Search Works, TVL Price Takes Off

By Martin Kelly, Editor, Search Engine Room

Concerted search engine optimization and marketing by travel.com.au (TVL) has boosted unique visits by more than 30%, while sister site lastminute.com.au also enjoyed increased traffic.

TVL is working on new sites for both properties, the first of which is expected to launch over the next three months. The company’s marketing spend will further increase as a result.

Meanwhile, TVL has become the standout investment performer of the Australian online travel industry, with its share price increasing more than 95% over the past 12 months.

It actually went past online rival and former star performer Webjet yesterday, reaching 37 cents compared with 34 cents. Webjet shares have dropped 10.3% over the past year, according to CommSec.

TVL, which has never made money, is now capitalised at A$32 million, while Webjet has a market value of A$113 million after recording a net profit of A$2.4 million in 2005/06.

In other news, Webjet has postponed the December launch of its consumer travel planning and management tool, Planit, until mid-April.

No reasons have been given for the five-month delay.

Webjet Managing Director David Clarke announced Planit in the company’s annual report, hailing it as “a new and extraordinarily exciting additional service.

“It will be a key component in Webjet’s positioning and strategy over the next few years,” Clarke said.

The delay was briefly referenced in a financial statement which confirmed Webjet will not pay a shareholder dividend in 2005/06 despite sitting on more than $25 million cash.

15 December 2006
Copyright TRAVELtech Asia Pacific

Time Travel With World.Net

By Martin Kelly, Editor, TRAVELtech Asia Pacific

Remember World.net – in its way one of the pioneers of the Australian internet travel industry through the Travel.World.Net destination management and distribution system?

World.net made a bit of noise for a while but the company’s profile has slowly slipped with the most recent news item on its corporate site dated 2003. Well a small item in the business section of The Daily Telegraph recently caught the eye.

It read: “World.net must have impressed shareholders by talking up its global growth plans at its AGM (as its) shares shot up”, increasing 2.7 cents to 6.8 cents. In percentage terms that’s almost a 50% share price increase.

Not bad by any standards, although it was trade of a few thousand shares that caused the blip. So what did they tell shareholders at the AGM, the seventh for this company?

Well, CEO Ernst van Oeveren said the company’s performance improved A$1.6 million over the year “before recapitalization of R&D”.

Which sounds great but the reality is that – after recapitalisation of R&D – World.net lost A$1.2 million in 2005/06 – about 60 grand less than the year before.

On a more positive note, it has it also reduced operating costs by more than 40%, bringing them to less than A$200,000 a month for the first time since listing on the Australian Stock Exchange.

Revenue was down 7% to A$3.4 million and World.net currently has around A$700,000 in cash. The bulk of its income is coming from the UK (54%) with Australia (38%) and Malaysia (8%)making up the balance.

Looking ahead van Oeveren said the Travel.World.Net system will remain the primary business focus, while there are other technology initiatives in store.

China is also on the radar, while clients include Territory Discovery, Tourism Ruapehu and Bradford City Council.

14 December 2006
Copyright TRAVELtech Asia Pacific

Twisted Logic Drives Some Deals

By Martin Kelly, Editor, TRAVELtech

Another day, another takeover.

Last week it was Travelport, owned by the avaricious Blackstone Group, which bought Worldspan, a fringe GDS, for US$1.4 billion. It will be merged with the Travelport-owned Galileo – one of the Big Three global distribution travel companies (Sabre and Amadeus are the other two).

This week it was Sabre  Holdings – which apart from the GDS also owns Travelocity. Sabre is being sold to a private equity group that will probably load it with debt (fed by the GDS cash cow) strip out some costs and sell it in a few years.

Then, of course, there was the Qantas board announcement recommending shareholders accept a A$5.60 per share bid valuing the company at A$11 billion from a consortium including the Texas Pacific Group, which is also behind the US$5 billion Sabre acquisition.

It’s like a Monopoly game with real money for these private equity guys, and my head is spinning, especially with the Qantas acquisition. It’s an airline that is hostage to forces beyond its control, especially the oil price, so I can’t see the huge upside its buyers need to make it work. However, I’m loving it as a Qantas shareholder who has seen no genuine share price growth for many years.

Anyway, let’s have a quick look at the other deals, in particular the apparently twisted logic driving the Worldspan-Travelport merger, which goes like this:

GDS revenues are heading south as consumers opt to book direct with airlines, therefore Travelport needs to buy another weakening business to make itself stronger.

In a release that acknowledged “more than half of US travel bookings are already processed through alternative non-GDS channels” Travelport said the merger “builds on the complimentary strengths of our two companies”.

It also “directly addresses industry trends” claimed the grandly-titled Worldspan Chairman, President and CEO, Rakesh Gangwal.

He’s kidding, right? The clear industry trend is not to book through a GDS or a travel agent for that matter and go direct to travel suppliers, in this case the airlines.

Its own release says so, quoting Forrester Research.

But Rakesh, a former CEO of US Airways, can say what he likes.

While this bloke has an ego and more titles than an exiled European royal, he is no fool having just completed a merger that values Worldspan at US$1.4 billion.

The immediate cost savings are a whopping (not) US$50 million as the transaction delivers “financial benefits capitalizing on natural operational synergies” with the merger creating a “leading global travel solution provider”.

As people say as they lose interest and turn away: "Yeah, whatever…"

Anyway, the Sabre acquisition is different in that it comprises old and new travel businesses – the GDS and Travelocity – so it looks like a much better mix: the cash flow of the “old” businesses helping fuel the “new” business.

But like Qantas it’s is still subject to shareholder approval. 

So what will next week or next year bring? More of the same probably. In fact, this may only be the beginning.

December 15, 2006
Copyright TRAVELtech Asia Pacific

Destination Marketers Under Threat

By Yeoh Siew Hoon

Destination marketing organizations (DMOs) or tourism boards have no God-given right to exist and could be rendered obsolete by a slew of factors that are changing the the way consumers seek information on destinations and buy their travel.

Roger Carter, managing director of TEAM Tourism Consulting, speaking at Wired Travel Asia, said DMOs and tourism boards had to change or perish.

He said many factors were affecting the way destinations marketed themselves and some could become irrelevant, particularly in the face of new websites such as the social networking portals where consumers were “telling the truth” about places and experiences.

In the absence of a true, independent, all-encompassing destination dashboard, however he said consumers still trusted the websites of DMOs although in an audience poll later, the majority challenged that notion.

Carter said there were three main drivers of change that were affecting the role of DMOs.

• The central role of the Internet and e-business for communication with visitors and potential visitors, market intermediaries and tourism businesses;

• Demanding and connected consumers who were price conscious, demanding immediate attention/bookings, expecting rich, accurate information and able to exchange information with other consumers;

• Commercial players who have developed over the past 10 years and are now operating in DMOs’ traditional marketing space and who are customer-focused, had efficient business processes, effective distribution and continual improvement.

Tourist boards and DMOs had two clear advantages over the new players however – the majority of tourism services on the ground need the DMO to provide the “umbrella” and the public do trust the official tourism organization to provide unbiased information.

But he said, they mist add value by doing things that the private sector does not wish to do for their destination and cannot do as efficiently and as effectively as the DMO.

“DMOs must be clear about where they can add value and offer (or develop) a high level of competence. If their systems, data, processes and customer focus are inferior, then they do their destination a disservice.

“They must become expert in exploiting the opportunities that ICT (information communications technology) and the Internet offer, which must become central to their operations,” said Carter.

To secure the future, there must be interoperability between the different levels of DMOs within a country and they must succeed in e-marketing.

He shared 10 principles to future success in e-marketing.

1. Reach as many potential customers as possible
2. Maximise the lifetime value of customers, by maintaining the relationship
3. Be aware of what consumers are saying about them through community websites and seek to influence it
4. Create a compelling website experience
5. Maintain high quality content
6. Deliver sales, directly or indirectly
7. Offer customized packaging
8. Engage tourism businesses to deliver the inventory
9. Demonstrate return on investment – performance evaluation and benchmarking
10. Ensure effective electronic distribution of information to travellers and visitors

When asked which tourism boards had adapted best to the changing landscape, Carter cited My Switzerland, Visit Britain and the Singapore Tourism Board (STB).

November 9, 2006

Shape Up Or Ship Out

By Don Ross

If you have just launched headlong into a travel agency career you have a right to feel depressed, especially after registering at a travel technology event. I am not a travel agent, but I can sense that these events evoke a cloud of despair for the traditional mom and pop travel businesses, built up on personal experience and loyal customers.

Travel technology events, usually hire a token speaker, who declares off hand that travel agents are not really dinosaurs. He’s spinning a tale, a note in passing, and it is usually borne out in the content over the next two days, as a line up of other industry speakers point travel consultants to the unemployed queue.

So I didn’t dance down the escalator, full of new inspiration, at the close of Wired Travel Asia held in Singapore last week. I left wondering if small-to-medium travel agencies, many of them family run, will wake up to the reality that they need to embrace new technology much faster than they have done so far.

All their previous partners including airlines and hotels are going direct to consumers, using web tools that give us interactive maps, chat communities and detailed booking engines. These tools allow us to order our own seat on an aircraft, buy additional luggage allowances, compare fares and criticise the outcome online. At first, it was fun to pretend we were travel agency savvy.

Then just how much technology and time do consumers have to spend on the task of booking travel? At what point do we switch over to Itunes and play disc jockey?

Technology gurus would like us to believe that on top of doing our regular jobs we can now squeeze enough time out of an already busy day to be our own travel agent dealing directly with the airlines and buying fares based on the airline’s best fare guarantee.

To top off the achievement, we are told to find time to join a community and write about our travels, warts and all. It’s the only way to stay clued up on all the latest travel facts.

It’s all very inspirational. Technology has democratised travel, claims one guru Jim Donnelly who co-founded the web site IgoUgo. We can all buy it and write about it.

Waxing eloquent from the Wired Travel Asia podium, he told us about the inspiration of travel and the sheer beauty of sharing the experience with others, penning travel journals on a live web site to thousands of like-minded disciples.

He cited the example of "Aussie Dave" who lightens the lives of IgoUgo community members with his latest travel journal. If he misses a month, people would worry. They would make enquires and ask about his health. However, IgoUg has thousands like him, dedicated folk who love to write about their travel experiences. They do it for recognition, not money. They may earn a few merit points that can be transferred to an airline frequent flyer programme, but mostly they write to boost their ego, according the web site’s founder.

"It’s like guys and sex," he told the delegates. "Half of the fun is doing it and the other bragging about it to your friends."

That’s what drives travel communities and while they are a big hit in North America they have still to make serious inroads in the travel scene here in Asia.

Mr Donnelly claims he and a few friends built IgoUgo’s huge success from scratch in a tiny New York apartment using up all their life savings, which could not be that much for a bunch of young executives in their 20s.

They convinced people to write travel reviews and share their experiences until the network or community grew to 450,000 members in slightly over five years.

It’s all there. If you want to know where to stay in Karachi or Kentucky, IgoUgo has the advisors who have been there and done it and they love advising people.

Mr Donnelly was in Singapore to pass on this inspiration and provide hints on how the region’s travel corporations could develop their own communities. He called it part of the "web two capability" that allows video feeds, comments and reviews to go live on the Internet. Authors pen an instant travel report that is read before the "digital ink dries."

The formula was so successful that eventually Mr Donnelly, overflowing with inspiration, sold lock, stock and barrel to Sabre, the US global distribution system that supplies the booking tools for travel agents to sell airline tickets and travel packages.

"I had done it for five years and was ready for a change," he said when asked why sell an inspirational business? "Then I am a middle class young executive," he added. "The sale offered me financial independence."

Mr Donnelly still carries a business card that says he is vice president of marketing, but 18 months after the sell off, he is now looking at other ventures possibly pursuing travel video options using the latest web technology.

It reminded me of Bangkok’s well-known travel agent, Luzi Matzig, who created Asian Trails a regional travel network in 2000, and sold the entire stock to Zurich-based Kuoni Travel a month ago.

Like Mr Donnelly he does not disclose the figure paid for a five-year inspirational journey. IgoUg tapped new travel technology while Asian Trails built a more traditional product line in travel. Both sold out after five to six years.

Market guesses suggest the sale of Asian Trails earned for Mr Matzig and three other founders approximately 500 to 800 million baht.

Based on both these success stories, the inspiration for would-be travel entrepreneurs would certainly be to build something worthwhile in five years and sell.

Internet and mobile phone technology is packed with innovations, but unless travel agencies find a way to lift their expertise to the new business platforms they will likely end up with a business model that will be declared worthless a decade down the track.

Wired Asia Travel’s conclusion for today’s travel executive is to play the community space (sometimes called Web2). If you don’t have a community invest in one. Experts at the event suggested a community model costs about US$5000 to start up and around US$1,000 a month in upkeep. So far, travel corporations in Asia have not experimented in social or media community space.

As Wired Travel Asia closed, I noticed a Raffles Hotel executive chatting to IgoUgo’s founder.

"How would we control the input, what do you do about negative comments," he asked.

"You need editors," Mr Donnelly replied.

I danced down the escalator. "Buy yourself a drink, you still have a job," I told myself as I left the building.

Don Ross can be reached through this email address: info@ttreport.com

November 8, 2006 

From Little Things Big Things Grow

By Martin Kelly

Igo Ugo founders Jim Donnelly and Tony Cheng lived dirt-poor in a tiny New York apartment for three years before their site – now one of the world’s largest and most vibrant online travel communities – took off.

Yet Donnelly, who sold the site last year to Travelocity for a “lot of money”, describes those days as the happiest of his life – creating something from scratch while interacting with people who love to travel as much as him.

He said people are also sick of travel advertising hype – where the reality rarely matches the sales pitch – and so turn to sites like IgoUgo and TripAdvisor for honesty as well as inspiration.

In fact trust was a major theme at Wired Travel Asia, continually raised through the two-day conference by many speakers, who encouraged delegates to communicate with their customers more openly and therefore more effectively.

“When travel companies get honest with people, that is when they have their shining moments,” Donnelly said.

So how did he and Cheng start an online travel community that now has more than 300,000 members posting and ranking thousands of stories, anecdotes, itineraries and images?

Simple – by asking 100 of their “closest friends” to provide their travel tales and photos..

“What happened was people who came to the site really liked it, and they told other people and we woke up in a year and there were 100,000 people on the site.

“We woke up a year later and there were 200,000 members. It grew from there.”

He added: “Human inspiration in a world of algorithms and cheap fares is something everyone can relate to.”

Sounds simple yet is anything but easy. Here are Jim Donnelly’s top ten tips on how to start a community web site.

1. Some structure is needed. It must be easy to search and find who or what you are searching for.

2. A one-size fits all approach doesn’t work. Community members want to express their individual personalities and views … a generic template is not interesting for very long.

3. Contributions should be rewarded in a variety of ways. Emotional benefits: recognition, status with the community. Tangible benefits: rewards program, special benefits.

4. Ego and identity are important. Members must be recognized for the level of contribution (see above). Contributors shouldn’t be anonymous … you should see who is behind a contribution.

5. A critical mass of content is essential.

6. New members should feel welcome. It should be easy to understand how things work.

7. Community benefits and company benefits are aligned. The community cannot be viewed as a ‘cost centre’… the company is involved in the community.

8. Make it open and authentic.

9. A sense of growth and vibrancy: ie make people feel that they are part of something meaningful.

10. Make it fun!

November 8. 2006

Hong Kong Walks While India Runs

By Martin Kelly

ONLINE Indian travel website Make My Trip will take just three years to achieve the booking volumes of 250-year-old industry stalwart Cox and Kings, PhoCusWright analyst Ram Badrinathan forecast at Wired Travel Asia.

In a fast-paced summary of key Asia pacific markets, Badrinathan identified India as the market with the most significant potential despite lingering infrastructure issues such as poor broadband penetration.

The key driver has been the explosion in the number of internet-orientated Low Cost Carriers.

There were nine at last count accounting for 37% of the domestic aviation market.

This fragmentation of the air inventory has resulted in a slew of online travel agents such as Make My Trip, cleartrip, travelguru, tripMela, India Times Travel and Yatra.

He said suppliers will continue to dominate but Online Travel Agencies will gain traction at the expense of offline agencies.

The Indian online travel market forecast to grow from US$295 million in 2005 to more than US$2 billion by the end of 2008.

“People are talking about oversupply in this space but in India oversupply is impossible.”

Elsewhere, he said Australia is the most mature of the Asia Pacific online markets, while others still had some way to go.

“In (high-rise) Hong Kong the reason online has not got traction is that people like to get out and walk – simple as that,” he said.

“Why stay cooped up in a room when you can get out and walk … there is a ‘hanging out culture’.

“Hong Kong people are researching online but booking offline.”

He said while there are similarities in Singapore, the online travel market is fundamentally different with major players driving change.

Among the key differences between the cities is that Singaporeans are better travelled than Hong Kong counterparts, while Singapore’s population is very comfortable speaking English.

Badrinathan forecast that the Lion City will have the fastest internet travel growth but offers limited opportunity because of its relatively small population of 3.5 million.

November 8, 2006

Growth, Growth and More Growth at Jin Jiang

By Martin Kelly

CHINA’S largest accommodation group, Jin Jiang Hotels, will more than double in size over the next four years, Michael Meade, Senior Vice President – Sales and Marketing, told Wired Travel Asia delegates.

Meade said Jin Jiang, which aims to grow from 220 hotels and inns to 500 by 2010, will also expand beyond China and plans to list on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange by the end of this year.

The company’s aggressive growth plans reflect the dynamic nature of the Chinese hotel market, where just 3.3% of hotels are managed by international brands, and the strong support of its ultimate owner, the Chinese National Government.

Right now, Jin Jiang is in the midst of transition – just like the Chinese accommodation market, which Meade said is currently characterised by:

– Dominance of the online duopoly – Ctrip and Elong
– Relationship selling and reservations process
– Reliance on phone and fax
– Very late booking profile
– Low credit card penetration (but this is changing)
– Price-sensitive
– GDS growth, particularly in Shanghai and Beijing, although slow elsewhere

He said Jin Jiang is methodically driving change as the company moves to take advantage of its market-leading position without upsetting its delicate internal balance.

Rushing technology such as Revenue Management Systems does not work, Meade said, nor does GDS (so far), online rate parity and outdated reliance on facsimile machines.

“We are taking it step by step, and are doing training, training and more training,” he said.

Many of the changes focus on technology, distribution and Customer Relationship Management (CRM).

Jin Jiang has already developed its own Central Reservations System – JREZ – with the Thayer Group, which is going to become increasingly important to the group as it attempts to convert hotel-direct bookings to the CRS.

Jin Jiang will also introduce customer loyalty programs next year as part of an integrated CRM platform incorporating its Property Management Systems.

Meanwhile, it is well into a website rejuvenation program that started with jingjianghotels.com earlier this year.

This revamp is now moving through into the individual sites as part of an overall strategy to increase online sales, either direct or through intermediaries.

The design focus with the new websites is on cleaning up the traditionally busy, glitzy Chinese look into a more international information-based format with stronger, cleaner images, and online booking engines.

“Online is just going to go off,” Meade said, adding that over time Jin Jiang would like to become “a one-stop online shop” offering travel, accommodation, tours and transport.

Chinese consumers are gradually getting the hang of booking over the web with Ctrip reporting that 35% of its bookings are now taken online, a major improvement.

In future, Meade sees major opportunities for online competitors to Ctrip and Elong, dynamic packaging, mobile reservation technology, and “Last Minute” products.

November 8, 2006

No Mystery As Shoppers Hit The Web: Airlines First, Retailers Last

By Martin Kelly

AIRLINE websites singaporeair.com and cathaypacific.com finished first and second in an Asian consumer satisfaction survey of six regional websites run by IFH Worldwide in which retail site asiatravel.com finished a distant last, it was revealed at Wired Travel Asia 2006.

IFH Chief Executive Officer Thomas Kraft said major hotel groups Shangri-la.com (3rd) and ichotelsgroup.com (4th) were also polled, as was Zuji, which finished fifth in the first mystery shopping exercise of its kind conducted in the region.

Each site received 10 visits from different shoppers in the guise of either leisure or business travellers planning short-haul Asian trips from Singapore or Hong Kong.

The results were mostly consistent across both groups except for Zuji, which ranked highly among leisure travellers (79% satisfaction ranking) but less well with business travelers (64% satisfaction ranking). Zuji’s overall satisfaction ranking was 71%.

Asiatravel.com was by far the worst-performing site with an overall customer satisfaction ranking of just 52%. Customer comments on this site included:

– Not able to book online for sites
– Had to drill down to another page to activate booking screen
– Unable to book as there were error messages on the screen
– Easy to find on Google, poor visibility of Yahoo! and MSN

Zuji fared much better although some were peeved that booking a flight or hotel still took five clicks, while others thought it took too long for new customers to familiarise themselves with the sites and that “not all pages” loaded quickly enough.

Slow page loading time and too many clicks were also raised in the customer appraisal of ichotelsgroup.com, with a couple of reviewers complaining they to drill down two or three pages before their selection was available. Its overall satisfaction ranking was 73%.

Shangri-la.com performed very well with many positive comments (“easy and efficient” – “very trustworthy”) although the payment took 15 seconds to appear. Shang’s overall customer satisfaction ranking was 77%.

Cathaypacific.com also did very although was chipped for not having a ‘home’ link on all booking pages while site loading was again an issue. Cathay’s overall customer satisfaction ranking was 78%.

Finally, Singapore Airlines may have topped the survey with a customer satisfaction ranking of 82%, but customers still had issues with six clicks to book, slow page loading and SQ not offering the best or equal rate for 35% of its products.

None of the sites polled ranked very well with search engines, however some Wired Travel Asia 2006 delegates argued that the keyword search terms – Air Ticket, Hotels and Destination (in question) – were too nebulous to give a meaningful result in this area.

In summary then, the IFH mystery shoppers were generally happy with the online experience at the sites visited (apart from asiatravel.com) but were consistently disappointed with the number of clicks needed to book and slow downloads.

Like you and me, they have better things to do with their time.

November 8, 2006

Travel Wired: Hotels – Full Rooms, Empty MInds?

By Martin Kelly

Passion for travel is the reason many of us got involved in the industry.  It couldn’t have been the money, right?

Yet passion gets you nowhere inside a corporate straight-jacket, where you’ve got to bury the animal within.

Still, the passionate traveller still lives in all of us … we all have opinions on what makes a good – or bad – travel experience.

It just takes someone to ask what turns us on or off.

This proved to be the case at Wired Travel Asia, when a number of high-profile speakers were asked which section of the industry could do with a makeover.

The results may surprise you.

As you would expect, the airlines copped some flak – let’s face it, they are such an easy target, particularly among frequent travellers.

“I can’t imagine a worse experience than I get with the airlines – I travel with them all the time and they treat me like crap,” said Jim Donnelly of IgoUgo.

Airports also came in for some feedback.

“I understand that airports have to balance safety and security, but as far as I’m concerned most airports are still stuck in the dark ages,” commented David Peller of ITA Software.

However, hotels fared worst of all.

They were continually chided by a wide range of speakers for a lack of product differentiation and poor service delivery – especially when matched with the advertising hype.

At least two speakers told anecdotes of waking up in hotel rooms and not having any idea of where they were staying – not just the hotel, but the city and country.

That’s because there were no regional reference points to be found, no personalisation of the destination experience, just relentless delivery of a corporate service ethic – a special bed or pillow complete with copyright – to the point of blandness.

Hang on, that’s probably the point.
Eureka, says the sales and marketing guru to his CEO, we have now ensured that our customers will get exactly the same product whenever they stay at Brand X … no matter where it is.

Just like McDonald’s.

To illustrate the point, Thomas Kraft from IFH threw up two slides of virtually identical hotel rooms, and asked the audience to spot the difference.

They couldn’t, until he revealed the rate and brand for each property – one was $100 more expensive (or cheaper, depending on your perspective).

Chalk one up for the suits in the back room, but is that what the accommodation industry is all about – price?

D’oh – of course it is.

Just look at boutique hotels, which you’d assume tick all the boxes when it comes to product differentiation and style.

Lovely, yes, we all agree, but increasingly hitting price points only the wealthy can afford.

In other words, you must pay through the nose for the experience otherwise you’re stuck at Brand X.

See, we’re returned to price because the hotel industry says the customer must pay more for differentiation.

Why? Differentiation is about imagination and that costs nothing (unless you leave it to an ad agency).

Indeed, according to Chairman of the Global Brand Forum, Karthik Siva: “Branding in the online world is all about the process (and) the first thing you have to understand is – are you different or are you the same?” 

I think he’s got a point, and suspect the worm may start to turn, particularly if you assume frequent travellers are voicing opinions that will, sooner or later, filter through to the mass-market.

Then there’s the fact that the hotel industry is full of legacy companies that have yet to face genuine competition from well-funded and well-run upstarts, as has been the case with aviation.

Bring it on seems to be the consensus.

November 8, 2006

Pace Moderates at Market Leader

ONLINE travel retailer Webjet’s year-on-year sales growth has slowed during a period of heavy marketing, according to September results for the company.

The results also show that Webjet’s cash reserves have grown to A$25.5 million – almost a quarter of its market capitalisation – with no word yet on what the company will do with its windfall.

In the September quarter, Webjet’s pre-tax profit increased 15% to A$1.2 million compared with the A$950,000 it made for the same period one year ago.

Total Transaction Value increased by 52% year on year to A$60.2 million – a record period for the company but well behind comparative growth for the June (110%) and March (93%) quarters.

Yet the slower growth was accompanied by a tripling of the Webjet advertising budget for the quarter – A$1.2 million compared with A$400,000 for promotion over the same period last year.

Webjet has said it will continue this aggressive marketing approach.

Another feature of the September results is the skinnier 1.8% pre-tax profit margin – a 20% fall on the 2.2% margin the company enthusiastically reported for the March quarter.

Webjet’s annual meeting is scheduled for November 2 when the company will elaborate on its future plans, in particular the A$25 million it is sitting on.

Ends.

Entrepreneurial Mr Smith Goes Online

By Martin Kelly

Breakfree founder and serial entrepreneur Tony Smith has set his sights on online accommodation distribution and marketing with a new company called Roamfree.com that has bought ResOnline and owns equity in hundreds of small destination websites.

Smith turned a $70,000 investment into a $200 million windfall when he sold publicly-listed Breakfree Limited – which had 3400 holiday rooms under management – to MFS for shares in early 2005, which have since almost tripled in value.

He sees big opportunities in building a major online accommodation booking and distribution business by focusing on small operators that fall through the cracks while building a portfolio of cross-linking destination websites.

“We’re growing quite dramatically,” he says.

“ResOnline had five staff when we bought it. Now we’ve got 19 coders working and 34 staff … by next February we should have 50.”

Booking technology is central to the Roamfree stategy, commercially connecting the company with a potentially massive network of small accommodation providers.

ResOnline allows accommodation managers to provide an online booking service through which they manage the inventory and take the bookings. It costs A$99 a month or 5% of bookings.

Meanwhile, the company is set to launch a new tech product called Last Minute Manager that manages inventory through third-party sites.

“We also own heaps of destination specific websites – we’ve got 200 at the moment but we might go to 2000,” he says.

These sites – such as byron-bay.com – are generally well established and have comprehensive linking networks, ensuring crucial high-profile search visibility.

“Some of these sites have been around 10 years,” Smith says.

Joining Smith in the new venture is former Breakfree General Manager Mark Frawley, and his brother Bryan Frawley.

All three were instrumental is growing Breakfree and are watching the latest moves by MFS – which include the proposed acquisition of travel giant S8 – with intense interest due to past experience and significant shareholdings in the company.

“There have been some people sitting there and scratching their heads, thinking can they execute?” Smith says.

“I just know from personal experience that these guys have a very big capacity for hard work and making things happen.”

Smith adds: “When I started as a travel agent in Bondi Junction everyone said to me ‘travel agents are stuffed, you will go broke’.”

Yet by focusing on niche opportunities, initially with Sports Break Travel, then Schoolies Week on the Gold Coast, and finally holiday apartment management rights through Breakfree, Smith became wildly successful despite the doubters.

“Right to its dying day Breakfree was a travel agent but everyone thought it was a resort company,” Smith says.

“I think there is massive potential for MFS-S8 and that it will be very big.”

Ends.

Travel Wired: Don’t Call Me, I’ll Call You

By Martin Kelly

Excuse me, but I didn’t realize how glamorous speaking on a mobile phone while flying could actually be. That is, until I visited the OnAir website and saw images such as the one used for this column.

Gee, these people are having fun. Maybe they’ve just met and he’s showing her photos of his happy family stored on the phone for moments like these. Or perhaps his wedding ring is about to come off and he’s screening the infamous Paris Hilton video (now available for mobile download).

One thing is for certain, they are not calling anyone.

That because you can’t do that inflight – yet.

But it’s coming fast so you’d better enjoy those moments of high-flying silence, assuming you don’t have a burning urge move to from business or economy class to what The Economist has termed the “chattering class”.

OnAir has just done a deal with Ryanair to equip its entire fleet of 250 Boeing 737s with small base stations, called picocells, that allow mobile phones to be used inflight without causing interference with ground based networks.

The first inflight conversation should be happening on Ryanair by the middle of next year.

Meanwhile, Qantas has teamed up with AeroMobile, Panasonic Avionics Corporation and Telstra to develop a new inflight mobile phone and “electronic device” service it will be trialling on domestic routes in the first quarter of 2007.

You may have guessed that this doesn’t turn me on.

I like flying just the way it is – apart from the odd crying kid or incontinent row mate – because no-one can get to me and the normal rules don’t apply.

At 35,000 feet, I can order a Bloody Mary at 9am without feeling like a loser; look forward to crappy food; read a whole book in a single sitting; watch three movies in a row without interruption; and not talk with anyone for 12 hours.

But that’s me – what do other people think?

The answer may be not that differently.

According to an OnAir survey, most leisure travellers (59%) would not even turn their phone on while flying, although a slim majority (54%) of business travellers would, desperadoes that they are.

Can you imagine – three drinks in, and halfway through the latest King Fu epic from Hong Kong – the phone rings and it’s Rajid from India (“How Are You Today”) asking if you have a mobile phone (?) and want to switch service providers.

Believe me, that’s what will happen … it’ll never be that deal-making conversation, just the everyday junk that I get on planes to leave behind.

Yet what I and other consumers think doesn’t really matter. For the airlines it’s another revenue opportunity, and one that they are not going to pass up.

So order that Bloody Mary while flying toward a flaming sunrise and reflect on our smaller world.

Ends

Travel Experiments With Click To Call

Several travel companies have teamed up with Google to trial its new Click To Call advertising scheme, which the company launched in Australia last week.

Australia is one of the first test markets for Click To Call and Google has major hopes for the product, which is particularly suited to small businesses with no real web presence.

For example a travel agent without a website could run a Click To Call campaign to drum up business. It can also work for larger companies using call centres to support specific campaigns.

Product Specialist Jeremy Wood said a big advantage of Click To Call is that it puts prospects in contact with businesses “much further along the buying cycle”.

Wood said Click To Call is follows the Google auction system, where rankings are based on the bid amount aligned with keyword relevance, while anyone can sign up for the Beta trial.

He explained at a travel industry briefing in Sydney last week that the Click to Call ads appear in the sponsored links section and are defined by a telephone icon.

Prospects who click on the ad can enter their phone number and are called back within two seconds.

“When they pick up the phone it is already dialing the advertiser,” Wood said.

“Google picks up all the phone charges and the advertiser never gets the user’s phone number.”

Google would not say which travel companies have embraced the scheme.

Ends.

New Site, New Platform Just In Time for Lastminute.com.au

By Martin Kelly

Lastminute.com.au is finally breaking free of its dated UK-based technology platform and developing one of its own.

The popular site will also revamp its look and feel, while retaining the ‘love it or hate it’ pink branding, in a bid to improve its poor sales conversion rate which TRAVELtech estimates trails industry leaders by around 10 to one.

Managing Director Adam Johnson said the new site and back end will be ready for launch in early 2007, adding that consumer research is now under way to assist with project scoping.

“It will be a brand new Australian-built site featuring the latest Web 2.0 and Travel 2.0 tools,” he said.

“We want to build a site focused around usability.”

Johnson said Lastminute.com.au – a 75: 25 joint venture between Travel.com.au (TVL) and Travelocity which lost A$250,697 during 05/06 – is using clunky and costly 2003-era technology hosted in the UK.

“Lastminute.com.au has suffered from systemic administrative problems resulting from its reliance of remote systems … TVL is now repatriating management systems and processes to eliminate this problem,” the TVL annual report said.

The project is being overseen by General Manager – Commercial, Chris Meehan.

In another big change, the site will also embrace new positioning based around the tagline “Live Every Lastminute”.

It’s part of a move away “from being a $2 shop online” into higher-yielding territory, Johnson said.

“Price is clearly not the most important factor for customers,” he said.

Meanwhile, Lastminute’s profile will get a serious lift this financial year with parent company TVL boosting total marketing budget for its two main brands by 70% to A$2.6 million.

The majority will be spent promoting Lastminute.com.au, now clearly more important to TVL than online travel battler travel.com.au.

During 05/06, Total Transaction Value at Travel.com.au slumped 34.8%, while revenue fell 7%. Overall it lost A$23,000 for the year.

Lastminute.com.au, on the other hand, had a reasonable 05/06 (even though it lost more money thanks to incurring A$607,000 in impairment charges) on a number of measures, including a 51% increase in revenue to A$4.7 million.

Most of Lastminute’s income comes from selling hotel rooms on commission although it also offers flight, car hire and gifts.

Johnson says the brand has great recognition, while visitations are high with 244,000 average monthly unique visitors, according to Nielsen NetView figures quoted by the company.

But it has an awful conversion rate.

TRAVELtech estimates that, based on site visits and assuming a similar room rate, Lastminute.com.au converts 90% less of its visitors than Wotif.com.

People are looking in large numbers, but they are not buying.

Why? That’s what Lastminute.com.au is now trying to find out.

Johnson said a recent change to the site’s hotel availability display has improved conversion over the past couple of months, while being able to source 228 day inventory through Travelocity has helped.

“We are seeing encouraging signs – it’s made a difference but there is no one silver bullet.”

He believes the fact Lastminute.com.au offer rooms, air and car will give it a competitive advantage over single offers sites as the local market matures.

“It’s quite clear the market here is18 months to two years behind the UK and US and those markets are now beginning to be dominated by one-stop shops.”

Only time will tell.

Ends.

TotalTravel Expands Into NZ and UK

By Martin Kelly

Fast-growing destination website company TotalTravel.com has made its first international move by launching TotalTravel sites in New Zealand and the United Kingdom.

Marketing Director Paul Fisher said other offshore sites will follow.

“There’ll certainly be others,” he said.

“We’re looking at markets that make sense – English-speaking destinations where people can fly fairly cheaply on Low Cost Carriers.”

Fisher said the NZ and UK sites are still very much in soft launch mode.

“We’re initially rolling the product out for free and then further down the track when traffic builds we’ll offer additional (paid) products,” he said.

TotalTravel offers a destination directory featuring travel guides supplemented by paid links to suppliers.

The company, based in Byron Bay, has grown rapidly in recent times.

Staff numbers have increased from 12 to 40 in just 12 months, while Hitwise now rates TotalTravel.com as the second most popular “Destination and Accommodation’ website in Australia.

Fisher said it received a record 1.4 million unique site visits during August.

Advertisers are also catching on, particularly as search engine marketing costs increase.

The Australian site now hosts 6500 advertisers – most of them small accommodation business – who generally pay annual subscriptions starting at A$295.

“We’re starting to get a lot of the big guys coming on board now because paid search costs in the travel sector is so expensive,” Fisher said.

“As I said at TRAVELtech, the travel industry has a very ‘long tail’ (meaning that it is mostly small businesses).

“We started at the tail and are now working on the body.”

Ends.

Slower Growth At Wotif.com

By Martin Kelly

The spectacular year-on-year sales growth at Wotif.com will be cut in half from October to a more than respectable 24% through 2007, the company has predicted.

This compares with an August sales increase of 50% when compared with last year.

October is the 12 month anniversary of Wotif.com expanding its sales window from 14 to 28 days.

Chief Operating Officer Robbie Cooke estimates that single move last year increased company sales by around 15%.

“That’s my gut feel,” he said.

Meanwhile, Wotif.com sold 2,740,000 room nights during the 05/06 financial year – an increase of 40% of the previous 12 months.

Australian room nights were up 37%, New Zealand room nights 42%, Asian room nights 96%, UK and Europe 44%, North America 78%.

The average value of rooms sold on the site has grown 3.5% from A$128.15 to A$132.57.

Wotif.com made a A$16.5 million net profit on revenues of $45.5 million in the 12 months to June 30.

CEO Graeme Wood said Woitif.com will remain focused on its core Australian and New Zealand markets, participating “in the expected organic growth as customers migrate from traditional sales channels to the online environment.”

Targetted international growth is also on the agenda, Wood said.

“In particular, markets that display characteristics such as high internet penetration, consumer trust in transacting online, relatively high accommodation supplier fragmentation and the absence of a dominant online player.”

Wood said while present growth is in line with the trends outlined above, “it is uncertain whether (that) will continue once the October period is reached given the strong growth experienced post-October 2005 following the booking window extension.”

Ends.

Internet Leaves QF Holidays Behind

By Martin Kelly

Australia’s largest travel wholesaler, Qantas Holidays, has been hammered by consumers for failing to anticipate and meet their online needs.

Its profit before tax slumped to A$45 million – a fall of A$19 million or 29.1% – in the year to June 30.

“This result was driven by lower air travel customers, particularly in the domestic market, where the continued unbundling of product offerings accrued through the increased use of online booking,” the company said in a statement.

Or to put it in plain English, customers who once booked air and land through Qantas Holidays are now trawling travel websites for the cheapest deal and booking components separately.

Clearly, Qantas Holidays has long-term issues.

Parent company the Qantas Group remains in fair shape despite posting a net profit of A$480 million that was 30% less than the previous financial year.

No surprises that this was largely to surging fuel prices – in fact, fuel now accounts for 30% of net operating costs, up from 17% two years ago.

Investors thought it was a decent result and sent the Qantas share price up by around 5% in heavy trade.

Chairman Margaret Jackson said: “We have strong revenues and operating cashflows, improved gearing, the right aircraft and a new airline in Jetstar that has delivered strong earnings growth and industry benchmark cost containment.”

Jetstar’s profit before tax was way down, however … A$11 million compared with A$36 million … thanks around to around A$14 million in international startup costs plus higher fuel and leasing costs. Its yield also slumped by 4.8%.

Profit before tax on ‘Qantas Mainline’ operations fell 27% to A$542 million.

Ends.

Google: Trust Us – We’ll Tell You What You Need To Know

By Martin Kelly

Google CEO and Chairman, Eric Schmidt last week declared that the famously secretive company is trying hard to become more transparent.

But don’t expect this to happen overnight.

Schmidt made it clear at the Search Engine Strategies conference in San Jose that Google takes competitive advantage very seriously and will not do anything that remotely compromises its position.

As for advertisers, “we’re trying to find ways we can give (more) information to advertisers that is truthful and accurate.”

This will take time, he said.

Meanwhile, Schmidt admitted that click fraud – where companies repeatedly click on the ads of their competition in a bid to send them broke – is “a very serious problem” but one “I believe we have under control”.

His comments come on the heels of a report by Google in which it says the amount of click fraud has been over estimated by sections of the industry.

In a 45 minute interview, he also said that Google – for all its reach, ambition, new deals and innovations – will not stray far from its core mission.

“Our fundamental goal is to provide the most accurate search result,” Schmidt said.

At present the number of quality links a website has is major factor in determining page ranking and Mr Schmidt said Google is investigating additional methodology.

“We are investigating various ways of improving search beyond links but I can’t discuss that – it is highly proprietary information.”

In terms of product innovation: “The test we apply is not whether we think the product is great but whether it improves people’s online experience.”

He said competitors are only “one click away so we are trying to keep our customers happy by giving them choices and empowerment.”

Ends.

Travel Wired: Online Gets Bigger While Passengers Get Smaller

By Martin Kelly

Getting out of the United States late last week felt like leaving a war zone.

Security was tighter than a travel agent’s profit margin with a slew of news crews prowling LAX for horror stories.

But the only tear jerker I had was one they wouldn’t be interested in – the Qantas starvation rations on the way over – perfect for those on a diet and a nightmare for everyone else.

It’s pretty obvious that this is an airline looking to cut costs any way they can. The food is basic and sparse.

I used to think that Singapore Airlines had no right to fly between Sydney and Los Angeles; now I’m not so sure.

What I am certain about is that online travel is already big and getting much bigger in the United States.

It has a far greater media presence than traditional travel operators, especially if you count airlines telling customers to book direct.

The marketing is anything but sophisticated – cheap and fast are the major messages.

Both Orbitz and Priceline are running TV campaigns offering savings of up to $US200 on holidays when flights and hotels are combined (ie dynamically packaged).

Accommodation website Hotels.com has taken a different tack in a promotion it is running on AmericanAirlines boarding card wallets.

Hotels.com is offering “Great Deals Direct From The Experts” complete with a photo of a few call centre staff looking like Blues Brothers extras, wearing dark shades and stony expressions.

The twist, of course, is that they are promoting people over machines with the tagline: “Call our certified experts 24/7 or go online today”.

Interesting – perhaps they have discovered people close a deal better than any computer and are worth the extra money (hotel sales were up during the June quarter for parent company Expedia).

AmericanAirlines, meanwhile, flush with its first profitable quarter in eons, is continually pushing the message that “we guarantee you’ll get our lowest fares at AA.com”.

Travellers who find a cheaper fare elsewhere will get a US$50 ticket voucher.

The good news is that is enough to get yourself a decent meal before boarding your next long haul flight.

Believe me, you’ll need it.

Ends.

Join The Conversation – Or Else!

By Martin Kelly in San Jose

“Join the conversation” – that’s the advice from leading online reputation management experts on the best approach to handling bloggers with a negative fix on their company or industry.

As Nan Dawkins, Partner at RedBoots Consulting, says: “It’s not a conversation if you’re not responding to criticism.”

Blogging is the tip of the social search iceberg, and a big topic at the Search Engine Strategies conference in San Jose.

Online ‘communities’ have been a constant reference point for speakers across all tracks.

Websites continually referred to include del.icio.us (URL, link tagging), flickr.com (image sharing), digg.com (links/stories/tools) and technorati.com (blog search engine and resource).

In travel terms, TripAdvisor, Travelocity, Expedia and Travel Planner from Yahoo have also been referenced, though not always in glowing terms (more on that later).

Yet for all the hot new sites, blogging remains front of mind for a couple of reasons:

1) Many of the speakers have their own blogs (ergo blogging must be important)

2) Blogs can have a major impact, positive or negative, on brand reputation if picked up by one of the ‘communities’ listed above

According to statistics cited by Dawkins, blogs account for 26% of search engine rankings on Fortune 500 companies.

Meanwhile, 62% of consumers regard bloggers as the most trusted source of information.

She says Techorati claims that one new blog is being created every second and that there are currently around 53 million blogs in existence.

So what can you do if a blogger takes a dislike to your company or product and those negative thoughts are ranking high on search engines?

CEO of Converseon, Rob Key, agrees that joining the conversation is the best initial strategy – send an email, correct any factual errors, don’t be heavy-handed.

He advises the creation of social media sites by companies under attack to push negative blogs down the rankings and off the vital front page.

“Create social media relevant to your industry,” he says.

Travel reviews on sites such as Travelocity, Expedia and TripAdvisor, came under he spotlight when a hotelier in the audience complained that her property was getting bad reviews (surely it wasn’t for any good reason?).

Her issue is that because the reviews on these sites are anonymous, there is no way to contact reviewers to address their issues.

Likewise, there is no guarantee the reviews are real because in most instances reviewers are not required to prove that they stayed at the property in question.

In other words, reviews could be posted by competitors or consumers with a grudge.

“Also it means we could be posting stuff about our own property, but that’s not really the point,” she says.

Ironically, the advice she received was to do exactly that, post her own comments, and also encourage (presumably) satisfied guests to post their own comments and hopefully drown out the negativity.

In other words, join the conversation.

Ends

Money Buys Results Online

 By Martin Kelly

TRAVEL has an incredibly high 50% click-through rate on paid search advertisements, delegates at the Search Engine Strategies conference in San Jose were told this week. In other words, one of every two site visits generated by a search engine request comes from a paid link. Senior VP at ComScore Networks, James Lamberti, said travel is way ahead of other industries when it comes to getting consumers to hit their sponsored links. He said the click-through rate across all industries is just 13% (up from around 12% on a year ago) on paid ads. 

Lamberti, whose research applies to the massive United States market, attributed the high hit rate on travel being “a highly developed category” with savvy marketers serving heavy demand. The conference also heard from Nielsen//NetRatings that travel buys far more online advertising – across both search and display – than any other industry. Other big spenders include electronics, media and telecommunications (display); retail and pharmaceuticals (paid).

Ends.

Case Study: Fishy Business Hooks Thousands Online

On an average day, 10,000 visitors typically pay $20 each to tour the Georgia Aquarium. That alone is a huge win for a tourist destination that only opened last November. But here’s an even bigger deal — 93% of tickets are sold online, directly from the Aquarium’s Web site. Plus prior to opening, sell-out fundraising efforts were conducted online. Whether you’re in ecommerce entertainment, or drive donations, this MarketingSherpa Case Study should prove inspirational:

CHALLENGE

The Home Depot Co-founder Bernie Marcus understands the power of customer convenience in marketing.

So, way back in 2001 when he and his wife, Billi, decided to become the primary benefactors of a public aquarium for Atlanta, first they registered the domain name GeorgiaAquarium.org.

Over the next five years of committee meetings, fundraising and building, the Web remained at the forefront of marketing plans. Why not, the newly-formed marketing team wondered, see whether convenient ecommerce could be used for everything from individual donations to visitor tickets?

Why make people mail in donation checks, or stand in line at ticket windows later on, when they could just point and click?

But, how do you get loads of traffic for a fundraising Web site of the unbuilt Aquarium? And, how can you train the public, who are used to buying on site tickets at amusement parks and zoos, to go online instead when the Aquarium opened?

CAMPAIGN

As Kristie Cobb, Director of Membership & Annual Programs explains, "Online was brought in a year and a half before we launched." Here’s the four-step plan the team used (plus, see creative samples below):

Step #1. Limited "Teaser Site" with email offer launched October 2004

The Web site’s job was to begin building a relationship with visitors that would lead to donations and ticket purchases down the road. That meant sticky content from the start. In addition, the site needed enough content and inbound links to begin the long haul out of the search engine sandbox into high visibility.

"Coming soon" or "under construction" pages are worst practices in Web design — visitors and search engine spiders leave quickly.

However, Bernie Marcus knew the power of PR — he didn’t want to load the site with every piece of information from the start but rather allow limited tidbits from time to time to build the story. He strictly disallowed the staff from any mention of the biggest news — three Beluga whales — on the Web or in PR until two weeks before opening.

Therefore, the team got creative, digging up scraps of information that Atlanta residents and aquarium fans around the world would find fascinating. Examples — an ever-evolving series of aerial photos of the Aquarium’s construction, as well as stories about each of the lesser fish as they arrived.

Plus, the Web site featured a ‘join the email news list’ call to action to start garnering names for future promotions.

Step #2. Fishscales online donation appeal launches Feb. 14, 2005

Just as other building committees use named bricks for fundraising, the Aquarium decided to build a wall of lit-up glass bricks called ‘fishscales.’ Each scale would contain the name of an individual donor.

"Atlanta’s a big drive-time city. It’s got one of the longest commutes in the US," says Cobb. So, in addition to emailing a fishscales offer to everyone on the site list, the Aquarium also launched a full-out radio campaign. "A lot of the stations did spots with Bernie. They’d have him come on the show."

The team made fishscales’ ecommerce back end as appealing as possible by adding an animated Flash interface where the donor could see how what they typed in would actually appear on the ‘scale.’ (Note: This is something Apple’s ecommerce team also uses to make buying an iPod from them directly online more appealing.)

Last, but not least, the team reviewed Web analytics for the first 24 hours of Fishscales’ selling to determine if and where on the site visitors went to immediately after making the donation. Then they redesigned that ‘thank-you page’ at the end of the ecommerce process to contain links to the most appealing pages.

This way, donors would continue to be educated and involved in the Aquarium’s site rather than being dead-ended.

Step #3. Pre-launch annual passes offered online Oct. 12, 2005

Six weeks prior to opening day, and amid a growing volume of launch PR, the team decided to send out an email campaign offering annual passes to the general public.

This was a bold move given that no one had yet toured the Aquarium. Would the public buy passes online site-unseen?

The pricing was careful — just a little over twice the posted daily ticket cost. Plus, pre-opening pass holders were entitled to visit the Aquarium two days “before” the official launch.

Step #4. All-new Web site launches

In the meantime, the Web team were busy rebuilding the site completely in time for opening day. In fact, they considered the new site as an entirely different site because its goal was so very different from the first site. The new site’s goals were in order: 

– sell "timed" tickets (a benefit ensuring you never stood in
line or fought your way through a too-full Aquarium)
– allow pass holders to reserve timed tickets
– book group events
– gather donations

From initial wirefame to the final site, every aspect of the navigational design was built around these goals. In fact, the ticket purchasing form was built in as an integral part of the left vertical navigation bar appearing on every single page of the site.

Prior to launch, the team invited selected members of the public to a computer lab to use the site as part of a consumer usability study. Then, based on feedback, the designers add more "click here" hotlinks than you find on most sites today.

Plus, any possible bumps in the shopping cart were smoothed out to provide the easiest possible experience and reduce potential abandonment.

RESULTS

Since the Aquarium officially opened Nov. 29, 2005, it’s hosted nearly 2 million visitors, 93% of which purchased their tickets via the Web site. That’s an astonishing accomplishment — and one we’re not sure any other similar amusement destination has matched.

The team had hoped to sell 20,000 Fishscales in 2005. However, their estimates were far off. The program sold 35,000 Fishscales and had to be shut down in a little over four months because the wall the scales were destined for simply couldn’t be made any bigger.

The email announcing the annual pass offer got a 72.3% open rate and a 36.7% clickthrough rate. 8,000 passes were sold via ecommerce and phone in the first eight hours of the offer. Subsequently, these pre-opening passes sold out completely. Faced with unexpected demand, the Aquarium had to pull the offer off the site ahead of schedule.

The new site’s navigational architecture has proven quite successful. Despite the fact that the site is loaded with plenty of educational and newsy information, more than 90% of incoming site traffic funnels quickly into the reservations and ticketing areas.

Georgia Aquarium – http://www.georgiaaquarium.org


Speakers, Program Revealed

- Sydney, October 24, 2018 -

Where:  The Langham, Sydney
When: Wednesday, October 24, 2018
Program: Latest Agenda, Speakers
Bookings: Early Bird - $495 + gst

The first speakers  have been revealed for the Travel IQ business and investment conference in Sydney on October 24.

Bookings have just opened and confirmed speakers include:

Anthony Hayes, Chief Operating Officer, Sealink Travel Group (SLK)

- Anthony Moulder, Head of Transport & Infratsructure Research, CLSA Australia

Anthea Hammon, David Hammon, Directors Hammons Holdings, (Scenic World/Sydney Harbour Bridge Tourism Experience)

- Bob East, Chairman Tourism Australia/ Chair Experience Co (EXP)

- Brett Mitchell, Regional Director APAC, Intrepid Group

- Darrin Grafton, Co-Founder, Serko (SKO)

- Dax Eddy, Executive Director, Jamberoo Action Park

- Jamie Pherous, Managing Director, Corporate Travel Management (CTD)

- Josh Oakes, Director, The Sunshine Tribe

- Les Szekely, Managing Director, Grand Prix Capital, early investor in SiteMinder and Rezdy

- Nigel Benton, Publisher, Australian Leisure Media

- Robert Halfpenny, Managing Director, Aurora Expeditions

- Rod Cuthbert, Founder Viator, Former Chairman Rome2rio

- Rob Smith, Divisional Director, Australia/New Zealand, Merlin Entertainments (LON: MERL)

- Sue Badyari, Chief Executive Officer, World Expeditions

- Simon Lenoir, Co-Founder, Rezdy

- Tammy Marshall, CEO, The B Hive

- Vasso Zographou/Michael Simpson, Savills Hotels

Travel IQ is a new one-day conference that celebrates the business of travel with the people who live it every day.

- Entrepreneurs
- Owners
- Directors
- Investors
- Managers
- Key executives

Travel is a business, and Travel IQ will treat it like one.

You’ll learn how to improve your business, list a company, source finance, scale-up, connect with the right people, capitalise on fresh opportunities.

The program will be packed with industry innovators, creators, accumulators, doers, legends and pioneers.

See the travel industry through their eyes and leave with a better understanding of where you’d like to take your business.

Travel IQ is being held in the small but perfectly formed ballroom at the delightful Langham Hotel in The Rocks, Sydney, on October 24.

Numbers are strictly limited.

There are just 135 seats, ensuring everyone who comes receives maximum value and can properly engage with fellow attendees.

Catering will be of the highest standard with ample networking opportunities in comfortable surroundings.

Please register your interest here and we’ll be in touch when bookings open.

Travel IQ is being produced by Martin Kelly, who created the TRAVELtech and No Vacancy conferences, now owned by National Media.

More information on Travel IQ

- It's All About The Information - 

TravelTrends founder Martin Kelly has diversified and now also runs Bluewater Press, a communications and thought leadership consultancy with a particular expertise in travel. Services include:

- Strategic Communications
- Media Releases & Distribution
- Crisis Management
- Thought Leadership
- Industry Advocacy
- Positioning, Messaging
- Marketing Plans & Execution
- Engaging Content

Martin is a communications, public relations and media professional with extensive high-level experience across the travel, internet, property and banking industries, both in-house and as a consultant.

For further information please email martin@traveltrends.biz

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