12 September 2009

Warning... Facebook is Forever - v3.0

I love Microsoft Outlook. Like many people I live in it - it really does help run my life.

Also like many people I have a page on Facebook.

For some time now Facebook has been making access to the pages open. I doubt that many people have been thinking about this. However perhaps you should. Whatever is on your Facebook public profile page or if you have set you account to the default open - then you can have a picture or comments that you might not necessarily thought was viewable outside of Facebook. Think again.

The line between a closed user group and open social networks is now blurring rapidly. The concept of a differentiation between your "true social" and your "extended social" network is no longer totally in your control when you commit to technology such as Facebook. I have commented that many of the open apps out there are building links to the various social network tools like Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, Linked-In etc. There is a battle going on between these players for mind share and we are going to be collateral victims whether we like it or not. Let me give you a specific example - there are others - but this one scares the living daylights out of me!!!

I am always trying to look for new tools to improve my productivity. I drown in email as I know many others do. So I found a great tool, I have been using it for about a year now - xobni. That's inbox spelled backwards. Its a great tool... but...
there is a catch. They mine data from the social network accounts and show the data on them.

Well a warning they are using the open access links to access the data on your Facebook. At first it was just the image. Well now it has gone deeper as the access into your social network goes viral.

So if your picture or latest comments on Facebook happen to be of a salacious nature - then it will appear in the image box to the right. More so its conceivable that when your job interview email arrives on the desk of XYZ Corp for the job of newest hot shot of Client relations it will also bring up other data. Also it is quite conceivable that there was a relationship between a third party that you both know (for example the chap who got you that interview) who just happened to be having an affair with the same person you are having an interview with the relationship will show up... OK so a little far fetched but the possibility has been there for a while and is now very real. Oh yes and by the way - I pulled a few things off my Facebook as a result. I think I am going to edit some of my "network" out.... Also I think I am a little late to the party on this one. I did a search using variants of "Where does Facebook Appear" and there is a lot of instances to give you sleepless nights.

So once again - you have been warned. Facebook is forever...


NBTA joint project with Farelogix - Your Input?

Are you an NBTA member? Then read on.

This is an email that has gone out to the organization. You are encouraged to participate if you are a member. And if you are not... then it still might be interesting....


NOTE THIS IS NOT A SOLICITATION. It is purely of interest.

Text of email follows:

Dear Member,

‘Open for Business Travel’ is a proposed initiative to build and deliver the travel industry’s first Open-Source, ‘No-Frills/Low-Cost’ Corporate Booking Solution. Under the open source model, anyone can have access to software source code and corresponding rights to use, redistribute and/or customize the software. If successful, ‘Open for Business Travel’ has the potential to be a landmark travel industry community project directly benefiting all members in the travel supply chain and across NBTA membership – buyers, sellers, TMCs, suppliers, vendors, and technology companies.

So far, industry interest in this project has been high, however, the project concept needs to be validated, through an assessment of its likelihood of success, and the general interest among the corporate travel buyer community. Please take a minute to complete this brief online questionnaire:

In order to participate, you may either:
1. Click on this link

2. Copy-paste the entire following link between quote marks (NOT including the quote marks) in a web browser
" http://research.zarca.com/k/SsUPPUsQTTsPsPsP "

Thank you for your participation.

So A Quiz - Which EU Based Flag Carrier Is Weakest in Its Home Market

So let me be specific.

Which European based airline that is a legacy/flag carrier is weakest in its home market? For many years this used to be KLM.

So lets use the metrics that we know and love - I will cheat and use the share of scheduled flights. This means that there is a considerable amount of capacity that is not included in our search - but lets press on.

Lets start with the 5 top markets to simplify matters:

These are for originating traffic:


1. Lets now look at which airlines enjoy a dominant position in that market - IE 50% of total capacity. Answer? Just one - Air France (excluding KLM).
2. Now lets look at which Flag carriers are bigger than their low cost rivals. Answer all but the UK where BA is now relegated to second place behind Ryanair. Indeed at just 17% it is the lowest market share of any airline.
3. Where do all LCCs form bigger than Legacy airlines? Add Spain and Italy although Spain doesn't really count because New Vueling is mostly controlled by Iberia.

Still this is an interesting trend!!!

If we look at the next tier of markets (12 in all) then the numbers have the same characteristics, so for the following markets:


1. Of Flag carriers only one has a Flag Carrier rate higher than 50% (Finland)
2. Countries where Flag Carrier is smaller than one LCC alone (Ireland - Ryanair, Greece - Aegean, Norway - Norwegian, Poland - Wizz)
3. Countries where Flag Carrier is smaller than combined LCCs (above plus Sweden)

Fun to think of this right? Oh yes the answer in case you missed it was BA.


Source OAG Max w/c 7 Sept 2009.

Amadeus One - Next Gen Desktops Coming

I have written a more than a few times on the changing face of the GDS products. Latest on the market is the new Amadeus ONE. Developed in the USA by the dev team based on the East Coast - the new tool is Amadeus latest effort at cracking the US market. Something that thus far has resisted the allures of the Franco-German-Hispano combine.

have a read at Amadeus's own US based site.
A good interview is available on the Beat's subscription pages:

It is amazing how a little competition galvanizes the soul. However - there is a clear trend here. I am a whole hearted fan of this trend - whether I come from the user or the supplier community - it is welcome sight to see the GDSs' show their unbundled products.

So far on the work station side - we see Travelport's UDT (Universal Desktop) and now Amadeus's Amadeus ONE, neither of which has so far been deployed into the market. We are waiting to see the Sabre product. Sabre on the other had was first out of the box with new off host based profiles.

On the independent side we are seeing new next gen technology based products from such people as Concur and Farelogix amongst many others including our client LUTE. This includes OpenSource corporate tools, agent desktops, open supply access, expense management and profiles. These products join the already competitive market for fare management solutions ticketing engines etc etc.

The world is starting to open up. The realization that an open environment is hard for GDSs to accept. But as more than one senior GDS exec has explained - that is so yesterday - now we are seeing the fruits of their labours.

Is this enough and does the commercial model match the technology? That is an interesting question.


08 September 2009

Customer Service and Initiative

Being a customer service representative can be a monotonous job at the best of times. Doing the same thing day in day out is cause for boredom and other sorts of interesting behaviors.

Today I had a difficult flight combination. 4 flights to get to my destination (when actually a simple nonstop would have done). As seasoned travelers and well trained airline people know 4 segments is not a winning combination particularly when you are transferring across airlines and different PNRs.

So I was that rare case of 3 different PNRs and tickets and 2 airlines with 4 segments. The make or break in my journey was to occur when I swapped airlines. AND I had a bag to check through.

Well the very charming young lady at Lufthansa check in in Newark Terminal B regarded this as a challenge and went out of her way to solve the problem. She was only a temporary employee (An Ulsterwoman to boot!) on a one year assignment from a Tourism course in Northern Ireland along with 10 of her fellow students. She handled the difficulty with aplomb and care that would have put a seasoned veteran to shame.

She actually went down to the baggage area - retrieved my (short tagged) bag, retagged it and came back to give me the appropriate paperwork. Not only that she then told me what to do to ensure that my bag was on the flight.

OK so I am an old hand at traveling and I am invariably jaded about the ability of the person behind the counter to be able to solve the problem - and MORE IMPORTANTLY give me the confidence that they both knew what they are doing and can communicate same.

This young lady did all of that.

Kudos to LH for its training program. And definitely kudos to the young lady for doing a job well. It really made my day when it could have gone pear shaped very badly.

See I can be nice............

LX In Or Out – A Harbinger?

Over the past few weeks behind the scenes a high stakes drama has been going on over the seemingly innocent issue of just one airline in a GDS. In this case the battle was over Lufthansa Group subsidiary Swiss Air Lines (LX)’s participation in Sabre. I am not going to comment on the actual nature of the dispute between the parties. That is for them to surface and share – far be it for me to address that issue.
Rather I would like to look at the underlying issue that the case for a universal supply chain via the GDS is at the very heart of the concept of the GDS that we have known and loved for a very long time, is now under threat – and probably its current life cycle is reaching the end.

The fact that Sabre and LX were able to (very quietly) tell the world that they had come to an agreement and that as a result LX would not be kicked out/asked to leave/disappear from (delete as you think appropriate) of Sabre. That is the positive news.

However we are seeing this battles occur time and time again. Next year will see the first of the major airlines set up for a battle with the GDS over the cost of participation in the GDS’s market. In my humble opinion – the battle lines have already been drawn and we are in for a long term and long drawn out fight.
The social contract that existed with the current round of contracts was largely blown – by the GDSs in my reading. The deal that was at the heart of the social contract was that the airlines would provide full content to the GDS players in exchange for lowered GDS costs of participation. As we have seen that GDSs learned a trick (funnily enough from the airlines) that unbundling the GDS products and services from the standardized fee could indeed result in a GDS gross revenue increase. The airlines in return feel that the GDSs have not played nice. So it is against this backdrop that the contracts will be reviewed.

Already a new model is out there – its called the opt in model. IE access to full content is no longer all encompassing – the airline can choose to opt out certain parts or prices of the product set. The famous Air Canada clause was the start of this trend.

No matter how the individual battles go for the airlines and the GDSs – there must now be the need for the Travel Intermediary community to have another way to secure their supply chain. There is a strong demand for a neutral but bilateral form of relationship tools between the parties to the distribution game. There are now many options. Most of the third party travel agency based technology companies now have the ability to provide for direct relationship management services. Indeed reading the announcements of the airlines who have chosen next gen PSS systems such as that recently announced by American in its move from Sabre (Airline Solutions) to HP/EDS, it becomes obvious that the focus is away from a transactional based infrastructure and model to a consumer/customer relationship model.

Smart agencies and intermediaries will be the ones who see the writing on the wall and develop independent solutions. Already we estimate that in excess of 80% of all US GDS generated PNRs have been touched by a 3rd party system. Still it will be hard to kick the segment override "drug" habit. Some have already done so and are many months sober. I firmly believe that this will spread over the coming years.

I will repeat and oft followed theme in this blog. The universal “one size fits all” model is dead – long live that special relationship between individual market players and partners. This is a more natural act and one that now is possible in ways that the protagonists (happy and unhappy) could only have dreamed about as recently as 6 years ago.

Next few years will be interesting...


07 September 2009

BTC Releases Study On Pax Delay

The BTC has been a long campaigner in the issue of passenger rights. And so to put the money where the mouth is - they commissioned a study on the travel industry opinion on the thorny issue of passenger flight delays.

The just released study results should make for some compelling reading for the airlines and their users. Clearly there is an impression that the airlines have failed to heed issues of passenger rights. The industry reaction has been to obfuscate the issue rather than address it. Voluntary self governance rules have failed and even the current regulations are largely flaunted by US carriers.

Contrast this with the situation in Europe. The European Commission issued passenger rights legislation in 2004. Since that time the airlines have been forced to comply and provide automatic compensation.

I believe that the US airlines have had enough time to work this out. The recent cases of tarmac delays and "imprisonment" culminating in several flights last month of extended delays should be enough for the US Dept of Transportation to issue new regulations and/or Congress to act appropriately to curb the industry excesses.

Of course I should point out that the reasons for the situations are not always the direct fault of the airline. However too often a delay or an external factor is cited for the reason. The best one I heard a few weeks ago was "Operational Reasons". The EC rules are quite simple and compliance is now a standard and accepted convention. AS I have noted before - the best performing airlines are the LCCs with Ryanair toping the table. Yet still bad airlines on both sides of the Atlantic try to hide behind erroneous interpretation of situations.

People this is not hard. Either the US DoT should fix this problem as a consumer protection issue or they should hand over the question to a different agency.

Passenger rights legislation is long overdue in the USA. As a very frequent traveller - I can more than attest to this. While I cannot vouch for the BTC's efficacy of the study - I believe it to accurately reflect a need to address the problem and the conclusions should point to a new passenger bill of rights legislation.

I for one am wholeheartedly in favor of this


06 September 2009

"The World's Ugliest Website" - Craigs List Lessons To The Wise

Oh Gerry McGovern does it again.

He takes apart one of the most successful but arguably ugliest websites around - Craigslist.

There is a lot of application from this article into the world of Travel. One of the biggest messages in his story is:

IT'S ALL ABOUT EXECUTION STUPID! Over and Over and Over again.

We have great websites that are cool and just focus on the aesthetics. Useless. Flash - Useless in most cases.

Great transaction websites are not about entertainment - a fact that seems to be lost on just about everyone on the push side of the equation.

I use craigslist like many other people. It is simple and straightforward AND I DON'T have to learn anything new. It's just there and it works.

However I have to say I was disappointed when I tried to use it in the UK. Content was useless and no one replied to my ads. However the UK equivalent seems to do just fine and did the job for me:

Gumtree - try if if you live in the UK. Its a little annoying in how it works barraging you with useless emails that only go to annoy.

And this goes to another point that Gerry makes that we should all learn. DO NOT ANNOY YOUR CUSTOMER.

There are numerous pieces written about how fickle the Web based consumer behaves differently than in the offline/real world. However I think that Gerry has hit on something that just about everyone has forgotten. Namely that it is not just about attracting but retaining a customer. Also don't assume (as everyone seems to do) that she/he wants to interact with you. In many cases they don't. Consider this. How many sites actually let opt out of ads, emails and general digital diarrhea junk that they throw at you. Today the amount of junk that comes our way is frankly frightening. Craigslist? Nada - just the facts ma'am.

So take the lesson to heart here. Now that we are reaching maturity in web terms - now we need to start to look at how much we are pissing off our customers and actually creating bad behavior such as driving people away and indeed causing the seemingly flighty behavior of the consumer. Yes folks I am actually saying that we are getting the customers we deserve.

And if I may - there is actually one group who seems to understand this - at least from a cursory point of view. OK so this will seem to be slightly left field but bear with me for a moment. The sector is the Porn industry. These chaps know that visitors don't just arrive there by accident. But they also recognize that the user doesn't want to be scammed with unnecessary emails and junk. One of my friends works in the ecommerce side of the Porn business and whether you like it or not they have been responsible for some of the best innovations on the web. He went to great pains to explain how this is a focus for (at least his company) to reduce the amount of unhappy customers so that they come back. Their focus is not so much on new punters but on returning customers has been on reducing things that upset or grate with the users.

Lessons we can all learn. Craigslist is definitely on my list of top ten performing sites. It is the only one that scores high on the "don't annoy me too much" scale. As for the design - well it isn't going to win any awards from me - but this Pinto gets me where I want to go just fine. Can your website say that?


Oh Pandora What Have You Done

One of my personal favorite applications is Pandora. Simple and Easy - and its just there.

So I love the idea of internet radio and Pandora is the best in my view.

However to save money - they dont like people like me who turn it on all day long and listen to it. I could put up with the annoyance of "Are you still there and listening" but now they are rationing the amount of listening time to 40 hours a month.

Sorry - this isn't going to work for me... so I am defecting and spreading to other internet radio sites like LastFM (when it works... its a big of a dog...)

Anyone got any other ideas?


True Road Warriors Communications Tools

I am a road warrior - by choice and by happenstance. So over time I have developed a number of strategies to reduce the cost of travel. But now there is a formal advice from the Customs and Border Patrol division of the US Department of Homeland Security

So one of the items from my prior blog entry on the US Homeland Security"> advice

IE leave your laptops at home...

I actually thought about how easy will it be for someone to follow the advice. So this piece is targeted at US residents with US credit cards and US addresses. It could be modified for other countries. The idea was to see if I could save money and comply with the US rules at the same time.

I set about trying to see if there is a way to do it and to my mind find the lowest practical cost way to undertake this. The challenge for me was to build a solution that ANYONE could use so this is a sort of quick self help primer for people who travel a lot. Even if you travel a little this will be useful. Indeed for some of my friends who have adopted this - the ROI has been in a matter of days after using their usual US cell/mobile phone to call home from Europe!!!

What are the components?

Skype, (Gizmo also works)
A webmail account such as Gmail for forwarding all your mails to.
A GoogleVoice account - useful but not required if you have Skype
A cheap Blackberry mail account for global mail access
An unlocked phone - GSM preferably that supports up to 3G.
An inquisitive nature plus a fair amount of patience

I will divide this up onto voice and data. I will also assume that you are reasonably smart and can do the things I recommend. If not then there is a world of self help in the individual components. The working combination is what this blog entry is all about. Then finally I will give you the setup that I created to meet with the US Homeland Security guidelines. So this is really an omnibus primer on what to do.

For Mobile Phone access

Firstly the device – one easy way is to get yourself an unlocked phone - then buy a local SIM card. Almost everywhere you go – you can get one. Make sure you can get a Pay as You Go card. Some countries demand a local address – for that you will have to find a “friend” who can get you a local address. An alternative is to use a multi country card like Lebara. . These are cheap and can be had at almost any location. Having a local phone makes it easier for your local friends and business contacts to reach you. Simply grab the number and remember to put it on your business card (hand write it) as you give them out locally). MAKE sure they understand its temporary. In many countries mobile numbers have become quite disposable.

Another suggestion is to try and find a good Multi Sim card mobile phone. Of course this is the Cell/Mobile phone networks worst nightmare. So you will find it difficult to get one. One of the best is the Samsung D880 it can handle 2 lines concurrently it would appear although I have not used one myself. HOWEVER if you go for a newer one the actual dual sim doesn’t work as well. You have to log in and out. But the older model misses the newer US 850 band. To have a perfect dual sim card – you really need a dual radio device and so far I haven’t seen a good one of these. SOMEONE please prove me wrong.

If you do have a current US cell phone company – make sure that you sign up for the International roaming option. It can be turned on or off according to your contract and usually without extending or affecting your master contract. These usually cost about $5 a month and pay for themselves pretty quickly. WARNING, watch out for the terms of the agreement. Phone companies are pretty sneaky. They advertise a good rate but you find it’s like airline deals there is a SET UP FEE for each call. That is the killer….

Now the set up. Use GoogleVoice (the old Grand Central) to get your phones forwarded to a common number. Then the call needs to be routed over a backbone that is IP based (at no international rate to you). Technically what you are doing here is illegal as you have set yourself up as a telecoms operator. So strangely enough the big Telco boys don’t like competition. At worst you can do a call and callback service. At best you can actually use this to route the calls to your phone. Corporate users have this capability if they have local offices in the country you are visiting. GoogleVoice is good because it delivers you your voice messages via email so you can listen to a wave file on your portable device such as a blackberry or iPhone.

Getting a low cost local provider in the cents per minute range is really tough when travelling. So there are a wide variety of calling card options but I have always found this to be pretty darn inconvenient. As I am a blackberry fanatic – aka a Crackberry addict – I found one service that works well. Truphone. It works for Symbian, Ericsson and iPhones as well. So for pay as you go it’s about 5 cents for most major locations. Plus it integrates well with your own normal Blackberry, iPhone etc etc. This is the one I use most often because its easiest to use and the cost per minute is reasonable. Contrast this with my AT&T cellphone bill for use in Malaysia at over $2 per minute even on the cheap international plan.

A big note is needed here on the use of roaming voice. The new EU directive has lowered the cost of roaming voice in each country. This is a very positive sign and soon we should have pan European contracts available. However the rest of the world has one major difference. They don’t charge for home market inbound calls. So IF you can get a local inbound number to work and that is your home market – then there is no cost to you nor does it come off your minutes.

OK so we sorted voice out.

Email and Data

How about email? Well firstly the easiest and best options. The cheapest way to get your data worldwide is to sign up for a worldwide account for Blackberry in the USA. Sorry everyone else but this is ONLY possible in the USA.

The best 2 options are T-Mobile’s email plan for Blackberry. It used to be $30 but they recently bumped it to $40. Corporate accounts should still be able to get this for the lower rate even if you have to pay this yourself – it is a godsend. THEN add the international option. This can be added and subtracted. However the contract is a 2 year one. You can get a lower contract if you are prepared to provide your own phone. To do this go to eBay and look at the phone options. There is of course risk in this… The other option is AT&T. this is about $10-20 more expensive. Verizon’s phones are still not suitable so the Crackberry doesn’t work on their network and Sprint’s roaming partners are pretty awful. So you really are constrained to these 2 providers.

And Data? Don’t even think about it on your device. Data roaming can be as expensive as $1 per MEGABYTE (Australia). Just think about that when you are roaming. However now that 3G is pretty pervasive you can actually think about this. There are 2 major options. Buy a 3G dongle or the more normal find a Wife hotspot.

There has been almost universal rejection of the laptop 3G option and even 3G tethering via the phone. Sad really because it’s a pretty good idea. Instead you have the 3G dongle – but watch out for this. MAKE SURE you take your laptop with you to the store and have them install it. I have found that certain antivirus applications like Norton so mess with the installation that they don’t work at all. Very frustrating this summer in UK (O2), Germany (Blau) and France (SFR) where I tried to make this work. The letters in brackets are the local providers I tried. However there are some silver lining things. Usually with a larger network you get access to their Wife or Wimax network. In the UK the O2 account gives you FREE access to the Cloud network. So for 30 pounds I bought the dongle – which works on my son’s PC but not on mine. However I get free unlimited access to the Cloud network. So 3 days of usage and the ROI is done. I have used it for weeks… PLUS I found out that the Cloud works in other countries. So my local hotel in Berlin uses it and its no additional charge. Another option is to find places that have free or low cost Wife. In France almost all the Tourist offices now provide 1 euro a day hotspot charges. I used this in France as it was very effective with no limits. However to say that we got funny looks when we showed up after midnight in a foreign car with 4 people lit eerily by laptop light was weird!!!

So how did I do the full set up?

In order to meet with the conditions laid out on the CBP website – I bought a netbook for $299. These are pretty handy. I like the ACER. I bought a second hand unlocked Blackberry for $50. I configured a new GMAIL account for all my usual accounts and had the mail forward to that single account with its own password. Then THAT account was linked to my blackberry. My GoogleVoice account was modified to only ring the cell phone and I set a special ring tone so that I knew to send the message to voice mail – thereby leaving a message that told the caller I would call them back. I bought the local sims for my mobile and connected the mobile to Truphone. I also made sure that Truphone was loaded on my Blackberry (always have a back up!!!) . I modified my address line on my email accounts so that people know from when to when to call me on my local numbers.

What happened… I got my emails on the new (ex-eBay) Blackberry as normal and I didn’t have to do anything. My local phone works just fine – it takes about 10 seconds longer to set up a call as the Truphone application sets up the call. In most cases I can use the Truphone on my regular Blackberry but that comes off my minutes and I have to pay the local charging rate – so I tend not to use it. Voila!

Now the downsides…

Firstly its 2 extra devices you have to carry. The second Blackberry and the local phone. OK not too bad but a pain in the butt. You also need to have the peripherals (chargers etc.). I have a little black ex-EK first class bag which houses all my cables. Since I already use Sony and Blackberry phones this is not really an issue. I also use the USB charging devices. UNFORTUNATELY and here is a heads up – they are changing the standard for USBs to small devices. The new USB-micro socket will be universal on all cameras and cell phones in the coming years. Blackberry’s new 8520 has it as does many cameras. UGH another cable I have to provide.
You have to have discipline. Make sure NOT to answer that phone when it rings (turn it off!! Or send ignore). AND of course the set up is complicated. After 12 years of using a Crackberry I am used to this. So for me this was not a difficult model to work with. The incremental time is using it was negligible, it also cost me was very little – although the set up time was long – and then undoing it was also tough.

All in all – I can tell you that it IS possible to comply with the US Homeland Security advice on the subject. However the weirdoes in Washington clearly have no idea how business works. I wonder if Obama’s Crackberry can be modified to work like this…. I hope you find this useful.