April 2010

After five years working for Amadeus, almost all of that time being based in the Madrid head office, the time has come to say goodbye to Spain, but not to Amadeus. I’ve recently accepted a position managing Airline IT Sales based in Chicago where I’ll be mainly focused on sales to North American airlines. I’ll be moving over there with my family once the US work permit is sorted out in the coming months. Hopefully they are a little faster than the Spanish authorities who took five months to approve my work permit back in 2005; they didn’t exactly roll out the red carpet for Australians, but living in Spain really has been an amazing experience. I’m confident that living in Chicago will be just as rewarding.

The picture above shows the Amadeus Chicago office in the left of shot. I’ll be working for Dwayne Ingram who in the relatively short time he has been with Amadeus has been putting together a strong team, most recently with the addition of Scott Alvis. I only met Scott for the first time this week, but I look forward to working with both he and Dwayne and the rest of the team in building a stronger Amadeus presence with airlines in the Americas, particularly North America.

Finally, I’m still undecided how American I need to become in order to succeed in the US. I suppose I’ll have to drop the double ‘l’ in traveller and also drop the ‘u’ in humour and harbour etc; but still not sure if I’ll have to succumb to the job title inflation that the Americans do so well. At this stage I’m planning to go with the simple title of Martin Collings, Airline IT Sales. Although if the doors aren’t opening, I’ll be sure to relent by sticking a VP in there somewhere and play more by local rules!


On April 28th I missed the PhoCusWright webcast on Ancillary Services: A Tipping Point of Industry Dynamics. It was hosted by Bob Offutt, PhoCusWright’s senior technology analyst and editorial director, Innovation Edition and Susan Steinbrink, senior research and corporate market analyst.

But someone on the call was kind enough to send me the lovely screen shot captured here. It was a nice surprise, as I didn’t know PhoCusWright were planning on incorporating my Bow Tie Model into their presentation to clients. No problem with the guys there using the diagram, as it really is a very clear way to illustrate the influences at work when trying to understand how to capture a greater share of ancillary revenue – in fact it is actually an honour to have PhoCusWright giving my ideas their stamp of approval. Interestingly, even though that post on the Bow Tie Model is over a year old, it still gets more search engine traffic on this blog than any other post. As a return favour, I’m sure my friends at PhoCusWright won’t complain about giving me a free ticket to their November conference in Scottsdale, near Phoenix! But if they get my name wrong again in the source (at least they were decent enough to mention the source), then maybe it will be free tickets for the entire Amadeus cast of hangers on likely to attend in November.

If PhoCusWright using the Bow Tie Model of Ancillary Revenue doesn’t quite meet your expectation for worthy news, how about Apple buying Siri. No-one working in destination content and mobile travel apps could deny that one being an extremely interesting acquisition.

The guys over at Tnooz have posted the final in my three part series on innovation in mobile travel apps. This one is called:

Five untapped opportunities for mobile and travel

I’ve really tried to focus on where money can be made in mobile. Of course there are very strong arguments for using mobile apps to improve customer service and customer satisfaction, and I may write along these lines in future, but for the moment I’m just waiting for the next bout of inspiration to hit me for a future Tnooz piece. I definitely need a break from thinking about mobile for a while!

I was having dinner last night in the lovely town square of Valbonne, inland from Cannes, and one of the dining party said something to me that I found incredibily profound. The first person was talking about travelling short haul with a major European network carrier. He was complaining to us that his meeting had finished early but he was still made to wait for his booked flight as they would not allow him to board the flight departing sooner, even thought he was already at the airport.

The second colleague followed up with something that has radically improved the way I as a business traveller view Easyjet. Before last night I was still stuck in the mindset that LCC’s were not my preferred option for business travel within Europe, but clearly the LCC – Legacy carrier divide is losing relevance rapidly. His story was that he flies Easyjet often for business as not only does he think the seats and the legroom are better, but here comes the real clincher – whenever he arrives early at the airport they always let him on the earlier flight with no questions asked.

Now think about that story in the context of something I read recently from Jeff Hilimire

I asked the audience a hypothetical question. Would they rather a) get one click from an email campaign or b) one person telling another person how great their product is? Obviously everyone chose b. I upped the ante, “10 clicks” vs. one recommendation. Still overwhelmingly the one recommendation won out. Where does it end? 100 clicks? 1,000 clicks? 

I’m not sure how many clicks my new high regard for Easyjet is worth, but it must surely be more than a few.

Lufthansa and Nicola Lange may be getting a lot of free publicity for the airline’s clever idea to offer the guy from Apple that lost his prototype iPhone a free business class flight to Germany, but the marketing approach that has impressed me even more came from Dorothy Dowling, senior vice president of marketing and sales for Best Western International from a story I first saw in Eye For Travel. The competition enables customers to vote on ideas for how to enhance their existing mobile app and the winner gets one million Best Western Reward points.

Apparently one million points is about 62 nights of free accomodation, so it is a pretty good prize. But on looking deeper into this promotion, I am thinking that Best Western was so close to pulling of the marketing masterstoke of the year, but they didn’t quite go far enough. If you work in an airline marketing department and you want to get massive adoption of your mobile travel app, here is what you could do and what Best Western were so close to doing.

For a start, the options to vote on look like a good way of publicizing what they plan to launch anyway, but the final category of “other” really should have been the main focus. It is much more valuable to create a big installed user base than the mileage you will get out of promoting the product pipeline. 

  • Travel tools (flashlight, to do list and tip calculator)
  • Special offers nearby
  • Things to do (local events, attractions)
  • Receipt tracker for business trips (allow users to photograph their receipts and it calculates)
  • Other:

It is even possible to enter the prize draw without ever having downloaded the app for your phone. Therefore is it pretty clear that publicizing the roadmap and the resulting media mentions will be the success metric used by Best Western rather than number of downloaded and regularly used apps.

Imagine if this competion only had the “other” category, and instead of one line ideas it asked for one paragraph to one page submissions. With such a good prize on offer, the only way you would have a chance of winning would be to actually understand the current functionality of the existing app, and then make constructive suggestions on how it could be improved – ie. everyone would have a real incentive to download and use the app! Even if I don’t care about the competition, it would make me so much more likely to try out the app just to see how good it was and to think what I might suggest if I did care enough to enter.

That is genuine customer engagement, and the goodwill it would foster (assuming the competition losers were properly thanked for their input) would have also been very valuable. And then the social media potential a competition like this has is enormous, as the hotel site could progressively put up the better ideas for others to comment on before the final judging was done. Then you have a constant steam of buzz around the Best Western mobile app and its evolution! I’m personally getting a lot of interest from people after the Tnooz articles I have written to date on mobile innovation, so I know that people are genuinely very interested in this topic – Best Western was so close to nailing it. When an airline is ready to copy the Best Western idea but improve on it in the way I have suggested please let me know. The idea is nothing with the execution, so in the true spirit of sharing, please go for it. 

Not really that related, but I’m trying to work it in anyway as it is a fascinating topic:

“We’re told we all need to be leaders, but that would be really ineffective. The best way to make a movement, if you really care, is to courageously follow and show others how to follow. When you find a lone nut doing something great, have the guts to be the first person to stand up and join in.”

So whilst Best Western may have been the leader, it is the first follower who really stands to profit from modifying this idea ever so slighly. Surely one airline will take me up on this challenge?

I’m hoping this will be my last Volcano related post for quite some time, but the learnings from this experience will keep returning in the coming months as airlines ask the key question of “how do we want to communicate to and engage with our passengers?” It is becoming clearer to me by the day just how many people in business are grasping with the whole question of what to do with social media, and I’ll probably devote more time to this in coming months – it really is the question I am getting asked more and more.

Many people have written good reflection type articles on how airlines handled social media during the crisis. I find it refreshing to occasionally read the thoughts of someone outside of the industry, and this is why I enjoyed reading Airlines Declare Facebook a No-Fly Zone by Elizabeth Clifford-Marsh from Firecracker digital media. There is no talk of scalability or the other boring themes I rant about when questioning slavish dedication to everything social, or understanding the continuum running from social media to social business design (that point is probably a topic for me for next week) but what her post does really well is clearly highlight one risk of a half baked social media strategy – that being, opening the door only to reveal nothing on the other side. Or even worse, opening the door to let in the anarchists who trash everything on the inside. Because it is written about airlines, it makes it that much more interesting for readers of this blog.

Yesterday I tried bringing a little humour to the this whole Icelandic volcano mess with a clip from Family Guy, but not too long after putting up that post, I was on the phone with someone working in an airline call centre who was telling me just how crazy things have been since the crisis hit. I’ve known of colleagues stuck in foreign lands, and a friend whose wedding plans were thrown into disarray, but take a look at the numbers below to really get a feel for one other area significantly impacted by all of this.

In a normal week this call centre receives around 79,000 calls of which 50,000 are answered. Makes sense, as some people hang up as soon as they are put on hold, only to call back later. In the past week on hold times grew to 2-3 hours as the call centre received 518,000 calls of which 65,000 were answered. The number should have been even higher than 518,000 as they did not have enough lines and some people trying to call could not even get through to be put on hold. A herculian effort just to answer 30% more calls than are normally answered. It must have been a very stressful place to be working, and a week they won’t forget in a hurry.

I was speaking to another person this week who was personally impacted with his travel arrangements, and he told me that he checked the airline website, and then double checked by calling the airline. This has really got me thinking about how airlines can reduce the pressure on call centres during massive disruptions. If many people still pick up the phone to double check (and I suspect the traveller I spoke to was not an isolated case), what can be done to either reduce the impact of this behaviour, or eliminate it completely?

One idea would be to ensure the website, as well as the emails sent to passegners, are clear on where the information came from and at what time this information was really given to the airline – ie. the time the decision was taken. In addition, some text explaining that the call centre relies on exactly the same source of data and maybe even some text explaining that call centre staff look at the website for the information they communicate to passengers that call. Of course it is no use saying this if it is not true, but once the dust settles, I would strongly enourage all airlines and their call centres to take a look at how they can improve communication to passengers in preparation for the next crisis – and do so in a way that ensures the impact of these redundant inbound calls is significanly reduced.

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