Friday, March 13, 2009

Robert Reich on FareChase and Orbitz...Sort of

About a year or so ago, I wrote a story about Robert Reich, the former Labor Secretary. His book, “Supercapitalism,” argued that corporate responsibility is as meaningless as “cotton candy” because corporations can’t be moral or immoral, selfish or altruistic.
Basically, he said, you can’t attribute human emotions to companies because their sole mission is to improve the bottom line and bring dinero to shareholders.
I’m sure Reich wouldn’t disagree with me, though, that people make corporations tick, and behind every product launch, acquisition or bankruptcy, there are people in those corporations that either thrive or suffer.
Which brings me to FareChase and Orbitz.
I was sad to hear that Yahoo decided to shut down its FareChase metasearch operation. Assuredly, whomever was doing the grunt work over there at FareChase is either looking for another assignment or job because of the downsizing.
I visited FareChase in Kfar Saba, Israel, about a half hour from my cousins’ house, in 2001, and got to know the group of developers, who were doing some work for Orbitz at the time, and making a name for themselves in the U.S. market from a nondescript office in a small Israeli town, a few miles from the West Bank. Lior, Boaz … a great bunch of guys, and women, too.
They developed a great product, which will disappear in a few days, a victim of Yahoo’s new prioritizations.
Which brings me to Orbitz Worldwide. As I write this on March 14, OWW stock is at $1.29 and there are questions from investors about the viability of the company. Expedia’s dropping its own booking fees has put further pressure on Orbitz, which charges a booking fee. Orbitz still is dependent on air sales -- in contrast to Expedia and Priceline, with their great hotel businesses --and gets a majority of its profit from the booking fees.
Anyway, I hope Orbitz makes it. There are a bunch of good people who work there and they have developed innovative things. Orbitz led the way years ago with its TLC alerts to customers’ mobile devices, informing them of gate changes and delays. Much of the rest of the travel industry followed Orbitz’s lead on that one.
And, Orbitz’s Price Assurance program, mailing checks to Orbitz bookers if their airfare dropped in price after they booked, seems like an innovative and winning approach to me.
So, yes, corporations aren’t human and the bottom line is the bottom line for Orbitz and a ton of other companies feeling the pinch in these pressurized times. But, Orbitz offers competition, adds value, and a living for a bunch of good people who work there.
Priceline was in a similar position years ago, when it’s stock was teetering.
So, for Orbitz, let’s hope a comeback is in the cards.

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