Google Follows Microsoft’s Lead? May 27, 2010Posted by Jussi Huotari in : business,travel , add a comment
Google has been reported to be in talks to pay $1 billion to acquire ITA Software – a software company specialized in travel industry. ITA’s customers include Kayak, Tripadvisor, and a number of major airlines. The acquisition would enable Google to become the metasearch for travel information such as flights and accommodation.
Considering Google’s vast audience, this would be bad news for the existing metasearch engines. How much room does it leave for sites like Kayak or Skyscanner or any of the other numerous metasearches? Google already has a greap set of tools for travelers: a map, calendar, docs, etc. And it began showing hotel information (with prices) on the map in March. Searching for flights would be kind of a logical next step.
Microsoft already provides hotels and flights search as a part of its Bing Travel. They got a kick start about two years ago (April 2008), when they acquired Farecast. Farecast had an interesting value prop: they tell you when is the best time to buy flights for your selected route.
Now it looks like Google is following Microsoft’s path and buying it’s way to travel search space.
How would this shake the travel industry? ITA has developed technology for MS’s Bing as well. Yahoo! Travel (ex-Farechase) is playing on the same field. Kayak is supposedly trying to move from a ‘mere’ metasearch to a booking site.
Hijacking a Brand Name February 18, 2010Posted by Jussi Huotari in : business,startup,web2 , add a comment
Not long ago all you had to do to protect your brand online was to acquire the domain name. Just getting the .com domain was good. If you wanted to be on the safe side, you acquired also .net and .org etc.
A bit longer ago some people paid millions of dollars to purchase the domain name they wanted. Incomprehensible. But supposedly Nokia had to stack up quite a bit of dollars to get Ovi.com.
But that’s history, what’s up now?
Brand names in social media.
Acquiring the relevant domain names isn’t enough any more. You may want to secure the relevant social media channels, groups and fan pages as well. Here’s an interesting article by Michael Werch about how he hijacked Heinz’s brand on Twitter.
And so, on Dec. 1, 2009, I took it upon myself to create and brand a Twitter page under the username @HJ_Heinz. I posted Heinz ketchup bottles in the profile background, a link to the company’s corporate website, and a brief bio: “News, recipe ideas & fun facts for all things Heinz.”
The comments are also worth reading. I found it especially thought-provoking that the commenters consider hiring a person for tweeting a “nominal investment”. Or that you’re a dinosaur if you don’t see how a Twitter account with a few hundreds of followers will help Heinz in engaging their customers in a way that will show on the bottom line.
I hope this doesn’t lead into situation that we’ve seen with domain names. For example: some “entrepreneurial” characters in China had acquired our domain with a .cn suffix and wanted to discuss selling it with a good price. Will the next mail be about selling me a Twitter or Google Buzz account for our brand?
Battle of the Online Travel Giants April 1, 2009Posted by Jussi Huotari in : business,travel,web2 , add a comment
I thought these things happen only in books. What we have here is a battle between two very interesting travel businesses! I’ve read many business strategy books about how companies innovate to beat their competition and update their strategy according to market changes and apply game theory to best utilize their competencies and so on. But how does it look like in reality?
- TripAdvisor, a hotel review site with the most User Generated Content. TA is owned by Expedia Inc., an OTA that has the biggest market share in the States.
- TravelPost, a hotel review site that has been idle for a couple of years. Kayak.com got their hands on TP when they accuired Sidestep in early 2008. Kayak.com is a relatively new flight meta search engine that has gained a lot of traffic and has become one of the most popular travel websites.
Ric Garrido writes about the amounts of UGC that TA and TP have, see his blog post.
Playfield: the online travel market. Travel is huge online market with internet sales in Europe and USA adding up to $160bn. The online travel is growing quickly in both USA and Europe. Expect a double digit growth rate for year 2009 in Europe [Marcussen 2009]! Thus we have a lucrative market but the margins are falling. Commissions from airlines are very small and the common “truth” is that hotel bookings are the only way to make money in online travel…
Round 1: TripAdvisor launched a flight meta search on Feb 27th. In the past TA has focused on hotel bookings but now they are going after Kayak’s domain. TripAdvisor announced that their new service “Brings Needed Clarity to Airline Pricing and Provides Most Flight Options and Best Deals Available Online“. They go further:
(TA’s) Dynamic Fees Estimator, the first and only online product to help travelers understand the true cost of a flight in a single display.
TripAdvisor now provides more flight choices than any other online flight search engine for the world’s top airlines.
Round 2: On March 11, TripAdvisor’s parent company Expedia announces that they’ll “waive booking fees on all flights”. Expedia is attacking Kayak’s position as the best place to look for flights. Is this linked with TripAdvisor’s announcement? Kevin May offers some insight, see here…
Round 3: Kayak strikes back. On March 24 they announce a launch of “World’s Largest Hotel Information Site“, i.e. TravelPost.com. TravelPost supposedly aggregates reviews and ratings from a huge number of sources and provides all these without pop-ups or clutter. And further:
For the first time, consumers can visit one website for all the information needed to make an informed decision on their hotel booking.
“Consumers and hoteliers are woefully underserved by websites like TripAdvisor.com, who appear to care more about their bottom lines than providing relevant content and a seamless experience,” said Steve Hafner, CEO and co-founder, Kayak.com.
What’s up next? Can’t wait to see Round 4!
Sam Shank (TravelPost founder and ex-CEO) posted an interesting analysis on the strengths and vulnerabilities of TA and Kayak.
Travel Trend: City Breaks Down, Southern Hemisphere Up March 11, 2009Posted by Jussi Huotari in : business,travel , add a comment
Opodo(*) made a study of their bookings of January 2009. Comparing with the same period last year, it’s apparent that short city breaks in the eurozone are not this year’s things. The trend is that people are traveling to the southern hemisphere and that people are taking one longer holiday instead of a few short breaks.
Sounds like people want to make the most use of their tight budget by visiting destinations that provide good exchange rates for Euro and English pound. While the European hotspots, such as Paris and Florence, experience a fall in interest, long haul destinations have seen higher bookings.
The top-3 destinations with the biggest growth (source Opodo):
- Melbourne, Australia (up 400%)
- Singapore (up 219%)
- Delhi, India (up 165%)
(*) Opodo is an European online travel agency founded in 2001. The company is owned by a consortium of European airlines and Amadeus. Opodo operates sites in e.g. Germany, UK, France, Spain, etc. They plan to continue double digit growth in 2009.business,travel , add a comment
Do you think that an airline would have a customer service staff reachable over phone? I did. But now I know better.
I had the most curious conversation with a Lufthansa representative at their ticket desk at the Frankfurt Airport about a canceled flight:
Me: My flight from Seattle was canceled. I’d like to request refund of my accommodation and ground transport.
Lufthansa: Ah, hmm, ok. They should have offered you refunding and compensation at Seattle airport then.
Me: Well, they didn’t do that in Seattle but instead told me to come here.
Lufthansa: There’s nothing I can do for you. You must contact our customer service. Here’s their mailing address and fax number.
Me: Ok, thanks. Is there a number I could call and ask about the details and required attachments?
Lufthansa: No, they only have the fax number.
Me: There’s no customer service number?
Lufthansa: No. Only fax.
Me: The Lufthansa airline have no customer service number?
Lufthansa: That’s right. No number.
Me: Ah, ok. Thank you very much for your help.
What the heck? I thought only lean and mean startups operate without a customer service phone number and even they have very responsive email channel. Even the cheap flight search engines have a phone service during business hours. And Lufthansa is not even one of the low-cost carriers that have $1 fee for using the inflight toilet…
Based on the EU regulation 216/2004, I am entitled to a compensation and refund. The regulation is somewhat similar to Rule 240 in the U.S. I filed a claim to the provided fax number (+49-180-583-8005). Let’s see if and when I’ll get a reply. And which communication channel they will be using for the reply. On my part I included my phone number and email address in the claim…
Update: Christopher Elliott writes about a similar case with Virgin Atlantic. I’m counting on Lufthansa to take a different stance.
Hotels.com Is Broken February 12, 2009Posted by Jussi Huotari in : business,travel , add a comment
Hotels.com is having some serious hiccups in its booking confirmation mailer. I booked a hotel using Hotels.com and they billed me alright but failed to send the confimation mail. I had to call to their service desk where they told me that “We’ve been having a lot of problems with getting these confirmations mailed.”
The confirmation was emailed to me manually, so all is well. However, the next hotel booking I made using Booking.com…
An interesting sidenote: I actually considered booking my next accommodation through Hotels.com as well, despite the extra trouble, because their site is so well localized. They have lots of information in finnish and offer a local service number. Such is the power of localization…
Hotels.com is owned by Expedia. Booking.com is owned by Priceline. Hotelclub.com is owned by Orbitz. Is the only “independent” hotel booking site the german HRS?
US Travel Website Ranking January 14, 2009Posted by Jussi Huotari in : business,travel , 1 comment so far
Hitwise published a report of travel website rankings in the U.S (pdf, 216kB). According to the report, the Top-20 sites get almost 50% of all visits to travel sites. And Top-100 sites get about two thirds of visits. Winner takes it all, eh?
Absolute visitor numbers are not estimated in the report, only relative values. Let’s see. TripAdvisor seems to have 0.89% market share. Other sources report that TripAdvisor gets about 25M monthly unique visitors. The size of online travel is huge.
In Hitwise’s categorization, map services are by far the most popular travel websites. Together MapQuest and GoogleMaps have a market share that is almost equal to the combined total of the rest of the Top-20. The Top-20 consists of map services, OTAs and airlines. An interesting tidbit is that TripAdvisor is the only social media / UGC site present on the list.
Based on visitor numbers, the biggest OTAs are:
- Expedia (3.02% market share)
- Travelocity (1.99%)
- Orbitz (1.60%)
- Priceline (1.53%)
- CheapTickets (1.05%)
It would be interesting to see a similar report about top travel websites in Europe…