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.


Claude said...

Thanks for this interesting analyse

I am wondering what other GDS are dealing with this news mobile products and services.

Dennis Schaal said...

Claude: The three other major GDSs -- Amadeus, Galileo/Apollo and Worldspan -- have their traditional products that parallel Sabre VirtuallyThere. Galileo and Worldspan have Travelport View Trip and Amadeus fields Checkmytrip. With all of these products, which have been around for years in various forms, travelers can find their record locators and view their reservations online or in their PDAs.
There isn't much itinerary-sharing with these products and you can't add a trip component that you have booked elsewhere. There is no community aspect to thse products.

Sabre, of course, has taken its products to the next level with TripCase. I will look into what the other GDSs are doing in response. I am sure Sabre's efforts through TripCase and Sabre Travel Studios have not gone unnoticed.

Claude said...

Thanks for the information.

Sabre travel Studios with Cubeless plateform seems leading the way