Thursday, February 21, 2008

Expedia connects into Micros Fidelio

The Micros Fidelio and Expedia announcement today regarding a new direct connection capability is a significant development for the hospitality industry. A challenge for all hoteliers has always been the distributed nature of property based systems (PMS). Hotel general managers control inventory and pricing through their PMS where they evaluate room occupancy and rates in effort to maximize RevPAR (the revenue generating effectiveness of a hotel property that is calculated by multiplying the average daily room rate (ADR) by the occupancy rate). This connection opens the door for more dynamic hotel pricing online where the general manager can go to their internal system adjust pricing and deliver it electronically to the OTA. This property level connectivity was the original approach of Newtrade Technologies, a Canadian company purchased by Expedia way back in 2002. After the acquisition the focus shifted from property based connectivity to central reservation (CRS) connectivity. This has worked well for large chains such as Hilton, but did not help smaller European chains such Sunstar Hotels. The majority of hotels outside the US are small chains or boutique properties. Micros Fidelio is the leading provider of property based technology and thus this new connectivity promises to provide more control over price and inventory for smaller property as they work to distribute their inventory through Expedia.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Sabre's new Cubeless Social Networking Platform

Sabre introduced a new enterprise level social networking application today. American Express was named as an initial distributor of the application expected out later this year. The announcement is important for a number of reasons. This is the first significant social networking application created by a travel organization targeted at the internal corporate community. The Cubeless application is a brand new platform developed by Sabre Studios designed to facilitate communication to and between travelers, travel arrangers and other key corporate stakeholders. Though the precise ROI may be difficult to calculate, one should not underestimate the value of this application. Frequent travelers by their nature often feel isolated from the internal corporate community. At the same time these travelers are generally willing, and in some case anxious, to share their travel knowledge. The Cubeless application builds upon this need by allowing the employee to voice their opinions. In addition, the new Cubeless application can be used to exchange knowledge among the internal TMC staff as well. Corporate buyers should view this application as an opportunity to create more of a two-way dialogue with their best clients, the frequent travelers. A common concern about implementing a social networking application for the internal travel community is the fear that only very unhappy or very happy users will take the time to comment. This concern ignores the fact that the unhappy employee already is communicating their dissatisfaction to fellow employees. By allowing a forum to share information, the internal travel department can gain insight into employee opinions and expertise. Also it is important to note that from a generational perspective, younger employees have already embraced social networking as their preferred platform for all personal communication and thus will likely find this platform useful for internal corporate networking. Expect other social networking announcements by TMC and 3rd party software developers over the next six months.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Agent POS platform

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to talk with Steven Bloom from SkyGate a Danish travel technology company. SkyGate has developed an agency POS platform called NewPort. The conversation and demonstration provided further evidence that the need for an enhanced point of sale platform for travel agents is a universal requirement throughout the global. For European travel agents, there has always been a requirement to deliver so called "backroom functionality" to the desktop due to the multi-source nature of European travel inventory and the need to drive invoices from the agent desktop. NewPort uses both cryptic formats and Web-based CRM techniques to deliver a platform that is easier to implement while significantly enhancing the call center reservation process. SkyGate has created a limited set of cryptic commands that are seamlessly integrated into an Amadeus booking window. This includes an innovative command which checks to see if two one-way fares are cheaper than a roundtrip fare. The NewPort off GDS profile system synchronizes with both the GDS profile as well as Self-booking tools such as iFAO's Cytric. The POS system was designed with the corporate travel agent in mind with the goal of both simplifying the transaction and enhancing the CRM aspect of the call by allowing the agent to reference prior trip activity as part of the reservation conversation. This may sound somewhat basic, but due to nature of traditional GDS only POS systems rarely will a corporate agent use past history as a way to enhance the reservation process (e.g. "Mr. Jones I see that for your last trip to London you stayed at the Park Plaza Victoria, shall I confirm you at the same hotel for this trip?). It my belief that all travel agents both leisure and corporate need a more open, robust point of sale tool that not only incorporates GDS information but seamlessly blends Web content and CRM capabilities into the reservation flow. SkyGate's NewPort product addresses this need in a practical and innovative way.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Reputation within a Social Network

I had the pleasure this morning to meet with one of the founders of Circos. In one of my earlier blogs I classified Circos in the same category as Kango. After meeting with Mario Jobbe, it became clear that Circos has a different spin on the semantic search space. Circos has launched a preview which focuses on the travel industry, in particular hotel search, but the company plans to enter other non-travel segments as they grow. One interesting feature that allows the user to look at the profile of a given author at a travel site such as Trip Advisor or Yelp!. By graphically showing the key attributes evaluated by the author of the comment, the user can get a sense of the relative frequency and reputation of the given author. This is an important spin on the semantic search approach recognizing that the opinions of the more trusted authors play a role in the value of their comments. This is just touching the surface of an important social networking dynamic that mirrors real world social networks, reputation. Suppliers have continued to express concern that review sites only contain very positive or very negative comments representing the two ends of the bell curve. Understanding the relative reputation of the author within a given site such as Trip Advisor is an important a feature easily determined by clicking on the author's name. Circos carries this one step further by aggregating 500 review sources into a single search response and thus allowing the user to evaluate the author across multiple entries posted on different sites. As review sites continue to mature, the value of a particular review can be impacted by the reputation of the author.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Airline Wireless connectivity

The recent Orbitz for Business survey results regarding the value of Internet connectivity on the plane continues to produce headlines like this " Most Business Travelers Don't Need Wi-Fi On Planes". Conclusions such as this based on this research are very misleading. According to news reports (as I have not had access to the actual survey results) the question asked whether the traveler would take a less convenient or more costly flight to get Wi-Fi. This is obviously a loaded question. Wrapping the issue of in-flight Wi-Fi adoption with flight selection is absurd. Business travelers are on airplanes for one reason only, getting to their destination so they can conduct business. In my view business travelers and the corporations they work for, will embrace in-flight broadband connectivity when it is available. In fact I would go farther to say that connecting to the Internet while on the plane will become as common as connecting in your hotel room is now. Whether the traveler will use the connectivity for business or pleasure is a different issue. Having logged thousands of miles over the years I frequently see business travelers both playing solitaire or watching a movie on their laptop or portable device as well as working on business. Let's not draw any conclusion until wireless ubiquity in the air becomes a reality.