Wednesday, May 24, 2006

The Death of Travel Agents?

On April 17th, 2006 the American Society of Travel Agents released a summary of a new Technology and Marketing Report which showed that the traditional travel professional spends an average of 17 hours per week on the Web searching on behalf of their clients. As part of my effort with the Fetch collaborative travel planning tool, I've done presentations and demos with many of the major travel consortium as well as leaders in the online travel world. Since the launch of the OTAs (Expedia, Travelocity, Orbitz) the mainstream media has helped foster the idea that traditional travel agents are a dying breed. As a analyst and consultant over the last 11 years, I have been involved with a number projects for more traditional travel companies, helping them develop holistic technology strategies. As a result I believe the role the offline agent plays in complex travel planning is still essential. I wanted to use this opportunity to start some dialogue within the industry on this subject. So what do you think? Are the pundits who envision a completely automated travel process correct, or is there still value in the professional travel agent? Obviously I have some strong opinions on this subject and I would have to admit part of my view is driven by what I believe is a an opportunity for the Fetch travel tool to bridge the gap between the consumer and agent Web search. May ask you comments on the subject?

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Update on Fetch Technologies Spin-off

I wanted to provide my readers an update on my efforts with Fetch Technologies and the "Travelsmart" (actual name TBD) tool. As I mentioned in an earlier blog entry, the Travelsmart tool allows consumers to collect, organize and share travel planning and booking content across all major travel Websites. Recently the last capability of sharing has been expanded to emphasize the collaborative travel planning and search capabilities of the product. The growth of user generated content is increasing the importance of a collaborative travel planning tool that combines the search efforts of the traveler, their spouse, friends and relatives (whether traveling with the traveler or providing advice based on past experiences with a destination) as well the role of the professional travel or call center support agent. Let's remember that Google does not work without a human driving the search. Travelsmart combines multiple parties efforts in planning and booking elements of a trip through a collaborative search process. We have a functional demo of the product that I've presented to over 30 travel industry executives. Overall the reaction has been very positive. Our short term strategy is to fund the completion of the development through distribution partners and angel funding. If your interested in seeing a Travelsmart demo please contact me at

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Excellent Article on Web 2.0

I would suggest my readers check out this article by Tim O'Reilly. Though it is a bit dated (09/30/2005) it does a great job of describing Web 2.0. Mr. O'Reilly's detailed analysis of the changes a foot in content and design is at he heart of new Web pages by Yahoo! (go to the new design page). Online travel has a long way to go to truly capture the Web 2.0 movement. The key themes need to be collaboration, user generated content and aggregation of multiple sources of data. Most of the major sites have not changed in any radical way to address this trend and thus have opened the door for new applications that harness these Web 2.0 capabilities.

Friday, May 12, 2006

New Mobile article on GDX

As most of you know in addition to my own consulting practice I work as an analyst for PhoCusWright. I recently completed a GDX article on "Using Mobile Location-Based Services to Enhance the Travel Experience". The article discusses an evolving, more open mobile architecture which can enable travel companies to work more actively with the telecom carriers to deploy travel specific location based services. Here's the Abstract:

As wireless communication becomes ubiquitous, a new opportunity is emerging to deliver highly personalized services to mobile users. One of the most powerful ways to personalize mobile services is to provide applications that are based on location. Since the late 1990s, the travel industry has experimented with mobile applications with minimal success. Recent changes in the underlying infrastructure for mobile application delivery is enabling a new way to deploy location-based services(LBS), providing travel companies the ability to deploy mobile applications that can be targeted at the leisure and business traveler. By the very nature of travel, early adopters of mobile applications such as LBS are often frequent travelers. Despite this fact, LBS applications that specifically target travelers have been slow to emerge in the market. With rapid adoption of smart phone technology and the increasing availability of higher speed wireless networks, the ability for travel suppliers and intermediaries to communicate with their frequent customers while on the road has never been greater. The mobile phone has emerged as the primary device for traveler communication. This Spotlight examines how LBS are created and provides insight into how they will and should impact travel e-commerce.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Air Canada and Alternative Distribution

Early this week Air Canada announced that no-frills Tango fares would be available exclusively through, not through any of the GDS. This announcement is very significant in terms of the evolving world of travel distribution as well as the ongoing debate of GDS vs GNE. From a supplier's perspective distribution must provide low cost (something very clear to everyone in the industry) but also added value. In prior blog entries I discussed the need for airlines to implement channel management strategies which provide different pricing to different channels. I also have voiced my opinion over the last 2 years, the GDS vs GNE debate is not only about price, but also about the underlying technology. Air Canada is offering discounts of $8 one way or $16 roundtrip on Tango fares if travelers "opt out" of checking bags or changing their itineraries. The bottom line is that the GDS cannot handles this type of creative pricing based on customer preferences. Thus we've now witnessed a concrete example of how the legacy GDS environment is incapable of flexible pricing that matches creative channel distribution. I anticipate a lot more innovative pricing to emerge over the next two years exposing some of the inflexibility of the primarily mainframe-based GDS and demonstrating the true value of the GNEs. I am hopeful that the GDS will continue to offload functions from their mainframe to lower costs and provide a more flexible server technology, but until the core passenger name record (PNR) is de-coupled from the transaction system, true customer specific pricing will not be possible.

Monday, May 01, 2006

User Generated Content - Web 2.0

In recent PhoCusWright FYI pieces written by Cathy Schetzina, Direction of Information Services and Bob Offutt, Technology Analyst as well as an earlier piece written by John Bray, Vice President of Advisory Services, the authors describe a second generation Web 2.0 environment based on user generated content. I am in complete agreement with my colleagues at PhoCusWright on this issue and wanted point out a specific example on how user generated content can be tied to geo coding. Cathy and Bob mention Flickr tags in their article, but did not specifically highlight the Geo Coding aspect of these tags. If you go to you can get a list of all time most popular tags. Immediately one will note the fact that top cities such as Amsterdam, Chicago and London show up on this list. Integrating this digital content, reviews from both online review sites such as Trip Advisor and IgoUgo as well as blogs, and other user generated rants and raves, highlights the need to find a way to filter this content and validate the input. Reputation systems that rate content based on the reputation created by the author is one way to sort through the ever increasing user input. Another idea is using constraint engine technology allowing the user to filter not only end user content, but all content based on a set of constraints defined by the user is another technology to consider. More on this technology in future blog entries.

The Line Between Self-Promotion and User Generated Content

Southwest Airlines has launched a blog as part of their Web strategy. This is an interesting example of how companies are trying to use newer forms of community generated content to help position their product. Southwest which has always tried to differentiate itself by its "happy" employees, is using the Blog to allow pilots, flight attendants, airport employees and management to express a point of view. Will other travel suppliers also create their own blogs? The biggest fear of any supplier is that the vocal minority of angry customers will take over the blog and thus cause some bad PR. This concern is justified, but overlooks the fact that the Web has already enabled dissatisfied customers to voice their opinions (e.g. Trip Advisor, IgoUgo). As consumer generated content becomes more ingrained into the buying process, providing an outlet for consumers through a supplier generated blog begins to make more sense, if it truly empowers consumers to have a direct dialog with management. If the blob ends up being simply a PR mechanism, it will have limited impact on shaping the consumer opinion and could ultimately anger consumers who want to express their views.