Wednesday, March 21, 2012
Tingo takes a little bit from Expedia (hotel inventory), a little bit from Orbitz (Price Assurance) and combines them into what is pitched as a new offering where consumers "just can't lose"
After a consumer books, Tingo continues to monitor the price of the booking to determine if the price has dropped. As many insiders know, hotels often actually drop rates as the departure date nears when demand fails to materialize. Yes, they raise rates too, but that isnt the issue if you have already booked. If Tingo finds the price has dropped, they rebook the room at the new price and refund the difference back to the hotel guest. Sound familiar?
Similar services exist today for air - Yapta anyone? Tripit Pro offers a similar feature for air. And Orbitz offers Price Assurance for hotels (and air) where they refund the difference if the price drops. Orbitz Price Assurance, however, requires another consumer to actually book the exact same stay (or airline ticket) for the refund to kick-in. Tingo promises the refund no matter what - back to "you just can't lose"
or can you?
Given Tingo offers hotel inventory only from Expedia (dig deep into the Ts&Cs for that) vs. a meta search model - this looks like just a slightly better place to buy a room from Expedia. And that is if you don't value Expedia Rewards....
Consumers enter the site and pick a destination and dates par usual, and then offered a selection of hotels grouped by star quality and neighborhood. Sound familiar to Hotwire or Priceline? Yes, except the hotel name and brands are exposed. As are the retail prices for these hotels.
Next, a consumer selects the area and star level they want to stay in and is taken to a confirmation page showing the selection of hotels that Guestmob will later solicit (like a mini RFP) for the consumer's stay:
3 days before arrival, Guestmob lets the consumer know which hotel has "decided" to let them stay.
Hoteliers: downward rate spiral, anyone? Haven't we seen this movie?
Lets dive a little deeper, however...
First, we doubt that all of these hotels are actually participating in this platform. We kinda doubt that the distribution hawks over at Marriott have embraced a less opaque version of Priceline when they don't even participate in Hotwire. As for the other brands listed throughout the site, good for Guestmob if they have really signed up these chains but we think they are probably shills.
Second, Guestmob is listing competing OTAs and their "pricing." We imagine that the OTAs will probably find this rather distasteful for obvious reasons.
Finally, for hotels that actually are participating in Guestmob, I ask one question: WHAT ARE YOU THINKING?
Hotels have been complaining for years about OTA margins and the lack of consumer brand loyalty. Opaque sales are an important revenue management tool but no one in the industry is particularly excited about growing the segment.
And yet, we still have hoteliers who apparently are seemingly not bothered by ANY of these issues and are willing to give street cred to what may be a very destructive model. Wow.
Wednesday, January 11, 2012
Roomkey.com, a new hotel metasearch site created by six of the largest hotel chains launched this morning.
With industry vet John Davis at the helm and backing from Choice, Hilton, Hyatt, IHG, Marriott and Wyndham, it somewhat resembles the industry's efforts to drive down costs and create consumer choice several years ago when a similar group created Travelweb.com - same CEO, slightly different group of hotel brands (noticeably absent from the group this time around is Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide.) Travelweb was sold to Priceline.com and formed the basis of their non-opaque hotel product in North America.
Different this time around is metasearch. Roomkey is a pure meta play with room results returned in a nice, clean tile format:
Prior to the launch, the group purchased hotelicopter which had built a nice technology platform and user interface (as well as the awesome flying hotel ad that you may remember)
Clearly, and as expected, the call to action is a link to book at the sponsor's branded websites.
Roomkey (thus far) is a tool for comparing prices between hotels, not prices from different channels for the same hotel a la Kayak. Kayak pulls together disparate prices from various sources:
Multi-channel search, which Kayak never really delivered on the air side, is actually quite strong for hotels - and apparently, still an important issue judging from the sample above in which several of the founding members appear to be undercutting their own websites in various channels which Kayak is able to find and display.
Inventory today appears to be limited to the founding chains but we are sure that will grow, at least in critical markets such as New York and Las Vegas.
Hotel descriptive content on the beta site is decent with the usual photos and descriptions, although some brands (who shall remain nameless here) still seem to be returning content in ALL CAPITAL LETTERS. Given it is a beta, there are some photos with slightly strange descriptions: "NYCGH_P015 Exterior" but this will no doubt be cleaned up in due course.
That said, a great feature is the clear link to the hotels' property page where the rich content (and booking opportunity) lives.
Oddly, star ratings are included in the search results but it isn't clear how those stars are determined. In the past, the sometimes seemingly arbitrary OTA star ratings have been a source of frustration for hotels and brands alike. Roomkey promises to add user reviews shortly which should provide another, often more reliable way for guests to gauge hotels.
The hotel chains are not resting on their laurels after their past distribution wars with online travel agents (OTAs) and other distribution channels. Once fully built out with a mobile site, more inventory, reviews, Roomkey could be a potent weapon for consumers who want to be able to compare locations, features, rates across multiple chains and brands. With Google rapidly moving into the travel (and hotel) space and OTAs continuing to gain share, Roomkey will be another arrow in the chain's quivers to drive branded website growth and control distribution.
Tuesday, January 10, 2012
However, today, upon leaving Las Vegas, I got sent to the Trusted Traveler line after the agent up front scanned my boarding pass. I'm an Elite flyer with both Delta and American, the two pilot airlines for the program but hadn't yet seen anything special. The last place I expected anything was certainly Las Vegas.
But, get this! First, there was NO line. Next, I didnt take off my shoes. Really. I didnt have to yank my computer out of the laptop (I did buy one of those Tumi bags that allows you just to unzip awhile back but I didn't even have to do that!) And, I may jacket stayed on. So did my belt. And I didn't have the nudie scan - just walked through the metal detector old school - like clearing security in 1972.
Finally, something done right by the TSA! Bravo. Now lets just get it to more airports.
Monday, May 23, 2011
In the plan announced today, DL and US will still trade a similar number of slots and cash and will open up some additional slots for new competition and destinations from both LGA and DCA.
One major change this time around is Delta's plan to continue to operate the Delta Shuttle from the Marine Air Terminal at LGA (last time it was going to become USAirways home). USAir, Shuttle and all, will remain their current home at Terminal C at LGA in the new plan.
As before, Delta plans to operate 132 slots worth of flights (that is 66 departures and arrivals for those of you counting) with regional jet equipment vs. the prop-jets that USAirways utilizes on most of these departures. The cities may change, of course, but we expect that they will look largely as they do today.
One odd part of the press release is that the USAirways Shuttle is described as the "popular hourly Shuttle service between LaGuardia, Reagan National and Boston that is operated on dual-class mainline jets will remain unchanged as a result of the transaction." However, a quick scan of Sabre from our friends at Expertflyer.com reveals that while the LGA-DCA flights are, indeed, all operated with dual-class mainline jets, the service to Boston with the exception of the 6AM departure is actually operated with Regional Jets - USAirways' unions will probably have a field day with this...
Accuracy aside, we view this as a great move for both airlines, consumers and the cities served by USAirways from LGA today. Regional Jets will provide significantly more lift into LGA than the Dash-8s and such that USAirways operates today and Delta's much larger presence at LGA will create substantially more connecting opportunities from those smaller bergs than USAirways offers today. USAirways offers very limited connecting opportunities today unless you happen to want to fly from Portland, ME to Norfolk and such. Delta will offer those same connections from Portland to Norfolk but will also offer connections to many larger cities that Delta serves from LGA such as Orlando, Tampa, Fort Lauderdale and the like. This is good for those cities and good for consumers who gain more choice and competition.
As for Cincinnati and Memphis - we expect the aircraft Delta will require to operate these flights will come from those operations. Both are largely duplicative with Delta's hubs in Detroit and Atlanta, respectively. Delta certainly is not going to acquire new regional jets to "fund" this expansion in New York and the small amount of flights they are giving up in DC are not nearly enough. Look for a final de-hubbing in CVG and MEM following the inevitable approval of this transaction.
Tuesday, May 3, 2011
Today Tripit, the company that brings all of your travel plans into a consolidated itinerary, is launching an iPad app to help you take those itineraries on the road. Unless you make most of your trips by covered wagon, you probably already use either the web based or smart phone versions of Tripit to manage your trips, and the company keeps things interesting by continuously improving its applications either by refining or extending the feature set. I’ve been a Tripit user from very soon after launch and I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times it’s had a problem parsing the confirmation page from a supplier. It works well—period.
The iPad app is right in line with Tripit’s evolutionary development philosophy in that it’s not by any means a departure from the product on the web or phone, but a smooth shift to a midsized format. You may grouse that an iPad version should have some unique features that truly exploit some feature or capability of the machine (and you’d be right) but be patient—they first want to get off the ground with something that’s functional and usable before looking for the secret sauce. Having coached lots of product groups over the years, we know that’s a perfectly valid approach to the market, especially when you own a lot of mindshare for your product category.
When you install the iPad app, you’ll notice the same familiar look as on the iPhone, for example. Where the iPhone app uses a vertical ‘drill down’ approach that carries you from the trip level to the service level and further down to the details behind each service, the iPad app has the space to show the services and their details on the same screen. Most of the things you need are above the fold, but there are some additional items you’ll have to scroll down for if you’re interested.
One new feature is the map view, which shows you the locations of your trip on a map. You can see the relative placement of all of the components of your trip in one view. Unlike the rest of the application, this feature feels embryonic, as though it’s going to grow up into something interesting but it’s not there yet. It’s also fair to consider the whole app a little incomplete right now. There are features you remember from the other platforms that just haven’t been built out yet. The company says they’re coming in fast follow-on releases, so you probably won’t have to wait very long to have a full featured app on the iPad.
So what about those unique features that could really exploit the iPad form factor? I’m sure there are many plans in the hopper to spread out what’s already there. The map functionality, as mentioned before, looks like a great place to extend with the locations of points of interest, local businesses, etc. More important than all its technical and design assets, Tripit has a database of frequent travelers, many of whom have similar challenges on the road, and many of whom love the product and the company. The company could also expand laterally around some other things travelers do in connection with their trips. For example, given that Tripit already knows which services you’ve booked and, in some cases, how much you’ve paid for them, why not extend it with functionality like that of the amazing Expensify app that helps you prepare expense reports? Or provide tools aimed at all that time you have in the airport by taking a page from Gate Guru? Or, since Tripit knows where you are on your travels, what about creating a framework for local businesses to create promotions for travelers on the road? Arguably these are not iPad specific functions, but the larger form factor would help mitigate the additional complexity of the new features. Big screens make it easier to see the big picture.
It’ll be interesting to see where they’ve gone a year from now. I’ll probably still be using it regardless!
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
To date, AA has been a lone wolf in this area with scant public support from any other airlines. Unlike in many other airline moves where one moves on Tuesday and the rest of the industry follows by Friday (think commission caps, bag fees, change fees etc) AA has stood alone.
In an amazing coincidence, Delta Air Lines (DL) yesterday announced that they would pull their inventory off of three smaller OTAs: cheapoair.com, onetravel.com and bookit.com.
Delta has made it clear that they value some distribution points more than others. These three websites generate a significant amount of traffic from meta and click-off search sites such as fly.com, bookingbuddy.com and tripadvisor.com - we can imagine that Delta probably tired of seeing these smaller, less relevant websites listed alongside Delta.com (and other, larger OTAs) as a booking option.
By flexing their distribution muscle and removing inventory from these sites, Delta is making a calculated move that they will be able to continue to sell the inventory currently sold through these websites elsewhere, and in particular, Delta.com.
We would bet doughnuts to dollars (just by the URL names alone) that the vast majority of tickets sold through these sites are low-yield tickets. As anyone in the airline business knows, airlines don't need help selling more $39 tickets to Orlando. There is nearly insatiable demand for low-fare tickets and consumers visit multiple websites in the hunt for these fares - Delta is banking that consumers will still find their low fares elsewhere, and hopefully that will be Delta.com.
And, if those same consumers don't visit Delta.com (or another OTA) there are plenty of other consumers who will those same cheap fares - airlines can fill planes all day long with $39 fares without any help from an OTA.