Sunday, September 20, 2009

My New Tnooz Gig with Kevin May

I'm taking on a new journalism assignment as the North America reporter for Tnooz, a global media brand for the travel industry which will tackle developments, small and large, related to travel technology.

Until we get under way, you can sign up on our website to be among the first to learn the details of this new venture.

We also have Facebook and LinkedIn pages where you can check us out.

Here's what's public so far (I know more but I ain't telling): The founders are Editor Kevin May and President and CEO Gene Quinn.

I am excited about the tasks at hand, the dialogue we are going to create with our readers, the buzz, the scoops, the posts and our prospects. Among the reasons for my optimism? These lads know what they are doing.

Kevin created a name for himself over the last few years as he essentially created the Travolution brand and tore up the European online-travel market with his unique analysis and gotta-be-there conferences.

Gene has made his mark in the wireless, travel technology and media industries. He has a track record in traditional and new media, and e-commerce, too.

The three of us have roots in traditional journalism. But, along the way, we got hooked on the whole technology thing and grew right along with it.

Kevin started as a police reporter/editor for the Police Gazette; my editorial initiation occurred as a cub reporter covering Trumbull Town Hall for the Bridgeport (Connecticut) Post; and Gene got his seasoning as the sports editor at a couple of big-city daily newspapers, including the Chicago Tribune.

What you are going to get from us is the most modern form of e-journalism and analysis, coupled with the highest standards.

We -- meaning the Tnooz team -- are going to cover the world. Kevin is rolling out the names of our editorial contributors, including Alex Bainbridge in the U.K., Claude Benard in France, and Charlie Li in China.

And, we're just getting started with our name-dropping. There are many more notable editorial contributors to be announced in the coming days. Think global and think thought-leaders.

I'm itching to get this thing started and can't wait to take it up several notches in my across-the-Atlantic collaboration with U.K.-based Kevin.

We started working together in December 2005 when he became editor of Travolution and I began writing its U.S. View column.

In the interim, I've became a huge fan of his blog, and I think he's read mine, too.

We penned a joint byline for Travolution a few months ago when DialAFlight began suing or threatening to sue TripAdvisor's HolidayWatchdog, Microsoft's Ciao and Travel Rants over dubious reader comments.

Now that Kevin has left Travolution and I've joined Tnooz, I'm confident a few more joint bylines will be forthcoming.

With your help and insights, we aim to fill a huge gap in the current state of travel-technology reportage.

We'll endeavor to be provocative and informative. We hope to drill down on travel-technology developments where others just scrape the surface.

We'll champion travel start-ups when they do something valuable, and we won't be afraid to point out their failings.

I'll leave it to Kevin to fill in the blanks about Tnooz and its direction.

Meanwhile, I merely want to say that it's great to be part of the Tnooz team.

Let's roll.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Hotel Teatro Heeds TripAdvisor

Some in the travel industry, namely Professional Travel Guide and Star Service Online, among others, advise consumers and travel agents, respectively, to disregard consumer-written hotel reviews like those on TripAdvisor and other review sites.

These reviews, the argument goes, are unreliable, fraudulent and dangerous.

But, these companies should know that the hotel industry itself pays very close attention to TripAdvisor, for better or worse.

Heather Turner tweeted the other day about Hotel Teatro, a boutique property in Denver, which leverages TripAdvisor to its advantage.

HotelMarketingStrategies quotes Hotel Teatro General Manager David Craig on how the property uses TripAdvisor reviews.

"We also spend the first portion of every staff meeting reading our newest TripAdvisor reviews aloud to the group," Craig is quoted as saying. "This establishes a forum for recognizing favorable performance and for developing solutions where we have areas of opportunity."

And Craig advises repeat guests, who corresponded with the hotel about their pleasurable experiences: "Thank you for taking the time to relay the details of your experience at Hotel Teatro. I am so glad that you had a wonderful visit. If you’d like to share your experience with others, I encourage you to do so at"

No word if Craig advises any unhappy guests to do likewise.

However, Hotel Teatro's strategy of paying close attention to what is being said about the property on TripAdvisor, and doubtless in other social media outlets, has helped the hotel achieve its TripAdvisor Popularity Index Rating of #2 out of 148 hotels covered by TripAdvisor in Denver.

Hey, TripAdvisor is very far from perfect.

But, smart companies and astute travelers would be wise to take its reviews into account instead of pretending they don't exist or have no merit. Partners with Travelocity, the online and offline hotel booking business founded by the founders of, has partnered with Travelocity. currently only covers hotels in major markets, including New York, Orlando, Washington, D.C., San Francisco, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New Orleans, Las Vegas, Anaheim and Miami.

On the international front, also began pitching hotels in London.

But, when you search for a hotel outside of these markets in places like Knoxville, Tenn., or Mystic, Conn., you see this message: "Getaroom doesn't currently service this market. We are taking you to our partner Travelocity for great rates and availability."

Consumers then get redirected to a page that is co-branded as Getaroom and "powered by Travelocity Partner Network," which fills in getaroom's inventory blanks.

getaroom thus has opted for Travelocity's branded affiliate program. Travelocity also offers a white-label option from its WorldChoiceTravel unit.

In the co-branded program, getaroom would earn a commission on bookings that Travelocity fulfills.

I don't think this getaroom-Travelocity relationship necessarily means that getaroom and Travelocity will be developing any deeper ties. It looks like a stop-gap measure while works to build out its inventory.

For, I guess, partnering with and its parent, Expedia, wasn't an option.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Bing's Visual Search Has Me Seeing Stars

Bing introduced visual search in beta this afternoon and its prospects have me envisioning its applicability in travel.

Speaking at the TechCrunch 50 conference today minutes prior to the visual-search launch, Yusuf Mehdi, Microsoft senior vice president, online audience, told attendees that Bing has to take some major steps, as opposed to modest innovations, if it wants to compete with the likes of Google.

Mehdi placed visual search in that big-step forward category.

For now, Bing users can opt to search entertainment, famous people, reference, shopping and sports using visual search.

Users, for example, can search for HDTVs and then drill down and reduce the number of images by brand, type, screen size and resolution to pare shopping choices.

In an era when user interfaces are evolving with touchscreens, videos and imagery, substituting visual search for clunkier keywords seems like an appealing way to open up e-commerce and search to a segment of consumers who are looking for more intuitive ways to browse and take action.

Using images to search for HDTVs, cellphones, cars and movies seems like a way forward, but will it work in the complex world of travel where apples and oranges grow on the same vine?

I don't know precisely what Bing Travel will do in visual search, but I have to believe that it will get involved.

UPDATE: Bing Travel indeed has introduced a bit of visual search with a travel-related twist in the form of travel destinations with data partner Fodors Travel. There is no booking capability tied to this informational effort.

In the left-hand column, users can narrow their search by the best time to visit, continent, region and flight time, and then click on an image to access Bing links about that destination.

I didn't find it particularly useful, but this is day one.

Without tipping his hand, Hugh Crean, the general manager of Bing Travel, said Bing Travel "is working on launching a number of new and interesting travel scenarios."

So, there's more to come from Bing Travel in visual search.

Will we see consumers searching for hotels using property images and then whittling down their choices by brands, star ratings, price ranges and facilities like indoor pools or spas?

If the user interface is right, this could make for a more compelling shopping experience for some travelers.

Which would be easier and more interactive? Sorting out where to stay by clicking on a few images or plodding through pages of listings and links?

Many travel agents still prefer linear results on green screens to sexier GUIs, and some consumers will still prefer keywords to images.

But, visual search could open up paths for the more graphically minded.

Visual search has been tried elsewhere with poor to mixed results.

So, let's see if Bing can get things off the drawing board.

And, at the least, this Google-Bing donnybrook is great for consumers and innovation.

Google is so big it doesn't have to react tit-for-tat to Bing.

But, Bing's introduction of visual search will give Google another pesky nudge.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Priceline on Metasearch, Hotel Reviews and Mobile

My first blog post, Travel Metasearch: Frenzy or Finale? on March 12, took up the question of whether metasearch was "done." (By the way, it's not.) President and CEO Jeffery Boyd weighed in on the issue at the 2009 Citi Technology Conference last week, arguing that metasearch "didn't live up to the hype."

Boyd has been a persistent metasearch critic, but Priceline long has participated in its advertising channels.

The Priceline CEO conceded that Kayak "has done very well," but he believes its success is more a testament to its user interface and technology than to metasearch having a superior business model when compared with that of online travel agencies.

With all of the OTAs having eliminated flight-booking fees, there now is "no magic bullet" when shopping at 100 websites for airline tickets, Boyd said.

He acknowledged that metasearch represents some threat to OTAs, but the key test for metasearch websites, in general, and for Microsoft's Bing Travel, in particular, will be whether they will be able to continue to deliver qualified leads to OTA advertisers.

On the advertising theme, Boyd said, Priceline's Europe-based lodging business, has probably left some money on the table by refusing to initiate a media business and adding a lot of non-hotel products. has avoided these distractions because the upside of expanding hotel inventory for European travelers in Eastern Europe, Asia and North America is so "great" and "important" that dabbling with cross-selling these non-hotel products would be unwise, Boyd said., Boyd said, doesn't have exclusive hotel deals across-the-board with independent hotels, but in practice it often has exclusive availability for many properties as a distribution channel of choice because of the demand it can generate for a property in far-flung countries and because of the advantages of the retail model.

Turning to other issues, Boyd said travelers' hotel reviews, after they completed a stay at a property, are "an element of social networking that is very helpful," and he sees the scope of reviews expanding with photos and videos that will make them "more engaging."

Looking into his crystal ball, Boyd sees several other areas ripe for increased attention, too.

Trip planning and trip organization, as is the focus of TripIt, is an "open playing field," Boyd said.

In addition, mobile will be among the "most-impactful innovations," Boyd added.

Boyd argued that over time mobile offerings and consumer behavior will change so that some travelers will feel comfortable booking hotels "on the fly" with a mobile device once they arrive at a destination.

He said Priceline and others will introduce technology, which would ensure that travelers would find great inventory and deals once they pick up their bags at a destination airport.

I'll interject here that with the expected proliferation of Wi-Fi on board airlines, shopping for last-minute hotel deals may give on-board entertainment whole new meaning if Boyd is correct that a segment of consumers will be open to very-last-minute hotel offerings. Anyone for Oh, sorry, it already exists.

"I'll get the hotel when I get there," is how Boyd envisions the new -- as yet unproven -- impulse.

But, Boyd has confidence in the shift.

"If you are there ready with a product to support it you will win," Boyd said. "If not, you are going to lose."


TripCase: Sabre's Case for Disruptive Mobile Strategy

Kayak's Hafner Awaits Google Hotels

Where in the World is the Orbitz Hotel Business Model?

Shermans Meter Blends New Hotel Review Cocktail

On Orbitz: Is Flight Metasearch Even Dead-er?

Friday, September 11, 2009

September 11, 9/11

When the moment of silence was observed this morning for the victims -- the dead and the living -- of Sept. 11, 2001, the sound of my Twitter application, TweetDeck, punctured the silence with bursts of tweets.

At this moment, Remembering 9 and Sept11 were Trending Topics (or the most popular subjects) on Twitter.

Twitter was nonexistent on Sept. 11. We've leapfrogged ahead.

Everyone has their memories.

I remember driving to Travel Weekly's offices in Secaucus, N.J., and as I was listening to Howard Stern on the radio that morning, cars on the New Jersey Turnpike were halted on the shoulder, with people gawking at the World Trade Center in the distance.

Once at work, the staff gathered in front of a radio and listened as there were unconfirmed reports that a bunch of jets were unaccounted for and then we heard the news that a third hijacked plane had crashed into the Pentagon.

Later that day, and for days to come, we watched from a window as the World Trade Center towers emitted a gray reminder of their one-time existence -- a steady stream of smoke.

New York, Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania recovered. The U.S. survived. The travel industry, led by major travel websites, rebounded.

People continue to travel today. It is a basic human right and instinct.

I will always remember 9/11.

When you talk about 9/11, it is superfluous to state the year that it happened.

It is just 9/11 and will remain so.

We will always remember.

Ancillary Services and the Southwest Difference

Travel Weekly's Michael Fabey reports that a new study, sponsored by ezRez Software, found that airlines took in some $10.25 billion in ancillary-services revenue in 2008, a 345 percent increase over 2007.

In that year, 2008, airlines began to get their mojo working in their newly discovered drive for ancillary services.

"As airlines expand beyond their core product, the key is to determine how to best generate more revenue without alienating loyal customers or losing new ones to the competition," EzRez CEO Tina Fitch stated in the study.

Well, it looks like airlines may have to redouble those efforts to avoid alienating passengers.

Case in point: United Airlines just decided to match competitors and charge $50 for a second checked bag on international flights.

Maybe it's just semantics, but I would say that airlines aren't as much concerned with alienating their customers as they are in figuring out how much they can get away with without spurring open rebellion, defections to the competition or legislative action.

Southwest Airlines is bucking the trend in some respects and hoping to take away business from fee-happy airlines.

Splashed all over Southwest's home page today was its pitch that "Bags Fly Free" on Southwest. The airline charges no fees for first- and second-checked bags.

"Fly Southwest and Save $100 in Bag Fees," the home page trumpets. "LUV is saving on fees."

However, Southwest, too, is keen on generating ancillary revenue, but the difference is that the airline at least is giving passengers something extra for the fees instead of merely charging more for existing services.

Southwest recently introduced EarlyBird Check-In. For $10, passengers get to board after Business Select and A-List customers, and can stuff their coats and bags into overhead bins earlier than travelers who don't pay the fee.

Business Select passengers, of course, get early boarding, a free drink and priority access to security checkpoints.

It remains to be seen whether Southwest can successfully differentiate itself on the ancillary services front over the long haul.

While Delta and Continental went deep into the red and United eked out a small profit in the second quarter, Southwest recorded a $54 million profit. Of course, ancillary-services revenue was not a driving force in Southwest's quarterly results.

However, ancillary-services revenue increasingly will become a focus for all airlines when executives and financial analysts convene in quarterly conference calls.

It is clear that we have only just begun to experience what is expected to become crush of ancillary services and fees as airlines and GDSs come up to speed with the trend from a technology standpoint.

I'm beginning to feel a tad alienated.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Alaska Airlines and the Birther Movement

Alaska Airlines continues to challenge the "citizenship" of Virgin America and Virgin America last week reportedly asked the Dept. of Transportation to deny Alaska Airlines' petition and to terminate the case.

With citizenship at issue, the dispute sort of reminds me of the birther movement, which questions whether President Obama actually was born in the U.S.

Foreign ownership of airlines is an important issue, but to both Alaska Airlines and the birther movement, I say: Get over it.

Alaska alleges that Richard Branson unlawfully controls Virgin America, which counters that Alaska's allegation is based on erroneous press reports.

Apparently, Alaska isn't keen about the new competition it faces from Virgin America on Seattle to Los Angeles and San Francisco routes.

I think Alaska should focus on becoming a better airline instead of seeking to get a competitor banned.

I haven't flown Virgin America yet, but everyone I know who has flown the airline has raved about the experience, especially the on-board Wi-Fi.

The Los Angeles Times notes that the entire U.S. airline industry is engaged in a big push to install Wi-Fi.

Various business models for the service are emerging and will continue to unfold as carriers seek a proverbial competitive edge and to increase their revenue from ancillary services.

Meanwhile, Virgin America continues to make inroads, marketing the Virgin America difference.

Do all Virgin America flights offer Wi-Fi?

Virgin American said all of its jets were expected to have Wi-Fi service three months ago.

At Alaska, meanwhile, Wi-Fi-service availability is a crapshoot, and here is the airline's answer about the issue.

Alaska's website states: "We do not know in advance which aircraft will be flying which routes so we cannot say for certain you will or will not have Wi-Fi on your flight. Aircraft are being modified as quickly as possible but it will take more than a year before all aircraft have Wi-Fi capability. You will know an aircraft has Wi-Fi onboard when you see a special mark near the boarding door or on the side of the airplane."

I would rather see Alaska Airlines focus on beating Virgin America in the marketplace than in trying to force its ouster at the DOT.

In that way, Alaska passengers won't have to engage in reconnaissance missions to find the Wi-Fi "special mark" near boarding doors.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Skype Synergies

Silver Lake, the private investment company that teamed with Texas Pacific Group to buy Sabre and Travelocity in 2007, just led an investment group which agreed to take a 65 percent stake in Skype for about $1.9 billion.

eBay will retain a 35 percent equity position in Skype.

When investors buy something like Skype, often there is no topic they like to expound upon more than the "synergies" they will generate from their purchases.

So, on a lazy Saturday afternoon, that got me to thinking.

Can you imagine the synergies if Silver Lake decided to mandate Skype use for customer call center agents in Sabre's Bangalore, India, and Montevideo,Uruguay, facilities?

And, if Silver Lake and Sabre required agents phoning in with questions about formats to don headsets and use Skype, as well?

I've heard a few complaints from travel agents about dealing with call center agents in faraway lands, but can you fathom the potential synergies and cost-savings?

With ideas like these, I could save Sabre billions of dollars.

OK, I'm just having a little fun here with Silver Lake-Skype-Sabre and the alliances, partnerships and unexpected bedfellows that arrive in the travel industry and the larger world of business.

Anyway, that reminds me: I was supposed to have downloaded Skype a week ago.

Innkeeper CEO has an In at TripAdvisor

Any smart company should monitor the social-media airwaves and at least listen to its critics.

AT&T, for example, just recycled Seth the Blogger Guy in a YouTube video designed to quell criticism about its delayed MMS service and other iPhone service issues.

In a similar vein, you have to give TripAdvisor some credit at least for reaching out to its critics and making a few tweaks to its hotel-review policies, although the modifications so far haven't been earth-shattering.

Jay Karen, president and CEO of the Professional Association of Innkeepers International, has met periodically with TripAdvisor officialdom and presented the company with a list of pet peeves from his B&B constituency.

Karen won't take credit for any policy changes, but he undoubtedly has had an influence.

The changes have ranged from minor to significant.

For example, TripAdvisor initially permitted hotel reviews up to five years after the guest supposedly stayed at the property. Karen pushed for one year instead.

"They left it fairly liberal from the get-go, because at first they needed to populate their site with reviews," Karen says. "[TripAdvisor President and CEO] Steve Kaufer said this in a meeting with me, but he said now that their site has plenty of reviews, that they certainly could look at that policy. So, they changed it to three years. A step in the right direction, but I think a few more steps would be good."

Of course, the downside in this is that there is no verification of when -- or if -- someone actually stayed at the hotel or inn.

Other changes have been a bit more important.

Earlier this year, Karen suggested and TripAdvisor changed the way it displays Best Deals.

Previously, beneath the display of a property like the Jersey Cape Motel in Cape May, N.J., TripAdvisor might have displayed Best Deals: Jersey Cape Motel, but provided links to intermediaries and other properties that were competitors of the Jersey Cape Motel.

Today, at the suggestion of Karen (and perhaps others), TripAdvisor has changed the display to Best Deals: Cape May. Thus a bait and switch is eliminated and the properties' brands are not being misused.

"Another change that looks to be forthcoming, which I have lobbied for, as well, is for B&Bs to have links on their [TripAdvisor] pages that go back to their own websites," Karen says.

Today, since most smaller properties still are absent from global distribution systems or large online travel companies like Expedia, you'd be hard-pressed to find an advertising link to the Jersey Cape Motel or similar properties on their TripAdvisor pages. Thus, if you want to book that property under review, you'd have to find another way to do it outside of TripAdvisor.

"We’re hoping in early 2010 for there to be a reciprocal link program for B&Bs," Karen said. "This would be a big change for our industry."

Change at TripAdvisor has been a slow-go. That's because TripAdvisor has been unbelievably successful with its current formula despite all the "noise" out there from people like Karen, me and countless others.

Karen acknowledges that TripAdvisor officials have been good listeners, but he likens the pace of change over there to re-positioning an ocean-liner.

Almost everyone in the hospitality industry now acknowledges the importance of TripAdvisor and consumer hotel reviews, and the lodging industry is grappling with best practices.

Perhaps TripAdvisor should convene a blogger/hotel industry summit to move the conversation forward.

However, my best guess is that will not be happening any time soon.

If it weren't handled properly, with all the passion generated on the hotel review issue, the meeting could degenerate into something like one of those healthcare-reform town hall meetings.

Business and democracy -- whether we are talking about hotel reviews and the advertising/media business, or healthcare reform -- can be a noisy thing.


Update on PAII Conversations with TripAdvisor

TripAdvisor Launches Family Vacation Critic in its Own Image

Sherman Meter Blends New Hotel-Review Cocktail

TripAdvisor: The Beat (of Hawaii) Goes On

Friday, September 4, 2009

TripCase: Sabre's Case for Disruptive Mobile Strategy

Sabre's TripCase, already available as a downloadable app on iPhone and Blackberry smartphones, could be a disrupter in the trip-management, itinerary-swapping sphere.

As you probably know, TripIt is a leader in the field and Sabre is a minority investor in TripIt. Despite differences, of course, TripIt and TripCase have a lot of overlapping functionality in the trip-management domain.

And, to make matters more incestuous, Traxo just put its feet on the ground in a beta launch, and several Traxo execs have a lot of years at Sabre's Travelocity on their resumes.

So, we're seemingly in store at some point for a Wild West shootout or perhaps some consolidation as things play out and other players emerge, as well.

Industry veterans have seen this sort of dynamic kick around over and over again as new, innovative solutions emerge and vie for market share.

I wrote in Travel Weekly how tension between TripCase and TripIt likely led to a changing of the guard on the TripIt board.

In January, John Samuel, an exec in Sabre Travel Studios, which developed TripCase, gave up his seat on TripIt's board and was replaced by Chris Kroeger, the president of Sabre GetThere.

In my opinion, Samuel was in an untenable position.

Meanwhile, Sabre is positioning TripCase as both a consumer and corporate tool. For now, it has one big advantage over TripIt, Traxo and other emerging players which are not affiliated with a global distribution system.

If a TripCase user books their travel through a Sabre GDS-connected agency, then their itineraries get automatically updated on their iPhone or Blackberry. On the other hand, users can still keep their itineraries up to date with non-Sabre bookings. If the consumer books a hotel themselves on a hotel or car-rental website, for example, then they can manually enter the reservation information in TripCase.

In contrast, TripIt users have to manually e-mail all of their reservation confirmations to TripIt. And Traxo, armed with consumers' user names and passwords for supplier websites, is engaged in what could be the dicey game of scraping those supplier websites for reservations updates. Although Traxo says it scrapes very lightly, off-hours and once daily.

I plan on speaking with Sabre next week to hear more about its mobile and social-networking strategy. Sabre Travel Studios' cubeless product, a business to business social-networking solution, also seems worthy of some more ink.

So, what is going on with Sabre TripCase versus TripIt?

Norm Rose wrote about the tension several months ago in his blog.

Rose, a senior corporate and technology analyst at PhoCusWright, believes Sabre is employing a typical second-mover strategy in sorting out its position in the mobile arena. [Full disclosure: I recently became a PhoCusWright analyst/contractor.]

"Going back to the early days of corporate booking, the innovators were Internet Travel Network [it became GetThere), TravelNet [no longer around] and eTravel [purchased by Oracle and then sold to Amadeus]," Rose recalls. "In those days, Sabre quickly recognized the innovation and came out with BTS as a competitor. A few years later Sabre acquired GetThere."

So, as a second-mover, Sabre may be able to learn from TripIt's experimentation, attempt to steal its thunder and market share, or eventually buy it.

Rose points out that Sabre long has offered Sabre VirtuallyThere, a co-branded Sabre-agency product that overlaps in its role with TripCase and TripIt, too.

He believes Sabre could decide to blend TripCase and VirtuallyThere in some fashion or let them to co-exist.

Of course, I think if TripCase takes off perhaps Sabre might choose to phase out the VirtuallyThere brand.

At any rate, there is much potential for Sabre and its travel agency customers to leverage TripCase, Rose believes, by upselling things like tours and other destination-oriented products, similar to how airlines are enhancing their bottom lines with ancillary services. Technologies are emerging, including the OS 3.0 operating system for the iPhone, that facilitate such purchases within third-party apps, he adds.

One source, a travel executive who has no dog in the TripCase-TripIt-Traxo fight, speculates that Sabre's mobile strategy and TripIt investment collided because Sabre tends to display a "not-invented-here" mindset. And, since Sabre can't control TripIt as a minority investor and mold TripIt to fit Sabre's mobile strategy, the company indeed decided to build its own.

The strategy also has parallels to the practices of some Web players when they partner with a provider, develop their own solution and then dump the vendor. Rod Cuthbert, founder and chairman of Viator, forever will remember his experiences with Expedia on that front.

As a second-mover, but first-mover among GDSs in mobile trip-management, it might be a nifty move for Sabre to consider making TripCase an agnostic device -- namely offering connectivity to and itinerary updates from multiple GDSs.

Travelport tried to do that with its universal-agency desktop in Canada, but I don't believe it has received much love from Amadeus and Sabre on that front.

As likely will be the case with Sabre's TripCase and its mobile strategy generally, we've seen repeatedly, much to the detriment of innovation in the travel industry, that leading companies prefer to retain their walled gardens.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Orbitz Engages in Media-Network Building with Rebirth

Orbitz Worldwide recently brought out of mothballs and is engaging in some nation-building.

Or, should I more aptly say, some media-network building.

To understand what Orbitz is attempting, think the TripAdvisor Media Network, which has been clicking its way to success on a global scale for its Expedia Inc. parent., founded in 1995, acquired by Orbitz ancestor Cendant in 2002, and all but retired as a URL until recently, is part of the OWW Away Network. That network is part of Orbitz's hoped-for answer to TripAdvisor's gains in the media business.

"The relaunch [of] reflects Orbitz Worldwide’s focus on monetizing under-utilized assets in its portfolio of travel brands and better monetization of its non-transacting traffic," said OWW spokesman Brian Hoyt.

That "non-transacting traffic" element is key as Orbitz, like other online travel companies, is hoping to monetize the legions of lookers who don't book. The solution, as the OTCs see it, is facilitated search or even metasearch.

The soft relaunch of, which uses facilitated search to promote the booking engines of Travelocity,,, Kayak, Mobissimo, Priceline, OWW brands and others, follows the relaunch of another retired OWW brand,

Also part of the Away Network, is a travel search/media site for flights, hotels, cars, vacation packages and cruises.

While offers the full gamut of travel inventory, sister brand has a hotel focus.

In addition to providing facilitated search for hotels through partnerships using the booking engines of all the aforementioned OTCs and metasearch companies, partnered with, a vertical search company, to offer vacation rentals, bed and breakfasts, inns and campgrounds, Hoyt said.

"The relaunch of will test how consumers respond to various travel search offerings, and its user interface is likely to change over time," Hoyt said. "The site will remain in beta until its functionality has been thoroughly tested among consumers."

Asked whether OWW was considering a metasearch launch, in addition to the one-booking-engine-at-a-time approach inherent in facilitated search, Hoyt replied: "For now, we are focused on beta testing a facilitated search platform blended with's listings for vacation rentals, campgrounds and B and Bs."

The "for now" part is important. Certainly the strategic thinkers at Orbitz have pondered the launch of metasearch, as Expedia has done through TripAdvisor flights and Travelzoo has done with

Orbitz has a long way to go to compete with TripAdvisor. Other than the Orbitz brand itself, OWW doesn't have a brand, in its Away Network or elsewhere, that can compete at the moment with the TripAdvisor brand.

But, the resurrection of and are huge steps in the right direction for OWW. Together with OWW's emphasis on building its hotel business, the Away Network initiative is another signal that Orbitz, under CEO Barney Harford, is beginning to get its act together.


Mega, Not Meta, Move: Orbitz Enters Search Business

Orbitz and Kayak: Perfect Together?

Is Orbitz Poised for a Priceline-like Comeback?

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Amadeus Common IT Platform May Have Been Too Common for American Airlines

On the same day, Aug. 26, that Amadeus IT Group President and CEO David Jones was introducing former President Bill Clinton at the high-profile NBTA conference in San Diego, Amadeus was forced to issue a statement reinforcing its commitment "to airline IT in the North American marketplace..."

The awkward juxtaposition occurred because American Airlines chose that day to announce that HP had signed a letter of intent to develop a new passenger service system, Jetstream, for American, replacing the Sabre host system.

For months, Sabre knew it had been out of the running to get the new contract, and the competition had been narrowed down to HP and Amadeus.

The timing of the HP-AA announcement has people scratching their heads.

Was there a pointed message there for Amadeus? Seemingly so.

While the impetus for American's decision undoubtedly was complex and based on numerous factors, one reason making the rounds is that the Amadeus common IT platform, adopted by Star Alliance carriers and used by some of American's partners in Oneworld, including BA and Iberia, takes a sort of community-governance approach.

In other words, airlines using the platform, which is based on the Amadeus Altea Suite, have a say in establishing development priorities, even voting on major platform decisions.

And, American, according to a source, bristled at the idea of being somewhat of a commoner in this regard within the Amadeus common IT platform set-up.

One little matter starkly absent in Amadeus' statement on its ongoing commitment to the North American market was mention of its 2005 deal to replace Travelport's Apollo system as the host for United Airlines.

Forrester Research analyst Henry Harteveldt said United decided some time ago to go slow on the transition to Amadeus out of cost concerns and on-again, off-again banter about merging with Continental.

Harteveldt said United's move to Amadeus may never take place and the absence of an established carrier client in North America hurt Amadeus' wooing of American.

Harteveldt wrote an excellent piece in the Forrester Blog, detailing the context of American's move to HP.

As we know from United's stilted transition to Amadeus, replacing an airline reservations system is a gargantuan, problematic task, and so far HP merely has signed a letter of intent to get the ball rolling with American.

Another example of host-system interruptus was Air Canada's recent decision to put the brakes on its host-system development contract with ITA Software.

Meanwhile, Sabre, born out of American Airlines and still counting the carrier as among its largest customers, can take solace that any transition to HP will be protracted.

But, as any kid will tell you, it still really hurts to be shunned by a parent.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Expedia Hotel Settlements Turn Lemons into Lemonade

In two proposed settlements with consumers on the "taxes and fees" issue in hotel sales, Expedia and its Hotwire unit got very creative.

Make no mistake about it: Expedia's $123.4 million settlement and Hotwire's $5.5 million tab are financial blows to the companies, and you hear few online travel company whispers these days that the momentum in the consumer and municipal hotel-tax battles is in the OTCs' favor.

But Expedia, Hotwire and the consumer plaintiffs added a marketing element to the proposed settlements that may substantially ease the fiscal burden.

Expedia consumers eligible for the settlement can opt for cash equal to 30 percent of what they paid in service fees or take their compensation in the form of an Expedia travel credit for 65 percent of what they initially paid.

Similarly, Hotwire consumers can get 25 percent in cash or 65 percent as a credit toward travel through Hotwire.

This formula seemingly reduces the financial blow to the companies, attracts bookers to their websites and gives them the opportunity to upsell the aggrieved consumers with higher-end hotel rooms and packages.

When you also consider that Expedia and Hotwire notify eligible consumers about the settlement using e-mail addresses that the travelers might have retired years ago, the financial scope of the settlements narrow even more.

Another interesting element of the Hotwire settlement is that Hotwire is required to change the way it explains the total cost of a hotel room.

"Website Changes: Hotwire will, for two years following the Effective Date, revise its website to include a statement that the total cost shown will include all taxes, charges, surcharges, shipping/handling and Hotwire Request resubmission or other fees. The amounts will be posted on their website but will not be separately itemized," according to the settlement.

And, another provision: "In addition, the Frequently Asked Questions section of their [Hotwire's] website will contain revisions that were negotiated as part of the Settlement. Hotwire may, at its discretion and good faith, modify the negotiated text to make it consistent with any changes to its business practices, to increase its clarity, or to comply with a legal obligation or court order."

It's all about transparency.

Expedia and Hotwire -- although they continue to deny it -- got slapped with these settlements because of consumer allegations that the websites weren't forthcoming about the real nature of their fees.

Even the language changes at Hotwire, as outlined above, don't go far enough in detailing to consumers what they actually are paying for when booking a hotel room online.

So it looks like Expedia, Hotwire and other online travel companies will continue to be able to protect their hotel merchant models and dodge the transparency bullet for now.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Air Canada Gives Apple Some AC

In the dog days of August, Air Canada has given Apple some AC as the airline became what it claims is the first North American airline to release an app for the iPhone and iPod Touch.

The airline says the free Air Canada App, developed by IBM Canada and available at the itunes store, enables travelers "to retrieve electronic boarding passes, track flight information in real-time, receive notification of itinerary changes and obtain other details about Air Canada flights."

I can't tell you how it works because my iPhone dabbling awaits the end of my Blackberry contract next May.

However, I can tell you that Air Canada, the financially trouble Canadian carrier, has been ahead of the curve in its technology offerings.

Early in the game, Air Canada introduced branded fares, and it has a bunch of distributors using its API, called AC2U, which enables intermediaries to access those Tango, Tango Plus and other fares in the manner that the airline desires.

Even a global distribution system, Apollo Canada, is tied into AC2U.

The iPhone and Travel is one of the most downloaded reports at PhoCusWright, a testament to the hotter-than-hot nature of mobile applications for travel.

So, with its new iPhone and iPod app, Air Canada is continuing to take app-propriate actions.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Sherman Meter Blends New Hotel-Review Cocktail

The travel industry is grappling with a fix for sometimes-suspect hotel reviews, and the latest entity to offer a solution is Shermans Travel, a deal-publisher and media company.

Shermans Travel believes it has found a credible formula in its new Sherman Meter Rating.

This new beta test of the Sherman Meter Rating closely follows the move by professional-review website Oyster Hotel Reviews to require consumers to use Facebook Connect if they want to pen hotel reviews. Oyster feels having consumers shed their anonymity will lead to more reliable reviews.

And, the context for the and Shermans Travel review experiments is months of controversy about the usefulness of user-generated content in general, and hotel reviews on, in particular.

In its announcement, Shermans Travel gets a little carried away in its hype for the Sherman Meter, billing it as a "proprietary meta-search tool."

It may be proprietary, but it is not a metasearch tool in the sense that you cannot compare reviews from various sources in grid-like fashion.

But, still the Sherman Meter indeed offers a hedge against review manipulation by hotels, and it is a useful contribution to the debate.

The Sherman Meter rates hotels by aggregating consumers' reviews from sites like TripAdvisor, Yelp and Yahoo Travel; tosses in "professional" critiques from Concierge, Frommer's and Fodor's; sprinkles it all with its own expert assessments; and comes up with a percentage of positive reviews with a corresponding color code.

If the Sherman Meter is green, then the reviews generally are positive. Yellow means the reviews are mixed, and red points to negative reviews.

Darren Frei, editorial director for, tells me that the aggregated user reviews, the professional reviews and Shermans' own expert reviews get "roughly equal weight in our proprietary algorithm."

Hence Sherman has figured out a way -- however imperfect -- to hedge against hotel industry/pr/marketing gamesmanship.

That's because Shermans utilizes the "wisdom of the masses" in sometimes hundreds or even more than 1,000 consumer reviews from a variety of websites for a particular property; the opinions of the professional or guidebook crowd; and also Shermans' own staff-formulated reviews, with the latter being "a qualitative evaluation independent" of the Sherman Expert Review displayed on the website, Frei says.

Given that Shermans Travel -- which publishes deals, provides a travel search engine and has a print magazine -- likely makes most of its money in the media/advertising business, is there an advertising bias in the Sherman Expert reviews?

Frei says: "All of Sherman's Expert Reviews are selected and managed by our in-house editorial staff, which evaluates and edits hotel reviews without input from the advertising department."

So, what are the results?

I just spent the last eight hours or so checking out the Shermans Meter for a variety of properties and found similar patterns.

Let's consider, for example, the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City.

The Sherman Meter assesses 1,310 user reviews from a variety of websites, "professional reviews" [more on this later] from Fodor's and Frommer's [Concierge doesn't rate the Waldorf], and the opinions of Shermans' own experts, and gives the Waldorf a 76 percent, or green, rating.

Incidentally, the Sherman Expert Review for the Waldorf is descriptive, but neutral and doesn't really tell me whether the wallpaper is pealing or whether I am guaranteed to get a Brangelina sighting.

Independent of Shermans Travel, TripAdvisor, using 1,051 traveler reviews of the Waldorf, gives the property four stars and a 72 percent TripAdvisor Traveler Rating, in the same ballpark as the Shermans Meter.

Then we arrive at the so-called professional reviews.

It turns out that doesn't rate the Waldorf.

Fodor's rating actually isn't a professional rating. Instead Fodor's provides a 3.4 "member rating," meaning the Fodor's rating turns out to be another consumer-review compilation.

However, I found the Fodor's Review of the Waldorf valuable because, unlike Sherman's Expert Review, at least the Fodor's Review offered pros and cons about the property, including Fodor's opinion that the "rooms [are] not contemporary; very public lobby includes loads of tourists hoping for Brangelina sighting."

And, I have problems with the Frommer's review methodology and the fact that the Shermans Meter gives it substantial weight.

Someone correct me if I'm wrong, but it appears that, which features Arthur Frommer periodically railing against user-generated content, doesn't post negative reviews. Its hotel ratings are: 0 stars (recommended), 1 star (highly recommended), 2 stars (very highly recommended) and 3 stars (exceptional).

Thus, there are no reviews of hotels that are not recommended. Where is the credibility in that?

Frommer's rates the Waldorf three stars [its highest rating], or exceptional, and is lone among the above review sites to do so.

And, the actual Frommer's Review of the property, like Sherman's Expert Review, is descriptive, but neutral and not very insightful.

Meanwhile,, which relies on journalist reviews and just added consumer reviews using Facebook Connect, gives the Waldorf four stars out of five, and doesn't yet offer a consumer comment about the hotel.

Like Fodor's -- and unlike Shermans and Frommer's -- at least serves up some pros and cons about the Waldorf, including its opinion that the property has a "top-notch gym and spa (among New York's best)."

So, where does this leave us?

Shermans, with its mix of consumer, professional and its own expert reviews on the Waldorf, has the same overall view of the Waldorf as TripAdvisor does, despite all the allegations about TripAdvisor's suspect consumer reviews.

TripAdvisor doesn't come out looking so bad, although I know I am discussing merely one, large, well-known property. (And, it is easier to manipulate rankings for smaller hotels.)

The expert reviews offered by Fodor's and Oyster are cool because at a minimum they are unafraid to ruffle some feathers.

And, Frommer's review stands out as the questionable one in the crowd because Frommer's stands alone in its assessment that the Waldorf is exceptional.

Meanwhile, there's raveable, which slices and dices 1,469 user reviews of the Waldorf and analyzes what might seem like a morass of complexity and transforms it into some clear and effective metrics.

raveable outlines its methodology here.

Instead of having to wade through 1,469 reviews and murky star ratings, raveable gives the Waldorf an overall rating, plus ranks the property on its service, the rooms and value. It also outlines where the Waldorf stands not only when measured against all other New York City hotels, but also evaluates its stature amongst the other four-star hotels (49th of 62).

The question then becomes: Would travelers rather rely on the opinions of admittedly seasoned experts on Frommer's, unvetted consumer reviews displayed on TripAdvisor, concise analysis of consumer reviews on raveable, journalists' critiques on, or Shermans sometimes-flawed mix of user reviews, professional reviews and its own experts?

The jury is out.

And, consumers likely will vote with their feet -- or their browsers.


TripAdvisor Launches Family Vacation Critic in its Own Image

TripAdvisor: The Beat (of Hawaii) Goes On

Hotel-Review Dilemma: Expedia's TripAdvisor Gives Notice, Mum, But...

Update and Flashback: The Truth About TripAdvisor and Professional Reviews

On TripAdvisor, Oyster and Professional Hotel Reviews: My Totally Reasonable Solution

TripAdvisor vs. Kayak: Paid Reviews Don't Float My Boat

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Tuesday's Travel InsideOut

It’s about time someone data-mined and used all of that historical data on flight delays to tip off travelers to expected on-time arrival woes. Without delay, Flightcaster, a start-up which reminds me of another company engaged in data-casting, began informing passengers about airline-delay patterns.

TechCrunch: YC-Funded Flightcaster Tells You When Your Flight Is Delayed Hours Before The Airline Will: Flightcaster taps into a variety of data sources to try to uncover the truth. The service keeps track of FAA alerts, weather, network congestion, historical trends, and other factors, which are all run through an algorithm to provide an estimate of how likely it is that a given flight will be delayed. Read more


Cendant Travel Distribution Services, an Orbitz Worldwide ancestor, acquired HotelClub and RatesToGo in 2004; purchased the same year; Expedia Inc. added Venere to the fold in 2008; and now Travelocity picks up Travelguru as the blueprint for bolstering its hotel inventory in India. Buy and then build is an answer for adding inventory from the fragmented hotel market in parts of Europe and Asia.

Hudson Crossing Travel Industry Insight: Travelocity Gets a Guru: How Will the Gnome Feel?: This morning, Travelocity announced the purchase of Indian portal Travelguru. Interestingly, the press release calls Travelguru "India's leading hotel distribution network" which it may very well be. Adding 4000 hotels, most of which are independent, non chain affiliated properties is a major coup for Travelocity and for Sabre, particularly if they are able to expose this new inventory in the Sabre GDS. Adding hotel inventory in India is, in a word, hard. The extremely limited presence of the large chain hotels makes adding inventory a slow, manual process that requires lots of feet on the street. It appears Travelguru has solved this issue. Read more


Norm Rose has studied the fast-moving mobile market and believes that travel companies need to think both short-term and long-term when developing mobile strategies for Smartphones. Rose posits that browser-based applications may dominate in the long run, but downloadable apps will probably be the right move over the next 3-5 years.

Travel Technology: Smartphone Market Share Influences Download versus Mobile Web Debate: In a recent article from Media Post a software application developer from Istanbul, Turkey attending a conference in San Jose, California, voiced his opinion that the US does not understand the importance of the Mobile Web. This article reminded me of the panel discussion I moderated at the PhoCusWright @ITB conference in Berlin earlier this year where the subject of downloadable applications was debated against the advantage of the Mobile Web with a panel of European mobile travel experts. Read more


Airline passengers in Europe have it all over their U.S. counterparts because the European Union has a passenger rights law in place. That type of legislation seems to have been discarded like a piece of lost luggage in the U.S., where airline passengers have very limited protections.

Voice of America News: Avoid Your Own Air Travel Horror Story: Imagine that you’ve made it through airport security and have found your seat aboard a commercial airliner. You sit back and think about the great vacation or business deal at the other end of your flight. Lost luggage and delayed takeoff are probably far from your mind. But unfortunately they are not far from the reality of modern air flight. Read more

Eight airlines, including American Airlines and Southwest, stepped up and agreed to use renewable synthetic diesel fuel to operate their ground-service vehicles at LAX in a bid to reduce their carbon footprints.

Dallas Business Journal: AMR, Southwest sign on for renewable fuel: American Airlines Inc. and Southwest Airlines Co. are two of eight airlines that have agreed to use Rentech Inc.’s renewable synthetic diesel fuel to run the airlines’ ground service equipment operations at Los Angeles International Airport. Read more


Travel InsideOut is a Dennis Schaal Blog daily feature. Get a thorough-going look at the day's travel industry top and tangentially interesting stories. Feel free to comment on them below.

Travel InsideOut is Copyright (c) 2009 by Dennis Schaal. All rights reserved.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Monday's Travel InsideOut

It’s all in the family at Travelzoo. CEO Holger Bartel announced that the deal-publisher and metasearch company will sell the assets of its money-losing Asia-Pacific division to Ralph Bartel, who controls Travelzoo. So it may be that Ralph and the board decided to sell the division to Ralph, which buffs up Travelzoo stock and takes this money drain off the books of the public company. Travelzoo plans Asia Pacific sale:
Deals publisher Travelzoo is to sell its Asia Pacific division to focus on its European, North American and operations.

For the twelve months ended 30 June 2009, the Asia Pacific division reported revenues of approximately $1.5m and an operating loss of about $7.8m. Read more


I think I know why, the website featuring journalists’ hotel reviews, began requiring travelers to post reviews through Facebook Connect while TripAdvisor abstains from such a policy. See if you agree?

Dennis Schaal Blog: Why Facebook Connect Fits Strategy: TripAdvisor lives and dies by its traveler-written hotel reviews and the advertising money it takes in from the ads positioned "around the rails" of those reviews, while's business is based on journalist-written hotel reviews. Read more


Social justice it ain’t. The better term might be social-networking injustice. That’s what happened apparently when a thief stole a laptop and then boasted about the heist on the victim’s Facebook account. No big travel angle here for me, but lots of travel afficianados are interested in Facebook, Twitter and the gang.

Mashable: Thief Brags About Stealing Laptop on Victim’s Facebook Account: Talk about adding insult to injury: a burglar who has stolen a laptop and other properties from a woman’s house has later logged into the victim’s Facebook account and bragged about the deed, complaining that the TV in the victim’s house wasn’t good enough to steal. Read more


Apparently a passenger bill of rights law is not a slam dunk for the travel industry so industry groups and pundits will gather in Washington, D.C., Sept. 22 to discuss the issue. Maybe they should meet on a tarmac at Reagan National Airport instead to ensure a proper environment for the discussions? Just sayin'.

Eventbrite: Examining a Market Failure?: On Tuesday, September 22, 2009 consumer groups and travel industry organizations will conduct a Stakeholder Hearing in the Hart Senate Office Building regarding airline passenger rights. The purpose of the hearing is to examine passenger safety-related problems such as extended ground delays. Desired outcomes from the hearing include a better understanding of passenger safety problems; best practices from the EU in the area of passenger rights regulations; and the potential efficacy of proposed Congressional solutions. Experts representing all sides in this debate have been invited to participate in this hearing. Read more


Stock picker Jack Hough steps away from the pack enamored with online travel stocks, and places among three popular stocks that he believes will disappoint.

SmartMoney: 3 Popular Stocks Priced to Underperform: I like, but no more than I like Expedia (EXPE: 22.12, -0.65, -2.85%), Orbitz 3 Popular Stocks Priced to Underperform (OWW: 4.74, +0.08, +1.71%), Hotwire and the rest.
Read more


CruiseOne, the cruise agency franchisor, is taking steps to make it easier to attract new franchise owners. It sounds like a nice installment on future agency relationships.

Travel Weekly: Franchise now, pay later, says CruiseOne: CruiseOne, the cruise agency franchisor based in Fort Lauderdale, rolled out a financing plan for prospective franchise owners.

Under the program, new "Level One Franchise Owners" would pay $2,500 toward their initial franchising fee rather than pay the full fee of $9,800 up front, and CruiseOne finances the remaining cost of the franchise. The new franchise owner then pays in 24 monthly installments. Read more


It looks like the woes of the hotel industry, plus the unattractiveness -- to say the least -- of mortgage-backed securities are a foundation for less development of new hotel projects. shows US hotel projects fell further in July: NEW YORK, Aug 14 (Reuters) - The number of U.S. hotel projects in development fell 26 percent in July, another illustration of how the financial woes of the industry have curbed growth, Smith Travel Research data showed this week. Read more

Travel InsideOut is a Dennis Schaal Blog daily feature. Get a thorough-going look at the day's travel industry top and tangentially interesting stories. Feel free to comment on them below.

Travel InsideOut is Copyright (c) 2009 by Dennis Schaal. All rights reserved.

Why Facebook Connect Fits Strategy

I have some additional thoughts about what I see as the positive step that took when it began requiring that its consumer reviews be penned through Facebook Connect.

It's great that's user-generated content won't be created anonymously and this adds to review credibility.

However, using Facebook Connect is a limited solution because so many potential review writers don't use Facebook or even other social-media websites.

From a business perspective, that's OK for while it wouldn't work necessarily for businesses like TripAdvisor.

That's because TripAdvisor lives and dies by its traveler-written hotel reviews and the advertising money it takes in from the ads positioned "around the rails" of those reviews, while's business is based on journalist-written hotel reviews.

Unlike websites like Professional Travel Guide, which sees professional reviews as the end-all and be-all, is smart enough to know that it has to dabble in consumer-written hotel reviews and social media.

But, if doesn't attract a fraction of the user-generated content that TripAdvisor does when mandates vetting through Facebook Connect, then will have to live with that.'s differentiation in hotel reviews is through its journalist-written reviews.

And, that differentiation has a lot to do with the, well, differences between's and TripAdvisor's hotel review policies.

That is not to excuse TripAdvisor from its obligation to do more to ensure the credibility of its own reviews.

But, from a business standpoint, this may explain some of the differences between the two approaches.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Consumer Hotel Reviewers Have to be Seen to be Believed at

With all the controversy about fake hotel reviews, Oyster Hotel Reviews, the new website featuring professional reviews by journalists, began requiring consumers to use Facebook Connect if they want to rant or rave about a hotel.

The Oyster Blog unveiled the new policy in a post, You’ve Gotta Be Seen to Be Heard: Oyster Hotel Reviews introduces Facebook Connect.

"To ensure all user comments are consistent with Oyster’s standard of providing high-quality, authentic information, we require all commenters to log in through Facebook Connect to submit feedback," the company wrote. "The way we see it, if you’re willing to attach your identity to your commentary, you’re willing to stand behind what you say."

"We’re building a community of sincere and credible hotel evaluations drawn from the experiences of our own hotel experts and from you," Oyster added. "No anonymous mudslinging; no PR propaganda."

Oyster's policy is a great step in the right direction in trying to ensure the credibility of reviews.

Is it a panacea?


Can hotels or others still game the system?


Does requiring travelers to use Facebook Connect serve as a bit of a deterrent to casual review-writers who might otherwise trash a hotel for no good reason behind the veil of anonymity?

Sure, it does.

But, this is not tamper-proof.

Consumers, or hotel employees, can easily sign up for fake or misleading Facebook accounts: They merely need to provide name, e-mail address, password, sex and birthday.

And, consumers posting reviews on need not have stayed at the property they are reviewing as is required on and some other websites.

Priceline, for example, only solicits reviews from customers after they've completed their stay at the property, and I respect this policy.

But Priceline customers still post reviews semi-anonymously.

With Priceline's user reviews, you have to take the word of "John" or "Sara," with no link to a profile or clue about who these people really are unless they decide to provide some detail in the review.

Oyster's stipulation that consumers writing reviews do so through their Facebook accounts does provide a level of credibility, and that's great.

So when Kim-Marie Evans writes on that the W New York Times Square doesn't "seem to deep clean the rooms, given that it's somewhat of a party hotel, I wish it were more thoroughly cleaned," we sort of know where she is coming from.

And, kudos to Oyster for going this route because consider all of the SEO (search engine optimization) benefits and stickiness attributes, which advertisers love, that Oyster is sacrificing.

Granted that Oyster has just launched consumer hotel reviews through Facebook Connect, but Evans' review of the W New York Times Square is the only user review about the property that Oyster has posted.

In contrast, the thousands of reviews that TripAdvisor can attract are a major factor in its not reforming its review-writing requirements despite all of the guff.

TripAdvisor, with its freewheeling-review policies (no proof of stay required and the ability to write anonymous critiques) has 443 reviews of the W New York Times Square.

The SEO lords at Google, Yahoo and Microsoft love this wealth of content, as do TripAdvisor's advertisers, because it adds to the user experience and attracts consumers who are deep into the trip-planning process.

TripAdvisor, too, can take this review bonanza and slice it and dice it for use on the websites of its subsidiaries like Family Vacation Critic. TripAdvisor gets more SEO love for doing so.

Oyster, of course, is not the first to use Facebook Connect as an entryway into user-generated content.

TechCrunch, for example, uses Facebook Connect as one of its several alternatives for leaving a comment on its website.

"Enter your personal information to the left, or sign in with your Facebook account by clicking the [Facebook Connect] button below," TechCrunch states.

So, in sum, congratulations to Oyster for using its pearly whites and putting some teeth into its new consumer-review policy.

The policy isn't a 100 percent solution (few are), but the hotel-review writing issue is evolving and steps like Oyster's will help.


TripAdvisor Launches Family Vacation Critic in its Own Image

TripAdvisor: The Beat (of Hawaii) Goes On

Hotel-Review Dilemma: Expedia's TripAdvisor Gives Notice, Mum, But...

Update and Flashback: The Truth About TripAdvisor and Professional Reviews

On TripAdvisor, Oyster and Professional Hotel Reviews: My Totally Reasonable Solution

TripAdvisor vs. Kayak: Paid Reviews Don't Float My Boat

Friday, August 14, 2009

Friday's Travel InsideOut

Talk about blaming the victim .... The Stamford Hotel Marriott, according to published reports, alleged that a woman raped in her minivan in front of her children as she was leaving the hotel "failed to exercise due care for her own safety and the safety of her children and proper use of her senses and facilities." Well, there’s nothing like standing up for your guests, who always are the top priority, right?

Connecticut Post: Stamford Marriott claims woman was negligent in her own rape: STAMFORD -- A downtown hotel being sued by a woman raped at gunpoint in its parking garage is claiming she was careless, negligent and "failed to exercise due care for her own safety and the safety of her children and proper use of her senses and facilities," according to court documents. Read more


With pilots' unions at Southwest Airlines and Frontier Airlines squabbling over the seniority issues inherent in a merged airline, Republic Airways swooped in and stole the Frontier prize from Southwest. Republic, which had been a regional airline, now spreads its wings and becomes larger than AirTran Airways. Unbowed, Southwest said it remains committed to service in Denver, Frontier’s base.

Travel Weekly: Republic takes Frontier after pilot impasse kills SWA deal: The inability of Southwest and Frontier pilots to work out seniority differences killed Southwest's $170 million bid to buy the Denver-based airline and lead it out of bankruptcy. Instead, Republic Airways Holdings won the right to buy Frontier for $108.8 million at Thursday's bankruptcy auction. Read more

-----, Hotwire and offer divergent value propositions for different sorts of online -- and in one case -– over-the-phone bookers. And, as the competition for discount-hungry consumers picks up, one of the entrants is becoming more vocal about its advantages. Hotel discount ups and downs at Priceline, Hotwire and With travel discounting in peak season, there are tons of ways to find hotel discounts, from deals newsletters to Web specials and last-minute offerings.

And three travel-discounting businesses -- two established players and one newbie -- offer varying booking modes that probably fit the temperaments of a lot of travelers. Read more

And, for more of a travel industry angle on the emergence of, put down the phone and read on.

Dennis Schaal Blog: Nothing Opaque About Priceline's Take on
So what are's and Hotwire's opinions about and its model?

I was unsuccessful in reaching Hotwire Group President Clem Bason yesterday about, the start-up launched by the founders of, because Bason was said to be -- of all things -- traveling. I would still love to hear from Hotwire on this issue. Read more


Calling all cars, calling all cars… High prices and rental-car firms not being very fleet of foot in meeting larger-than expected demand in various European countries have led to consumers walking up to rental-car counters and finding out that all available cars have taken to the highways without them. Car rental firms get no mileage out of these sorts of supply and demand foibles. Incidentally, in Euro-speak, when they talk about car-hire firms, they mean car-rental companies:)

BBC: Tourists face car hire shortage: Holidaymakers across the UK and Europe are facing bigger bills for hire cars - or risk not getting one at all - due to a shortage of vehicles. Read more


It appears that new FTC chairman Jon Leibowitz wants to crack down on companies pushing behavioral advertising -- the practice of serving ads to consumers across a variety of advertising networks and websites based on the Web pages they visited elsewhere. Leibowitz is floating the idea of requiring companies to give consumers the choice of opting-in before becoming subjected to these services rather than only the current opt-out practice. In the travel industry, Expedia has been a leader in behavioral advertising as it sells consumers' cookie data to third-party advertisers.

Seeking Alpha: Government Could Make Monetization Harder for Online Ad Networks, Publishers: In the last few years, behavioral targeting has gone from being an interesting experiment to the core success of many ad networks. Many networks are using data collected from one site to improve the targeting of advertising on other sites. But in the past two months, both the FTC and some members of the House have discussed limiting the ability for online advertisers to do behavioral targeting. Read more


Dylan Hotel in Dublin produced a video to show off the property. This kind of, well, show-biz will become much more popular among hotels in the future. Popcorn anyone?

Hotel Website Marketing: Dylan Hotel launch cool website video: Congratulations to the Dylan Hotel in Dublin for taking the plunge and adding a cool hotel video to their website. More Irish hotels need to embrace online video not only to improve their own website but also to get coverage on Youtube, Vimeo etc. Read more


Travel InsideOut is a Dennis Schaal Blog daily feature. Get a thorough-going look at the day's travel industry top and tangentially interesting stories. Feel free to comment on them below.

Travel InsideOut is Copyright (c) 2009 by Dennis Schaal. All rights reserved.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Thursday's Travel InsideOut

Super-sleuth Tom Botts noticed that the under-the-radar Travelzoo launch of in the U.K. is under way. You can take a look at the U.K. incarnation here, and notice that the domain name is not, which is owned by another travel comparison-shopping company. Oh the confusion.

Hudson Crossing Travel Industry Insight: A New Way for the UK to Search for Aeroplane Trips: TravelZoo property has quietly launched a UK version of their meta search site. For curious US users, simply click on the flag in the upper right hand corner. UK users are redirected automatically. Read more

----- notes that major hotel chains, to a great extent, have gone missing on competitor and the Name-Your-Own Price folks can name some reasons why.

Dennis Schaal Blog: Nothing Opaque About Priceline's Take on So what are's and Hotwire's opinions about and its model? Read more


The Arison family, which will retain a substantial piece, about 28 percent, of Carnival Corp.’s voting rights, will sell millions of shares of the company. You can call it a repositioning sail (actually, sale). The family has made this sort of move before.

USA Today Cruise Log: Arison family to sell some Carnival Corp. shares: Members of the Arison family, which owns a substantial chunk of Carnival Corp., plan to sell up to 8.5 million shares, the company said. Tax planning, estate planning and diversification purposes are the reasons given. Read more


The off-again, on-again merger of the two leading corporate travel organizations in the U.S., NBTA and ACTE, may be off again as due diligence and name games appear to be getting in the way.

Travel Weekly: NBTA-ACTE merger talks apparently on again: Merger talks between the Association of Corporate Travel Executives and the National Business Travel Association are at the point of resuming, judging by a blog entry posted on Thursday by Kevin Maguire, NBTA president. Read more


Arthur Frommer goes to the calculator and figures that JetBlue’s new All-You-Can-Jet Pass for $599 may just not add up to a bargain for some travelers.

Arthur Frommer Online: JetBlue's Seemingly-Cheap $599 One-Month Pass Is Perhaps Less Than First Meets the Eye: Though it's been greeted with rapture by some travel websites, I'm not entirely enthused about JetBlue's recently-announced All-You-Can-Jet Pass for $599. That device gives you the right to make unlimited flights on JetBlue, for one month between September 8 and October 8, for all of $599. And quite clearly, if there were a reason for you to make daily flights on JetBlue for 30 consecutive days, you'd save big by first buying the Pass. But that would involve an abnormal amount of flying. Read more


Barry Sternlicht, who departed as chairman of Starwood Hotels in 2005, still has his hand in a few hotel -- or should I say, real estate -- ventures. His Starwood Property Trust just made its mark as the largest IPO to date of 2009. Location, location, location.

Canadian Business Online: Starwood Property Trust shares decline on 1st day of trading, IPO prices at $20 per share:
NEW YORK - Shares of hotel magnate Barry Sternlicht's Starwood Property Trust Inc. initially declined on their first day of trading Wednesday before closing unchanged, even as the broader markets edged up after the Federal Reserve left a key interest rate at a record low. Read more


Travel InsideOut is a Dennis Schaal Blog daily feature. Get a thorough-going look at the day's travel industry top and tangentially interesting stories. Feel free to comment on them below.

Travel InsideOut is Copyright (c) 2009 by Dennis Schaal. All rights reserved.

Choose Your Update Weapon

This -- happily -- will be my shortest blog post of the year.

I just wanted to let you know that I added a Subscribe via Email box near the top of the right-side navigation panel. It's free. The email updates apparently land once daily (if I wrote something).

You can always get updates on my latest blog posts via RSS, also in the right-side navigation panel, but if you prefer email, then there it is.

Shazam. Thanks. Bye.

Nothing Opaque About Priceline's Take on

So what are's and Hotwire's opinions about and its model?

I was unsuccessful in reaching Hotwire Group President Clem Bason yesterday about, the start-up launched by the founders of, because Bason was said to be -- of all things -- traveling. I would still love to hear from Hotwire on this issue.

But, I asked Priceline spokesman Brian Ek how he sees the hotel landscape and whether consumers would be better served to use over Priceline.

"Regarding your questions, it’s just about impossible to draw any comparisons since we’re hearing that our major hotel chain supplier/partners aren’t supporting it []," Ek said. "They see it as non-opaque and dilutive to their ADRs (average daily rates)."

"From a hotel’s perspective, if a customer can get a discount at the exact hotel they’re looking at, why would they ever pay full price?" Ek mused. "It just hurts the hotel’s ADR at a time when hotels are doing their best to keep ADRs up."

Indeed, there apparently are a paucity of major chains using, which displays published and discounted rates on its website and asks consumers to phone its call center for additional unpublished bargains.

I checked today for Boston hotels Aug. 14-16 and found merely a dozen hotels displayed -- and just three local properties, a Radisson, a Millennium and a Wyndham, that are part of larger brands.

On Ek's point about ADR dilution, the Wyndham Boston Chelsea displayed a $200 base rate per night with a line through it and showed that room was now being offered for $160 per night.

That may be great for the consumer, but for the hotel's brand -- not so much.

Indeed, the Wyndham Boston Chelsea was transparently offering a discounted rate. Over at, that same room was being offered for a base rate of $176.25.

I searched for Chicago hotels on the same nights and found an underwhelming 15 hotels on display there.

Interestingly, may have changed its mode of prompting consumers to phone its call centers for discounts.

While in the past displayed a message to "call for special unpublished rates" within the displays of some individual properties, now I see it is showing that message at the top of pages without pointing to specific hotels for cut-rate discounts.

That change may be a way to reduce the dilutive effect of a property's discounting -- or at least a bow to hotels' sensitivities on that front.

I had another thought about the apparent lack of chains' participation in

In addition to concerns about discounting and lack of opacity, do owners Bob Diener and David Litman, who also co-founded, have to battle still-raw resentment about's distribution clout back in the day?

Methinks that may be a smoldering issue.

Meanwhile, Priceline, with its scale and flexibility, may have it all over and some other players in terms of the depths of discounts that it can offer travelers.

Comparing to Priceline, however, is apples to grapefruits. Priceline is established and is a newbie.

Also, although Priceline's opaque deals may be of better value overall for consumers, has value too because consumers know the identity of the hotel they are booking before they provide their credit card numbers.

And, that latter tack will appeal to plenty of consumers.

Still, Priceline President and CEO Jeffery Boyd wasn't talking about specifically, but he addressed the discounting issue during the company's second quarter conference call Aug. 10.

"We make business decisions as to whether to commit resources to matching those promotions and I think here domestically, our Name-Your-Own Price savings still are dramatically more favorable to the customer than one-night free if you buy four nights," Boyd said, referring to prevailing discounting trends.

Boyd added: "So we feel like we are very strongly positioned, even with that kind of promotional activity here, although there’s nothing to say that in future, we wouldn’t be able to offer that kind of a thing here in the United States and there’s nothing in the model or the Agoda model [two Priceline subsidiaries in Europe and Asia, respectively] that prevents them from offering that kind of lower pricing for multi-night stays, which is really what the principal promotional activity has been here in the United States and in Europe."

To paraphrase what Boyd seems to be saying to competitors and their discounting: "Bring it on."


getaroom, getaroom,'s Phone Rates and Manner Fall Flat

Critics to Founders: Take a Hike Founders Introduce 'Reverse Opaque Rates'

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Wednesday's Travel InsideOut

Some travelers may take a pass on this, but undoubtedly JetBlue’s phone lines are humming because it began selling a flight pass for $599. Purchasers get a month of no-holds-barred travel, to some extent. Let's see how this gets displayed in global distribution systems.

Los Angeles Times: A month of JetBlue flights for $599 with ‘All You Can Jet’: JetBlue Airways today began selling a $599 pass that allows unlimited travel on the budget carrier from Sept. 8 to Oct. 8. The pass, called “All You Can Jet,” which has set Twitter buzzing, could be a good deal if you plan to fly a lot that month. But not if you don’t, because it’s nonrefundable. And there are other catches too. Read more


First, the travel industry’s best and brightest commented on this blog about the innovation failures of the online travel companies. Then, Forrester Research releases a report by Henry Harteveldt, outlining consumers’ frustrations with booking travel online. And, now iPerceptions published the results of its own inquiry, showing that potential hotel bookers are put off by the lack of usability of hotel websites. I think we are onto something:)

Hotel Interactive: Hotel Websites Failing to Meet Expectations: The hotel industry is potentially losing out of millions of dollars in reservations because too many people are not looking and then booking. No, this is not a case of people using these sites for research only. Turns out technology is the main culprit here and its shooing away potential travel buyers in droves. Read more


If timing is everything in life, then Continental Airlines didn’t have much luck when it announced the beginning of a helicopter-service promotion for business traveler a day before last Saturday’s accident involving a private plane and a tour helicopter. Continental announces helicopter promotion 1 day before tour crash: Continental Airlines announced a Newark Airport-Manhattan helicopter promotion with US Helicopter one day before the Saturday crash of a Liberty Helicopter Sightseeing Tours helicopter over the Hudson River. Read more


It’s an exciting day at Yale [hint: that’s secret Yahoo code for, well, Yahoo] as the company tries to reestablish Yale [you know, Yahoo] “mindshare” in light of the Yahoo-Microsoft advertising deal. To all of you travel advertisers out there -- get ready for some stick-to-the script talking points from Yahoo sales/spinmeisters when the partnership gets its wings a year or so from now.

Silicon Alley Insider/Yahoo: Yahoo CMO Talks Up Microsoft Deal In Internal Memo: Yahoo CMO Elisa Steele sent out a memo to her reports following the news two weeks ago that the company had finally outsourced its search to Microsoft. Kara Swisher landed a copy today. Read more


Here’s a compilation of properties and chains on Twitter. It’s a relatively small list, considering the expanse of global hotels, but the ranks undoubtedly will increase.

Resideo Hotels: Hotels Using Twitter: More and more hotels are signing up on Twitter, so we decided to put together this list. It's most definitely, by the nature of the web, incomplete -- so please feel free to let us know (via email, Twitter or the comments section below) if you know of others that should be included. Enjoy -- and feel free to follow us on Twitter: @resideo Read more


Oh, love – or is it lust – is in the air with the consummation of a partnership between Hedonism II and a swingers’ website. We hope it’s not all just a tease, but travel agents, in this deal, won’t have to split their commission with the website.

Travel Weekly: Hedonism II partners with swingers' website: A swingers’ website and SuperClubs’ Hedonism II resort in Jamaica have teamed up, and the partnership could prove a profitable connection for travel agents. Read more


Travel InsideOut is a Dennis Schaal Blog daily feature. Get a thorough-going look at the day's travel industry top and tangentially interesting stories. Feel free to comment on them below.

Travel InsideOut is Copyright (c) 2009 by Dennis Schaal. All rights reserved.