Thursday, April 27, 2006

CWT and Navigant

Today another chapter was written in the restructuring of the travel industry with the dual announcements from CWT concerning the acquisition of TQ3 Navigant and the buyout of the Accor share of CWT by One Equity Partners. Was this really unexpected? Accor clearly signaled that they wanted to sell their half of CWT last month. Most pundits believed it would be very difficult for Navigant to re-create the TQ3 international presence. So clearly this should not be a surprise to anyone. The press has for years characterized CWT as a #2 to Amex's #1 position. To maintain this, (and perhaps go after Amex) CWT needed to continue to grow and acquisition was the most logical path. The next shoe to drop will concern Cendant and who ends up with Travelport. The interesting part of many of the deals of recent years is the role private equity has played with major acquisitions (e.g Worldspan, Amadeus, CWT and most likely Cendant). Private equity is looking for immediate returns and all four of these companies are profitable with solid ongoing income. Private equity is also funding the GNEs (e.g. ITA Software, G2, Farelogix). So who's right, the funding on traditional players or the embracing of new distribution platforms? Time will be the final judge. I would venture to speculate that ten years from now there will five players in the distribution game (3 GDS and 2 GNEs) and they will look very much alike. On the TMC front today's announcements means more pressure on 2nd tier TMCs and their associated consortium (e.g. Radius) or partnerships (GET) forcing them to prove that their model works and is able to compete against the new mega - mega TMCs.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Convergence and Behavioral Advertising

Back in the early days (1995) of the Internet (and my consulting practice as well) there was a lot of press devoted to the convergence of TV, the Web, and mobile communication. Today, the vision of U-commerce is slowly becoming a reality as the always connected consumer who is able to transact on multiple devices is emerging before our eyes. With travel being a top e-commerce category as well as a major online advertiser, our industry is in the midst of this permanent change in consumer behavior. As consumers are empowered to control content and the method for transactions, more personalized advertising is needed. Will behavioral advertising emerge as a mainstream vehicle to reach the new empowered consumer? There are mixed views on this subject. Some feel that former spyware companies such as Claria haven't really changed their ways and continue to load unwanted software on your computer. Obviously the VC community does not share this belief as Claria has recently received $40 Million in new financing. To better understand this subject, one has to look at what is happening in mainstream advertising. The advent of Tivo and other DVRs have a significant segment of the population skipping over traditional media advertising. TV shows are being released on the Web for nominal fees on i-Tunes without advertising or will soon be released for free by Disney, but with a technology that prevents the consumer from skipping over commercials. On Tivo you can selectively view ads that are suggested based on your viewing habits. Similar to the pitch by contextual Web advertising companies such as Claria or WhenU, Tivo clearly states in its privacy policy that it does not share specific consumer tracking behavior, but instead looks at aggregate behavior to understand overall trends and specific sub-markets. It is from this aggregate behavior, ads are targeted based on groups of consumers who have similar viewing habits. On the Web, intelligent agents capture surfing behavior and then position ads to match the subject you are investigating. Barry Diller's IAC recently announced a tool called Pronto which provides competitive offers to the consumer based on the products they are researching, another example of this trend. Overall I believe we are at the beginning of a new type of relationship between buyer and seller where advertising plays a more targeted role to purchase decisions allowing the consumer to learn about products and buy those products from a variety of devices.

Friday, April 21, 2006

ITM Study on SBT in Europe

A recent study by the Institute for Travel Management, a UK based organization that focuses on corporate travel, highlighted the disconnect between pundit predictions on the adoption of self-booking tools (SBTs) and feedback from members on a recent poll. The conclusions drawn from this survey emphasized the gap between the expectations of buyers and the actual adoption as well as the disconnect with their TMCs. Based on recent research I conducted that will shortly be published by PhoCusWright, I understand the reason for this response, but differ in my opinion on why buyers voiced these concerns. Overall Europe is at a different evolutionary stage of SBT deployment. The UK and Nordic regions are the most advanced in SBT selection and deployment, but overall the market is still below 20% adoption for corporate self-booking tools. The US experienced similar disappointment and lack of TMC integration when SBT became the major trend in 2000. A good portion of the problem with TMC relationships lies in the second tier TMCs who don't fully support self-booking viewing it as competitor to their standard services. The European market is now moving quickly to come up to speed with online corporate technology and thus it is my opinion that these issues will begin to fade as more companies embrace online channels and more 2nd TMCs come to the conclusion that Self-booking is a critical part of the travel management process.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Google Travel speculation

Some media outlets picked up as news speculation in Russell Shaw's Znet blog that Google intends to enter the travel booking market and partner with Orbitz. This story demonstrates a number of interesting trends. First how a blog can generate a "news story". The basis for Mr. Shaw's speculation concerns a job posting for a "Senior Account Executive Travel Vertical". I am amazed that Mr. Shaw would draw broad conclusions from this job posting considering the fact that Google has had similar postings on the Web for the last two years. This job posting is nothing more than an advertisement for a sales representative to target potential travel advertisers based in Chicago. To take this job listing and speculate that Google will now enter the travel reservation business with Orbitz is not only a wild jump in logic, but demonstrates how educated tech writers are not necessarily educated in the nuances of the travel industry. Don't get me wrong, I do suspect that Google is considering some sort of travel vertical initiative, but to use this job posting as evidence shows that the writer lacks an understanding of Google's current travel industry positioning. I would more accurately speculate that when Google does make its move into the travel industry it will leverage its core search capabilities to drill deep into travel Web sites, allowing more effective comparative shopping. A more logical observation from Mr. Shaw should have concerned the Google capability to search multiple travel sites when you enter a city pair (e.g. San Francisco New York) into the search engine. This feature was introduced in 2005, something Mr. Shaw doesn't even mention in his blog.

Friday, April 07, 2006

What Do the AA, CO & LH deals with Worldspan Mean to the Changing Distribution Landscape?

During the last two weeks Worldspan has announced new five year contracts with three large airlines: American, Continental and Lufthansa. Do these contracts signal the end of the buzz around alternate distribution? In my view, major structural change in distribution will continue (and even accelerate) despite these announcements. Many pundits are quick to point out that it was these three airlines that seemed to be making the most noise about alternate distribution and that their agreements with Worldspan seems to contradict their very public efforts. AA and CO were in the news with letters to travel agents saying that they may not participate in all GDS. As part of the Star Alliance, Lufthansa's technology subsidiary (Lufthansa Systems) announced a new agreement with Farelogix to power an alternate distribution platform for Europe. The bottom line change that is happening in distribution is NOT only about GDS bypass, but overall distribution preferencing. In other words, there are major changes under foot to allow suppliers and distributors to direct where inventory is shopped, priced and fulfilled. This capability goes down to the individual reservation level and can be different at each stage of the booking process. This underlying ability to control distribution is at the heart of the changes happening behind the scenes between suppliers and intermediaries. It is essential that everyone stay tuned to this issue as I believe it will permanently impact both consumer and business travel reservation processing.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Globalization of Travel Software

On Monday evening I returned from a week in Europe visiting two clients. These meetings reinforced my belief that all segments of the travel industry are evolving to be more global in nature. Despite this fact, the trip reinforced the need for travel software vendors to understand and adapt to regional and country specific requirements. It is my belief that the level of online travel adoption is the key metric to watch in determining the maturity of a given market and related strategies. As consumers embrace online travel, the traditional infrastructure of distribution becomes strained. The recent announcement by the Star Alliance airline group regarding the alternate distribution strategy driven by Lufthansa Systems Group and Farelogix mirrors the growing adoption of online travel in Europe. Another example of the inability to implement a single solution globally can be found in the corporate travel self-booking tool market. Even though vendors such as Amadeus have been pushing a single self-booking tool as the solution to global travel management, few global corporations have implemented the same tool in all locations. Other examples of the fallacy of overlooking individual market needs while developing global strategies manifested itself in the problems experienced by Cendant in trying to integrate e-Bookers into their family of online sites. E-bookers was created to address a specific regional niche (long haul ethnic travel) and thus was not easily integrated into the broader Cendant B to C family. The bottom line is that global aspirations are great, global implementations are extremely difficult. Despite our ability to instantly communicate in real-time to any place on the globe, cultural and local issues are still a major factor in implementing travel software products or services on a global basis.