents will generally need. But this wont be too complicated as the standard agent in the high street never need touch the power. However for a large corporate agency this has functions that have been asked for. It is however a whole new structure and functionality that will require extensive support services (that Sabre will initially provide at no additional charge). It is of the same magnitude of effort as the introduction of scripting.

There are still challenges. Prying open the GDS requires a philosophical and commercial model that Sabre doesn't seem to be too keen to support at this point. But with tools like this the technology is not going to be the problem.

Kudos to the team at Sabre who did the work. It looks very thorough. However one should spend a lot of time with the product before deciding on its deployment profile.

It would be very interesting to see how the other 2 systems, Amadeus' new environment and the G2 based solution from Travelport stack up against Sabre's now announced offering.


From The Dept. Of Crass Headlines:

79% of US email users went on to book travel online after receiving an e-mail from a travel company.

Thank you epsilon. I enjoyed it. No further comment is necessary

The Ancillary Revenue Well to Run Dry?

Good piece from Reuters and published in USA Today - march 18.


There is no doubt that Ancillary Revenues have definitely saved the Airlines in 2008 and now into 2009 this is of major value and has become a mainstay of airline gross revenues. However there is a sense of foreboding that seems to be permeating the revenue managers of the airlines. Perhaps the well has run dry and the unbundling of the product has reached its logical conclusion. There is only so much that you can ask a customer to pay for separately before he suffers from wallet fatigue. There are a good number of people who firmly believe that they are being ripped off for things like taxes, service fees, surcharges and fuel fees etc.

For LCCs particularly the master of this - Ryanair - the issues are pretty straightforward, they are totally transparent about the issue. However even Ryanair may have reached the end of that limit if they proceed to force a 100% online checkin fee. At least you know where you stand with FR.

However contrast this with the Full Service Network Carriers. They are offering frills for pay and there is a lot of confusion around how these frills are offered or not as the case maybe. Further the inability to purchase some of these things through the traditional environments such as a GDS powered travel agency has become a major frustration on all sides.

Case in point. Why would you make your most frequent flyers pay for change fees at the same time opening up such previously hard won privileges such as lounge passes or priority status for fees. I urge you to go hang out in some of the frequent flyer forums if you want to see some venom being spat out on these subjects.

One thing is for certain the low hanging fruit of this ancillary revenue is done. Now the hard things have to be worked out and made to work. That is going to cost money and the issue of whether the revenue justifies the additional costs come into play.

Of course what this does to your brand proposition and your customer loyalty is a very open question.

As always - don't expect money for nothing - "and your chicks ain't for free!". For those of you running off to yet another ancillary revenue conference be careful. All that glitters is not gold.

Be warned and be careful - all of you.


19 March 2009

Worldwide Outbreak of Twitarrhea.

Surprising to some - it may be said - but the Professor is not always an early adopter of technology. He is however a very keen gadget hound and usually tries everything at least once. He opines (in the third person) that its a bit like sushi... how do you know if you are going to die unless you try it...

OK so back to the first person and I think I have said before that I find Twitter a little obtrusive. Now I am beginning to find it annoying in certain cases. I do find there are some very good times when Twitter Tweets are very useful. I have noted before that they are great during conferences and probably during emergency situations. But for the rest - well I just have a hard time justifying my very precious time with perhaps a lot of junk.

So my problem is that I don't have the ability to edit it or to know if the person is sending valuable information in the tweets or just describing the contents of their lunch. So it would seem that we are now beginning to suffer a worldwide viral explosion of the new disease Twitarrhea.

This new and it would seem quite pervasive disease is characterized by very often quite rational and sane people using their cellphones to engage in mindless activities and opinions of seldom any relevance. And just because it can be done in 140 characters should not be an excuse to send a stream of the effluent.

It this wasn't bad enough it seems that there is a secondary disease that affects an even greater percentage of the population called Spanish Tweettimetheftuenza. (With full apologies to the people of the Iberian peninsula). This secondary disease could be more harmful to the world than Twitarrhea in that it has now stolen many billions of minutes of people's time causing reduced productivity in the workplace and relationship strain and breakup.

For some extreme examples of Twitarrhea - I refer you to the famous Robert X Cringely.


I often admonish my readers to be careful and be warned to terrible afflictions. This is perhaps the most important warning I have given to date.

DON'T DO IT. If I may quote one of the most famous statements of all time (and butcher it just a little) from Walt Disney's Bambi:

"If you cannot Tweet something nice then don't tweet anything at all"

18 March 2009

Airline Seats as Razors?

Tim Hughes - whose blog I really like - writes in his column from down under today on the notion of the airline seat vs ancillary revenues as the Razor vs Razor blade discussion.

The concept founded so many years ago by King Gillette (yes that was his real name) of selling the larger product at a loss or zero cost but making the profit of the use of the product is clearly not and not necessarily news.

However adopting this model comes at a huge price that not many may be willing to pay.

Consider this - if (heaven forbid) Ryanair was to have an accident and lives lost or serious injuries what would happen to Ryanair? probably a lot since it has little brand value other than price. Were the same thing to happen to Lufthansa - its a different proposition as LH has a much higher brand value.

if therefore you append the Razor/Blade model over airlines today many things happen. The investmant in the brand proposition changes. The value proposition changes. Most definitely what happens is that you destroy the value of your proposition compared to comparable products and services. In the case of the airline trying to make money out of the initial reservation/seat sale - then they become no better than Ryanair.

Indeed in my opinion this works for someone like Ryanair. It doesnt work for a premium product airline or even an association with a brand that is lesser in perception terms.

All in all its not a good idea.

Seperating the brand proposition from the product works for things like Game Consolers or Razors. It doesnt work for a premium long established airline in my view.



16 March 2009

Is Ryanair Losing Screen Scrape War?

I have to say I am conflicted on this one.

The issue of the ability of a screen scraper to "steal, misuse, misappropriate or manipulate" material off the web pages of an airline attacks one of the fundamental issues of Intellectual Property. Is the data you have yours or not? At the heart of this are two conflicting concepts.

On the open access doctrine sits the - "If you put it out, there it's public" rights.
However if you present the conditions for use of the data then the right to refuse to sell rule comes to play - yes the "no shoes, no shirt, no service" rule. As long as you don't discriminate - this has been a fundamental right of every seller.

At this stage I think that Ryanair and BA (who has similar policy) clearly state the right to use rules on their websites (as does Expedia and many others) have right in their corner. However once the booking has been accepted then the case gets murky. So if someone used subterfuge to get the booking done illegally - then the airline has the right to refuse flight but only if the consumer knowingly deployed some underhanded way of getting the booking.

This little detail seems to have been lost in the Multicom pronouncements that FR is going to lose the battle.

Since at the moment FR has said that it is not allowing ANYONE to screen scrape it means that ALL bookings are the fruit of a poison vine action. This is a fundemental legal concept.

Don't you just love the law!


The BTC vs IATA Privacy Debate

The debate between BTC and IATA over the PAXIS information tool has boiled into a brawl. As it should.

The EU New code of conduct has many gray areas - but data privacy is not one of them. There are clear obligations for any provider of data. They must mask individual and corporate/group entity data so that performance of an individual side cannot be interpreted.

Frankly the Paxis product is somewhat clunky to use. As is all MIDT data. BIDT data cannot be used inappropriately, this is what seems to be the case.

IATA is going to have to back down or it will create a back door to data across the board. I hope they see the error of their ways. Perhaps when the boys and girls all move to Miami things will improve!