Thursday, January 31, 2008

From Cell Phone to Mobile Sensor Platform

No one would disagree that the cell phone is quickly evolving into a personal mobile computing device. Thinking of a cell phone in terms of a mobile sensor platform helps solidify the true nature of the evolution of mobile technology we are witnessing around us. What makes a mobile device a sensor platform? With A-GPS becoming standard, the ability for mobile devices to sense location is obvious, but the device could sense other things as well such as temperature, motion, barometric pressure to just name a few. In addition the ubiquitous nature of broadband wireless connectivity which is on the near horizon (e.g. WiMAX, city wide Wi-Fi coverage) promises to turn the mobile phone into the ultimate thin computing device connecting to the network for information download or upload. Here are some thoughts

  • Imagine taking a picture on your cell phone camera and having it automatically uploaded to your Flickr home page.
  • How about providing real-time Trip Advisor reviews when you enter your hotel room based on your immediate impressions.
  • Barometric and temperature sensing could provide more realistic weather updates
  • Motion sensors can track your movements and provide an opportunity to share your "walking tours" with other leisure travelers
  • Restaurant reviews could be accessed from an online database triggered by your location
  • Applying social networking techniques to idenfity other travelers with similiar interest is another likely way mobile technology could improve the travel experience.

The number of potential applications for the travel industry is only limited by our imagination. The computer in your hand will allow travelers to interact with online content combining feedback, information and advice all based on your location. This vision is rapdily becoming a reality.
It is my pleasure to be the lead analyst for PhoCusWright on a new special report: "The Future of Mobile Travel" Sponsorship is still available. Please contact Bruce Rosard ( if you are interested in becoming a sponsor for this timely special report.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Why Corporate Self-Booking continues to be stuck in Travel Management 101

I am listening to a BTN/Concur sponsored Webinar regarding corporate self-booking tools. Perhaps I have a bit of a jaded view on the subject as I have been involved with corporate self-booking since the early 1990s. This presentation contained no new information. The reason the corporate travel industry seems stuck in a loop of discussion of adoption and expense integration, I believe, is due to the very nature of the "corporate buyer". Managing travel at a company is rarely a career (though there are some exceptions). As a result, the person at the company who is tasked with managing travel costs changes every 3-4 years. Often these individuals come from non-travel backgrounds (finance, procurement, admin services). In 2008, it is amazing to listen to a Webinar which so dated and doesn't seem to address current online issues such social networking (blogs, user vendor ratings). The corporate travel industry needs to wake up and recognize how consumer online travel and general tech trends will impact the industry.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Circos debuts at Demo 2008 - a Kango competitor

Demo 2008 is the annual event where start-ups get to do a brief pitch to potential investors. Circos is a new qualitative search engine:

According Tech Crunch:

"Circos most like Kango, which has also taken on the task of categorizing hotels based on user reviews. VibeAgent also has a search engine for its own site that will search hotels based on qualities.

While Kango auto-generates tags after pouring through user reviews, Circo lets users search for any qualities they’re interested in. The engine then grades and ranks the results by each quality on an “A” through “F” scale based on how well the description fits for reviewers. For example, a hotel reviewers feel is spacious would rate highly if searching for openness, but poorly if you’re looking for a tiny room.

As with most search engines, Circos’ real test will be whether its application draws users away from other hotel and restaurant sites with less sophisticated search engines. Currently there are a bunch competing in the space. However, Circos says their technology can easily be extended to other categories since their algorithm does all the tough work of pulling the most relevant qualities from reviews. If hotels and restaurants don’t appeal, another category may hold their home run."

This announcement demonstrates the unfilled market need for more qualitative search results. The key to the success of new start-ups such as Circos or Kango will be measured on their ability to become the first stop for qualitative travel search. This will require not only a great product (producing results that better match a user's search descriptions) but creating enough of a brand buzz to draw traffic from user generated review sites such as Trip Advisor or IgoUgo, not an impossible task, but one that will require both paid promotion as well as successful viral marketing effort. These companies both sit in the planning part of the travel research and buying process and thus can benefit from referral fees paid by OTAs and suppliers. Semantic search is an important area to watch for the online travel industry.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

What do the Expedia PPC agreement and the Kayak acquistion of Sidestep have in common?

Two stories from late 2007 and early 2008 signal a shift in the online travel model. In November 2007 at the PhoCusWright conference in Orlando, Expedia announced a new agreement with IHG that included a pay per click (PPC) compensation model. The acquisition of SideStep by Kayak this month is another significant development. How are these two announcements related? The Kayak/Sidestep merger is a clear validation of the referral model, but also demonstrates the need for scale to be an online travel player globally. The Expedia PPC contract element reflects the simple fact that many people shop OTAs and end up buying at supplier sites a phenomenon that has been validated by PhoCusWright and Forrester research. For Expedia, being paid for referrals represents a new and important revenue stream. You then add Travel 2.0 players such as Farecast, Kango and the Nile Guide, and the value of search and travel planning tools represents a major growth area for online travel here in the US and globally. As the economy softens the value of the referral model is likely to increase as suppliers scramble to fill airline seats and hotel beds.