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?