Sunday, August 30, 2009

Zuji boss Roshan Mendis on Travelocity buying Travelguru

Ease of adjustment in logo colours is never a factor in an acquisition but it has not taken long or much design work to add a few Travelocity stars to the logo of the newly acquired Indian online hotel player Travelguru. Thankfully they avoided the branding redundancy of adding the Zuji tag line of "your online travel guru".

A week or so after the purchase by Travelocity/Zuji of Travelguru I had a chance to sit down (virtually) with Zuji boss and Travelocity regional head Roshan Mendis to talk about the deal, the Indian market and regional plans generally. Roshan took over from former Zuji boss Scott Blume in June and now has a portfolio of brands to manage including Zuji in Australia, Hong Kong and Singapore , Nextour in Korea, Travelocity in India and New Zealand, and now Travelguru in India. [note that the Travelocity owned brand of Lastminute.com does operate in Australia and New Zealand but is not owned by Travelocity. Instead the business operates under a franchise structure wholly owned by the Wotif group].

Roshan is very bullish about the acquisition, as he should be for something he has likely just paid tens of millions if not a hundred or so for. He feels the Indian market is at the right time for acquisition and expansion. But he is also upfront that the deal is not without risk. He admits that integration will be a challenge especially on the people front.

Here is some more detail from our interview

BOOT: This acquisition was your first big move as the new regional lead for Travelocity. Why India and why this company?

Roshan : Couple of reasons. We see India as a top three market in region. Looking ahead to 2012 – research indicates will be right next to China, Japan and Australia as top online travel market. In addition the OTA, general market and accommodation market growth rates in India are attractive. But it is still an emerging market. So this is not a deal without risk.

BOOT: you have plenty of competition to contend with. Expedia is in India and the local big three - Cleartrip, Makemytrip and Yatra are very aggressive.

Roshan: Absolutely – big three make up 80% of market. Competition is stiff and irrational at times. Certainly attractive bits in online space but domestic flights are unattractive and that is where competition is most fierce. Looking to compete differently through Travelguru.

BOOT: Will you bring the supply facing teams together?

Roshan: Putting integration plans together now. The Intent is for a unified partner marketing [Travelocity name for supply team] to represent Travelocity India for all brands.

BOOT: I read there were a lot of challenges in integrating Travelocity and Lastminute supply operations in Europe, are you concerned about the integration task here?

Roshan: I won't comment on the Travelocity and Lastminute integration but generally acquiring and integrating a company particularly on the people side is not a small job. [We are going into the integration effort] with a common purpose and goal between Travelocity.co.in and Travelguru. [Including] clear expectations in leadership between the two. Under no allusions that going to be a cake walk putting people, processes and culture together.

BOOT: In the press release Travelguru founder and CEO Ashwin Damera, said "he was excited with the deal and would want to replicate the story in other Asian". Tell me more about this idea?

Roshan: Purpose of the deal and intent is to focus on India and make success in India – over and above that – the model might work in other market but don’t think that is where short term effort will be.

BOOT: Ram Badrinathan of PhoCusWright asked this question in his blog post "Travelocity Acquires TravelGuru—Will it Change Anything in India?" [Will Travelocity] back TravelGuru and Travelocity with at least a $2.5 million annual marketing budget (to build the brand and business)?

Roshan: [regarding the marketing plans of Travelocity and Travelguru in India] past behaviour is the best indication of future behaviour. If you look at Travelocity.co.in, it is has grown in last few years. [On marketing we are] very analytical and invest in those channels that allow for growth and maximise profit. [BOOT I took this to mean a focus on online channels rather than offline spend]

BOOT: At last year's TRAVELtech your predecessor Scott Blume said that Zuji was firing in Asia on "most" cylinders. "when one country is firing, other aren't" he said. You have a large portfolio now in Asia. What are your plans for firing on all cylinders?

Roshan: In our portfolio in AP have a number of assets and they have certain kinds of potential determined by size of market, size of online pie, balance between supply.com and intermediates etc. Different expectations for the different markets and invest in those markets according to our expectations on what it should and can deliver. [delicately keeping with the analogy] We have a set of cylinders that are not the same size and horse power. Need to recognise and pump with the appropriate level of fuel to achieve the maximum potential. We take a portfolio view – have a place and role for each asset in the portfolio and will support to meet full potential.

BOOT: Finally - what worries you? What things do you want to make sure you get right?

Roshan: The acquisition. Lots of things to determine success of acquisition. There are social and economic events to keep track of as well as the maturity of the space, consumers, online penetration etc.

What do you think? Bold move? Too soon? Wrong market? Right time?

PS - looks like we can finally kill off the rumours of Expedia's investment in Travelguru

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Jetstar on Virgin Blue - Perils of in-flight TV

In flight TV is all the rage with Low Cost Carriers because it opens up a revenue stream without the complexity of managing a video on demand system. Unfortunately streaming live TV comes with a lack of editorial control. Here is a photo of me watching a Jetstar TV advertisement while sitting in a Virgin Blue seat somewhere between Sydney and Melbourne. That is 192 people looking at your competitor's brand while consuming your product.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Seat Review - Virgin Atlantic Upper Class (Business Class)

A recent Hong Kong Trip on Virgin Atlantic gave me a chance to see if the airline was living up to the ”Still Red Hot” advertising campaign. Is my second time on the carrier. I have a great memory of the last trip. Not least because I actually saw one passenger successfully pick up another passenger while sitting at the bar using the line "my wife does not understand me". Innuendo and brand image aside, VS have a fantastic business class product. The style makes me feel more relaxed in the air than the flag carriers of Asia, Australia and UK. The seats have a few issues compared to the more modern herringbone of Cathay Pacific but this is a great seat and airline to fly.

The BOOT rating for Virgin Atlantic Upper Class (International Business Class) is a 5 stars out of 6 or Great Seat". Here is the detailed review (Details and scoring system for airline seat reviews)

Getting on Board

Score 1.0

For Sydney and Hong Kong VS have the challenge of coming up against the industry leading lounges of Qantas and Cathay Pacific. In Sydney the Air NZ lounge (that VS flyers are invited to) is fine as it is but it is steps behind the travelling pleasure of the Qantas first class lounge with its first class restaurant and endless Veuve Clicquot. In Hong Kong the Virgin Club House is much better and more competitive especially through the quality of the small but enjoyable meal menu but is still behind Cathay's Wing Lounge. If I was travelling onto London all would have been forgiven as the Virgin Club House at Heathrow is my favourite lounge. Nothing beats and sauna and spa soak before a flight.

The Seat

Score 1.0

VS were first to launch the herringbone diagonal style flat beat seat (subsequently picked up by Cathay). The benefits of this seat are a quick conversion to a long fully flat bed and no one sitting next to you. The downside is that the seat tends to be narrow especially at the feat. I feel very comfortable and not too crowded in the seated position but lying down to sleep my feet become noticeably pushed together. It does not ruin the sleep experience but the irritation is felt.

They make up for this with much appreciated attentions to detail. I am a fan of the seat tables that can be left down but moved in such a way that you can get out of the seat without disruption a meal tray or computer. VS manage to do this with one of the biggest tables in the sky while not interfering with the entertainment screen. The doona/blanket is much more bed like than a standard airline blanket. Similarly the pillow is a traditional size rather that scaled down mini-air format. Both help to compensate for squished feet.

Only other negative is that the seat power still requires a dedicated aircraft adapter rather than the multi-region standard plugs now available on other carriers

The Service

Score 1.0

There is a real danger when a high end travel companies like VS adopts a service style and approach of being like a cool and sophisticated best friend. There have been times where I have stayed at W hotels in the US where the staff came across and so cool and so sophisticated that I did not feel worthy or welcome. VS are not like that - they get the balance right between making you feel relaxed and happy to be there yet establishing an environment of service and cool. Chatting with the staff in the bar area is a genuinely interesting and fun break from drudgery of a long flight. They can fall into a routine during very busy periods but that is the same with all airlines.

The Food

Score 0.5

The menu is good but that is not the most noteworthy part the VS dining experience. What I like is that I can order the main meal at the time of my choosing rather than according to a fixed meal service. This works better the less passengers there are. On a full flight the staff are very busy so breaking their routine is not as easy but I still find this feature useful.

The Entertainment

Score 0.5

VS have all the makings of a top entertainment system. It is full video on demand with a deep library of movies, TV and audio. Nice mix of recent releases and good older films. But it is annoying how long it takes to start up. Newer implementations on Singapore, Cathay and even United start immediately but VS takes a long time to switch on the system. Once it is turned on you have to sit through another 15 minutes of VS advertising and intro video. This has an impact on the night time HK to Sydney leg. This is a flight that is just under 9 hours. I can normally sleep around 6 hours on a flight so I am looking to watch a film then sleep. If I have to wait 30 mins before the video is turned on then it kills any chance of watching a film.

The BOOT factor

Score 1.0

Virgin Atlantic just ooze BOOT Factor. From the bar, toilet mood lighting, the sleeper suit, to the staff attitude there is a feeling of relaxation, welcome aboard and care that you don't find on the attentive but formal Asian carriers, the process driven Qantas and the 'I hate the bosses so much you are lucky I am here at all" attitude of BA and American carriers. I would like to have added the free limo transfer as a BOOT factor item but I was on the one fare class (read cheapest fare class) that was not entitled to the free transfer.

Final Score

5.0 - Great Seat

Details and scoring system for airline seat reviews

thanks to vissago over at flickr for the photo

Monday, August 24, 2009

Three lies the travel industry keeps telling consumers (with Qantas, Hilton and Virgin Express examples)

Again and again the travel industry thinks that lying to a customer is the best way out of an uncomfortable situation. As a consumer of online travel (a COOT rather than a BOOT) I have come across three standard lies that the industry keeps telling me. They are:

1. I would like to help you but "the system" wont let me;

2. The flight/hotel/boat/train is fully booked; and

3. The flight/boat/train is on time.

Here are those three lies in action. What is common across each of these lies is that I actually received the service or result I was looking for. In each case the service provider gave me something that I did not by rights deserve and helped me out. But I had to work through the lies to get it. The result is that instead of leaving with a fantastic feeling of "thank you for going the extra mile" I leave with "why the hell did you make s$%t up"

Lie 1 care of Qantas "I would like to help you but the system wont let me"

I was in Melbourne yesterday for work, flying Qantas domestic and my meeting finished early. I was on a very restrictive fare so was owed no favours and did not expect any. On the off chance I went to the counter of the Qantas lounge to ask for earlier flight. Either I was going to get a break with an earlier flight or spend three hours on the lounge wi-fi and drinks buffet.

Here is the exchange with the lounge agent as he was busily typing away in the rez system

Agent - " your fare is an inflexible one. Sometimes 'the system' allows me to make a change but sometimes 'they' wont 't let me"

Note the use of the 'they' and the reference to 'the system'. A strong message to me that if there is bad news, it will not be his (the agent's) fault. He went on

Agent- " I am sorry but I can't change these fares"

My colleague and I were about to step aside when another agent (Agent 2) leans over to the first Agent (Agent 1) and says

Agent 2 - "we are getting reports of very bad weather on the way. You should get them [ ie me] out as soon as you can."

Agent 1 - "OK"

He returns to typing on his screen and thirty seconds later gives us two boarding passes for the flight leaving in 25 mins

In one big respect I am grateful to Qantas. I found out (care of a tripit pro alert) that my original flight left almost two hours late. So by putting me on the earlier flight I was home four and a half hours earlier than if I had stayed on the original flight. My fare type did not give me any right to a change. But why did the agent feel the need to blame the system and 'them' when clearly he had complete authority to make a change. I would have understood it if he had told me that my fare was too restrictive and that he would get back to me on a stand by basis later rather than lie to me about how much influence he had.

Lie 2 care of Hilton "The hotel is fully booked"

Back in Cendant days I found myself at the Hilton in Parsippany. A horrible place at the best of times (not Hilton's fault) made worse during one very cold January visit when the company asked me to stay on for four more days than I planned. I called down to the front desk and here is the exchange

Me - "I am due to check out now, but would like to stay. Can I stay longer?"

Front Desk - "I am sorry sir but we are fully booked"

Me - " that's a shame as I would like to stay another four days"

Front Desk - "oh...that's fine I will adjust the check out date"

Me - "do I have to change rooms?"

Front Desk - "no, that's fine...you can stay where you are"

Clearly when I asked to stay longer the front desk person thought I was asking for a late check out not an extension. Understandable given my choice of words But instead of telling me the truth (that for whatever reason late check out was not available) her first instinct was to lie (we are full).

Lie 3 care of Virgin Express "your flight is on time"

I have told this story before in a post about a time I forgot my passport on a trip from London to Brussels. Here is the short version.

I was running very late for a Virgin Express flight (now Brussels Airlines). Here is the exchange with the reservation centre.

Me - "Is this flight on time?"

Virgin Express - "Yes sir, right on time."

Me - "I know you are supposed to say that but I actually need the flight to be delayed as I am running late. So tell me, is the flight on time?"

Virgin Express - "OK sir, the flight is running about 20 mins late."

Me - "Are you sure. I need the flight to be about an hour late for me to make it."

Virgin Express - "OK sir, I am tracking the flight at about an hour and a half late."

Me - "great. Thanks. I'll make it."

Again I benefited from the outcome (catching a flight I should have missed) but the lie was clearly built into the culture and standard customer response script.

Why does the industry do it

My theory is that the industry has created so many complex rules around pricing and yield management that enforcing the resulting restrictions and consumer segmentation has become more of a focus than serving the customer. The rate complexity requires customer care agents to either be very blunt with customers (I am sorry you can't have that because you didn't pay for it ) or undermine their pricing (ok I will give this to you even though you should pay) or lie (I wish I could do it but I can't). The pricing/product differences are a challenge but the right response is better customer care training, improved customer profiling and trusting that giving a customer a last minute helping hand is not going to do long term damage to your pricing structure. Lying to a customer is not (and is never) the right answer

Any thoughts? Do you have examples of when you were lied to or asked to lie to a customer?

Update - other great "lies" that I have seen in twitter responses include
  • "the hotel is right by the beach";
  • "your flight is boarding now".

thanks to La TĂȘte Krançien's at Flickr for the photo

Roamfree misses debt payments and goes into administration (news report)

Queensland based Roamfree has placed itself into voluntary administration according to the goldcoast.com.au. This is confirmed by a filing with ASIC (Australian government body that regulates companies) sent to me by an industry insider. It lists Roamfree Ltd as "* UNDER EXTERNAL ADMINISTRATION and/or CONTROLLER APPOINTED **" dated 24 August 2009.

The broad Roamfree group is a series of online accommodation brands, a channel manager and providers of technologies for tourism companies. Hard to know at this stage which of the business will be affected when. The article says that it does not effect all of the business enterprises under the Roamfree banner as
"The group's subsidiary trading companies, BookEasy Pty Ltd, Roamfree Pacific and majority-owned Tourism Technology, are not affected."
Toursim Technology operates the Calypso system used by many offline companies for inventory management.

As of 930am this morning the main site is still live (screenshot below).

I am always nervous about doing a Roamfree post. One back in April last year resulted in almost 100 comments, many of them unfit to print. That said I would welcome any info you might have as to which business are affected and which are not.


Wednesday, August 19, 2009

eKit.com international mobile review from Madame BOOT

At PhoCusWright last year I managed to snag a photo with fellow Australian's John Diamond CEO eKit and Rod Cuthbert Executive Chairman of destination services company Viator. Now Madame BOOT has had a chance to try out eKit's overseas mobile product. Here is her review...

So you are going overseas for business and pleasure, visiting a few countries, seeing old friends, and leaving small kiddies at home whom you want to reach quickly and easily at any time and vice versa. How to keep in telephonic reach? The Frugal Traveler from The New York Times this week explored the following options Skype, Google Voice, GizmoCall, OneSIMCard, and Voxox . One he hasn't talked about, and which offers a comprehensive solution is ekit.com.

WHY USE IT
Madame BOOT used it recently and has positive reports*. The main benefit was calling and texting to and from family in Australia, making and receiving calls and texts from friends and family in the UK and in Italy by using a SIM card, purchased through eKit.com before she left OZ, which she popped into her network-unlocked mobile phone when she landed in London. If your regular moby is locked ekit will provide you with phone and SIM. The highlight of global mobility was reaching friends from Australia who were holidaying in London by calling their Cypriot based mobile number (don't ask) with her UK-number SIM card, from an Australian-bought phone.

Texting was instantaneous to all mobiles, be they Italian, Australian, UK, or Cypriot. It only delayed once when it took 2 days to deliver an SMS and I suspect that was the fault of Mother's dodgy Telstra service. The beauty of landing at 6pm in Gatwick, turning on mobile, and having text message awaiting about dinner invitation for 8pm, was the epitome of ease-of-travel. The other moment that made her feel that it was a worthy service was turning her phone on while waiting for the Heathrow Express to reach Paddington, and immediately speaking to the BOOT and BOOTies who were on some farm in NSW with no landline.

HOW TO USE IT
ekit scores highly on ease of use. After you insert your SIM card you enter a PIN, dial the required number as per normal and within 10 seconds your phone rings and you are connected. Texting is as per normal: enter destination number and text and press send. You can set up automatic recharge so you don't run out of credit.

THE PRICE?
Their Global Premium Service cost AUD39.99 and then texts and calls were charged as per usage, with a bunch of benefits thrown in. I leave it to you to decide if you consider it value for money as it is relative to your needs and what other services you can access. There is a 'passport' product for long-term travellers.

DOWNSIDES?
You need to allow time for delivery, in this case 48hrs. So plan a little ahead. You need to memorise a new number and PIN or carry it with you.

(*She has NO links to the company, was not asked to review the product and paid her way)

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

801 not out

Another 100 posts are live on the InterTubes. Time again for my regular "not out series" recap where I go through the last 100 posts and remind you of the themes that have been dominating the blog. I started almost three years ago with 101 not out and continued with 201, 301, 401, 501. 601, and 701 not out. This comes at a time that the BOOT passed the 100k visitor mark.

Two new segments for the Blog
Meta search action a-plenty which I tried to summarise in my post "Meta-search vs Online Travel Agents: the three main differences and why they matter"
While also having time for Travel Discovery and Inspiration sites such as:
...and we found out how much Expedia paid for VirtualTourist and OneTime

BOOT interview mania with start ups and industry shakers
oh...and...a plane actually landed on water

Monday, August 17, 2009

Webjet to relaunch hotels with a GDS backed retail model. Three reasons why I don' think this is the best plan available

Webjet are having a great time selling domestic air in Australia. As we have discussed before their tech leadership in developing the Travel Services Aggregator back in 2004 enabled them to sell multi-carrier domestic air including low cost carriers before anyone else. Even though other sites now have similar functionality, Webjet continues to enjoy customer loyalty and growth (despite charging dramatically higher fees per booking).

The company has made a number of attempts at diversifying their
revenue with land product. In mid 2003 they launched Bookabed as a standalone hotel brand. In 2006 they revamped the product under the new name Lotsofhotels. Then in June 2008 they announced plans to take Lotsofhotels onto the eBay platform. Unfortunately none of these efforts have developed traction in a very competitive market.

In their recent results they announced the launch of new hotel product called "Stay and Pay" (Travel Weekly story here). This new product moves them away from merchant sales to the retail model (consumer pay at the hotel, Webjet collects commission from hotel). They are launching two twists on the retail models you see from big players like Booking.com and Venere. Firstly there is no negotiated inventory. The inventory is drawn from the publicly available rates distributed through a GDS feed from Travelport. Secondly there is a service fee of $10 per booking charged up front by Webjet.

I like the fact that Webjet are trying hotels again. Fees on air make up 97% of their operating revenue (just down from 98% last year). They need to have other revenue streams to compete with packaging experts Expedia and Zuji (Travelocity) and the Wotif group owned air intermediaries Travel.com.au and Lastminute.com.au (not to forget the Orbitz owned hotel only players HotelClub and RatesToGo) [disclosure]. That said there are three reasons why I don' think this is the best way to go about hotels for Webjet:

  1. Webjet will struggle for Rate Parity: The GDS companies (Travelport included) have done an admirable job working with the Chains and some independent properties to secure rate parity through GDS distribution. By that I mean working with hotels to have the rates that are loaded in the GDS be on par with the negotiated rates provided to the OTAs. However the rates in the GDS are never cheaper and by charging a $10 booking fee, Webjet will end up with pricing that is almost always more expensive than any other channel. There will be a convenience factor for consumers but this will be at the margins compared to the consumers who will be turned away by the higher price on Webjet;
  2. Webjet will not have access to important Inventory Types: Again the GDS companies have worked hard to expand the range of hotels and properties available. However there is still a bias towards chains and a bias towards geographies with a history of GDS distribution. This means Webjet will be missing important independent properties and have less coverage in the Asia Pacific, Latin American and Middle East regions than the negotiated hotel agencies and OTA competitors; and
  3. Webjet will miss out of the the best Specials and Promos: In this "year of the deal", hoteliers are providing deals and promos the likes of which have not been seen since 9/11. Most of these come with conditions, specifically a range of cancellation options ranging up to non-refundable. The GDS is not able to support this functionality as well as the negotiated inventory providers. Means that many of the great deals (especially last minute ones) will not be in the feed accessed by Webjet.
I can understand why Webjet went down this route. It would be very expensive for them to build a hotel contracting team from scratch. Impossible in fact if they wanted to gain coverage outside of Australia. Therefore they need to work with partners to access inventory. However my recommendation would be to work with an inventory provider with negotiated rates rather than the GDS. [disclosure - I work for a company that provides negotiated hotel rates]. It will provide them with a fix to each of the issues above.

The new Stay and Pay product is due for beta-launch today (18 Aug 2009). Will put in a functionality review post later.

Update - make sure you check out the comments where Richard Noon (Webjet CEO) puts his side of the story

Update 2 - I thought of one more reason why this product won't give consumers as good an experience as a negotiated provider will. The room type description and hotel content on the GDS is not as clear or attractive as those from a negotiated provider. Here is an example of a room type for a Sydney hotel in a GDS " PREMIER ROOM CITY VIEW 1 QUEEN OR 2 SGLSNON SMOKING LCD TV HI SPEED INTERNET FOR A FEE".

PS - last year at TRAVELtech Webjet CEO Richard Noon gave his estimates of the turnover of the various Austrlaia online air intemediaries.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Adding Dennis Schaal to my Blog Roll

Travel industry journalist Dennis Schaal launched a blog (called the Dennis Schaal Blog - online riffs and notes) back in March this year. Since then he as been prolific (149 posts) and very insightful. With Kevin May leaving Travolution (and yet to announce where he has landed) Dennis has rocketed to the top of my best industry blogger list. He has been part of my feedreader for a while and is now added to my Blog Roll. I suggest you add him to the sites you review also.

While you will not hear/read me talking/writing about global OTA Orbitz or online hotel only specialist HotelClub, there are a couple of recent posts by Dennis on those companies that will give you a good introduction to his writing style and insight.

Where in the World is the Orbitz Hotel Business Model?

Does Orbitz Ratestogo.com Mean Merchant Model To Go.com?

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

WebInTravel 2009: sessions announced including two for the BOOT

The final speaker list and programme is now out for WebInTravel in Singapore October 20-23. Great list of speakers including CEOs or regional leasd for Sabre, AirAsia, Travelport, wego, Expedia, Wotif, Accor, Abacus, PhoCusWright, Jetstar, Webjet, Agoda, Rakuten, Jalan/Recruit, Zuji/Travelocity, AsiaRooms and Pegasus.

Your BOOT correspondent will be part of three sessions.

Day 1 - The Web Dissected

A summary of all of the new areas we have been covering this year at BOOT central. The official spiel is "Timothy Hughes will dissect the online travel landscape and shares his ideas on what works, what doesn't and what could work in future." Will see me on stage again with Ram Badrinathan of PhoCusWright. If you would like to see last year's session with Ram (as well as PCW CEO Philip Wolf) then go here.

Day 1 - Taming The Social Media Beast: Is It All About Twitter, and What About Search?

Moderating a fantastic panel with the following industry CEOs
Day 2 - The Great Debate: Finding The Right Mix For The Future

Moderating along with conference organiser Yeoh Siew Hoon. Other fantastic panel
  • Mark Inster, General Manager, Southeast Asia, Windows Live, Microsoft
  • Martin Symes, CEO, Wego
  • Morris Sim, CEO, Circos.com
  • Ram Badrinathan, General Manager-Asia, PhoCusWright Inc
  • Brett Henry, Vice President Marketing, Abacus International
  • Timothy O'Neil Dunne, Managing Partner, T2 Impact
Full programme here.

Priceline on Agoda "Agoda had a very good quarter despite the fact that they’ve been running into several headwinds"

SeekingAlpha is carrying a transcript of the recent Q2 earnings call for Priceline (PCLN). Not much was said on the Asian based subsidiary Agoda. There was this exchange between Mark Mahaney of Citigroup and Bob Mylod of Priceline (Vice Chairman and Head of Worldwide Strategy and Planning). Mylod indicates that Agoda is experiences challenges due to declines in the Thai market from general instability and H1N1/swine flu fears. Instead of triple digit growth for Agoda he points to "significant double digit growth". Here is the exchange (thanks again to SeekingAlpha where you can find the entire transcript).
Mark Mahaney - Citigroup

...any qualitative comments on the Agoda growth? I think you had in the past couple of quarters talked about triple digit growth -- anything there? ...

Robert J. Mylod Jr.

...we don’t disclose Agoda separately. It’s part of our international gross bookings which as you can see were very strong during the quarter but I would also say qualitatively Agoda had a very good quarter despite the fact that they’ve been running into several headwinds, significant headwinds at least in terms of how it affects their business individually. They’ve had currency headwinds. They’ve had political instability in their home market, Thailand and they have also had probably a little bit more impact related to swine flu concerns than we’ve had in the United States. But despite all of that, they continue to grow at very significant double-digit rates and we are very happy with how they are doing so far.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Seat Review - Qantas A380 International Premium Economy

Madame BOOT was in Venice recently for work. Yes she is a road warrior traveller as well. And Yes there are people that work in Venice. Her trip gave the BOOT family an opportunity to review Qantas' new A380 Premium Economy Product. Her quick summary of the experience "Happiness is a low base". Her expectations of Qantas service going into the flight were bad and results were above her expectations. I asked her - "Did you feel like the service was of a standard that should come out of a $10mm investment in the new Qantas customer care centre". Her reply "the customer care is there so long as the customers do not interfere with process. The "process culture" rather than customer care culture of Qantas continues to hold back their product from the high level rating that the seat, entertainment and technical components deserve.

Update - my own review of the product is here where I rate Qantas Premium Economy as the best in it's class

The BOOT rating for Qantas International Premium Economy on the A380 is a 4.0 stars out of 6 or Good Seat". Here is the detailed review (Details and scoring system for airline seat reviews)

Getting on Board

Score 1.0

Madame BOOT had the additional bonus of a Gold membership to help with lounge access. Qantas' business class lounge is well stocked, large and comfortable. It gets a little crowded in nearly abandoned Heathrow Terminal 4 but Sydney and Singapore are a real oasis. As to boarding itself there is a dedicated queue for premium economy which filters straight upstairs for a simple and easy boarding process. A drink is offered immediately and cabin crew where available for help.

The Seat

Score 0.5

"Good but not incredible" was Madame's initial response. The recline is nowhere even in the realm of business class but does allow for sleeping. Unfortunately the foot rest was in the wrong position and at the wrong angle for Madame meaning that her feet were left dangling. This made it hard for her to find a comfortable position for her height. The space between the rows was noticeably greater than economy with "no sardine feeling". But the exit row seat for her return from London to Sydney came with a cost. The exit row extends across the cabin and gives more room to the middle section of seats but this is then used by passengers and (most appalling) staff as a thoroughfare. Means that her relaxation was constantly and regularly interrupted by staff members looking for a short cut from one aisle to the other. Thankfully the VOD screens come out of the arm rest rather than seat in front so the regular herd like movements of wandering crew did not interrupt viewing. The interruption by staff reduced the score here form a 1.0 to a 0.5. The staff culture having a negative impact on the quality of the seat.

The Service

Score 0.0

More and more this becomes Qantas' weak point. It is provided to their schedule not the passengers'. Here are some examples. My wife woke at one point and asked for food outside a meal service (as encouraged by the menu). She was offered a sandwich but then made to wait over 30 minutes so they could bring it along with the next cabin service and therefore not interrupt their routine. On the way to London (not the A380) for a meal Madame was offered "lamb or fish". She asked for "fish", was provided with "lamb" and after a quizzical glance was told by the crew to "eat the lamb and ask for the fish if still hungry later". On the return flight Madame was very unwell and needed to use the bathroom. She stood and tried to give her tray to a crew member to allow her to get to the bathroom quickly. The crew member refused to accept the tray as he was busy. Not good enough Qantas. The training centre is not paying off.

The Food

Score 0.5

"Unremarkable" but closer to business class than economy.

The Entertainment

Score 1.0

Thankfully all of the glitches in the Qantas VOD system have been fixed. There is plenty to choose from. Madame commented particularly on the great selection of non-movie entertainment such as Louis Theroux docu-comedies. She particularly liked the dedicated "kids" button that allowed direct access to the children's entertainment.

The BOOT factor

Score 1.0

She loved the A380. Comments like "it is much quieter", "better air quality", "roomier", "space around you feels bigger". The plane makes a difference. Such as shame that the service culture takes away from this.

Final Score

4.0 - Good Seat


Details and scoring system for airline seat reviews

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Still trying to convince offline travel media that Expedia own's TripAdvisor

Below is an extract of the TravelToday daily PDF published by the Australian version of TravelWeekly (owned by Reed Business).
Expedia coup
Expedia has partnered with SeatGuru to integrate user reviews of airplane seats [sic] into the seat maps for flights sold on Expedia.com.
In case you (like TravelWeekly) have missed the last 5 years of the online travel industry, Expedia owns TripAdvisor and in May 2007 TripAdvisor bought SeatGuru.

What next TravelWeekly? Amazing news that Qantas has extended its preferred supplier relationship with Qantas Holidays. Industry shaking news that W and Sheraton hotels have agreed to exchange loyalty club points. Hold the front page news that Avis and Budget are using the same fuel supplier.

Rather than using the headline "Expedia coup", it would be more appropriate to usethe phrase "People at Expedia are returning each other's calls". But that would hardly make for an interesting headline.

PS - can only find the article in PDF form, let me know if you see it online.

Confirmed - Google is doing delayed keyword matching in paid search results


Wrote a post last week wondering why I was seeing sponsored links based on previous search results on Google. I suggested that one possibility was that the
" 'broad match' bidding advertisers are doing is now getting more and more broad in terms of keyword matching and maybe even session time
This has been confirmed by Google in this AdWords Help page. Here is the relevant text.

II. How does this feature work?

This feature is an enhancement of broad match. It works by generating similar terms for each search query based on the content of the current query and, if deemed relevant, the previous queries in a user's search session. Your ad will potentially show if one of your broad-matched keywords matches any of these similar terms.

In other words Google is entering behaviour targeting and search profiling. For logged in users it is clear that no set of search results will be the same.

Thanks to "Kate" for sending through the link.

Crowd Sourcing on Twitter - when 140 characters is not enough


Tweet question of the week
"What is the best way to advertise an online travel agent?"
I love a good crowd sourcing question. Twitter followers quickly pointed me to important infor sources to help write my recent meta-search vs OTA post. But there only so much that 140 characters can do. How can one answer the above question in 140 characters in a meaningful way? Best I could think of was
"A balance of SEO, SEM, affiliate, strong site content, member retention plans, a bit of offline brand and don't forget product focus"
But this is as useless as it is short.

Twitter crowd sourcing is not ready for open ended questions like "what is the best way". Stick to "where can I find info on" as a tweet.

I wont point to the tweeter to avoid any embarrassment but trust me that I have copied and pasted word for word.

BOOT in Hong Kong Aug 10-14

The BOOT will be in Hong Kong next week (Aug 10-14 2009). If you are going to be there and are interested in joining and evening catchup let me know in the comment section of timsboot [at] gmail [dot] com

Thanks for cblee at flickr for the photo

TRAVELTech 2009: BOOT presenting on Mobile and Social Media in travel Sept 8 in Sydney

TRAVELTech 2009 is set for September 8 2009 in Sydney's Darling Harbour. Great list of speaker this year including
  • Bruce Buchanan, CEO, Jetstar
  • Rod Cuthbert, Founder and Chairman, Viator
  • Diarmuid Russell, Commercial Director, Lonely Planet
  • Steve Sherlock, Director, Oodles.com (and regular BOOT comment writer)
  • ...and many more

I will be presenting with Basil Hyman of STA on " What’s Hot – Mobile and Social Media". Official spiel for the session is
"Mobile Internet is now a reality thanks to the iPhone, while social media continues to be the web’s most dynamic force. Both are having a profound impact on travel, though many remain doggedly utilitarian. Blogger Tim Hughes takes us through the latest developments, followed by discussion."
Full programme and registration details here.