20 February 2010

Bad Service In the Travel Industry

I try to go and visit the ATM - Arabian Travel Mart - every year. My team has done quite a lot of work over the years in the Gulf States (GCC). One of the Leading trade shows is ATM. It is run by Reed Exhibitions who also handle the World Travel Mart in London.

Between the two of them - I have had a relationship with Reed for - well more than 20 years. It somewhat irks me that EVERY YEAR I have to re-register with them. You would think by now they would know who I was (OK no snickers here please). Especially when Reed is off touting their credentials for Social Media.

So this year when it came time to register - I duly received my invitation to register early.

GREAT - they finally got it this year. Even a reasonable facsimile of my name!

I click on the email link... disappointment.

"Your Session has expired" What??? I didn't have a session yet how could it expire?

OK so rather than just abandoning things I thought OK its a simple bug - I hope they have not sent this email to 50,000 people and everyone gets the same response.

So let me tell the webmaster - he will fix things. Right? WRONG!

Here is the error:

: does not like recipient.
Remote host said: 550 sorry, no mailbox here by that name. (#5.7.17)
Giving up on

So moral of the story. If you are in our business then perhaps you should be sure to make things work.

I am sure that we are all guilty of doing silly things but this is a pretty major site and it needs to get fixed.

I hope they remember me after this rant


BA777 Accident Final Report

I finally got to read the report. It makes for some interesting reading.

From the gist of what I have read - despite the knowledge of the dangers of ice in fuel tanks - it had not been deemed enough of a risk for anyone to worry about. Guess again.

I believe that this shows that just about any entity can be subject to a failure in their system of quality. What needs to be done now is to pay close attention to the accident recommendations and swift implementation.

The risk of the issue makes the possibility of a repeat accident greater than was previously imagined. Purity of the fuel and processes for dealing with it should be a hot topic of debate.

With the number of accidents continuing to fall but the resulting survivability of any accident not really changing - one can only imagine the horror of a fully loaded widebody coming down in a residential area close to an airport. In Africa this has actually happened. The last time an aircraft was destroyed in an accident at LHR was G-ARWE the B707 in April 1986 with 5 Fatalities.

We cannot let our vigilance drop


The Long Road Back For US Travel Agencies

Recently ARC (the old Airlines Reporting Corporation) has begin to make some of its vast data more readily available for the marketplace.

I believe that ARC represents a good proxy for the US market and the GDSs in the USA in particular. Well at least for now.

Recently they have made available the breakout of the different types of Travel Agency based transactions. Breaking them into 3 categories - Mega (meaning TMCs) Online and the ubiquitous "Other" category - it is interesting to see how the downturn last year affected the Mega and the OTA categories differently. As a proxy for the future we can see that the worst is definitely now behind us in TRANSACTIONS. However revenue/yield continues to lag and we are not seeing it come back. I believe it will be some time for us to see some significant improvements in yield.

What we see is that the market definitely bottomed out in February 2009. So now we are one year on from there. Yes the OTAs have made inroads. The abolition of fees has made the OTA more attractive to users. However there is still the issue of the legacy GDS based OTAs inability to handle ancillary revenue services such as paying for premium seats and baggage that is so important for the airlines.

If Travel Intermediaries want to make the change and look for new revenue forms - they should really start looking to cooperate with the airlines and try and drive the profitable solutions of ancillary revenue sales.


Founderless ILFC Hits Turbulence

This week I took a little detour and a few days off and went to Arizona. I got to indulge myself with some viewing of the Davis Mothan AFB Boneyard. I also tried to get into the Evergreen maintenance facility aka the aptly named Pinal Air Park but was turned away. I even saw an old Pan Am 707 the USAF had purchased. But I digress...

Without the pioneering spirit of its Hungarian born founder and now former leader, ILFC seems to have hit some turbulence.

At the end of last year citing issues of the leadership and the seeming lack of direction by bailout king AIG, Moody's downgraded AIG's bonds to a very low state. This week Fitch's ratings (yes those people who didn't seem to know what was going on before) downgraded ILFC's bonds to junk (BBB from BB status).

In the mean time Steven Udvar-Hazy seems quite far along the comeback trail. Those private equity and venture funds who backed him for his aborted efforts to buyout ILFC from the insurance giant recognize that there is a value in the marketplace for some "re-ordering" of the assets for aircraft. As I have mentioned before, there is an over stuffing of the supply pipeline at the moment. As a result some existing lessors (usually banks) are seeing to monetize their assets and reduce their exposure to the aircraft market. The aircraft manufacturers need to ensure that more orders come in and that they are not left with white tails.

Stay tuned - there will be more

19 February 2010

QF and Those First Seats - False Economy?

I have noted a few different stories about the QF decision to reduce First Class on all but 12 A380s. I note that the total cost quoted for the removal was $400 million. Lat time I checked that's about the price of a new A380. So let's just assume for a minute that we buy the PR - therefore we have a life span of 5 years for a seat. So should we consider the economic value of the decision. If you look at both aircraft then we would see that the A380 could feasibly double the number of seats from 14 to 28 (replacing first with business). For the 747s also. So we are looking at 2x A380s (net gain 28 seats). For the 747s same thing but there are 30 of them of which 4 are currently 2 class and the rest 4 class. So lets assume 20 of them will get reconfigured net gain 280 seats. (I have heard as few as 9) So the total gain is 308 seats. Hmmm I am not quite sure this is a really compelling economic decision.

So hopefully someone at QF can explain the economics of this.



14 February 2010

Bad Browser Behaviour. You Know Who You Are!

Its the weekend - its Valentine's Day so my post for today is about how much Travel Sites love their Customers. Sadly its not enough.

My rant is focused today on people who consistently ignore the user community and create bloated websites with poor usability. The "everything and the kitchen sink" approach is something that really bothers me. After 15 years of web + travel we should have developed some good practices usability should be refined and the tools for the consumer should be simple and easy to use. We should have moved beyond the explicit process of having to enter large amounts of data in order to get a simple nugget answer to the question that I asked.

Do we have that? No!!!

What we have is bloatware of the worst order. We have inefficient, confusing and often times broken processes. Because I am a bit of a curmudgeon - I even keep examples of the number of times I have seen broken or illogical even very bad processes.

So to share my love to all the Professor's readers today - I will concentrate on just two aspects. Page Weight and Browser Window size.

There are a lot of people out there who are waiting for great content. The typical user is ADHD. Ten Seconds and you have lost him. For travel ecomm sites the engine is typically going to take about 5-10 seconds to load new content. Cached content can be served a lot faster but then when its cached its out of date data. Lots of things to consider when making a decision. My basic rule of thumb is don't confuse, lie or delay providing information.

So back to my basic two peeves today.

Page Weight - what is the ideal page weight? Today most people are serving up pages in the 100K range. I try to advise people who are outside of the USA to try and bring it in at under 70K. To justify pages that often exceed 150K, the websites try to justify their behaviour to their users by using the quoted speeds of upload/download. Yet the speeds of download range across the board. I use a rule that says take the maximum quoted bandwidth and divide by 4. That gives you the true speed that the user will experience in serving up that home page you spent all that money on. Page Weight is however not the only criteria in loading a page. Consider which bits of information are useful to the consumer. Ajax pages are vile terrible things but quite useful. Flash pages are just vile terrible things. If you can use techniques for speedier loading of the important information first. (For example the commit button shouldn't be the last thing that loads!!!). For a good article on page weights and what you can do about things - go here.

Now my other real peeve is the poor use of real estate. We have now several issues related to screen real estate.

There are a greater number of mobile users. They are not all using the big Dell Notebooks. They are using iphones and crackberries. The proliferation of small PCs is also an issue. They are using very slow 3G connections and a small aka slow processor speed netbook. Even public Wifi is slow - frequently I see 3G speeds and Wifi at the same page serving rate. (That is not because 3G is fast - its because the wifi is slow). if you have not mobilized your site in some way shape or form you are looking out on a lot of users. In many countries there are many times the number of mobile users than fixed users. Bear that in mind when designing your apps.

Also the growth of letter box format screens has advanced significantly. For full stats from the official source (W3C) go to their website for a summary of the formats and browser shares etc. The nice thing is that now you can interpret this data using information from Google Labs (which is analogous to the W3C) data. For this you can load the Browser Size screen template. I am amazed at how many sites fell outside the 90% window. Tsk Tsk. Forcing a user to scroll around your page is a NO-NO!

So treat this as a little Valentine's day card from the Professor to all of you.

Enjoy the day with your loved ones.

Cheers (and Kisses)