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2013 The Year of Transition – Part 1 of Year End Review

December 28, 2013

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2013 has seen some clear indications that we are reaching a level of maturity in many parts of the Travel Startup ecosystem.

For startups things are humming along nicely. The world of the sharing economy seems to have pushed new life into the moribund world of truly different and innovative. Many people are taking a run at  Tours and Activities again. And of course inspiration and planning seem to have been on a lot of people’s minds. And what is my take on this state.

In my view 3 things defined 2012:

  • The blockbuster acquisition of Kayak announced
  • The settlement of the Sabre vs AA lawsuit
  • The launch of NDC

For 2013 – there was not as much going on. We had no real blockbuster events. Yes there was still a fair old amount of money pouring into the world of startup and innovation. Not a lot of it smart. I was singularly unimpressed with the crop at PCW’s First Philip-less Innovation Summit. (I suspect I am not alone there).

Hopper finally launched and I am rather unimpressed. This could be so much better. I think much of the world has moved on. In my view – Social Sign-ins should be OPTIONAL not compulsory. This really annoys me?

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I don’t want to give Hopper or ANYONE ELSE my friend list. It is not my right to share other people’s data. Nor should it be anyone else’s. I am also getting tired of the minimalist interface that already frustrates me. I think I am REALLY tired of seeing a one box entry with a pretty background. 

Let’s get into the sharing economy – actually let’s not. AirBnB is an amazing phenomena it has unleashed a way for the consumer to search shop and buy a stay that is reasonable and affordable. It is also illegal in most cases and multiple instances in the same transaction. However that illegality is not stopping the consumer. I just hope someone asks me to right the Risk statement in their IPO document. Sometime in 2014 AirBnB will likely be the source of the most room nights booked by a single brand. I firmly believe that AirBnB must be held accountable for the actions of its efforts. So far few people are considering the impact of the macro economic change that AirBnB is bringing to both short term and long rental accommodation markets.

So my final note is on the consolidation of power across the board in the travel supply chain.

Cars and Airlines have now migrated into a scarce supply. I have watched as the supply of the traditional (aka legacy) airline product supply has slowly concentrated. And boy has it concentrated. In the USA we have gone from large number of players to just – 4 yes FOUR AIRLINES. And for car rental that has now come down to a much smaller number. Hertz, Avis, Enterprise. Pretty much that’s it.

There is now a new reality – the days of neutrality are dead. We are dealing with the Dealership model and we need to get used to it. The consumer has less choice than perhaps he has had to deal with in a very long time.

In conclusion – i believe that the “old” new economy is fading and we are facing a more stable and somewhat boring world. 2013 has been a maturing of what we saw as the brave new world. The year of transition from the hyper-euphoria to more mundane things belies the need to fix a large number of under the covers infrastructure changes. (More on that in my follow up article for 2014).

As a postscript for 2013 – perhaps as a tantalizing look at how we can imagine the future – check out these new UX possibilities here:

http://www.fastcodesign.com/3023146/the-17-most-amazing-user-interfaces-of-the-year#1

 

Thanks for reading and here’s to a great 2014.  Lunar year 2013 was the year of the Snake. As one – I welcomed the year with a bit of trepidation as it marked a major milestone in my life. Now I have had the chance to reflect – it wasn’t too bad. I wish all the best for your loved ones. May you find the true path and of course may peace come to all of us!Image

Farewell Boomers – Travel Changes for Ever

November 24, 2013

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Music: Slow Dirge

I am a Baby Boomer. Born in 1953. I vividly remember the day on November 23rd 1963 when my headmaster – Fr McHugh came into the breakfast room at my Boarding School and told us what had happened in Dallas the day before. Most of us were too young to know the impact but the whole school (we were Catholics) were horrified that someone who was so well known would be assassinated in such a callous manner. At Mass that day prayers were said for Jackie, Caroline and John and the American People.

And now the passing of the torch from the generation that this event – in so many ways – defined, to the new generation. Yes it’s time for the Boomers to leave the stage. We have had a good run. My g-g-generation has had the power to control the market for consumerism. We defined the video experience. We have now raised children. We Made love, not war and we Turned on, tuned in, dropped out and we then dropped in again. Now Peyton Place has been replaced by Game of Thrones. We settled into becoming the amazing consumer engine. We found personal peace. We worried about the planet and did nothing about it. And we travelled… oh how we travelled.

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Growing up I was a very lucky person. I had been round the world by the time I was 4. Visited countries and seen things most people could only dream about. I still do it… must have been part of the gene pool that I inherited.

Henry Harteveldt and his team at HudsonCrossing have done it again coming up with a defining report on the handing of the torch from Boomers to Millenials. You MUST read this.

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So dear friends – its been a GREAT ride. As my peers head off into the sunset – we will be very important – we just wont define how the world buys travel. I have a WHOLE LOT of learning to do and I promise to do the best I can to provide you with these insights

 

Thanks for reading

Cheers

Timothy

Timothy’s 10 Characteristics of Today’s Traveller

November 23, 2013

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The 2013 Google Travel Study conducted by Ipsos is out and I am not enthused. Regular readers will know that I have a low opinion of surveys. At one time I was a stats person so i can’t fault the technical methodology (most of the time) with this year’s in particular. But I don’t think the consumer behaviour bears out the expectations that one can draw from Google’s and its conclusions.

Squillions of people are going to quote liberally from this study to make their points to spend more money on Mobile, Social and Video. Some will even use the “data” to support whole manners of business ideas and even the odd startup or two. But for me here is how I interpret the information that is presented.

Indulge me – this is how I interpret the report and why I think its high time we started thinking for ourselves rather than being pawns in Google’s game.

Timothy’s 10 characteristics of the traveller:

  1. Lack of trust – everyone lies on the web – reviews are never fully honest.
  2. Inspiration and Planning are NEVER linear …duh – what is this “funnel” anyway?
  3. Search is so screwed up in travel that I cannot get what I want when I want it. It’s a terribly frustrating process
  4. Collaboration is often mistaken for validation (and vice versa)
  5. Millenials are vastly different from Baby Boomers – Everyone is different, Geographically, Ethnically, Age-wise, me-wise.
  6. I always use multiple devices  AND multiple browsers in planning – frequently because I need to cross reference information.
  7. Video is a load of baloney. I don’t use it to watch videos – I do it for ways to see if the vendor is lying.
  8. Mobile does not equal a guy on the street booking a $4000 trip on his smartphone.
  9. I really need a place to capture, store, sort and process the things I find online that I want to bring together. No one does this.
  10. I am always looking for planning another trip – mostly the ones I will never take.

Do you agree with me? Well you don’t have to but I do want you to think about it. Read the report, even if it is a low grade work in my opinion. Then try and think about how the ever changing punter out there is being badly serviced. AND why the products and services most players have in the market are really poor and getting not better but actually worse. 

Finally please consider the “data”. if you are thinking of going into spending a load of cash on mobile – look very hard before you do. I am SO TIRED of being told how wonderful mobile is. Look at #8 above. Mobile is really about the user being untethered. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t use the Laptop. Do read the study by Expedia and this should help give you some context because that is based on some hard data. Google should be ashamed to put out this garbage.

The link to Google’s study can be found here.

Expedia Comscore’s study can be found here.

Cheers

Timothy

Sometimes the joy is just doing it…

November 18, 2013

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ImageToday was a Sunday (in most parts of the world. In the Puget Sound a cold win was blowing but a pleasant day all round.

Tomorrow I have a round of meetings then head to the hedonistic travel heaven also known as PhocusWright. To cleanse my mind of all the hoopla and to a large extent glorified Cow Poop that will be ushered in on the wings of so called Innovation – I decided to do something I had not done in a long time. Surf on the World Wide Web.

How else would I have learned about NaBloMoPo?

Truly something magnificent. People blogging for the sure heck of it.

I love story telling. To me it is the highest form of Human Art. It weaves all those elements that makes us human. So I truly love a good story. This month being National Blogger Posting Month is probably a bit of a con from folks like WordPress. However I did enjoy some of the stories people are telling and then retelling.

So get out there and tell a story. Even if there is no one around to hear it.

Cheers

Timothy

 

 

 

Digitial Ad Growth Powering Ahead – But Why?

November 16, 2013

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Google is laughing all the way to the bank (once again) and those other folk – Facebook, Twitter, Linked in are all smiling broadly too. The number from SIG on Digital Ad growth in the last quarter would make anyone smile – if you were one of the companies. However I am perplexed at the growth in Social ad spending because I dont think it is justified.

I have a belief that a lot of this is good money chasing bad as people dont really understand Social and no decent performance metrics for Social spend are yet out there to accurately reflect the effectiveness of Ad spend on Social.

I encourage you to read the report (Link below).ec2b9b14-ca8b-4c45-855f-bbc3460428b8

It certainly makes for interesting reading but I hope those who are opening their wallets to Social and closing them to traditional advertising REALLY know what they are doing because if not – some media will go away and we will be left with a ton of schlock stuff.

Cheers

 

Competition is Our Lifeblood – So Why is the U.S. Guardian of Competition So Stupid?

November 15, 2013

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For those of us who toil in the new economy – the one where innovation and creativity becomes the driver for growth – we sometimes marvel at the old economy.

So yesterday we had what I can only describe as something incredible. Perhaps I am just not getting how government works or I just am too old to understand how people can do such illogical things.

I am speaking about the US Department of Justice and its bizarre approach to competition. For context allow me to ramble on a bit about the how this came about.

The American Airlines and US Airways merger was never in doubt – just there had to be some jumping up and down by the regulators to complain that perhaps the competition in the US airline market was being eliminated. Here is a great opinion piece from ATW’s editor.

The problem with the merger and any complaint against it was that an objection was the legal equivalent of closing the door long after the horse had bolted. UA+CO, WN+FL, DL+NW all preceded it to create behemoths who will now be in the position to make super profits. In fairness to the DoJ – they were overruled in several of these cases by the DoT who had ultimate jurisdiction. So some resistance was put up by the DoJ in each of the previous mergers but none serious.

Earlier this year the DoT and the DoJ signed off on a massive slot swap between Delta and US Airways between LGA and DCA. This preceded the merger negotiations between AA and US. The end result was a dominant position in NYC (LGA and JFK) by Delta and DCA with US. With the merger between AA and US – the result was a real consolidation of power. only 4 airlines matter really in the USA. These are: The new AA, UA, DL and Southwest. the next tier of airlines is WAY behind – Alaska, JetBlue, Frontier. None of these airline can claim to be truly Low Fare airlines while several claim to be Low Cost.

It’s important to remember that the darling of low fares – Southwest – really isn’t. Another myth. Southwest has some of the highest yielding fares in the marketplace.

And this is a very important and clear distinction. Low Fare airline means that the customer pays less. A Low Cost Carrier is one who has costs below that of the industry norm. The Low Fare airline doesn;t have to be Low Cost and sadly vice versa. Charles Dickens’ Micawber’s famous, and oft-quoted, recipe for happiness: “Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen [pounds] nineteen [shillings] and six [pence], result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery.” applies to airlines as well as individuals. Actually not as much because clearly airlines seemed to be quite happy for years to go about losing money and carrying passengers.

The trouble is that the DoJ doesn’t seem to know the difference between Low Fare and Low Cost.

So they are determined to continue to allow the airlines to make super money profits at the expense of the poor consumer. To wit – they want to reserve the slots that US and AA have given up for smaller airlines. This is really a bad idea given the structure they have enabled in the market which now favours bulk over consumer benefit.

So here is a chance for the DoJ to do the right thing.

REVERSE COURSE.

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Open the slots to ANYONE who will guarantee that they will (for 5 years) commit to providing service at the airports affected at a rate equal to 10% below the AVERAGE of the past 5 years fares (cents per mile) from that airport. This will effectively cap the prices of the new entrants into these markets and at the same time force the big incumbents to match that price.

This would open up the market for competition and lowering the prices paid probably across the whole industry as it would ripple out to external markets.

Lawmakers would love it because it would make sure that they had fares that were low enough for them to get to and from Washington.

Will it happen? NEVER!

And why not you ask? Because the DoJ team is looking for its next job since they have done such a piss poor effort of ensuring fairness in the marketplace.

 

 

Social Media is it the sustaining or introduction of your brand? A reflection on Social Media and our lives.

November 14, 2013

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Normally I am not one to focus on branding. But I am fascinated by brands in today’s ADHD world. I constantly ask myself whether brands are relevant in a world of on-demand always on information resources.

Personally I find a sense of irritation at the way in which the big access points of my life keep trying to mold me to their ways. The AGFA world (Apple Google Facebook Amazon) each is telling me – many non- too subtly – that I have to do things their way. And no-one seems to bat an eyelid at that. So I was very interested to see this recent piece by eMarketer on the manner in which Social media weaves its way through our lives, not that we didn’t know already.

But for me the most telling piece was the end paragraph. I would like to quote verbatim…

“Once they become loyal customers of a particular brand, it would seem natural that consumers who engage with brands on social networks would significantly prefer to use this channel to keep in touch with them. But this is not the case. Fifty-five percent of social network users reported they typically keep in touch by visiting brands’ websites—the top method of staying connected to a brand. A slightly lower share— 52%— said they commonly visit social network pages as a way of staying in touch with their favorite brands. “

And perhaps this is a reflection of the mixed way we all approach Social Media. Older folks like me still like Social Media as a way of keeping in touch with people in whom we share past experiences. Millenials are in many cases eschewing Facebook because they have better things to do with their lives in creating the experiences that will in turn define their lives. And that is part of Life’s rich tapestry.
 
Our brands are not just marketeers’ inventions but today in many cases we have created our own brands. We should just take care not to mess it up.
 
Cheers

APIs APIS The APIs Have it…

November 13, 2013

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Or my APIs have seen the coming of the Lord!

APIs – Application Programming Interface have been around for a very long time. These days it seems you cannot walk or speak about Travel without the techies starting to talk about this API or that API.

The world now requires a different skill set. The ability to reuse and repurpose code and the explosive growth of Apps has fueled the change. But Travel remains something of an enigma. The category is usually marked by 2 seperate characteristics in Technology:

1. It is very possessive of its data and its “Intellectual Property” I would hazard that only Telecoms is more paranoid and restrictive.

2. it has the clunkiest back end systems with way too much out of tech technology. Legacy applications abound everywhere. Some technology that is so old it has been retired by their creators (many of whom are actually retired or even dead).

I can recall even as recent as a few years ago that a senior representative of a GDS was extolling the fact that to connect to their API required a monthly subscription of $1000 and a minimum one year contract before access was to be permitted to their very safe and secure system. And he thought that was a BARGAIN.

Happily today there are many APIs now freely available but the plethora of them is not helping. Most APIs are arcane in their flows and while they use common technology models and even some use standards the implementation of an API is anything but trivial. For many startups who look online and see the availability of many APIs it looks very easy.  Don’t be fooled its VERY HARD.

There are a large number of pitfalls to watch out for. Let me give some of these as an indication.

Open Travel Alliance. The good standard for APIs in the Travel Industry (I will come onto Air in a moment). They dont have a formal test harness to validate the messages and as a result many business partners have developed extensions and resulting implementations are unique to those business partners alone. The amount of reuse for the next pair of business partner (with one of the original players) becomes hard. The individual players – typically supply owners or large agregators make the smaller suppliers and aggregators suffer by having to frequently implement unique versions of the APIs.

Work flow does matter. Remember at the back of many of these APIs are steam powered mainframe systems or mainframe work-alke systems still using arcane and cryptic interactions and logic. Many airline and hotel based systems still use embedded terminal commands to achieve completeness of the dialogue. Most mainframe based solutions still use session based controls and though these are fooled into looking like they are session less – this is done through the opening of the transaction and then the closing at the end, all of which adds time to the XML pair. Result performance suffers.

Air.. oh boy where do we start. The arcane world of the GDS system doesn’t really like the way that the LCC carriers use merchandising. At present the GDS mainframe based systems are trying to fix their legacy by fooling the solution to allow a merchandising based capability. Mostly this is accomplished through a bold on ancillary server either in-house (still a work in progress) or through a recognized provider such as OpenJaw Technologies or Farelogix. NDC should fix this but today there is a big debate going on in the DDX work groups about how to address different airlines merchandising and differentiation capabilities. One of the critical problems is (yes again) workflow. Do you merchandise before the PNR is built or after. A set of tricky questions indeed.

Thus for those trying to aggregate solutions for a shopping system this can be really hard.

So as I would like to say BEWARE.

APIs APIS everywhere and not a drop to make work… easily. (With apologies to Samuel Taylor Coleridge for butchering the Ryhme of the Ancient Coder).

Here is a good link to a story you should read. http://www.infoworld.com/d/application-development/the-risks-and-rewards-of-the-age-of-apis-230600?source=IFWNLE_nlt_daily_am_2013-11-12

 

 

VaultPAD invests in Air Black Box

November 13, 2013

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VaultPAD is making a low key investment in Air Black Box Company and will be incubating the business from their office in Manchester. Best of luck to the team there. Paul, Anita, Symeon and others providing support in Seattle, Singapore and Pune.

Virtualization Comes to Mobile & Not A Moment Too Soon

February 16, 2013

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Many of us are starting to doubt the hype around mobile in Travel Technology. There can be no doubt that it is critically important. However as to the level of that importance and the extent to which we should ascribe real world activity should be placed under the microscope. At the recent Future Day in Miami hosted by Farelogix to show case Distribution trends in Travel one of the presenters was Norm Rose. I have pulled one of his slides to illustrate the point. (You can see the whole presentation here on Slideshare.)Screen Shot 2013-02-16 at 12.01.55 PM

I believe that mobile is not everything. It is a part of the ecosystem but not the entire ecosystem itself. Where I do agree is in the first part of his statement but not his conclusion – namely that within 5 years the concept of mobile as a separate entity will disappear. The line is already blurred. So why do I disagree with Norm on this topic? In my view the reason is that the infrastructure to support mobile is not living up to the hype. There are many barriers to entry not least of which is cost. But don’t take my word for it. I cite the study by Localytics from 2012 which showed that only 6% of total App use was via Cellular.

But is there hope for the change and that Mobile will become as valuable (albeit a little less than what Norm is saying)? There are a few missing components and one critical one I think is about to get solved.

Virtualization has become a major buzzword in IT as the ability to adopt different entities makes management of IT resources more tolerable. The explosion of BYOD and the advance of Apple to the top of the PC tree makes Virtualization an essential part of the IT arsenal. But for mobile – there is a different set of challenges. Not least of which is the size of the screens involved. Time to learn a new term Hypervisor.

For the brief value – let me describe Hypervisor technology as a way to add virtual personalities to your mobile smartphone. Check out this article. For a person like myself who travels extensively – I suffer as I have to keep track of different and real personas for the different markets that I enter. I carry usually 3 telephones. 2 Smartphones and 1 dual SIM device. Swapping SIMs is a way of life when I am in a market. Looking at my desk today I see within eyeshot – 11 different SIMs. Virtualization can and should help to reduce this clutter and allow me to adopt different personas for work (in my case different segments) and at the same time enable me to optimize the cost of the communications device.

This will not come easy and there will be a degree of resistance particularly from the Mobile Network people. It is estimated that some time this year the number of cell phones will exceed the number of people on the planet (2011 numbers have this at 87%). Looking at the top 65 markets we can see that the heaviest concentration is Saudi Arabia where the percentage of Mobile phone users to total population is a whopping 170%. That number of subscribers could be reduced with Virtualization, so the networks are not going to be too keen to give up any revenue.

Just a little food for thought as you plan your Mobile Strategy. Just let’s say you should be a little more cautious rather than being a simple iSheep!

Cheers
Timothy