01 January 2011

Did I Make It?

Not Quite,

I finished the year with 1971 posts on Professor Sabena so I missed my target by 29. Have no fear that January will see me reaching the magic 2000 number.


2010 The Annual Giggle Review

Every year since 2007 the Professor has participated in the annual Review of the year. Hosted by Dr Addison Schonland this year we have returning Professor Braniff - who needs no introduction and a new comer Lady Ashley Cloud widow of Sir Percy Headinthe-Cloud, Aviation Pioneer in her own right as well as that of her illustrious family.

The topics were very diverse but general consensus was that Aircraft manufacturers are seriously missing an opportunity for SUV type versions of their aircraft.

I encourage you to listen in and enjoy the seasoned greetings.


30 December 2010

The Professor's 11 Resolutions

11 for 11

OK so here goes - these are my resolutions.

1. Do more for others specifically in pro bono work
2. More chill time for me
3. Lose One PED (Personal Electronic Device)
4. Master one new thing well
5. Appreciate more
6. Spend more time in USA
7. Shed personal crap - physical and meta physical - particularly paper
8. Write better
9. Catalog my plane collection
10. Find 10 old friends
11. Add at least one new country to my collection


Farewell to Randy

As the year draws to a close one of the stalwarts of the Airline community is retiring. Read his farewell letter here.

If there was ever someone who epitomized the frequent flyer - it has been Randy Petersen.

As he leaves his baby and takes flight to pastures new - let those of us who have followed him since before Flyertalk was formed.

So here's to you Randy - all the best mate. It wont be the same without you.


Skype Says "Sorry! Have a Buck (not a Quid)"

After last week's outage - the big comms provider is giving something back. I am still pissed at them but this is a reasonable gesture.

Skype is giving you a credit. Take it...




Mama, They Took My Kodachrome Away

Sad day for photography...

Today Kodakchrome will be processed for the last time.

For those of us who witnessed the immersion of the colour photographic experience - this is just a little sad. Immortalized in song by Paul Simon.


29 December 2010

Behavioural Targeting - Bad? Creepy? - er.. Yup Probably

Personally I don't like behavioural targeting. I do find it creepy and well just a little too invasive for my liking. But I put some of that down to two major factors. I am slightly older as a Boomer and also because I have a more European attitude to privacy.

Regular readers will know that I am very focused on the abuse of privacy.

Now we are starting to see some hard evidence of how the rest of the world sees it. Well at least how Americans see it.

In a recent article by eMarketer using data from Gallup and USA Today seems to support the same sentiment that I expressed above. Further it would seem that the more mature

The way you have to read this chart above is to read it in reverse. IE that the 40% is the best showing IE 60% is negative to the idea.

And it would seem that attitudes are hardening - even when "freebies" are offered.

So Far So Good Says AA.

Seems a day to do posts on American.

So far AA says that things are going fine. They sound cautiously optimistic in their online "Thanks" to the Travelling Public.

Seems that American has faith in knowing why its customers fly.


We will have to wait for a bit for the real traffic numbers to come out. But I will be watching for any pointers.


AA - A Different Road

For many years the path to success in the airline business was either based on mega volume or low cost - meaning low fares.

The industry has therefore polarized into these two groups which - with few exceptions - define the world of airlines.

It is doubtful that Alfred Khan who died this week envisaged such a turn of events when he laid out his vision of how the American Air Transport system should look.

For the models in the USA - we have Southwest Airlines championing the low cost model. And we have Delta and new United in the new mega category with their partners AF/KL and LH+NH (and no I didn't forget AC) respectively. So where does this leave American Airlines - once the biggest carrier in the world now a distinct number #5 in the global pecking order (based on RPKs/RPMs).

It seems that AA has gone back to basics as this article from the Chicago Tribune group and reprinted in the Seattle Times - shows. It has avoided the two opportunities to clean up its balance sheet - bankruptcy (which it flirted with a few times) and a merger which would have given them also the chance to emerge with a new fitter financial structure as DL and UAL have.

On the face of it AA looks like it is falling away from the top table. It is fighting a hard battle with Direct Connect. It is the last to the Global Alliance table with its AA/BA/IB/FI/RJ JV. It has an aging fleet. As analyst Henry Harteveldt opined in a media call recently American Airlines was "Nothing Special In the Air"

But look closer and you see a company that is very focused on fundementals.

AA is moving to a lowering the cost of its distribution. A bold move but as many would agree a necessary one to lower those costs it can.
AA is moving to a next generation internal reservation system. Neither DL nor UA are doing that preferring to stick with the current generation products while their international colleagues have more modern systems at the core.
AA is going back to basics and looking at the customer proposition particularly in an area where it has been less than stellar in the past.

The airline is focusing on making the company better faster and more agile than its competitors.

The jury is going to be out for a while but sticking to their guns is something that AA does well. Recall if you will their now retired leader Robert Crandal's jihad against through flight code numbers and airline code sharing. Despite being late to the table AA has turned this into a nice revenue generator.

While AA has been characterized as an aloof player - perhaps we are witnessing a turn around where they will really start to "*move their tail" for you.

(*With acknowledgment to the former National Airlines readers - I do know where that came from!)

A Saber Tooth or a Sabre Blade?

Gotta love those nice people at Amadeus. They like their competition a lot!

Check out one of their moonlighting senior IT guys and his history of the CRS.

Does this mean that Amadeus is trying to re-write history? Well for $119 you too can find out.

Hmmm hope not. I am not a big fan of revisionists. They are up there with Birther Movement folks.


28 December 2010

5 Ugliest Airports - The Street

Oh I love this one...

The 5 ugliest airports in the USA are clearly identified.

In reverse order:

5. LAX
4. PHL
3. STL
2. LGA
1. JFK

Doesn't look like this is going to change any time soon.

So here are my additional nominations for special mention:

Most Useless: PIT
Soul Destroying: DFW
Longest Walk Possible: ORD


Top Ten Tech Flops 2010

Everyone has a top 10 list.

Here is CNN's top 10 tech failures this year.

Topping the list is the iPhone 4 antenna problem.

Here is the summary scoreboard.

Google - 2
Apple 2
Facebook - 1
Microsoft - 1
Gawker - 1
Digg - 1
General Technology that flopped - 2

Hmmm - lets see how travel does.


Alfred Khan - The Godfather of Freedom

As we watch a lot of unhappy people dig themselves out from the snow back east USA and the whole continent of Europe it seems suffered - we should stop and thank the man who perhaps contributed more to the mess than anyone else.

The Bill of Rights had 5 basic freedoms. Back then the physical restrictions on movement of people and goods meant that few could venture outside of their immediate surroundings.

# Freedom of Religion
# Freedom of the press
# Freedom of speech
# Freedom of assembly
# The right to petition the government

Today - freedom to move around is not governed by these physical limitations - they are largely economic ones. The man who contributed most to that in the USA which became the model for the rest of the world was Alfred Khan.

More than three years ago there was a lovely piece in USA Today and I covered it in an early blog post.

So here's to you Professor Khan.

Thanks for giving us this freedom to enjoy travel. I for one and eternally grateful for the possibility.


Read more:

27 December 2010

AA "Nothing Special In The Air"

This morning on the CNBC show "Squawk on the Street" Forrester Analyst Henry Harteveldt demonstrated once again his knowledge of the market and a little of history. Click on the link to hear the segment including Henry's call in.

Its been a busy few days for Henry who is Forrester's point man on the Travel Category. he has been on several shows pointing out the issues surrounding the AA battles with Orbitz, Travelport and most recently Expedia.

His final throw away line was a telling one.

"American is nothing special in the air."

This refers to the 1980s AA ad campaign where AA used the tag line in all its advertising. "Something Special In the Air".
IS AA special enough to ride out this storm? As Henry opines it just might not be the case with his statements making the airlines essentially just a commodity product. And this is where I think there is a core and fundamental battle going on. Whether the airlines are truly a differentiated product or not.

So just for the record - since the Professor is a former Ad man and worked on several competing accounts at the time that this campaign appeared I thought it would be good to see a DC10 flying in AA Colours again. Not to mention some really rather outrageous hair styles - think Melanie Griffiths when she was in Working Girl!

So play the video and enjoy a little nostalgia.


Google's Bonne Annee 2010?

Perhaps the Professor has been too hard on Google of late. I might sound a bit curmudgeonly. Have I been too hard on those nice fresh faced boys and girls of the Googleplex? You decide.

2010 marks a watershed year for Google in the way that 1995 marked a watershed year for Microsoft. But for veracity in this evaluation I have to turn to none other than Robert X Cringely in his analysis of Google.

He cites the following missteps. I will list them for you but you can go and read his analysis here:

Consider if you will the following examples:

China. Per Robert X "In fact, Google came up with 1.3 billion reasons why Chinese censorship wasn't so bad after all."

Nexus One.Now replaced with Nexus 5 which makes you wonder what happened to Nexuses 2 through 4. I loaned a Nexus one for 4 weeks. It was Terrible.

Streetview Wi-Fi spying. "The worst part: Google was doing this without even realizing it. What other data is Google hoovering up that it -- and no one else -- yet realizes?"

Google Wave. Sadly will be incorporated into other Google products

Google TV.

Google's Proposed Take over of ITA Software.

But perhaps the most scary thing of all things emanating from the Googleplex was this analysis in the same article.

"Meanwhile, whenever Eric Schmidt opens his mouth to make another pronouncement about what Google knows about us, he frightens the children and makes even their parents want to hide under their beds. Consider this chilling statement Schmidt made at the last Mobile World Congress in February:

"These networks are now so pervasive that we can literally know everything if we want to. What people are doing, what people care about, information that's monitored, we can literally know it if we want to, and if people want us to know it. END QUOTE.

I leave you to ponder the rest.


So Where You Gonna Spend Those Bucks In 2011?

While many of us - the Professor included - has indicated that we are going to see 2011 as the year of mobile - it seems that the guys who spend money on advertising are not so convinced.

Instead they are hoping to plop down the cash in email and social.

Here is a study graphic from research done by Strongmail. I think there might be a bit of bias in the study.

By now most of us should realize that spending money on Email for customer acquisition is become a losers game. Sure we should make sure we connect with our users but is email the only tool and the right tool for this?

Chatting with an old Direct Mail geek friend of mine he said that their business is up significantly with much growth coming from those who have tried email marketing and failed. He did point to a lack of tools and skills in doing the job which brought new customers to his door and greater throughput via his existing customers.

So lets see if he/they are right next year


Is Google Voice A Substitute for Skype

The December 22nd outage on Skype was not a good day for many of Skype's more than half a billion users.

Most people use Skype personally for individual one:one calling. But increasingly a lot of us are using Skype for collaborative work. I was a big fan of Jabber before the empire of Cisco acquired it and shut down the free service.

But there are some interesting alternatives.

Most people are being directed to Google Voice but Google TALK/VOICE is not flexible and doesnt have many of the features that makes Skype so easy and straightforward to uses. Also we all know that Google is going to capture the information about you and use it for its nefarious ends. So if its all the same to you no thanks!

So what other tools can you use.

Here is a smattering of them with different options.

1. Consider a demo/whiteboard/desktop sharing app. There are several out there with free small crippled versions. I like DimDim and Mikago. of course you can spend a lot of money on Webex and other tools. DimDim and Mikago are lite and simple to use.

2. Consider other IP calling tools - iCall or XJack are good examples. You can also use Vonage for different call types for a fixed monthly or annual fee. In France for example free calling is bundled with almost every plan you can get from the 3 major providers such as SFR and Orange.

3. There are many collaborative programs such as I mentioned in the #1 but here was one I found that is really quite good and offers a lot of features. SAP's Streamwork. We also use Basecamp that has some tools for demo and sharing.

4. There are various dedicated chat programs such as ICQ, MS Live Messenger and even the venerable AIM.

However with Skype - especially if you stuck with it for a long time as I have - now 4 years and counting - then you realize it is a very useful service.


Twitter is Valuable???

Over the past few months my team has been experimenting with Twitter to see if there is something in there of value.

I dislike the nature of the type of 'conversation' that goes via Twitter. Personally I think it is rather unsocial form of media. I find it hard to describe the tool as a form of communication. But it seems that what I think and what some of the rest of the world thinks are rather different.

However along the way I have learned some interesting facts about the service and what it can do as a marketing vehicle.

Let me share a couple of them with you.

Twitter marketing is a real concept. There are a wide number of Tweet based interactions possible. I remain skeptical particularly in having the direct 1:1 communication that has been used to demonstrate its power. However since Google started indexing Tweets and since Bots started pulling tweets into consideration for search results I am more comfortable with it.

One of the key values of Tweets vs Emails is the difference in the capability of access. Emails have become more spam than just about anything else. each and probably everyone of us spends a certain part of our day eliminating SPAM. But so far the direct spam in Twitter is eliminated by only having to look at the results from particular results in a tool such as Tweetdeck. How long that survives remains to be seen

Now the down side. There is complete drivel out there in Tweetland. The shortened message size means that the capability of the user to comprehend exactly what is being communicated in less than 140 characters is just a tough concept to understand.

In my view using Twitter for knowledge acquisition is a mistake. Using it for customer services is at best marginal. But in promotion as a viable tool in place of emaill - there is some glimmer of a view here.

Stay tuned


26 December 2010

Do We Really Need A GDS?

In the recent weeks with the controversy of the American Airlines vs Orbitz and Travelocity spilling out into the open warfare we saw in the days before Christmas.

At one of the events when people get around to imbibing of the holiday cheer, I often get asked what I do. My family tends to roll their eyes because that is just a good excuse for me to wax lyrically about how good or bad the Travel Distribution is.

In one of these chats - after I had spent a few minutes explaining what a GDS was - one academic asked me a question that struck to the core.

If you have a concentration of power in the hands of the airlines and the intermediaries do you really need a neutral distribution system?

Well thought I - that's a good question. So as soon as I got home last night I went and looked for market share information. I have to say I was somewhat amazed that I had not considered this issue before.

For markets of scale where there may be many brands but only a few core providers - why do you need to have a fully neutral distribution system. Further what other markets have similar characteristics and what has become the manner in which product is distributed.

The two markets where this made sense was in automobiles and insurance. Both are complicated products and of significant monetary value. Further both employed an independent intermediary network. IE they didn't largely own the intermediary channels which contributed to the majority of their sales.

Thinking about that made me feel that perhaps we have been discussing the wrong perspective.

What if there was no GDS? What if the links to the hosts were facilitated via a network linkage where the supply was aggregated by both the intermediaries and the suppliers but independently.

In this case if this change was to happen - would the prices of the products come down or would they stay the same?

There is a general measurement when considering monopoly/oligopoly behavior. This is the contestable amount of marketshare. The general sense is that if you have an oligopoly/monopoly but with a large contestable market then the competition will be intense. However the reverse is true - if you have a low contestable share of market then pricing will rise and competition will fall. If the tools available are also not fully examining the whole market - then the pricing tends also to rise.

In our business this is no where more visible in the difference between hotels purchased via the web and those booked via GDS powered travel agents which results in a significant differential in pricing to the detriment of the consumer. Over the years the difference has been of the order 20%+.

Thus from a hospitality point of view the GDS has actually raised the pricing to the consumer. Particularly as the market for hotels has been soft and therefore contestable.

For air this is not the case and the amount of contestable market share is limited given high load factors. Worse this is not going to get any better due to the constraints on supply due to the high price of fuel.

If we look at the market share of the 3 major alliances they now occupy more than 50% of total traffic. When you then remove the Low Cost carriers out of the loop as they dont participate in the GDSs the amount of neutral traffic unaligned falls significantly. Perhaps for this reason we see traditional unaligned airlines like Virgin Atlantic starting to evaluate their options seriously.

Bottom line here folks. Yes we should ask what value the GDSs provide and those who support perhaps are doing so because their vested interests are not aligned with providing the best service to the consumer. Indeed I would argue that the GDS has over time restrained competition and indeed cost the consumer more.

Think about it.

I am sure there will be many who disagree. But unnatural acts such as paying your distributors and thereby bribing them to use your channel is one such element that can only mean higher consumer costs.

Open Competition is healthy even in a lightly contested market space. It does drive lower pricing. The trick now is to see how that can be implemented in a logical and convenient way expeditiously.

There will be players who support and others who don't. And as you can expect there will be a myriad of different strategies which in my view will create different friends and enemies. The lines of demarcation will be fluid at best!


The Professors’ 2011 Predictions

Predictions for 2011

OK So it’s that time of the year again. Let’s peak into the Professor’s Goody bag and see what is going to be there next year?

The big change in my opinion is going to be very simple. Real time instant commerce. So iCommerce has nothing to do with Apple. It has everything to do with how the world REALLY works. The line between online and offline will start to really blur. Further the way that suppliers and intermediaries in travel will work together will become tighter bilaterally not via constraining third parties such as Legacy GDSs. (Of course you would expect me to say that).

And What About this iCommerce?

I1 – Instant – Instant Commerce is about realtime results that are trustworthy
I2 – Interactive – Interactive Commerce is bringing the engine of transaction into transaction as intuitive not as explicit type of things such as explicit search but implied transactions
I3 – And of course its all about me – I! However this is where its not just the usual me – its about my social web and how that inter-relates.

The world will change. Google Instant is going to continue to refine how online commerce is handled. Once the ITA acquisition goes through – then Google will roll out a raft of personalization services that will be hard to beat. However there will be a hard core of people who will develop solutions that will bypass or capitalize on the Instant part of this. Timeliness will be able to address certain issues that annoy consumers like the digital detritus that has been left over from things that you signed up for earlier but cannot get rid of.

OH PLEASE develop a way to remove crap off my weblife. I predict someone will create a Digital De-Detritus system. I can’t wait.

We are going to see Commerce enter our social web in a less brazen way than has occurred thus far. Facebook will become softer about it. However marketers will discover that Twitter feeds can contain real time information that can become a basis for how things can be promoted. The merging of Groupon and Twitter streams will bring an astonishing change to local and global offers. The real trick will be how well intermediaries adopt these tools. And that doesn’t mean forking out huge chunks of cash to Groupon.

PRIVACY. In 2011 there will be a strong push from non-US and older consumers to the abuse of privacy. Expect to see regulatory controls implemented as well as some other legal maneuvers that will tighten up the protection of consumers and their privacy

Mobile. OK Yes 2011 will be the year of Mobile. Finally this is where we are going to see Mobile will come into its own.

Service. We will see service make a comeback as a differentiator. Smarter next gen technologies will improve the customer experience. At least they will be competitive with the call centres in Asia! Self Service will make way for Good (notice I did not say Great) service.

Value Finding

For the past 15 years the focus on search and shopping has been on finding the lowest fares. However as we all know – this is an exceedingly complicated process and there is no easy way to address this. I have a view that there is a long way to go between the words the customer users and what he really wants. This discrepancy results in some rather terrible outcomes for sellers of travel online. Travel is a very complex process. Those of us who have been in the business a long time will undoubtedly find that this is normal behavior. If you have actually sold discretionary travel face to face or over the phone you know the trigger words to use and the better way to guide the customer through the process. That is not easy to do online.

With maturity now breaking out all over the web – the focus must turn to the overall user experience and the success of the “Search” process in meeting the needs of the consumer. This is a VERY hard thing to do and almost no one has done a good job in delivering a good solution here.

Therefore in my mind this needs to become a focus for everyone. Expressing the customer’s desires as a value and then matching the best results to that value. The people who crack this one will become successful. Those who wait, those who rely on legacy tools, those who don’t understand their customers, those who are lazy – will become road kill. If for no other reason than Google is going to go after this concept big time and will do a good job – of that you can be sure. But will it be a great job and will it be enough? Let’s revisit that question in December 2011.

True Innovation?

I love innovation. What will be the one thing that we cannot do without? I predict one thing. Apple will come out with an iPhone Nano. The Simple iPhone for the rest of us. This will come late 2011 or early 2012. Small light and with many of the services that we know and love. Apple will use an innovative approach to enhancing screen displays that will let the user interact with most of his life through the iPhoneNano.


With thanks to Duke University for the rather inspiring image.

A Groupon Christmas

Well I had a Groupon Christmas courtesy of my family. Many different items we received were actually Groupon deals.

I wont say we are a thrifty lot but we definitely look out for a bargain. And these were all pretty good deals.

Over the past few months I have been asking merchants and users what their experiences have been with Groupon.

The general impression I get is that for the merchant it has become a necessary evil. One common concern I hear - and this is anecdotal from non-instant purchase things such as Restaurants is that it has moved the purchase process to a later date closer to the product delivery time.

In Europe in the 1980s the purchase of travel moved from an orderly process to a last minute model. One the suppliers and intermediaries have been trying to move away from ever since. Clearly unsuccessfully.

I think that we should pay close attention to the long term impact on pricing power by the supplier and conventional buying behaviour.

Be careful what you wish for... it may come true.