Innovation


There seem to be so many people starting new travel related websites these days that I really don’t spent that much time trying to keep up with everything happening in this area. That said, I did take notice of a recent profile of TripAha that was featured on Tnooz. This post is not an analysis of the TripAha site itself, but more as a lead in to a wider piece on blending social into the travel purchase process.

What I did like were some of the quotes from the team behind TripAha on social search.

TripAha will change that [low trust, unpersonalized content farms] by creating a massive database of trusted content by sourcing recommendations from your extended social graph. Your social graph will be naturally incented to write and share recommendations via our “shared context” technology. Shared context is – “What do you and I have in common”? These attributes could be – “friend” “Fof”, common school/college/workplace, common travel interests, common demography/ethnicity/place-of-origin.

And then towards the end of the profile:

They [so called travel industry experts]think social travel has been tried before. We disagree. We don’t believe people understand social. Social is more than slapping facebook connect. Its about shared context – “what do you and I have in common?”.

Like I said, I’m not endorsing TripAha, I just thought some of their comments were worthy of being repeated here.

Just last week I was sitting through a demo from a group building a Facebook iPhone travel app. The team in question was sitting on a golden egg and they didn’t even realize it – instead of trying to turn some proprierary travel related data they had into something giving social insight, they instead were more focussed on using the Facebook API to get the same information about someone’s network that anyone else building a travel app on the Facebook API would also be able to access. 

Back when I made my travel tech predicitons for 2011, I wrote the following:

I was surprisingly impressed at Phocuswright with Tripalertz and their model of bringing a group buying dynamic to hotels. No-one can argue with the success of Groupon; how this trend finds its way into online travel will almost certainly be much clearer by the end of 2011 than it is today. Paypal have launched Shoptimist, Facebook have set up a commerce partnerships unit, the rise of sites like RueLaLa during 2010 brought many immitators, and even KLM got into the act with a flight for ravers filled in 5 hours using a social group buying dynamic. Social commerce is only going to get bigger, but this is not a tide that will lift all boats – some airline websites will really struggle, thereby losing power to individuals when those individuals act in a concerted and socially interconnected manner.

So whilst no one has yet cracked social and travel, I am convinced that in order to be useful it needs to be much more than just looking at my friend network – even if I have 1,000 so called friends on Facebook, the usefulness of my “fringe friends” will be nowhere near as good as data from people outside of my network but who share similar interests to me and have purchased or intend to purchase similar vacations to those that I am interested in.

The lesson here is, don’t get so hooked on the social graph that you ignore the taste graph. Blending the two will be key to getting sufficient sample size to drive a meaningful social context into the online travel search and shopping experience.

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Recently I was writing quite positively on a research report from comScore, and today I saw an invitation for a webinar covering this same report. Part of the invitation goes as follows: 

Key questions addressed during the webinar will include:

  • How have market enablers like 3G/4G, smartphones and unlimited data plans driven mobile media usage among consumers?
  • What were the year’s top device trends, how have smartphone devices changed the market?
  • What mobile content categories are most popular among consumers, how do these differ across geographies?
  • How do browser and application access influence mobile content consumption?
  • How are consumers using mobile media to stay connected, how has daily consumption changed?
  • What will be important in the coming year for mobile, what role will mobile advertising and commerce play in 2011?

It is being held Tuesday, March 15 at 1.00pm Eastern and the title is The Mobile Year in Review 2010 U.S. I’ve registered, but I don’t have a generic link to share so if you are interested you’ll have to hunt around and secure your own invitation. It shouldn’t be too difficult. I think mine came from downloading the original research report.

Let’s hope that that webinar goes a little more smoothly than today’s mobile payments webinar from Kony. Kony are the company behind the mobile apps for the majority of US carriers, so quite a successful company. Despite having pre-registered, the CISCO Webex software seemed to max out with too many people trying to log on (I got an error message saying only the first 100 people could join). In the end I had to resort to dialing in via telephone and I missed out on viewing the slides.

David Eads, Product Marketing Director for Kony was good, but calling into a webinar on a mobile phone that cuts outs when you have 100 people listening was a bit surprising. Then again, I remember when Ben Kazez pulled out at the last minute from Phocuswright last November and I thought it was a bit strange, only to hear a couple of days later that he had just sold his company to Expedia. I can only assume that David Eads must be working on some mega deal to be calling into a webinar with no backup landline. Andrew Morris was also on the call and even though I’ve only spent 5 minutes skimming the report he referenced, the Mobile Retailing Blueprint: A Comprehensive Guide for Navigating the Mobile Landscape, my first impressions are that it is an impressive piece of work.

In other news, I know this blog is aimed at airline people, but I’m also aware that some hotel people read it. Timothy O’Neil-Dunne wrote a great piece today for Tnooz (and not just because he mentiones me by name), so if you are interested in a well written piece that cuts though the Hipmunk hype and Room 77 sensationalism, check out his story.

It’s been a while since my last contribution to the site which seems to be going from strength to strength lately, Tnooz. Today I’ve rectified the situation with a piece exploring a topic I’ve mentioned before on this blog, at my recent Eye for Travel conference presentation, and in countless meetings with airline executives. Click here to read the article in full. The question I’m asking in that piece is how should airlines assess the relative importance of investment in mobile apps versus the browser based mobile web?

In the Tnooz article I’ve relied heavily on a recent comScore report on mobile, but there were two things in that report that I found interesting and which didn’t really fit the theme of apps vs mobile web.

The first was this sentence from the report: In December 2010, 9.8 million mobile phone users in Japan made a purchase using their mobile wallet, accounting for nearly 10 percent of mobile subscribers. That number is impressive – mobile payments certainly look like an interesting area going forward if other markets follow the lead of Japan, as I expect they will.

The second interesting thing I saw was the chart below. Did I hear someone use the term f-commerce?

In my last post I was talking about internet TV, how I am convinced this is the future of home entertainment, and how in my next post I was going to try and tie this into ways it may eventually impact online travel. But first, I had thought I was ahead of the curve by having my Blackberry as my TV remote control, but then I saw this app from the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas (can’t wait to talk to the one airline exec who I know was there, as I wasn’t attending). The Unify4Life app seems to do all that my phone can, plus it lets you view the TV guide on the small screen whilst you watch a program on the big screen, and you can even  activate it prior to getting into your car / motorbike so that when your phone is within range of your home, the garage door automatically opens.

That is the type of technology that when you use it once, you are likely to be hooked, especially the TV guide browsing and remote control aspect – maybe not so much the garage door part. As I wrote in the last post, this is my personal experience from internet TV (ie. I’m hooked), and so now that I am convinced it will go mainstream (for me, 2010 was the year of NOT jumping on all hyped up technology), I am thinking a lot about what implications that might have for the airlines I talk to and their direct sales business.

One of the initial implications I am pondering is for airlines looking at more of a presence on the left of the Bow Tie Model in the travel inspiration space. Last year we spoke a lot about the future of travel search, whether the new travel search and inspiration were one in the same, and really analyzed in detail what travel inspiration actually meant. But we never looked at the impact of internet TV, so today I’m throwing one more variable into the mix.

I saw this week that VFM Leonardo were expanding a business unit that has a heavy focus in online video for hotel chains, and I’ve heard a lot of people saying 2011 is the year of online video – my take on it is that online video on the PC or mobile or tablet is a very different medium to online video via internet TV. The website hosting the video may be identical, but the frame of mind of the consumer is very different, and therefore the way an airline can benefit from this trend is also very different.

TV is unique in that it is often a shared experience, whereas PC, phone and tablet are typically running sessions unique to one person. For someone planning to travel alone the difference may be irrelevant, but for anyone traveling in a party of more than one, it could be significant.

Most of my recent learning in this area is coming from Hulu.com and how I am experiencing the ads they serve to me whilst watching TV. In short, they offer shows with less advertising than normal, but sometime I have to actively choose which one of three ads I want to watch, and other times they give me a choice to fill out one survey and watch the rest of the show ad free. The one of three ads concept is the one that has most caught my attention due to its great appeal for influencing undecided travelers.

I did some more research, and it appears Hulu is far from the only one embracing this advertising model; the actual team behind the technology appear to be from VivaKi who are connected to Publicis. The video below featuring Curt Hecht, President of VivaKi Nerve Center is interesting to get a more in depth understanding of who is behind this and how it all works. I don’t normally cover marketing here, but this video is quite interesting if you have an interest in marketing and especially advertising.

Internet TV is only going to go more mainstream as the user experience improves – just look at the seamless experience of switching between the iPad and Apple TV today. But understanding whether the ads are being shown via a TV in a multi-person household and a PC with a single user may be a challenge the people like VivaKi are yet to address – I don’t really know. But follow me as I develop an idea for what is possible.

Today on a multi-person journey, one adult usually has to convince one or more adults on the preferred destination, and all adults (and even teenagers!) are consuming different information at different times and then have to somehow convey what they have learnt to influence others in the prospective traveling party.

If two or more are sitting in front of a TV and the first ad they see shows three different types of holiday in three different destinations, then the three options probably leads to some initial discussion around which advertisement they want to watch. As internet TV is often going to see people watching 30 – 60 minute shows (we all know how annoying channel surfing is when you yourself don’t hold the remote control)  this gives the advertiser an amazing chance to develop a story using advertising during the entire program. You can’t do it effectively on a PC if someone is flicking between different sites, but by watching one TV show on one site, a travel supplier using a Hulu type choice model of advertising has the ability to turn each ad break into a new chapter in a choose you own adventure storybook.

By the end of the TV show everyone watching has had an input into working towards a possible holiday destination through discussions of which travel ad to select at each break, with each ad narrowing down the choices and building on intelligence derived from previous ads selected and skipped. This has to be so much more powerful than just saying 2011 is the year of online video – the real power is actually due to interent TV, the group dynamic and a longer session on one website – advertising actually becomes a powerful storytelling experience where the storyteller adapts the story to the feedback of the audience in the room. This is perfect for travel inspiration.

What I’ve written here is really just a starter to get you thinking about how this could be used to support an airline wanting to change the way consumers think about travel inspiration and try to reclaim ground from generic search, meta search, OTAs and standalone trip planning sites in this space. The airline is in a unique position to be present in more parts of the entire trip process, and the ability to turn TV program ad breaks into a choose your own adventure story unique to each and every lounge room, and then even send reminders or extra info post program if the user is logged in (as I typically am when on Hulu or Clicker) is nothing short of revolutionary.

That last point of the user being logged in leads into another key theme for this year – having a consistent and personalized experience for the customer regardless of which device he chooses to use when accessing your content. I’ll be covering some of that point in my appearance at the Eye For Travel event in Atlanta on January 27th, but for now, hopefully I’ve given you enough food for thought to generate a bit of water cooler conversation in the office today.

So much of the time I am thinking (and often writing) about new travel technologies promoted by various companies, but lately I’ve been thinking about what really causes a new website or functionality on a website to have a chance of being successful. And it is funny sometimes where the revelations reveal themselves. Maybe the experience with my own TV set was an epiphany of sorts.

In 2010 I spent a lot of time really trying to grasp how airlines could extend their influence to the left of the Bow Tie and better influence potential passengers earlier in the travel purchase process.  A lot of start-ups were attracted to this space, so I was kind of surprised at the Phocuswright conference in Arizona back in November at how negative some influential people in travel were becoming on the whole idea of building a business around travel inspiration. I do not fall into that camp, but I do understand where the vitriol was coming from – so much hype, and so little of it realized to date.

Whilst I am still a big believer that an airline can make a credible play in this space, I am beginning to realize why so many great ideas fail to get traction, and one big reason is the simple fact that despite all the bells and whistles, they are just not sticky enough to survive without paying search engines massive amounts in order to generate significant traffic – and by now we all know the numbers on how powerful search is in the travel buying process! Probably not the most sustainable way to build a business, unless of course you are the search engine.

So this brings me to my own personal epiphany on technology that changes your life, and how I’m still waiting for a travel inspiration site that sits somewhere between generic search and a booking site to have a similar impact. That is, something that I just cannot live without when thinking of planning a trip. Kayak and TripAdvisor sit in this space and are the closest examples I can think of, but when you compare them (and their large success) to the impact of Google in generic search and the impact airline branded websites have had on distribution, you realize that nothing in between the two has had quite the same impact. Either someone grows to own this space, or more likely search moves more to the right of the Bow Tie and swallows the pie of just about everyone else trying to influence the buyer prior to the initial travel purchase.

I saw someone refer to 2011 being the year of the cable cut and maybe this is true. Whilst probably being one of the last people in the civilized world to move from a tube TV to a flat screen, in one step I’ve moved from the dark ages and into the future of television. I now have a spare PC inside the TV cabinet running Linux Ubuntu 10.10 that is both connected to the internet and also has bluetooth connectivity to my Blackberry that now serves as both a wireless keyboard and my TV remote control (via Freemote). I’m using Clicker.com as the homepage that automatically starts up (along with Skype and videoconferencing through the TV)  and which displays my queue of desired shows still waiting to be viewed – at a time of my own choosing of course.

Google, Apple, Boxee, Roku, and others are trying own internet TV.  There are also rumors of Microsoft making a serious play into this area. But my experience has been that at least as far as my set up is concerned, it is not for the faint hearted. At times I was pulling my hair out trying to compile source code in Linux. But now that it is finally working (still a few minor bugs to iron out) I can honestly say it has revolutionized the way I consume home entertainment on a daily basis. I can’t imagine, nor do I have any wish to return to something with less functionality than what I have today. Now that is the sort of testimonial I would love to see from users of a travel inspiration website.

It took me longer to get to the meat of this post than I had planned, so in the next post I will write about how I see travel inspiration and internet TV being a perfect match and why airlines looking to enter the travel inspiration space cannot do so without working closely with those in your airline managing the digital advertising strategy and spend.

Is internet TV and travel inspiration possibly the sixth convergence?

In my recent predictions for 2011 you will find no mention anywhere of QR codes, but I did notice that Stephen Joyce from Rezgo predicted that 2011 would the The Year of the QR Code. So I was surprised to receive an email from an executive at a US carrier yesterday where he was using a QR code included in the signature line. We all know that being the first follower is an underrated form of leadership, so with that in mind, I’ve now added a QR code to the signature line on my emails as well.

The QR code on the signature line is a simple one pointing here, whilst the one above is my business card. I originally tried putting more information other than a link into my signature, but the more information you add, the harder it is for the camera to decode the image, especially when you are taking a picture directly from the screen.

BlackBerry has a pre-installed QR reader under Instant Messaging – Blackberry Messenger. I’m currently using BeeTagg, but others have also recommended i-nigma as a good reader. Go ahead and try pointing your phone at the screen.

I was just watching a good interview from CNN that Roopa Mathur sent me a link to (Google PR/Lobbyist Adam Kovacevich and Expedia attorney Tom Barnett) when by chance I came across another story on CNN.com called Personalizing the internet in 2011. Both stories are worth watching, but the only comment I’ll make on the first story is to point you to the comments of Amadeus CEO David Jones ( but then check out this video and spot the similarities with the CNN story). The second story on personalization gives me much more meat for a blog post here.

It was only yesterday when posting predictions for 2011 that I wrote “personalization will be the buzzword of the year” so interesting to hear Hunch co-founder Caterina Fake saying “I really think that 2011 is going to the year of personalization.”

The early emphasis in the story is on using local positioning as a means of driving personalization, but of all the forms of data and the associated privacy concens that may hinder adoption and having consumers embrace personalization, this is one that airlines need to be very careful with. The reporter Maggie Lake sums it up nicely when she replies that this “frankly, freaks me out a little.” Personalization is so much bigger than GPS, but this is the first point usually mentioned in any story like this.

When many people bring up privacy issues they often miss the mark, but Caterina Fake makes a very interesting observation when she says “the feverish connecting that we did in Web 2.0 is starting to decline.” Is unfriending / defriending coming back into vogue? What I think she is getting at is trying to draw us into thinking about the socialgraph versus tastegraph argument – this was the underlying point when I asked the following question back in July,

Does the search component of travel inspiration require more technological muscle and grunt, or is it social over science and personal contacts over proprietary cache?

I’m not sure we have a definitive answer to that question yet, but it really is at the heart of how an airline direct channel builds its personalization architecture.

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