04 December 2010

Who You Are + What You Do

Its Saturday - time for a little lighter point rather than dull old travel.

Question - what is the one man made object that you interact with/touch more than anything?

The answer is at the bottom of this post. However if you were to ask the question 40 years ago the answer would have been a packet of cigarettes.

I was intrigued by a Forbes Article on Celebrities and their phones of choice. It must have been a slow news day. Obviously I don't care about Celebrities (OK I do occasionally pick up People magazine in the supermarket) but what phones and how they are used does fascinate me.

Regular readers will recall some of my rants about the iPhone and Apple's business Model.

I was finally able on a day trip across my State to catch a TED Talks. I was a significant Genesis fan in my day and now enjoy listening to them with more of a nostalgic sense. However I admire Peter Gabriel and his focus on doing good. Particularly on the WITNESS project. Check out this video on his motivation behind WITNESS. How the camera phone has now revolutionized citizen activism is pretty well known. For those of us who live in western style democracies we take these freedoms for granted. (If they are indeed freedoms - let's call them Liberties instead). Those who live under some more formalized totalitarian type governments where deviation from a set norm is frowned on or worse are not so lucky. There are indeed some countries that have banned camera phones and others that ban cameras of one type or another.

SO as you pick up that thing today - think about that.


Answer: Your mobile Phone.
And I dont know who to thank for the great picture of a Blackburry Bold 9000 with stuff on it.

02 December 2010

VRMA Wants Independence Via a GDS Like Switch

There is an interesting debate over at the VRMA - the Vacation Rental group.

They are seeking independence by promoting the concept of a switch. Head over to their site and read all about it.

It is interesting that they would ask the question now and promote the idea when at the other end of the travel scale - Airlines are trying to drive their wagons out of the GDS environment.

I suggest that you read up about this debate. I am not convinced that a Switch is the right answer to their issues.

I welcome feedback from people on this one.


Should Airlines Be Forced To Provide Ancillaries Info In GDSs?

LAst night, I was at a pleasant dinner with some non-travel people.

The discussion turns around as it does to Way is Travel so complicated. this was too good an opportunity to miss. So I described the issue of the GDSs and the lobbies trying to force the Airlines to display the information in the GDS.

One of the people round the table who is involved with charities asked a question which was so fundamental - I am not sure why I didn't ask the same question myself. We were all struggling trying to find analogies. So my friend asked:

"Isn't this a bit like the newspapers and the TV and Radio stations demanding that news be transmitted via the traditional media at the same time as via the web?"... And then trying to get the FCC to legislate this?

Stunningly simple questions....


RR - All A380s Fixed by "end of 2011"

According to Bloomberg today - RR told investors yesterday that they will have all the fixes in place by the end of 2011.

No further comment necessary.

BTW QF is slated to take 3 of the behemoths this month.


I Swear Washington is Listening to the Professor

After my rants on privacy - it seems that a "Do not call" list is likely to be applied to the web.

The FTC prodded by the excesses of the Rapleaf too as used by Facebook and others wants to create an opt out list. This opt out list will be in the form of a do not call list.

According to the NY Times the FTC : "the government’s top consumer protection agency on Wednesday advocated a plan that would let consumers choose whether they want their Internet browsing and buying habits monitored. "

Unfortunately this does not go far enough for me. In my view there are 3 stages to the tracking process.

Acquisition of the data, Monitoring the data and then using the data. The assumption is that if you restrict the monitoring of the data then you can prevent the manipulation. However while that is obvious - I believe that there should be no acquisition of any data to prevent the use obliquely of the data and meta data.

We shall see....


Outgoing Chairman of Senate Select Subcommittee Raises Googleplex Acquisition of ITA.

Sen Kohl who is the outgoing Chairman of the US Senate Subcommittee,
He has written a letter to the Administration on the topic; In this letter he raises his concerns to the acquisition. It is more of a re-hash of the existing complaints by the FairSearch. Org group.

More formally his title is : HERB KOHL
Chairman, Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy and Consumer Rights (D-WIS). His is therefore the right person to raise this - although as a Democrat he is a lame duck and will be replaced by a more sympathetic Republican.


The war continues....

Russia and Qatar Get Next World Cups

Say what???

Russia for 2018 I can understand - but Qatar for the 2022 World Cup. Well more power to them - they clearly made a big play and won the battle.

Britain is clearly miffed at having lost out to bringing the game "home".

Don't forget Brazil will host 2014.


Rhetoric Up, Sadly Common Sense Down. The AA vs Travelport War.

While I am not exactly a disinterested party in the AA vs Travelport war - I am amazed at just how many parties want the status quo to remain.

I have asked the question before but let me ask it again - to misquote The Bard - Why does the Lady protest so much? Why do all these parties such as Travel Agencies, GDSs and OTAs scream about this as being a travesty of monumental proportions. When such an outcry is heard - I always question the motivation. Healthy Skepticism is ABSOLUTELY required.

Perhaps one of the more balanced analysis I have seen comes from Peter Harbison at CAPA. I recommend reading this analysis because it is (in my humble opinion) thoroughly insightful and balanced. This is in contrast to the hysterical rhetoric that is coming from the kitchen tables of BTC and TCA. In my view they are both acting as surrogates for the GDSs without giving the balanced view that perhaps their organizations should provide.

ITSA's submission to the DOT is an exercise in - well - obfuscation that one would normally expect from politicians. It makes you wonder why politicos spout so much BS - when you read the input it becomes clear. But I digress....

At the moment if you judge reading the press - both trade and consumer - the battle is characterized as a way for AA to leverage Travelport, being the weakest GDS, into a pricing battle submission. IE that AA will win and Travelport will lower its prices.

I think this is very far from the truth and the main issue at hand.

This is not a battle exclusively about cost/price although it is very easy to characterize it thus. The broader issue is that the airlines have a complex product and they don't want to be commoditized easily. Almost every other industry in the web era has moved away from commoditization with independent shopping tools provided to simplify the search and shop experience. One of the few places where this has not happened is in books. But books are a simple product slap a SKU on it and away you go. Travel is by definition very complicated in addition to being one of the more expensive products purchased on an annual basis.

Where the OTAs and the GDSs - who have a symbiotic relationship as reflected in their joint industry body - ITSA - have systematically failed is to improve the quality of search for the consumer. So frankly their arguments about consumer value and protection are spurious. The financial incentive to keep the OTAs using the obsolete technology of the GDSs has made the OTAs fat dumb and very lazy. As Rich Barton - one of the co-founding team of Expedia put it - and I paraphrase - dont put your money is advertising, put it into technology. Well his alma mater (and mine) has not done that for the air search process. Nor have the others - Orbitz (owned 49% by Travelport) or Travelocity (owned 100% by Sabre). But that cozy relationship is about to be torn apart because Mr Big (aka Google) is going to blow everyone out the water with taking a better search tool (ITA's QPX engine) and at least comparable supply access to create as they say "a better customer experience".

So we are clear - Google will be able to bring a heck of a lot more expertise to the search process not to mention customer data to make that experience more generic. If you like Google can do a much better job at commoditization of the travel product that the GDSs and those that they power have done. However navigation and manipulation by the consumer will be so much better.

Note - I didn't say best here! I believe that there are others who have different solutions which may be better in part or in whole.

My synopsis therefore of the situation is that Travelport is fighting a rearguard action with AA and this is not a battle that they can easily win. Indeed they have to some extent admitted this by allowing Southwest to offer their products via the uAPI not via the GDS. IE acknowledging that not only is an airline not a commodity product but that their core mainframe technology does not support the proper search facility.

At no point in the above mentioned PR release does Travelport state that you can shop Southwest in an integrated display. So if I get this wrong ... please tell me and prove it with a display. Because then there is another issue...

So let's have some common sense here and learn to get along. The GDSs should be investing in better search and removing the financial "handcuffs" that they have placed on the Intermediary community. And yes - that does benefit my position. But its also more honest. Would you not say?

I suggest also reading the ITSA submission to the DoT here
And the Airlines Response here


30 November 2010

Just When You Thought It Was Safe.....

In a land far far away, I thought Second Life was cool - well for about a month while I played with it. But other than making myself a Fox with a VERY cool tale - I thought this was about as much fun as watching paint dry with molasses built in. And just as exciting.

I am not much of a game player I am afraid - unless you mean Guitar Hero but that is a different story!

I really find the Farmville stuff on Facebook and others very annoying. (Rather like Twitter but that too is another story).

I am also an American Express card holder.

So shock horror - I am starting to think about my Christmas shopping - using up some of those points from all those flights I have taken this year.

When to my shock and horror - I find out I can purchase a Purple Cow for 540 points. I might just have to do that for my sister as she is a big Farmville fan.

UGH - the world has gone to the dogs. Thanks Zynga!

And no - I am not adopting any animals in Petville....

Vote Quick! Most Influential Past 25 years in Airlines

Time to Vote People

The most influential person in the Airline Biz for the past 25 years.

In my view Herb wins easily which is why I am voting for Michael O'Leary.

So go figure and see what the results could be. Voting ends December 2nd

Vote Now (Top right hand corner)

Are Microsoft and Yahoo Still Relevant?

Yahoo has had its share of troubles lately and is still struggling from a degree of missteps combined with neglect and a smattering of hubris.

So let's consider things in context. Let's just look at email. With Facebook entering the fray - Yahoo still has more subscribers than the other two closes competitors (Gmail and Hotmail) combined.

But Yahoo is struggling to redefine itself in a world where search is dominated by Google and where the portal concept is slowly dying. People want more than just a gateway to content. They want to get there faster with less clicks. And Yahoo just doesn't hack it. The Social web is just so big that just by concentrating on it - as Facebook has - that the value can be mined. So Yahoo can be ignored by those who matter - the users and the advertisers.

Microsoft's value is harder to ignore. It owns several platforms not least of which is XBox. But the de-emphasis on the brand Microsoft has made the uber-brand less relevant. Of course it still carries its relevance in the corporate arena but even here it is under attack. The upsurge in Bing has clearly allowed them to stay in the game. But its a hard fought battle. But look at the brand cemetery from Redmond. MSN is probably about as relevant as Yahoo.

It is of course easy to go for the media darlings - Google and Facebook at the top end, with strong showings from Apple (iEverything) Groupon and Twitter. The long term winners must continue to make their brands and value proposition relevant. For this you have to be relentless at making your brand topical.

Good luck with that!

28 November 2010

The Strange Case of Vitaly Borker and The Googleplex

I urge you all to read this piece from the NY Times from November 26th 2010 entitled "A Bully Finds a Pulpit on the Web".

The reason is apart from the unsavory business practices of Mr Borker and his alias Mr Tony Russo - is that the Googleplex clearly has few protections for this sort of behaviour.

Whether or not he committed a crime is not for the Professor to determine. Whether Google failed in its responsibility to protect the consumer is also not for me to determine. However the fact that Google's system can and still is easily manipulated for ill-gotten gains is something that should affect all of us.

In my view - Google failed the standard of care for its user communities and that is a responsibility it should not be allowed to shirk just because the web is an easier place to do bad things.


More Pressure On Webjet's Booking Fee?

Webjet Down Under gets a booking fee for the majority of its bookings. Its counter part for long haul Jetabroad also charges a significant fee. However some of the other online players have been removing the fee. And now it seems the retail/conventional market groups are now doing this.

Qantas Holidays - part of the Jetset/Stella Group of companies has just abolished its $AU 60 fee for booking retail airfares.

How long can Webjet sustain the booking fee?

That is going to get harder and harder particularly as other markets around the world have largely abolished a consumer fee for online airline ticket bookings.

Time will tell...

Where You Book Matters – Yes Really…

Hark back to a simpler time. Back when the use of influence was very important. You went to the person who you knew who had more influence if you wanted things done. That always mattered from the time you were just crawling around – if you wanted something done – every child knows go to the parent who will respond to you and give you what you want. In school it mattered which teacher you asked for a reference… it matters still today – perhaps even more so.

But as you got older you realized that the biggest person wasn’t always the one who got what you wanted. Sure the bully could always get something by throwing his weight around but smart people always found ways around things. Under despotic regimes passive resistance has been one of the most effective forms of protest.

So it is with a lot of amusement that I view how my Alma Mater has been pushing its current ad campaign. The premise behind the current ads is that Expedia has more influence on the supply chain as the World’s largest travel intermediary. The corollary to that statement is “And we get you the Best Deals and Best Service”.

So lately I have been asking – unscientifically I hasten to add – what the attitude is of vendors to Expedia and how they treat Expedia’s customers. I also trawled through a lot of blogs and commentaries. That makes it harder to assess because Expedia owns TripAdvisor the number one consumer comment organ. However there are clearly a few examples which can point to evidence of something most savvy travel consumers know intuitively – buying direct gets you something better than buying indirect.

I can tell there is a significant friction in those relationships. I spoke to several hotel players in different parts of the world. Both individual and chain based. I chose hotels as the category because I think the people I spoke to – under conditions of assured anonymity – would give me a more straightforward answer, more comprehensively than say an airline would.

The sense I got was entirely logical and expected. The Hoteliers in the main felt that Expedia had squeezed significant margins and therefore if the hotel had a way to recover value back they would do it. The usual form of that value was for the hotel – again logically – to give preference to their direct customers over those from Expedia. Indeed some of the hoteliers were very specific in that they would place Expedia deliberately at the bottom of the heap after all other intermediaries. This was particularly true in the case of high volume properties.

Expedia has acquired a bit of a “bully boy” tag and that was surprising to me. I would have thought that Expedia would behave. Expedia has a history of throwing its weight around. However I would have expected that the recent ascendency of Priceline would have changed their behavior into the kinder gentler Expedia that started out in 1996. Apparently not so.

So the moral of this story is… where you buy does matter. But don’t expect Expedia to get you the best service even if they got you the best rate. But there again that is true of almost everything you buy. It’s just that most retailers don’t make an issue of it without clear value and case history to back it up. (Can we now expect a series of testimonial ads now from Bellevue?)