2013-10-31 TravelTech News Review

Online Travel Industry

  1. Expedia peers into the future of travel, focusing on Millennials – Tnooz
    • I’m really appreciating the quality of Tnooz reporter Sean O’Neill’s reporting on travel surveys and studies. Besides providing good summaries of the study findings, he has made a point to cover survey methodologies. As I commented on the Tnooz site:  “…kudos for again reporting on the survey methodology–articles which neglect to do so make it impossible for readers to draw any meaningful conclusions from study results.” Any time you read a article on a study that doesn’t cover the study methodology, you should treat the findings as unusable until you can validate the methodology.
    • Quotes from the article:
      • “The Expedia and Egencia survey… cites 24% of millennials as saying that they have edited a trip on their smartphone at least once during a trip, compared with only 13% of travelers in the 46-to-65 age group.”
      • “Expedia is the market leader in its net performer scores in brand awareness among millennials.”
      • “For all of its customers, [Expedia] is moving toward communicating with its customers on the day of travel with a dynamically updated itinerary that can be accessed easily through mobile devices. Now when using Expedia’s app, if a user is within seven days of departing for a trip, they’ll be greeted by default with an itinerary screen rather than a booking tool, or ‘wizard.'”
      • “Millennials prefer to move beyond the ‘booking wizard’ interface, which involves an ‘origin plus destination plus date’ search, and move toward intuitive types of search options based on what the company knows about the traveler plus natural language search.”
      • “In 2012 [Expedia] did eleven times as many A/B tests as it did in 2011, and it will do about 400 this year, with many overlapping”
  2. Millennials’ Fine Line Between Sharing and ‘Creepy’, According to Expedia – Skift
    • The premise of this article is that there is sweet spot when it comes to information sharing between consumers and suppliers of products and services. Companies need enough information to provide personalized products that better meet consumers needs and wants. Some consumers, especially younger ones, are willing to trade some personal information for better products. Companies shouldn’t gather more information than needed to meet consumer’s needs.
    • “Dara Khosrowshahi, chief executive of Expedia, said so-called Millennials – those born between the early 80s and mid-90s, were much more willing to share personal information ‘but we are careful not to use that data individually unless it helps the person – like if they call us, so we know exactly who it is and if they are in the middle of a trip.'”
    • Khosrowshahi announced that revealed that Expedia is developing software for Google Glass ahead of its consumer release.
      • “[We’re experimenting a lot and] expect to have something ready for Google Glass when it hits prime time,” he said.
      • “We have engineers playing with it right now. I think something like Google Glass is going to be much more about the notification experience rather than booking service. If you’re on your way to the airport for Google Glass could tell you your flight is leaving from such-and-such a gate, whether there is a delay in your flight and when the car is picking you up.”
  3. Analyst Downgrade Doesn’t Worry Expedia CEO, Post-Hotels.com Shakeup – Skift
    • “‘I don’t spend my time worrying about analyst upgrades and downgrades,’ Khosrowshahi said, adding that some 25 analysts cover the company.”
  4. Source: Senior leaders at Hotels.com depart, under Expedia Inc reshuffle – Tnooz
    • “The fact that the new Hotels.com president, Svanstrom, comes from Asia, where he has worked at Expedia Inc and has been on the board of directors of ELong, the Chinese OTA, suggests the intriguing possibility that the company may be distilling its strategy for the Pacific region.”
  5. Couchsurfing CEO ousted, many staff members laid off
    • Couchsurfing CEO steps down amid layoffs, uncertainty | Tnooz
    • CEO is out as Couchsurfing lays off staff | TechCrunch
      • “…according to unconfirmed sources reported on TechCrunch, the company was facing a $800,000 burn rate with the newly boosted staff numbers. This was clearly untenable, as the cash runway was diminishing very quickly. By laying off a significant number of staff, the company is aiming to have more time to figure out the correct direction for the company.”
      • The problems are rooted in Couchsurfing’s transition to a for-profit status. The change in status, and actions associated with it alienated the Couchsurfing community, which was the greatest asset of the organization.
      • Only about 20 staff members are left at Couchsurfing. The principals are making all the usual noises about the company being poised for the future, but it’s clear that things haven’t going well. They raised a decent amount amount of cash last year with a $15 million investment, but their burn rate has obviously been too high.
      • It’s a shame to see this happen to Couchsurfing. In following the adventures of travel enthusiasts and bloggers, the impact of Couchsurfing has been stated repeatedly. Couchsurfing has always been all about the community and the people managing the organization forgot about that in the pursuit of profits. They lowered community standards and squandered the trust that was built on the historical success of the site. Even if the new leadership executes well, it will be difficult to regain that trust.
  6. DogVacay keeps digging, coming up with an additional $15 million
    • DogVacy is basically Airbnb for dogs, with a dog sitter included in the price. Investors see great upside in the business. The new round of funding brings the total investment in the company to $22 million.
  7. Startup pitch – Tansler wants to become a price-driven challenger to Airbnb and HomeAway
    • In an interesting twist on the Airbnb/HomeAway model, Tansler runs a reverse auction in which a user posts a bid offer for accommodations at a given destination. Property owners view the bid and tell Tansler if they want to accept the offer.
  8. Travel DEVICES roundup – GetYourGuide, TripAdvisor, others
    • GetYourGuide released it first mobile apps on iOS and Android.
    • TripAdvisor has new higher performance native apps for iOS and Android.
  9. TripAdvisor Launches a Redesign of the World’s Most Popular Travel Review Site – Skift
    • TRIP’s redesign celebrates the users who provide the site’s content. Their images, ratings and quotes are given prominent emphasis.
  10. TripAdvisor CEO: Oyster Acquisition Is Mostly About the Photos – Skift
    • TripAdvisor just acquired Oyster, a professional hotel review site. TripAdvisor’s primary reason for the transaction was to acquire Oyster’s large library of hotel photos, taken by professional photographers.
  11. Skift Q&A: TripAdvisor CEO on the Bright Future of User Reviews – Skift
    • An interview with TripAdvisor CEO Stephen Kaufer. Kaufer seems to play down the concept of verified reviews, which can only be written by guests who have paid for stays, leaving that segment wide open for Expedia and Priceline.
  12. TripAdvisor Roadmap: How it Wants to Own the Travel Cycle – Skift
    • More outtakes from Skift’s recent conversation with TripAdvisor CEO Stephen Kaufer. Kaufer noted that TripAdvisor has a lot of room for growth; it currently reaches only about 10% of travelers who are online each month.
      • TripAdvisor’s vision is to engage with travelers at every point in the travel life-cycle, from inspiration to lodging to  destination activities to post-trip reviews. To build out its products to serve then entire travel life-cycle, TripAdvisor will need to develop or acquire some significant new functionality:
        • Semantic search functionality that can return relevant personalized responses to inspirational queries like “dream vacation to the Caribbean.” According to Kaufer, no travel site in the world currently does a good job with such queries.
        • TripAdvisor has expressed interest going beyond hotel metasearch into vacation rentals à la Airbnb and HomeAway. The article speculates that TripAdvisor may acquire its own vacation rental site.
        • The reporter also speculates that TripAdvisor may be interested in acquiring a tours and activities company like GetYourGuide.
  13. Getting hotel search on the web: past the dreaded Meh
    • Google’s hotel search results are underwhelming, for example:
      • “Google’s response to ‘left bank boutique paris hotels’ includes hotels not in the Left Bank by far, and though the Best Western is actually a fine choice, I don’t know if one would call it a boutique hotel.”
      • “This illustrates why specialist search is an area where it’s still possible to innovate and make something great without having to take on impossible odds.”
    • “…in air metasearch you’d be lucky to get an airline to pay you $2 per booking, in hotel meta you can get approximately 15% of retail value (eg. for a two-day $200 ADR stay, you get roughly $60).”
    • “this extreme dichotomy between hotel and air makes little sense: after all the very same airlines that turn their noses at paying fairly for a meta-originated booking, see no problem in effectively paying Google and Bing an ‘effective’ $10-$20 for the very same air booking.”
    • The article speculates that Travelport’s XML-based Universal API will simplify hospitality distribution [and by implication, foster metasearch] by aggregating, harmonizing and redistributing content. This would seem to threaten OTA’s proprietary hotel inventory systems.
    • There’s a great user comment to the article from Robert Cole. A quote from Mr. Cole:
      • “Hotels are famously not happy with paying OTAs 15% margins on the bookings they generate. This is despite the fact that in many cases, the hotels are unable to satisfactorily aggregate the consumer demand to fill their rooms as cost effectively through alternate channels.”
  14. Travelers increasingly call to book from mobiles
    • Pundits who forecasted the digitally-driven demise of call centers were apparently wrong. A Google-funded study of 3,000 mobile searchers found that 58% said they would use a click-to-call option in mobile ads to book hotel stays.
    • 30% of hotel shoppers who called to enquire about booking a room wanted to talk to a hotel directly. This desire was commonly driven by a desire to get first hand knowledge of the venue–pointing to the need for call center agents to have access to detailed property information.
  15. HomeAway offers up commission-based rentals and new Pro Network
    • “The new offering expands the business model from the current upfront subscription-based model, where property owners pay an annual fee for listing, to also include a pay-per-rental commission-based fee structure. This means that owners who are just getting into vacation rentals can try out the company’s service with very low upfront cost and risk.”
  16. Fly.com Revenue Falls As Parent Company Travelzoo Tries to Find its Focus – Skift
    • Travelzoo owns one of the most desirable travel domain names available in metasearch site Fly.com. Unfortunately, the brand has been terribly mismanaged. Year-over-year revenue for the 3rd quarter is down 10.4%.
  17. Orbitz Launches Rewards Program To Push Hotels and Apps – Skift
    • Orbitz’s new rewards program is designed to increase the firm’s profits by shifting its mix of bookings away from flights and towards more lucrative hotel rooms. Users earn 5% for mobile device hotel bookings, 3% for hotel bookings through other channels, and 1% on flights and vacation packages. Users “Orbucks” can be redeemed almost immediately.
  18. 70,000 signatures for Save Airbnb in New York City petition – Tnooz
    • As of November 4th, Airbnb host Mishelle Farer’s petition has over 107,000 signatures. Perhaps some New York politicians who were quick to assail Airbnb will decide to revise their rhetoric.
  19. I’ll take the standard room with the big cat (how Agoda tests web pages)
    • It turns out that Agoda has a fictional test hotel in its inventory with some interesting features. From the hotel details page description: “Conveniently located in Test City, XYZ Test Hotel & Spa – Do Not Book is a great base from which to explore this vibrant city.”
    • Unfortunately, Agoda seems to have removed the standard room with the big cat pictured in the linked article.

Hotels

  1. The Top Business Hotels in the World, As Voted by UK Business Travelers – Skift
  2. Hotel WiFi Test tries social media pressure to call out slow hotel WiFi
    • “A new travel service dubbed Hotel WiFi Test is taking a novel approach to painfully slow WiFi in hotels: a centralized speed test that can be taken in a hotel and then posted directly to social media.”

Air Travel

  1. Airlines Cash In on Every Inch, Even the Jammed Bins Overhead – NYTimes.com
    • “A frosted cake. A 10-gallon hat. A car muffler. People have crammed all sorts of things — including a kitchen sink — into airplane overhead compartments.”
    • “After starting to charge fees for checking baggage, airlines are finding new ways to make money from carry-ons. Overhead compartments, it turns out, are valuable real estate — and these days, they go to the highest bidders.”
    • Airlines are not (yet!) selling overhead bin space directly, but they are finding more ways to monetize the order in which passengers board. Early boarders get first dibs to the bins and these days, you don’t need to be an elite frequent flyer or a airline-brand credit card holder; you can buy early boarding as a separate ancillary add-on to your ticket purchase. For example, Southwest sells “EarlyBird Check-in” for $12.50 one-way and advertises “By boarding earlier you’ll get your pick of available overhead bin space.
  2. Iconic TWA Flight Center At JFK Airport Gets Its Last Chance To Preen – Skift
    • This building looks more modern than most current airport facilities 50+ years after it opened. It really stands out in the rats-nest that is JFK.
  3. The $300 Transatlantic Airline Ticket Is Coming Here!
    • As super-efficient aircraft like the Boeing 787 and Airbus 350 enter fleets and ramp up to routine operation, the market may support cheaper long-haul flights. Low-cost carrier Norwegian Air, a 787 operator, recently started offering one-way tickets from London to New York for $240 and London to Los Angeles for $320.
  4. Spirit Boosts Its Quarterly Revenue Forecast, Then Sees Stock Soar – Skift
    • Spirit reported that its revenue per seat-mile increased as much as 9% in Spirit’s 3rd quarter, prompting a run-up in its stock price.
  5. Foreign Pilots Move to China for Better Pay and Opportunities
    • First officers for US regional carriers can make as little as $20,000 per year. A recent ad in Tianjin offered as much as $18,000 per month for pilot positions.
  6. Skift Asks: What’s Your Least Favorite Airline Fee? – Skift
    • People really hate having to pay to check luggage.
  7. The Very Big Political Issues Behind Japan Airlines’ Big Boeing Snub – Skift
    • Japan Airlines likely felt free to purchase Airbus A350s because is now politically aligned with the opposition Japanese Democratic Party and didn’t feel the need to prolong the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s (LDP) traditional relationship with Boeing. Even the LDP may be less favorable towards Boeing as it attempts to strengthen trade ties with Europe. Rival All Nippon Airway’s  costly problems with the newly introduced B787 didn’t help Boeing’s case either.
  8. U.S. Airlines Hike Profits by Fitting More Passengers Onboard – Skift
    • Airlines are squeezing in more seats and passengers, especially taller ones, are complaining about the reduced legroom.
  9. SouthWest secures quarter of all airline web traffic – Top US travel websites, September 2013
    • Tnooz’s September monthly ranking of airline web traffic:
      • “…Expedia lost around 0.75% over the same period, alongside a drop of 0.5% for Priceline. CheapOAir continues its steady growth in recent months and is now just 2% behind in third place after another strong performance with a jump of around 1.5%.”
  10. Amadeus says IATA plan to modernize distribution is no panacea – Tnooz
    • This is basically another travel distributor telling the airlines (diplomatically) that they should include all stakeholders and not just airlines in the process of creating theNew Distribution Capability (NDC).
  11. Are the days of elite frequent flyers numbered?
    • Delta and United are raising the requirements to achieve elite status in their programs while continuing to restrict redemption dates. It’s likely that many passengers will follow a former frequent flyer interviewed here and choose airlines that offer good service with no strings attached, like Virgin America.

Cars

  1. Enterprise CEO Makes Fortune’s List of 50 Most Powerful Women, Again – Skift
  2. Enterprise to rent Harley-Davidson motorcycles in Vegas
    • “Enterprise Rent-A-Car announced today that it will be the first major car rental agency to rent motorcycles in the USA.”
    • Even though I have a motorcycle endorsement, I’ll be skipping the thrill and renting my usual boring but cheap Nissan Versa-class vehicle since the motorcycles will go for $120 to $160 per day.

Cruises

  1. Carnival’s New CEO Starts With Hefty Compensation Package Of $8 Million – Skift

General Travel News

  1. Investor Buys YTB International Out of Bankruptcy For $3.5 Million – Skift
    • YTB was a multi-level marketing company that attracted “home based independent travel agents” who were attracted at the prospect of receiving fees from agents they recruited and personal discount travel benefits.
  2. Richard Branson denies that he is a tax exile – Skift
  3. Amtrak Sets Ridership and Ticket Revenue Record in 2013 – Skift
  4. Travel agents increase use of GDS but hotel rate parity impacts booking preferences
    • 650 travel agents from around the world were surveyed and an analysis of trends since 2011 is reported. Takeaways:
      • I was surprised that see that, even though usage is down by 21 percent, travel agents still use many older channels such as phone calls, direct mail and fax to make bookings. Because we work in online travel, I and many of my peers tend to forget the traditional agent channels.
      • GDS usage is up 14%
      • Use of hotel websites is up 3%
      • Agents tend not to book into hotels that charge different rates through different distribution channels–agents don’t want to have a client find a cheaper price through a different channel after all.
  5. Governments Get Savvy on Twitter to Help Their Citizens Overseas – Skift
    • It’s not just airlines and other travel companies using Twitter to better serve travelers. Government offices in several countries are using the social network to good effect. The U.S. Department of State has the oldest and most followed account–@TravelGov.
  6. Travel agents feel the pinch of the Internet – and it doesn’t hurt that much
    • The internet has disrupted the traditional role of the travel agent, but it offers opportunities for informed agents who can build a customer base by helping consumers deal with information overload and by offering expertise in specialized areas.
  7. Tours & Activities: Turning the ugly duckling of the travel industry into a beautiful swan
    • Lots of good information on the in-destination tours and activities sector from an industry insider. A big difference from other travel sectors is the nature of the suppliers–they are small and local and the majority do not use major online distribution channels. The overall size of the worldwide market is a bit unclear, but could be on the order of $100 billion.

Consumer Travel News, Advice & Deals

  1. Traveling via Global Entry as a Pre-Checked Traveler – Skift
    • If you travel more than a couple of times per year, especially internationally, you will want to consider applying for membership in the U.S. government’s Global Entry program. $100 for a five-year quick-pass through security, immigration and customs sounds more than worth it to me.

Travel Media & Marketing

  1. Nostalgia Works Great in Social, Especially If You’re a Storied Travel Brand – Skift
    • Images of historical AMEX cards, travelers checks and ads.
  2. Alaska Tourism Brings Ads Back to Network TV After 3 Decades – Skift

Destinations & Experiences

  1. Adventure Video Of The Year: A Lovable American Douchebag in Kyrgyzstan – Skift
    • I love media content that lets me live intense vicarious adventures at the ends of the earth. This one features spectacular adventure and scenery and eerie abandoned Soviet-era architecture and an anti-hero who finds himself lost in the middle of a vast roadless wilderness. At one point, he records a final message to his loved ones before attempting a dangerous river crossing.
  2. U.S. Government Releases 1,300 Stunning Park Photos Before Shutdown – Skift
    • You should browse these incredible photos to help decide which parks you should visit next now that they’re open again.
  3. Visit Greenland Uses Social Media to Attract Visitors with Stunning Photos – Skift
    • “The country’s five big attractions — dog sledding, the Northern Lights, whales, locals, and an icy snow-filled landscape… continue to serve as the basis for the country’s branding initiatives.”
    • Interesting social media campaign from a country that Wikipedia says has a population of 56,370, making it the least densely populated country in the world.
      • To put that in perspective, the city of Bellevue, Washington, where Expedia is headquartered, has a population of around 123,000. That’s more than twice the population of Greenland in an area that’s 23,000 times smaller!
  4. First Look At Disney’s Avatar Land, Coming to Animal Kingdom In 2017 – Skift
    • Looks cool but I doubt it will win the hearts and minds of theme park goers in the way that Universals’ Harry Potter attraction has.
  5. How Africa Can Replicate Asia’s Tourism Boom – Skift
    • Africa has the potential to replicate Asia’s success in tourism growth, but it faces challenges:
      • Political, economic an security risks to investment
      • Lack of government support due to ignorance of tourism’s potential
      • Unclear ownership of development land
      • High uncompetitive pricing for some destinations
      • A lack of skilled workers and tourism eduction
      • Overly strict visa rules
  6. Brazil Forms Group to Protect Tourists from Hotel Price Gouging – Skift
    • The Brazilian government is paying lip service to preventing world cup price gouging, but hotels are already taking world cup reservations for 6 times normal rates.
  7. U.S. Tourists in Cuba Rise to Record Numbers Due to Eased Travel Rules – Skift
    • The Obama administration has eased Cuba travel rules a bit but the 50 year old U.S. trade embargo still requires U.S. citizens to get government permission before traveling to Cuba.

Denise’s Picks:
Denise Jones’ travel savvy, often quirky links…

  1. Golden Rules For Not Ruining Your Trip and Becoming a Master Traveler | Nomadic Matt’s Travel Site
    • Nomadic Matt is a fascinating travel blogger. I love his trip reports, and most of all, his trip advice!
  2. 19 Idiotic (But Real) Travel Complaints | Blogdramedy
    • *sigh* You can either laugh or bang your head into the wall when reading this. I rarely advocate for people NOT traveling, but in these cases, I am making exceptions…
  3. Pay As You Go? Bathroom-Themed Restaurant Opens in Los Angeles || Jaunted
    • This is just gross. But, I figure if people will voluntarily eat at the Cheesecake Factory (shudder), why not a toilet-themed restaurant in LA?
  4. How to Look Good in Your Passport Photo || Jaunted
    • Am I the only one who plans what to wear for her passport photo? You only get 1 photo every 10 years or so to impress those gate agents, you know…
  5. Top 15 Cemeteries to Visit: Haunted Tours for Halloween | The HostelBookers Blog
    • There is a word for people who like to visit cemeteries and death-related sites when they travel- “Tombstone Tourist,” or more accurately, “taphophile.” I will admit to being a taphophile. Cemeteries and places where famous people died or were buried are fascinating. Here is a pretty good list of the best cemeteries in the world to visit- I’ve been to 4 of these 15. In the case of Pere Lachaise in Paris, I’ve been there 3 times (you gotta pay your respects to Jim Morrison, you know). ☺
  6. Injured kangaroo hops into Australian airport
    • In today’s “Too Cute for Words” travel news. Also, this will solidify every Australian stereotype you have. Kangaroos are EVERYWHERE!
    • [Thomas: I also commented on this story, referencing a different source]:
  7. It’s a ‘Beautiful World’ – Telegraph
    • Sometimes you just have to marvel at how gorgeous this world is…
  8. Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2013 – CNN.com
    • More amazing travel shots, these ones of wildlife abroad.
  9. 5 Ancient Places That Are Still In Use And Waiting For You
    • One of the most amazing things about travel is how much of the ancient world is still in existence. Everyone knows about the Pyramids of Giza and the Parthenon, but these lesser-known ancient sites are pretty amazing too.
  10. What happens when you flush a plane loo? – Telegraph
    • Today’s “I can’t be the only one who wonders about this” article.
  11. How Sweet is This? Travelers in Bad Seats Get a ‘Chocolate Upgrade’ in Copenhagen || Jaunted
    • I’m including this not just because it’s cool, but because I’m gonna be all over that machine like white on ricin when I head to Copenhagen next month.
  12. Frugal Travel Guy
    • And finally…for those who’ve asked how to amass loads of frequent flyer miles and elite status without actually flying: This is the site that got me started way back when. If you’re at all interested in becoming a bona fide mileage junkie, read on.

Data, Algorithms, Analytics & Search

  1. Simple equation: Relevant travel content + Big Data = Better results for travel brands
    • This article is concerned with content curation but the scenario the writer paints depends just as heavily on natural language parsing and selection algorithms that can identify the best regions and properties to match users’ search intent.
    • “…with all this great wiz bang technology, and everyone taking about Big Data, why can’t the travel sites show me what I want? For example, say I search for ‘Family Beach Vacation’ – I’d like to see visuals that resonate with that request… Why, then, am I shown a photo of a hot young couple romancing with champagne in a Jacuzzi and beautifully adorned conference rooms?”
    • “It’s a matter of content curation – adding relevant contextual meaning to media galleries so they can be personalized. This curation service adds value to each visual asset, and allows travel marketers’ to show prospects precisely what they seek tailored to their interests.”

Tech

  1. 5 Innovation Rules That You Won’t Learn From Tony Stark – Forbes
    • Contrary to the stereotype of the long genius, innovation is best fostered in open collaborative environments that support in-person interactions among diverse individuals.
  2. Apple’s Ahrendts hire highlights obvious: Tech is about fashion now | ZDNet
    • Apple has hired a fashion industry executive to head up its retail operations. Critics will say that this shows that Apple is about style over substance. Apple enthusiasts will reply that Apple has both style and substance.
  3. Reconciling 2 Worlds With Windows 8.1 – NYTimes.com
    • David Pogue accurately describes the strengths and weaknesses of Windows 8.1. I get exactly where Pogue is coming from: Windows 8.1 is two good user experiences clumsily joined together and the transitions between the two of them make for a somewhat jarring overall experiences.
  4. Goodbye data roaming fees, hello lucrative niche markets in travel?
    • The EU is proposing to eliminate all internal mobile roaming fees by 2016. This should result in a dramatic increase in mobile app usage within the EU.

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