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Just to set the scene:

Brazil’s airports handled a record 155 million passengers in 2010 (that’s more than all airports in France combined), an impressive increase of 21.3% on 2009. Domestic traffic still dominates as almost 90% of airport passengers travel within Brazil. This year has also started well, with both domestic and international passengers up around 16% in January.

And GE is predicting Brazil’s air traffic could double in the next three years. I’m currently sitting in a hotel room in Sao Paulo listening to planes buzz overhead about once every two to three minutes. Brazil was almost certainly the fastest growing mobile internet market in 2010 with an over 500% increase in mobile search queries, and the payments innovation in this market is also something I’ve also written about before.

Another interesting thing about Brazil is that it is one of the rare markets where Facebook is not the leading social network. Google’s Orkut product is around three times bigger and outgoing CEO Eric Schmidt recently said:

Brazil is, for example, already on its way to becoming our sixth-largest country in revenue.

With so much growth in aviation and in mobile, Brazil will continue to be an important market for airline direct channel trend spotters to keep an eye on in the the months and years ahead.

I know there are a few people coming back here looking for updates on the Horizons airline conference in San Francisco, but it really is proving tough to find time for proper updates during the event. If you want up to the minute news and thoughts from the Twitter crowd, search on #Horizons10.

The first day went well. Tom Kelley from Ideo did a great speech on innovation and gave a very topical example of the decline of the rubber tire (tyre) industry in his hometown of Akron, Ohio at the hands of a French innovator Michelin and their radial tires - very nice tie in to the Amadeus story whose main development centre is France.

My panel where I interviewed John Lonergan from Qantas and Jason Wynn from Amex on the topic of ancillary services seemed to be well received by what was a good few hundered people in attendance  – nice to get so many in the room when there were two others sessions running in other rooms at the same time, and a number of side meetings were also taking place. I was happy with the way it all went, although I suppose people only ever come up to you afterwards if they have something good to say, but it was rewarding to get a number of compliements on what was the first panel I have ever hosted at a conference - definitely helps to have some great talent on stage with me like I had!

Finally, if you want to see the original clip that I assume inspired the skit Dwayne Ingram used to introduce Philippe Chereque, I have embedded it below – very, very funny stuff.

For those people whose travel plans are still in disarray due to the Iceland volcano, or for those airlines losing millions per day, something to take your mind partly off your worries, even if only for fifty three seconds.

Morgan Stanley analysts Mary Meeker, Scott Devitt and Liang Wu have put togther a great presentation with the simple title Internet Trends. You can see the presentation on Seeking Alpha, and this is also where I picked up the following quote.

What’s interesting is that they [Morgan Stanley] also highlight that social networking users surpassed email users back in mid 2009. So instead of telling people to email us, maybe we should instead solely tell people to follow us on Twitter and to become our fan on Facebook.

Below is the slide referred to:

The report has so much data in the 87 slides that I am positive there are many people who will find a way to use some in their own presentations; although the point I am really interested in is whether email is in decline. But first, take a look at the following interview from TechCrunch with BRAD GARLINGHOUSE (President, Consumer Applications, AOL :

Mr. GARLINGHOUSE: At its core, e-mail is definitely I think, there remain opportunities to innovate around e-mail and if you could deliver about these experiences…

Mr. ARRINGTON: What’s an easy, easy big thing to do to fix my e-mail, to make it better, substantially better?

Mr. GARLINGHOUSE: I do think that there are opportunities around inbox aggregation that have not been well executed more in the industry…

Mr. ARRINGTON: Aggregation of like Facebook inbox. What are other inboxes?

Mr. GARLINGHOUSE: How many inboxes do you have in your life? You know, you have Facebook inbox. You have a Linkedln inbox. You have a Twitter inbox.

Mr. ARRINGTON: Text messaging.

Mr. GARLINGHOUSE: SMS, you know, these are still – I mean granted that these are the things in the industry to talk about 15 or 20 years in unified messaging. And some intentionally not, like say, hey, we have a better unified messaging experience. My point is more to say when people talk about this, there’s a very funny Wall Street Journal article in the last six months. Well, since I’ve been here at AOL, talked about, you know that kind of the death of e-mail. You know, the rumor has since demised, have definitely been exaggerated. I think the most humorous part of that Wall Street Journal article is it concluded with one of the research reporters e-mailed her ad, you know. And it said that, you know, social networks have grown – are now larger than e-mail. Every social network I know requires an e-mail used to log in. There is actually data amongst the people – Nielsen did some very interesting research about the heaviest social networking users who are actually using e-mail more now in part because so much of the activity around social networks end up in your e-mail box.

Looks like AOL is a popular place to work at the moment, just take a look at all the new talent they have hired from other companies recently.

Readers of this blog will know I’ve taken a skeptial approach to the “death of email” stories that crop up in other media occasionally, but there is absolutely no doubt that during the current Icelandic volanic ash disruption, Twitter has definintely shown its value. Twitter works well as a modern version of the bulletin board - a peer to peer tool for sharing rapidly changing and evolving information. Airline service centres and airport help desks were inundated with requests for information, but by using Twitter impacted passengers were able to share what information they had found out immediately with others who were still trying to navigate the haze.

Kevin May wrote an interesting article on social media in Tnooz yesterday, and thank you also to the airline employee who forwarded me the Jeffrey Mann piece from Garner where he wrote about which airlines used social media during the crisis better than others. Note that my praise is restricted to peer to peer sharing rather than corporates using it to push information, although I agree with Mann than KLM appear to have made a great effort on this latter point. Whilst this works with user numbers as a small percentage of the total population, it is still not a scalable mass market customer service option, and I remain committed to my top prediction for 2010 on this matter. People do not complain when they receive a noreply@airline.com email sent to them, but Twitter users seem to have unrealistic expectations of personalized levels of service that would make the call centres of old look cheap to run by comparison. Not related to the Iceland disruption, but here is a case in point:

I contacted Qantas on Twitter and I must say their response to my issue was killer. I received a tweet and an email from Qantas asking me for a good time to chat. Within a few minutes I had the same person that manages the Twitter account on the phone with me. A very personable, friendly lady not only helped me find the offers I was looking for but also spent time with sharing information about several must-see places during my trip. Not only that, but I also received a custom made PowerPoint presentation which walked me through all the steps that I needed to go through to get those offers (this would be great to put on the website for the general community to access as I’m sure I’m not the only one having this problem). This built an emotional relationship between myself and Qantas Airlines. I can now put a voice, personality, and a name to the person behind the Twitter account (same for Qantas) and I know that if I have any other issues I will get help quickly.

Admittedly Jacob Morgan might hit the radar as a VIP or power-influencer (especially if Qantas are using Social CRM), so maybe he deserves a higher level of care than the average punter, but extending this model to the general population will send any airline broke.    

I have now finally joined the Twitter fanclub (still in a very limited way), but I still can’t resist ending with a tip I read a while ago on how to organize a Tweetup which had rule number 5 listed as: Use email.

Maybe some of them already are, but the volcano eruption in Iceland that is putting the flight plans of so many into a tailspin also offers a real opportunity for carriers treating passengers well to capitalize by getting the message out. If you work in public relations for an airline that is not leaving your customers to fend for themselves, then the last few days, and possibly the coming ones also are a golden opportunity to get this positive message out in all channels, including social media.

From a quick search it looks like the Qantas and Emirates PR teams have been doing the best job so far. Maybe the PR people working for airlines mentioned near the bottom of this post have been smart in hiding under their desks.

From searches on Google and Twitter here are some of the positive quotes I saw, all linked to their respective sources:

Some carriers, like Australia’s Qantas, put passengers up in hotels, but many did not, offering instead only to refund tickets or exchange them for later flights. Dubai-based Emirates airline, the Middle East’s biggest carrier, estimated it was spending more than $1 million a day just to provide hotels and meals to more than 5,000 passengers who were in transit when flights were canceled last week.

And 2,500 transit passengers on Abu Dhabi’s Etihad Airways have been stranded by cancellations since Thursday in the United Arab Emirates capital, a spokeswoman for the airline said. “We are accommodating those passengers in approximately 1,500 rooms in 12 hotels across the city,” the spokeswoman said, without giving an estimate of the costs to the airline.

Some who had booked for domestic travel with British Airways were offered journeys by road instead. BA sent coaches to each of its five domestic destinations every two hours. “A fair amount of people will have got to their destination,” the carrier said.

About 2,000 Qantas customers are stuck in Singapore, Bangkok and Hong Kong. If they don’t want to wait, they are being offered flights to non-European destinations or back to Australia, Epstein said. About 100 international customers are being put up in hotels in Australia.

For passengers who have already arrived at Paris-Charles de Gaulle and who have a connecting flight, over 2,000 hotel rooms have been booked for April 16. Meal vouchers are also available.
Air France airport and sales staff are available to inform passengers whose flights have been canceled.

loves EasyJet for the 4 star hotel they have put us in, it’s not all bad. @ThisisMossy #ashtag

Even though it isn’t a #Lufthansa owned #volcano they provided me with a free hotel. Danke! :) #Island

Those rated by passengers as somewhere in between good and bad:

Some of them were broke at the end of their holiday and desperate for accommodation when Tourism Auckland stepped in with an offer to find billets for the stranded passengers in New Zealand homes.

Although Easyjet has been really good, they’re only going to pay for our hotel until Wednesday. Other people in the hotel are not so lucky and are waiting to find out where they stand.

Singapore Airlines said they were giving priority to elderly passengers and those with young children for hotel accommodation, but right now there were some shortages in Singapore hotels. The airline was paying for two nights of hotel accommodation for affected passengers, for as much as S$300 per room a night, according to a pamphlet being distributed to passengers.

We spoke to someone in customer services in BA and they said we’ve had three nights and we’re on our own.

BA say they will pay for one more night and after that they’re on their own.

And then those airlines that passengers are cursing:

BMI has refused to accept this and we are left paying eye watering prices to stay here – upwards of £400 a day for the four of us.

Sri Lankan airlines have not contacted me with any information and I have had to repeatedly call to find out the little information they are giving.

The Cutler family, from Dronfield, in Derbyshire, were stranded in Paris, facing hotel bills of up to £250 a night and “no idea” how they were going to get home. “We really don’t know what we’re going to do,” said Simon Cutler, who works as a paramedic in Sheffield. Both he and his wife Irene, a bank manager, were expected back at work on Monday morning, and their two daughters – Abigail, 14, and Lauren, 10, were due back at school. Their BMI flight to East Midlands airport in Nottingham had been cancelled along with all other flights from Charles de Gaulle airport.

Austrian airlines has just told me they will not pay for the hotel they put me in. #volcano #ashtag #austrianairlinesfail

Delta airlines r CRAP-No money=they offer me discount voucher 4 hotel-Rescheduled my flight 9 days away-no offer 2 put me on standby

LOT Polish is a crappy airline ignoring EU passenger rights under 261/2004, like accommodation etc.. Please RT #getmehome #ashtag

Once the dust settles, there really is a strong message here from the airlines that looked after customers well, primarily those that paid for hotel rooms – I’d be tempted to consider even running a few ads to drive home the fact. Airline product differentiation is far from the easiest marketing job in the world, but it looks like we are seeing a clear line between the good and the bad airlines during this current problem from Iceland. Putting the post crisis marketing decisions aside, right now there is absolutely no question that if you are paying millions for hotel rooms, then the general public should be reading about it. Emirates quoting figures on how much they are spending was a very nice PR touch.

And in all the stories I read of people affected, this was the one that really stuck in my mind – no mention of which airline they are travelling on (I’m guessing Emirates), but well done to the Millennium Airport Hotel in Dubai.

In Dubai, a British couple who were due to get married in the UK over the weekend found themselves making their vows on Skype so that their friends and family could witness the wedding. Sean Murtagh, 24, and his new wife Natalie, a 30-year-old Australian, got married in Brisbane three weeks ago but had been due to hold a humanist ceremony for family and friends in the UK on Saturday. When they found themselves stranded after changing planes in Dubai on Thursday, they had to make other plans. Staff at the Millennium Airport Hotel in Dubai baked them a cake, decorated the lobby and set up a laptop with Skype and a projector so that the ceremony could take place via a link to London. “It’s been an incredible day,” said Murtagh. “We were never going to forget it anyway but we certainly won’t forget it now.” Humanist celebrant Caroline Black, who conducted the ceremony from Trailfinders Sports Club in Ealing, west London, said: “I’ve done lots of humanist weddings but not one like this at all. It was just like any other wedding except the bride and groom weren’t there.”

A couple of weeks ago I was reading an interview with Joobili CEO Jared Salter by Guillaume Thevenot. Guillaume needs to update his profile on his blog, as it still says he works at Amadeus, even though we unfortunately lost his talent to Tripadvisor earlier this year; but back to Joobili - I’d heard a number of other people mention this site, but it wasn’t until I read the interview above that I actually went and took a look for myself. I’m glad I did.

Back in January I wrote a couple of articles talking about the future of travel search. They actually turned out to be very well received by readers, but in hindsight, a company like Joobili would have been a perfect fit to have been mentioned in the second of those two posts. And when reading this interview Jared Salter did with Tim Hughes back in November 2009, it made my omission even more glaring.

The next part will be integrating price into the results through partnerships with other sites. One other trend is that price is no longer the sole motivator as discounting becomes permanent. For example we have been working with Wizz air [Low cost carrier in Europe]. They offer a 50 euro flight to Rome. It is always 50 Euro. There is not longer an urgency around the discount or low price because they always a low price. Therefore Wizz need to match the cheap flight with time sensitive inspiration to build in a sense of urgency. Price is an extremely motivator for travel behaviour but it is becoming not enough to drive urgency in consumer behaviour.

The Joobili product still has a few rough edges; the profile creation and content addition navigation was not as intuitive as it could have been, I was sent to a 404 page not found error immediately after registering, and not letting someone register on the site without entering a year of birth is totally pointless, but these criticisms are tiny when compared to the really nice UI layer Joobili have built on the front page, and then the way the recommendations are presented and filtered which works nicely. In fact, if I’d recommend skipping the registration process and then you’ll be hard pressed to find much to complain about. This site really manages the inspiration part of travel search extremely well.

Longer term, user registration is where an added layer of value is, as it then enables the social features that are a natural extension of this model. Joobili has some today, but it is still at a very early stage. Whilst writing this, I did go back and look at WAYN to see if they were getting into this same space, as I’ve written in the past how they were thinking of changing their business model – I was surprised to see their new focus appears to be sex tourism, albeit in a more socially acceptable form. The slogan: “Do something you love, with someone you’d love to do it with” and “Dating, wherever you are, whenever you fancy it.” Unfortunately not the type of inspiration I am covering in this post today, but an interesting idea to share a lot more than just itineraries.

With the type of travel inspiration Joobili are covering, and how they are doing it, this is exactly the type of innovation I was envisaging when writing on the future of travel search. Combine Joobili style inspiration and discovery with search by attributes (eg. Affinity Shopper) and then integrate the social features starting with pre trip planning and post trip sharing, combined with good database mining to push appropriate travel suggestions, and you have a formula that really has the potential to redefine how a decent proportion of leisure travel is searched and booked.

Earlier today I had one of the more interesting lunches I’ve had in many weeks, and it has really got me thinking about so many issues; from branding to social media to monetization, and then how all of this might be effectively leveraged, managed and measured. And I’m not even thinking of an airline at this point, but in the true spirit of this blog I’ll be sure to try and find some link to something aviation related before the end.

The lunch was with a man we’ll call JohnnyG99X – mild mannered accountant by day, musician in smokey dens by night, and blues guitar teacher online with close to two million views on YouTube. Here he is showing you how to play an accountic version of Layla if you have a spare guitar lying around the house and fancy yourself as the next Eric Clapton. Two million views doesn’t quite get him into the Judson Laipply league of viral, but in the finest traditional of the long tail, niche is now, and JohhnyG99X appears to have carved out a very nice little niche indeed. Now he just needs to parlay that into solidifying and then monetizing his own personal brand – but one step at a time.

Here comes the airline question – Are smaller airlines sitting back and leaving social business initiatives to be owned by their larger competitors? Or are some smaller airlines playing to their strengths just like JohnnyG99X and setting up a genuine social media presence?

In many cases the smaller airlines underplay this card, but definitely not in all cases – just look at Martinair on Twitter or Volaris getting their message out; but I do think smaller airlines in general are way underutilizing the potential of what is available. Maybe I’m drawing a long bow with Volaris, but social business really is a mindset, and its no use slavishly embracing all the cool technology if it is not the key type of social interaction your target market is relying on. Take this great answer from the Mexican carrier:

Cranky Flier : Do you get most of your VFR [visiting friends and relatives] traffic from travel agents?

Volaris: No, most is online in the US and it’s growing in Mexico as well. It’s all word of mouth and targeted community involvement. We’re often at parties, fiestas, in the community but we don’t do widespread marketing.

That was about as social as you can get! And it illustrates how effective engagement via social channels really is so much more than just knowing which website is the latest buzzword.

Whereas a lot of what I’ve written on mobile has realistically been more aimed at the larger carriers, and likewise for some of the earlier stuff I was writing on proprietary social networks, having an effective presence in social media may actually be an area where smaller carriers have an advantage over the larger ones.

Smaller carriers should in theory be able to act more quickly, are more likely be be run in a collaborative rather than confrontational style, and the perceived distance between employee and passenger is less. I’m sure if I thought about it properly I could come up with at least another five or so advantages that would typically accrue to a smaller airline, and all of these play to the strengths of a company wanting to engage in a genuine social business model.

So in a sense, many smaller airlines find themselves in the same predicament as JohnnyG99X – they suspect they are sitting on a valuable and underutilized asset (their niche-ness), but they don’t really know how to play to this strength and make it work for them. Social media is a big part of the answer, but I know from talking to airlines frequently that fear of the unknown is holding back genuine participation and therefore in many cases little or nothing is happening.

If you can’t make it to Madrid to join JohnnyG99X and I for lunch, then grab me at an upcoming conference, call me, email me, contact me via carrier pigeon, or even ignore me completely and just absorb the message written above, but don’t sit back doing nothing. Motion creates emotion, and social business really is the ideal way of getting passengers more engaged with your small-airline brand.

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