Questioning the travel industry status quo, one blog post at a time

Posts Tagged ‘distribution channel’

This Farelogix-penned article originally appeared on Terrapin’s Blue Sky blog.

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They had better!  We’ve all heard that in real estate it’s location, location, location – not price, not color, not size – that sells.  Sure all those other things have an impact on consumers’ willingness to buy, but make no mistake; it’s location that sells.  And in the airline world, the mantra needs to be brand, brand, brand, not just whose got the lowest price.  The success of creative airline merchandising reinforces that the buying decision encompasses a lot more factors—schedule, route structure, network, loyalty program, in-flight services, and all the services/options that make up a traveler’s desired trip experience.  What do we call that collection of things in the mind of the traveler?  Your Brand!

Now I am over doing it a bit to make my point, but an airline’s brand is significantly important, and yet it is far too often considered an afterthought, relegated to the world of logos and paint jobs (of course, they count too) or erroneously labeled per airline category such as Low Cost Carrier (LCC) or Premium Service Carrier.  As many of us prepare to attend this month’s World Low Cost Airline Congress, it’s appropriate to point out the danger of talking about LCCs as if they all share the same “low cost” brand because like every other airline, Low Cost airlines have a range of differing brands and even sub-brands.  There’s low cost and fun (remind you of anyone?), low cost and vacation spot oriented, low cost and comfortable, bare bones low cost (the now defunct SkyBus comes to mind here), and so forth.  And that’s just skimming the surface of how one airline chooses to differentiate itself from others.

So let’s assume you have clearly established your airline Brand (with a capital B!), and you’ve managed to successfully reflect that Brand in everything your target customer hears about you, buys from you, and experiences with you… in good times and in bad.  You’re set up to drive loyalty and repeat ancillary and merchandising revenue through that Brand.  Sounds good, right? Read the rest of this entry »

We couldn't think of a good picture for this blog, so we went with a classic gif: Monkey Washing Cat.

We couldn’t think of a good picture for this blog, so we went with a classic gif: Monkey Washing Cat.

I read Mr. Pestronk’s recent response to the NDC question with fascination and bewilderment. Clearly some education and clarification is needed, so I thought it best to go through parts of his article and add my comments. They are in bolded italics.

Think of NDC as like American’s Direct Connect except that, instead of being pushed by just one airline, it is going to be backed by all 240 IATA airlines, including all U.S. legacy carriers, at the same time. When you say, “think of NDC as like American’s Direct Connect,” are you referring to American’s Direct Connect to Travelport, whereby Travelport will connect to American using the NDC standard with the only difference travel agents will notice is that they have all the ancillaries that American offers and can therefore provide their customers with up-to-the-minute, authenticated, and perhaps even personalized offers? Because that is truly what accepting NDC means. It means an airline can use one modern, flexible pipe to connect to all distributors. No longer would there be a need for multiple pipes with separate and different standards on how to connect. Instead everyone would connect in the same way.

IATA has asked the Department of Transportation (DOT) to approve the agreement setting up the rules for NDC, and interested parties have until May 1 to file comments. True, and if you are a travel agency, I think you should encourage DOT to approve NDC as soon as possible so airlines that choose to adopt this new connectivity standard can get on with delivering that precious content travel agencies and their corporate and leisure customers want.
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I truly love this industry, especially the airline industry, and most especially the airline distribution subset. It is chocked full of opportunity, drama, tension, and lots of industry panels talking about how things need to change and get better.

So, the other evening I put on my fuzzy-toed bunny PJs, microwaved some popcorn, and curled up with my laptop to watch a rerun stream of a panel about airline distribution that was held just a day before in Beijing, China during the annual IATA conference.

http://www.iata.org/events/agm/2012/Pages/panel-airline-distribution.aspx

The panel included a full stage of industry execs from airlines, GDSs, and Google. Oh this is gonna be good….some notable heavyweights in the industry are poised to get it on! And get it on they did…in the form of a thought-provoking discussion focused largely on the 60 percent of airline distribution that goes through the travel agency channel. I thought I would attempt to characterize and share with you some major takeaways after 59 minutes. Here we go. Read the rest of this entry »

With a new year upon us, the air [pun intended] is filling with talk of Airline Strategy 2012. With hundreds of airlines all over the world, there is no doubt a tremendous amount of strategic discussion going on. And I’ll go out on a limb and say at least some of that discussion centers on Airline Direct Connect Distribution. But with all the information, misinformation, uncertainty, and controversy pinned to Airline Direct Connect, how is anyone really in a position to determine if it is, in fact, the right move?

In our never-ending quest for transparency, we thought we would do our part to help answer the question, Is a Direct Connect Strategy Right for Me? And as with any good quandary, providing answers to a simple set of statements can provide you with instant enlightenment and direction. After all, this methodology has been employed by many social sites and popular magazines to determine if our love lives could be better, if he’s cheating on us, and how sexy our names are. So it can clearly solve something as simple as, Is Direct Connect Right For Me? Read the rest of this entry »

Last week, I decided that I really needed a 3D television and, of course, all the trimmings to go with it to make it a total sensory experience – funny 3D glasses, a new 3D surround-sound system, and, of course, the smell-o-vision option. With the holidays closing in, I had my perfect cover – The Family Gift. They would love it. What would be better than the family sitting around the new 75-incher, basking in its warm glow while watching and smelling Harry Potter 12? Ah, I love the holidays.

Since I really despise actually going into a store, I decided to make my Family Gift selection online. As I began my search, I came across a number of aggregation sites that displayed price ranges for certain brands and models, but honestly, those sites weren’t of much help. I mean, telling me that the Mitsubishi TV is $4,140 – $6,000 isn’t terribly helpful. And those sites certainly didn’t take into account any personalization like my favorite places to shop online for electronics, and that I am a Costco member, and a Best Buy Rewards geek, and that I have a Fry’s credit card. But how could they? These aggregation sites know nothing about me. So naturally all they can serve up is a very generic display of something I may or may not want – the same display they provide to every other shopper looking for the same thing.

© Ali Ender Birer - Fotolia.com

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Did you see Friday’s Beat commentary by Joe Da Rosa from Balboa Travel, in which Joe voiced his strong opposition to the commoditization of travel agency services?

Now I’ve known Joe for ages—all the way back to my System One and Amadeus days. Anyone who meets Joe instantly knows he is a professional, a gentleman, and a leader… and from what I know of Joe, it takes quite a bit for him to “get his dander up.” So, knowing Joe, his agitation must be justified, and, in this case, I think he’s absolutely right.

Travel agencies invest in people and resources. They work very hard to compete for their business, and the last thing they need is for anyone to view their products and services as commodities. It is absurd, preposterous, outrageous… and if the holidays weren’t upon us, I would really go off here.

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Even though there is a lot of jabber about the GDSs outlining plans to charge travel agencies for their selling systems, I am not aware of anyone actually doing it— Wait, wait! Whoa! Stop the presses! Travelport seems to have thrown down the gauntlet. And I, for one, am not surprised. As I see it, it was only a matter of time.

© Yanik Chauvin - Fotolia.com

The GDSs are facing a very challenging situation when it comes to modern day selling of travel products and services. Their agent point-of-sale systems are obsolete, and they know it. GDS companies are staring into a pretty significant investment hole if they decide to attack the problem head on and not attempt an incremental facelift.

Sure, many travel agents will publicly say they like the current green screen systems, but a reality check says they like them because the agency ownership gets paid to use them, and the GDS green screen selling system is virtually the only game in town. And let’s be honest, using the GDS green screen product is complex, so there is also an element of job security for the agents currently using it. I get it. We all understand the economics and realities of the current situation. But that doesn’t mean we should simply sit back and accept it. Especially if you really think about it from an agent’s point-of-view.

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In case you missed our article in The Beat on Friday, here it is.

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We read with interest the November 29 article in The Beat where [Sabre Travel Network president] Greg Webb stated, “Corporations and agencies have told me it’s a must-have to be able to display all content from all carriers flying a certain route in an easily understandable way.” He continued, “I can’t show Air Canada one way, WestJet another way and United a third way because it becomes an unusable user experience.”

With all due respect, if it was ever true that it was an unusable user experience it is certainly no longer the case. In fact, it has not been the case for quite some time now. As you may recall, Farelogix deployed a travel agency desktop platform in the Canadian market more than four years ago (which is still in use today) that does exactly what you say Sabre is unable to do. This agency desktop platform, on one screen and clearly “usable” by the travel agents, even has the Sabre GDS fully and transparently integrated. So a travel agency “usable” platform that meets the needs of both agencies and airlines is not only a reality, but has been for some time.

At Farelogix, we believe that real transparency means displaying fares and ancillary service information in a way that is both convenient for agents/consumers, and supportive of how each airline wants to showcase its products and services. Meeting these challenges—and ensuring all required information is transparently displayed—is why we have continued to invest in a modern and flexible travel agency desktop solution, SPRK. After all, if one airline has only one available fare, but another has five, do you only show one of each? Of course not. That would be uniformity, not transparency. As much as we as an industry may like uniformity and status quo, that mentality continues to do a huge disservice to agencies, consumers, airlines, and overall competition.

Albeit clearly self-serving, I have taken the liberty of including a sample SPRK screen shot from our test system that clearly shows how we do what you (Sabre) say you cannot. Sure, it’s hard to figure this stuff out, but it can be done and done well. Now, I am not saying that the SPRK product is for everyone, nor that it has everything any agency would need—I would not be so presumptuous. However, since SPRK and, more importantly, its free open source sibling, Hawkeye, are designed and engineered with a modern and flexible graphical user interface development approach, anyone (yes, even Sabre) is free to use it to create their optimal platform.

*test data may not reflect accurate availability and fares

Hey, I have a suggestion. Now I know that we have had our differences over the years, but maybe it’s time to “bury the hatchet” and work together to create a truly “agency usable” platform. Since Hawkeye is open source and the SPRK platform is free to anyone, it won’t even cost you a license fee. You could even hire us to do any new development work on this new platform and still take all the credit. Heck, you can even brand it Sabre and call it any color you want—red, green, yellow, blue, whatever!

What do you say? You know where to find us.

Regards,
Farelogix

So I think I’m ready for a new car. I’ve had a car for eight years and it’s served me well. It’s an SUV, so it’s great for trips to the hardware store and runs to the dump. But the gas mileage is terrible and the amount of duct tape holding things together and concealing rips and tears is becoming a little much. I’m thinking of getting one of those hybrids. Seems like a good thing for Mother Earth, but honestly, aren’t they a little emasculating?

Anyway, I was at the dealership last weekend, and I was struck by all the different models of the same car. Then it hit me. What if we had to buy cars like we bought airline tickets?

Think about it. Imagine there were three companies that distributed cars from manufacturers to the dealerships. But these distributors dictated what cars the dealerships could sell. And while the dealerships sold cars from all different manufacturers, the specs of these cars would all be the same. They’d all be black. They’d all have manual windows and locks. And they’d all come with the ever-popular AM/FM radio—standard. Read the rest of this entry »