A totally tongue in cheek post today, but has Kevin or Dennis at Tnooz written something so provocative that it has offended the mighty Google? I was reading my Gmail account on the weekend and tried to click through to an article on some SITA market research, when I got the following screen shot in Google’s Chrome browser.


Tnooz considered dangerous by Google!


So I truncated the URL and tried again. Next screen.


Someone at Tnooz must have really offended Google


Still undeterred, I ignored the warnings and went on to read some interesting claims. Very interesting claims.

SITA says those using airline websites to book accommodation jumped from 21% in 2009 to 38% in the latest, 2010 edition of the annual study. A similar figure – 19% to 35% over a 12 month period – could be found for those opting to buy car hire.

Now I may have a been a little too harsh on SITA and the last piece of market research they put out, but this one really raises some eyebrows. I know some airline websites that are genuinely kicking goals with ancillary revenue from cars and hotels, but I know many many more that are still way under-selling when it comes to achieving what is truly possible.

But SITA have many smaller to medium sized airlines using their IT for their internet booking engine, so surely by asking their airline customers for data that would then be then aggregated and published, then this must be extremely reliable?

Hmmm, not so fast. Here is how they did it – again from the Tnooz piece.

The study interviewed passengers at seven major international airports around the world, including Moscow, Atlanta, Mumbai, Sao Paolo and Johannesburg.

At this point I will copy a paragraph from a previous post written here.

Survey’s are great, but be careful relying solely on asking people what they think, as just as Ideaworks have written (PDF) in their good analysis on the impact of recent changes to US checked bagggage fees, sometimes what people say they will do bears little relationship to what they actually end up doing.

So you get the point – why survey people when you are either sitting on the real data or at least can get it without too much effort. But enough on Google and SITA. This coming week I look forward to catching up with again with Jay Sorensen from Ideaworks plus a large number of airline execs at the Amadeus Horizons conference in San Francisco. If you are a regular reader here and are attending the conference, please be sure to introduce yourself to me. It is always good to meet new people whom I previously did know read my work either here on Shearwater Blog, or the stuff I write over at Tnooz – actually, I hope I’m not the one who offended Google!


Recently I wrote the following:

Today we always think of air as the initial point at which the commitment is first made and the payment is first taken, but is it too wild a thought to imagine this model being flipped on its head? If the airline websites do not adapt from their current transactional focus, then for a reasonable percentage of the leisure market, could air actually be the ancillary product sold in future? It happens today with cruise, so maybe this idea is not so crazy after all.

I’ve just returned from the Amadeus Airline e-Commerce Conference in Cannes, and almost the entire afternoon of the first day was spent covering the topic of airline websites moving more into the inspiration space and targeting the undecided traveler. I’ve written my extensive hypothesis on that topic recently, so today I want to take it from a slightly different angle.

I was reading an article on cool hotels around the world and clicked on the link to the ME Barcelona Hotel. What I found most interesting was nothing to do with the hotel itself, but the search panel on the homepage. I’ve marked in red the section on this page relevant to my opening quote.

The hotel is actually seeing itself as the primary reason for going to Barcelona, and the air segment as ancillary to the room! Is this is trend we will see more of? I’m not convinced the answer is yes, but the truth is I really don’t know. One thing I do know is that this threat is something airline websites at least need to have somewhere on their radar when planning the evolution of their own sites.

It is very early days in this possible trend, and as my experience with ME Barcelona shows there are still a few bugs to iron out, but the idea behind the way they are thinking is without doubt quite impressive. The hotel plus flight option is powered by Ezrez technology, although unfortunately my first search looking at a flight from Madrid to Barcelona came up with text reading “There are no flights available for the time/date you chose. Please select a different time, date or airline” as can be seen on the below screen shot.

Luckily the next search from London to Barcelona yielded better results, but a few bugs do not detract from the potential longer term significance of this move. Even a subsequent search from MAD-BCN returned a proper result, so maybe the screen shot above was a random fluke and an unreproduceable error.

Before moving on, I do have to ask why the date is shown in US and not European format. I myself am trying to change spelling to US format given I am now working there, and I’m even trying to change some of the words I use that have little significance to Americans; I used the word luddite recently to refer to late adopters of technology and got nothing but blank stares, so clearly this is one piece of vocabulary I need to drop. But back to Ezrez, I notice they have used a non US date format for AirAsiaGo, so one assumes it is just a site setup oversight from whoever was working on the ME Barcelona implementation, and not some hard coded technical limitation.

Back to the original theme behind this post: some airlines may choose to remain transactional websites, and maybe there are some good reasons for certain airline brands or geographic markets to react this way, but at least the analysis needs to be done first so that such a decision can be made in an informed manner.

I don’t normally keep a close eye on the hotel industry, so maybe other hotels are doing likewise, but this is a trend that I am interested to watch more closely in future to see if it catches on. If it does, this will not be positive for the customers I spent last week with in Cannes.

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?