06 August 2010

Expedia Alum Enters Politics

I live in Seattle and the area where I live has something of a deadbeat Congressman. Dave Riechart whose claim to fame was he was the head lawman in the region. However after 3 terms in Congress he has distinguished himself as one of the least effective of the nation's lawmakers.

Today's Seattle Times was a lot less circumspect in their endorsement of his competitors. Endorsing not one but two! One being Tom Dillon who is an Ex-Expedia...

Have a read


Trust Must Be Earned And Kept At Every Interaction

HSBC has been running ads in its Different Values campaign for many years. Those of us who spend time in international airports cannot help but see them - they appear in just about every jetway i have walked down for years. I keep wanting them to do an image based on Trust. But so far haven't seen one.

Trust is a fleeting thing. Just as Toyota and Palm.

Trust in Travel has never had a high level in my view. Much of it has been because there was little trust engendered by the PR hacks in their descriptions of products and services. In an industry that depends largely on obfuscation as core concept - Trust is a hard thing to deliver.

A great piece from eMarketer today reminds us about several characteristics. It covers a number of recent studies from Neilsen and others. its a quick read and is a good aide memoir.

Perhaps the two characteristics that I feel are critical are:

1. Trust has to be earned and kept at all times.
2. Trust does not come from interaction. It is an additional element.

The assumption that frequent interaction results in Trust is a mistake that is made worldwide. You need only to consider that there are some things you have to do (like reading this blog everyday) but you don't have to trust it or even like it to use it.

Travel Marketers - just DON'T forget that.

Seismic Shift in UK Airlines

Several events in the UK have come together to change the way that the airline product is bought and sold in the market. Thomson has announced that effective November 1st it is cutting commission on flight only sales to 0.1% from the old standard 10%. It is thus just retaining the ability to pay commissions. At the same time it is ending is ATOL bonding of the flight only product.

"This decision has not been taken lightly but in making the amendment, we recognise the flight only landscape has altered greatly in recent years and Thomson Airways is competing with both traditional charter airlines and also other scheduled carriers," said the airline.

The challenge to the ATOL bonding was a battle the CAA who manages the scheme for the UK Government apparently lost a few weeks ago in the UK High Court. The now landmark case the CAA brought against Travel Republic (the UK Supreme Court refused to hear the appeal on July 29th), has effectively ended the traditional Tour Operator coverage for Flight Only sales. The longer term effect is that the charter seat only business is dead and replaced by a more normalized approach to the sale of flights. The distinction has been moot for a long time anyway. The former seat only carriers such as Thomson, Monarch and Thomas Cook with their respective airline brands are now free to compete directly with the LCCs and conventional airlines.

What is not clear is how the non-carrier seat only operators like KISS will be able to operate. That remains unclear.

The long term impact will be that these airlines will now operate a hybrid model but will look much more like a true LCC operator. In turn this will open up competition in the market which will be good for the consumer.

So the storied history of the seat operator market in the UK is no more.

An interesting side note is that this will be welcomed by the US companies such as Expedia who have been sniffing around the tour operators and remaining VTO players in both the UK and Germany. ATOL bonding and their airline operations have always made them nervous.

Finally this will put pressure on the UK government and the CAA for the whole bonding coverage. In light of other activities it may just be time for Her Majesty's Government to get out of the insurance business and return to regulatory activities.


With thanks to widebodies.nl for the picture.

05 August 2010

Geolocation Doesn't Worry the Young

The recent stories on security concerns with Geolocation software attached to your phone doesn't seem to worry the young as much as older women.

The value of Geolocation services make the context of the offers and your ability to extend your wired life to a 7x24 always on environment has great attraction.

Emarketer has just done a piece on assessing the attitudes based on Forrester's Research. Frankly while it scares me a bit - the future looks pretty bright because the younger users dont worry.

Lord help us when we start to see real mobile spam...



4 For 4. Delta Shows Wifi In flight Is here To Stay

On my first trip back from my holiday - I took a connecting flight itinerary. 4 flights in 3 days all on Delta.

And yes every flight had Wifi and it was all great.

So I feel the time has come for the world to just accept that InFlight Wifi does work. My seat mates were also connected. The equipment ranged from Blackberries to iPhones to iPads and of course various brands of laptops.

Yup we are now connected in the air. Now if only they can make money out of it.


Blackberry Standoff - Who Will Win? Are They Right? How About a Solution?

In a world where information flows freely and access to content has never been easier we should all be concerned at those governments who seek to demand free access to our data and information.

So the standoff between RIM vs UAE, KSA and India over the access to the encryptions standards of RIM is a very worrying trend. At the heart of the matter is the ability to encrypt data traffic and protect data.

Most smartphones like Apple and Android devices have very poor encryption and as a result anyone sending messages from these devices can have their data and text messages hacked. AND their location easily made available. If you want to read a sobering report on the subject go here.

With recent reports of the easy (and low cost) methods of hacking cell phone traffic becoming more prevalent - the need for secure services like Blackberry grow.

I sign a lot of NDAs and keep a lot of information confidential. I use my email smartphone - a Blackberry - to communicate under the terms of those agreements. If I am forced to use unprotected communication I will be in violation of the said agreement. This is unacceptable to me and to the people who trust me.

In my view Blackberry is right to keep the data secure.

So here is an idea and thought for resolving the problem. If RIM and the respective governments agree to a private data viewing capability under strict control and with full cognizance of the individuals who are using the service then I am OK with letting the respective governments see what I have. I will of course be very careful not to let those governments see data I don't want them to see.

So here is a challenge to the governments who are asking for open access to Blackberrys just like they can to iPhones and Android devices. I'll let you see my data so that you can be assured I am not doing anything bad. But you have to assure me that you can monitor your own people and protect my data once you have it.

Deal or No Deal?


C'mon Gimme Some....

USA TODAY(August 5th) came out with an interesting perspective that addresses the Ancillaries view.

SmartBrief - the ASTA (American Society for Travel Agents) daily newsletter had a slightly interesting spin by stating "Travel agents push for share of fees". And this there is nothing wrong with that. I think the revenue should be shared. If the agents are doing some work - then let them get compensated... but by whom? Currently the airlines are not paying the agents formally for issuing tickets. The agents are getting compensated by their clients. Except the OTAs stopped charging fees for handling flights. A fact they trumpet and have had great success in doing so. The share of booking processed by Online Agents has actually risen in no small measure because of the no fees policies.

At present this seems to indicate that the OTAs are doing just fine with the model and so does the consumer. While we all know that the process is not necessarily pleasant the amount of information out there is clearly not impeding the purchase of travel.

So a part of the debate must be whether it is actually necessary to go for detailed disclosure or all information or rather if the disclosure process currently in place is sufficient.

There just seem to be a large number of people complaining about the issue and not all of them making complete sense. This applies to politicians and industry players alike.

So if I can quote a little Hamlet:

Hamlet: Madam, how like you this play?
Queen: The lady doth protest too much, methinks.
Hamlet Act 3, scene 2, 222–230


Cathay and Emirates Aircraft Choices

Same aircraft different reasons. Both are big purchasers of 777-300ER and the A350-900.

In the recent pronouncements from Tim Clark - he has opined that Boeing need not fear from the (as yet) not launched A350XWB-1000 and that it needs a new 777-300ER replacement.

Cathay's Tony Tyler in announcing their big order for the A350-900s praised the aircraft as being ideal for CX implying that the aircraft will eventually become the mid size mainstay of its fleet.

So this is interesting. Clearly the battle lines are drawn. Will Boeing listen hard to Mr Clark as they have in the past - will Airbus go a little further with a A350-1100?

What a conundrum for Toulouse and Chicago.

If BTC Regulated the Sale of Airline Provided Paint


Background: BTC (Business Travel Coalition) and others have been demanding that the airlines are forced to disclose their ancillary services and fees structures in all channels equally. So the Professor has imagined what would happen if BTC was in charge of consumer regulation when airlines sold paint.

With thanks to Charlie Leocha for reprinting the oldie but goodie original joke “If Airlines Sold Paint”. http://www.consumertraveler.com/today/if-airlines-sold-paint/

Opening Scene. A small local paint shop in main street USA. Man goes the Shop opens the door…. Outside the store are disclaimer signs in 6 point type warning you to the safety and pricing policies of paint. There is also a HUGE video display in the shop window not with attractive paint cans or uses for paint but with rolling rather stern dire warning information scrolling across the screen. It gives the consumer specific instructions on how to buy paint in online and offline. There are a list of places with maps and URLs showing where you can buy paint and the prices of paint at each place. There is so much information the board takes 5 mins to scroll the info which is illegible anyway. There is a Federal watchdog email address and website address prominently displayed on the signs outside the door, on the door and displayed throughout the store. On each paint can is a big warning like a cigarette pack health warning. Attached to each paint can is a 4 page booklet.

Man (looking a little bewildered) approaches a smiling Shop Clerk. The Previous customer storms out looking very angry dragging a balling kid behind her.

Customer asks: can I buy some….

Clerk: Before you say anything sir – I am obliged to tell you that you can buy paint online and offline. Before I can tell you anything about the paint please sign here that you understand that I am going to tell you about paint and that you understand I may forget to tell you everything about paint so this absolves me from making a mistake and my boss from taking the cost of the paint out of my paycheck… Please sign here (Handing customer a clip board with a 2 page disclaimer, man signs it without reading it)….. thank you.

Clerk: Now how can I help you on this truly fabulous day?

Customer: Hi. How much is your paint?

Clerk: Well sir, that depends on a lot of things and the government makes me tell you that there are possible surcharges here is a list of them (Handing a 4 page booklet). Please read this….

Customer: (Mutters under his breath – this is ridiculous) – out loud says: Can’t you give me an approximate price?

Clerk: Our lowest price is our introductory special at $12 a gallon. After that we have dozens of different prices up to $199. Plus the ancillary services fees based on how you use the paint that the government makes me warn you about beforehand.

Customer: What’s the difference in the quality of the paint?

Clerk: Oh, there’s no difference. It’s all exactly the same stuff. But as you can see the cans are very different. Don’t you like the way the paint can sparkles?

Customer: Well, in that case I’ll take your $12 paint.

Clerk: Well actually the $12 variety is only available on our website. If you want to buy it here at the store you’ll be charged an additional $20 Customer Convenience Fee. Plus the ancillary services based on how you use the paint that the government makes me warn you about beforehand.

Customer: So if I go home and get it off the website, its only $12?

Clerk: That’s correct sir – plus a Credit Card Usage Fee of $6 and then there’s standard Shipping and Handling of $15. Plus the ancillary services based on how you use the paint that the government makes me warn you about beforehand.

Customer: What? So in other words buying online would cost me almost exactly the same as what I’d have to pay here in the store?

Clerk: I suppose so, but if you buy it here you get to use it immediately. Online purchases take ten business days to get to you – unless you pay the optional $25 Express My Paint Fee. Plus the ancillary services fees based on how you use the paint that the government makes me warn you about beforehand.

Customer: You’ve got to be kidding me!

Clerk: Well no sir, but it’s academic anyway as right now the $12 paint is completely sold out in both places.

Customer: That’s BS. I’m looking at shelves full of the stuff!

Clerk: Ah, but that doesn’t mean it’s available for sale. We sell only a certain number of introductory priced cans on any given day. Hang on a second let me look it up, (Clerk looks at his computer and then smiles broadly) YES look at that! It just became available again – at $17.50. You can do the same search yourself Sir. Plus the ancillary services fees based on how you use the paint that the government makes me warn you about beforehand.

Customer: C’mon! You mean to say it went up while I’m standing here?!

Clerk: (looking sympathetic) ‘Fraid so. Inventory control changes our prices all the time. I would actually like to sell you the paint but the Government says I have to wait till everybody has been told what the new price is. I strongly recommend you purchase your paint as soon as possible as it could go up again, but it’s also possible that it could go down and even not be available again. Finally the government might not let me sell it to you until everyone has been informed of whether the paint price has been checked by this mysterious organization called the BTC. How many gallons do you want?

Customer: Well, maybe three gallons. No, make that four, I don’t want to run out. I assume I can return anything I don’t open?

Clerk: Certainly sir. The $17.50 paint is non-refundable, but if you return it within 48 hours you will be entitled to a $5 credit towards the future purchase of another gallon of the same color at the same or higher price. Plus the final price may change because of the ancillary services based on how you use the paint that the government makes me warn you about beforehand.

Customer: That’s crazy. In that case I’ll just give any unopened cans to my brother as he’s planning to repaint his home soon.

Clerk: Sorry sir, no-CAN-do! Our terms and CANditions – that’s a little in-house joke – prohibit paint transfer. It is strictly for the use of the original purchaser. Also the Government doesn’t like competition they need to know where you use the paint so that they can tell everyone in your street that you bought the paint and have used it.

Customer: But wait a minute, I hadn’t spotted those “Paint Sale – $9.99* a Can” signs over there? They are hidden behind all these notices, it makes it so difficult to see an actual price off... That sounds like a much better deal.

Clerk: Ah yes, that’s from our low cost paint division. The Government doesn't actually want to let me tell you about that as it would take too long to explain but we won court case and so we can no have the sign up. However i have to disclose a different set of rules, the asterisk denotes that the cans are actually half-gallons and the price is based on a minimum purchase of two. There is also an additional Environmental Fee of $5 per can – this is required because we use that nice sparkly resin to make the paint cans look nice – we have to pay a special fee because its made of red lead, a non-refundable Can Deposit of $3.50, a Paint Facility Charge of $5 and if you want more than one color, the second has a $25 surcharge and the third is $50 extra. Plus….

Customer: Yes – I know … Plus the ancillary services based on how you use the paint that the government makes me warn you about beforehand……This is utterly ridiculous. To hell with this! I’ll buy what I need somewhere else! Now at least I know I can buy it elsewhere – see here it says so in the booklet you handed me earlier.

Clerk: Well sir, you may be able to buy paint for some rooms from another store, but you won’t be able to find paint for your connecting hall and stairway anywhere but here. And I should also point out that if you want Uni-Directional paint it is priced at $249 a gallon. But that paint is special – you don’t have to tell the Government what you want to use it for.

Customer: I thought your most expensive paint was $199!

Clerk: That’s only if you paint non-stop all the way around the room and back to the point at which you started. Stairways and hallways are considered one-way exceptions to the rule. Plus you must notify the government when you move from one room to the other.

Customer: So, if I buy the $199 paint and use it in my hallway what are you going to do about it – send some goons in to paint over it?

Clerk: Wow, You are WAY smarter than the last guy who came in, I believe you’re getting it now sir. But no, please, that would be plain silly. We’ll simply charge you a Direction Adjustment Fee plus the difference to $249 on your next purchase. Then the government would have to come and inspect it. You cannot use the room until they do. I should tell you that after consultation with their consumer panel which would be your neighbors and the inspector – this process may take about 3 months.

Customer: Next purchase? No way! I’m out ‘a here

Clerk: At Skyhigh Paints we never forget you have a choice, so thanks for shopping with us. Have a nice day! And Sir please mind your step as you pass by the disclaimer signs we had a guy in here yesterday who tripped on it and wants to sue us for it…..

04 August 2010

Travelport to Announce IPO Soon?

Ok the rumours are already flying... Travelport will make its announcement probably this week with their Q2 results. The announcement will come if its going to during the results call, scheduled for Thursday August 5th at 11AM EST.

In the past few days it has been ramping up its PR as a way to get some positive news into the market. This morning's mail box revealed a mailer for Travel Agents trumpeting the Continental Full Content Extension and on the website UA and TP announced their extension.

All this points to the announcement on Thursday. It first surfaced as a rumour on June 25th after the rather embarrassing pull back of its initial offering in London earlier this year. Amadeus got away nicely in Madrid so the stars should be aligned for Travelport.

Or maybe not...

Travelport still has some significant challenges. UDT - its star new product also called Universal Desktop now nearly 3 years late in deployment is not there yet. Early adopters trying to implement additional content are finding the interface and the data structures challenging. Its airline hosting business fails to excite and this is an essential part of a long term survival strategy for the core reservations based business. Its Orbitz partner/sibling/customer is also not setting the world on fire being squeezed out by the rise of Priceline.

The spin meisters will be working overtime to make the animal look good. But the investor community remains guarded. Enthusiasm for the deal was decidedly less than stellar with a strong set of issues on multiple levels that caused the collapse at the Feb 2010 IPO attempt in London. The fundementals of these issues have not gone away. The City Gnomes are not known for their forgiveness nor short term memory loss.

Greece (one of the reasons cited for the pull back) is just as sick if not worse. The retail climate is not as hot - retail sales failed to ignite the US market. But the investment climate is definitely better in the USA. Is that enough?

For investors who are still very weary of get rich quick schemes - they will be looking hard at what Travelport intends to do with the proceeds. If they are going for just debt retirement that will not be viewed positively. Savvy followers of the sector realize that there is a growing investment curve driven by the needs of the market for distribution of the unbundled airline products. Travelport has several areas that need investment such as its fare products as well as support of ancillaries. These are not trivial investments. With little airline reservation revenue supporting it - Travelport faces challenges.

Also worrying must be the amount of incentives and the resulting pressures on yields from increased marketing costs which are long term in nature. This was already highlighted in the Q1 results. The ability of some airlines to drive lower costs from their "Full Content" deals means that Travelport is more vulnerable to distribution pressures than Amadeus and Sabre are.

Of course the emergence of Google/ITA and new players such as Everbread in fare search systems challenge at a core level the concept of the legacy GDS that is the centerpiece of Travelport's business.

Travelport is therefore a riskier investment than its class members.

So this is definitely a story that will be interesting to watch. Let's see if the Professor is right.


03 August 2010

Mexicana And Mexico - A Case For Treatment

Seems that the problems in Mexico are growing rapidly.

Hot on the heels of Mexico being downgraded to a Category 2 country by the FAA, Mexicana pulled the plug on the largest Mexico travel market today - California. The LA Times reported the details.

Mexicana's owners the hotel group Posadas clearly have run out of patience with the reforms they feel are necessary. But that is not the only thing affecting Mexico's largest airline. The on-off again potential marriage with their some time sibling Aeromexico is another issue. But now the big threat is coming from the emergence of Volaris as a strong market force. Volaris is fast growing and resonating with the market. its support from Mexico's richest man - Carlos Slim - is not to be underestimated. Will MX file Chapter 11? this is being discussed in detail between the powers that be.

Mexico of course has been hurt by a number of internal and external factors. The global economy recession hit them hard. But the drug wars and bad publicity have further exacerbated issues for the country the #2 market in Latin America.

Let's hope they can get this sorted quickly.

Kicking The Crackberry Habit?

Those who know the Professor personally know how much I love my Blackberry.

I was an early adopter and am very dependent on it. It works and its marvelous in its simplicity. It is also VERY secure as the UAE has determined it doesn't like.

These days I love the email and I love the camera and of course BBM is great with my team. But JUST a little lately I have started to wonder if I am being a little out of touch by not having an iPhone or an Android machine. Actually a bunch of Crackberry users feel the same way. And its not just a few. Check out this article.

I tried a Nexus One. It was HORRID. Just awful. Sorry Google you suck. HTC's machine(s) is/are very elegant and work(s) much better but I have to say I have problems with the way the touch screen works. There is too little precision in using it for the prime reason which is email. Cool stuff is just not that interesting.

A few friends are members of the dark side - the iPhone black turtle neck groups - you know who you are.

So here are my issues before I change.

I want to avoid spending large sums of money when roaming...
I want decent functionality
I want simple and easy email and the ability to read and write
I want those nice functional applets
I want the sexy dual gesture touch screen
I want a working phone one that I can use to understand the person on the other end.
I want security of encrypted data
I want a decent web browser
I want a non-payable GPS
I want to be able to type accurately
I want a messaging system that is secure and status enabled.
I want to not have iPhone envy
I want not to have to fumble with the UX

So in looking at all the options I think I am fine with Blackberry 6 and the new device 9800 Torch.

Let me see if that works. But I am open to options. Also I am looking to replace my trusty SonyEricsson C902 which I loved as a simple fone. I am looking at the Xperia Mini.


02 August 2010

Why Do This? Another LCC for Thailand

Seems that there are not enough LCCs in IndoChina. So Thai Airways who already has a wholly owned and operated LCC business called NOK Air is now partnering with Tiger to create Tiger Thailand (try saying that after a few martinis).

You have to ask yourself why do this?

There are already a whole host of players in the market. Directly we have so many and then because BKK and HKT amongst others are so popular there are many additional players coming in.

So what gives... is this to prevent another squeeze play that has happened to Virgin Blue in Oz?

Gotta think this is not a smart move - but then who am I?


01 August 2010

How Big Ancillaries?

Depends who you ask.

According to the US government (GAO) - figures for 2009 come to at least $3 billion. But the DOT reports as quoted by PCW come to over $7.8 Billion Ideaworks and Amadeus say its going to be over $13 billion in 2010.

PhocusWright says as noted above - $7.8 of which nearly $3 billion are bags alone.

Anyway you cut it the numbers are getting bigger. If we take the Global flight revenues to be approx $500 Billion in 2009 - these numbers are starting to become serious contenders. According to ATW's annual survey of airlines - annual US average cost per ticket (pure air ticket revenue) fell to $227 in the fourth quarter. Down from $300 in 2000. With average ancillaries now making up averages of $50 plus per ticket - they are replacing airline tix revenue as a source of income for the airlines.

When distribution costs are factored in - then there is a pretty strong correlation between the cost to distribute a ticket and the additional revenues per ticket achieved. Coincidence?

Definitely this is a story that will play a long time. Organizations such as Charlie Leocha's and Kevin Mitchell's will continue to belly ache about it - even while supporting the airlines' need for additional revenues. While we all personally hate it - I think we as consumers will begrudgingly continue to accept it.


2011 Growth Moderating

CAPA has done an analysis using a variety of different parameters but basing things on the 2010 ICAO estimates. This is broader than the IATA studies which tend to be focused on legacy carriers.

Anyway check it out.


2009 A Bad Year For Airlines

Well so the numbers would seem to point out.

Both Flight Global and Air Transport World have pushed out their annual rankings.

The former used Seabury for much of its data - the latter used Ascend.

There are some really clear result trends that have emerged. I will pick on a few and will continue to explore them.

1. Airlines can make money out of Ancillaries.
2. Capacity restraint is key to maintaining profitability
3. Decline of the US market - domestic ASMs fell consistently.
4. Market volatility remains but seems to have reduced the amount of volatility.
5. Cargo has come back with a big bang
6. Premium Traffic is returning although yields remain a problem all round
7. Beware Emirates
8. Low Cost model is very healthy thank you
9. Reformation of the basic cost model is still lagging.

There are a lot of changes coming.


Who Tweets?

After a nice long time away from home on a re-invigorating but not necessarily relaxing time in Europe - I have been catching up on some oldies and goodies stuffed in my inbox.

One question that keeps bugging me is who are the Twits (aka those who Tweet a lot)? And with apologies to Roald Dahl, there are some interesting stats to determine this. I am going to bias you a little by telling you who I think are the Twits.

In my view Tweeting is not a completely bad thing - but it definitely is not a great thing.

What bugs me is that there is no ability to determine on my part what I get. Actually that is not completely true - I can use Tweetdeck or something else as that tool. But my gripe is that I cannot filter the stream of trash that people Tweet on. And that may be both its beauty as well as its Achilles Heel.

HBR published some research by one of Havard's students last year on the topic. While the study was looking at the trend of who follows - the final statement was interesting from my perspective.

" In other words, the pattern of contributions on Twitter is more concentrated among the few top users .... This implies that Twitter's resembles more of a one-way, one-to-many publishing service more than a two-way, peer-to-peer communication network."

In my view the value is that you can reach a lot of people with the tool. However what goes into the message and who reads it becomes almost impossible to filter. Indeed in that case it is more like a conventional media outlet than a 2 way communication. Little wonder then that it has endeared itself to either sycophants and their followers or commercial entities.

For a more indepth view of Who Tweets Arbitron and Edison Research click on this link.

You have to register but the report is free.

There are some great fun facts. 40% of Twits are seriously sad people with at least 3 working PCs in their home. And their top 3 TV programs are"

American Idol
Teen Choice Awards

Therefore I can conclude that most Tweets come from zit emboldened male teens who spend way too much time on their computers.

But you be the judge... its all a bit too weird for me.