Google

Is Google the new Travel Meta Search?

Do metasearch companies have a future, and if so, what is it, asks travel technology, CRM and social media consultant Jon Pickles

The recent announcement by Michael O’Leary that “there are some very exciting developments with Google where we have been working with them on sharing the pricing”, and that “it will blow comparison sites like Skyscanner out of the water”, hints that Google is looking to get into flight metasearch in a big way.

I have always maintained that at some point in the near future consumers will start their holiday search direct from the Google search box – if they don’t do so already.

Once Google provides a meta-like result set showing the cheapest fares, hotels and extras, the metasearch companies will be redundant. Google are already doing this in the US.

1

I know that Mr O’Leary is known for making bold claims, but he would not have mentioned the detail about the Google search were there not an element of truth in it.

It wasn’t long before confirmation came with news that Ryanair was participating with Google on Flight Search. Try google.co.uk/flights.

Google has a Travel team in the UK. They are not just there to help travel companies, or are they?

What I love about Google’s Flight Search is that as soon as you choose a departure city you then see a map of all destinations that departure airport services – a really nice, clean interface, uncluttered by the confusing array of advertorial baggage the metasearch sites have to show in order to monetise them.

Compare Google Flight Search and Skyscanner from a user perspective and see what you think?

2

Take a look at Google’s Travel insurance comparison site. You can search for travel insurance across multiple suppliers (40).

It’s got a clean, easy-to-use interface and provides a comprehensive list of results. You can select one or more for comparison, and when ready to buy you are redirected to the insurance provider’s web site.

When you simply search for “Travel Insurance” in Google you get a prominent ad for Google insurance search below paid ads like this. Is this impartial?

3

Last year I needed to book a hotel stay in London for the World Travel Market. I wanted the hotel to be in Soho, London, because although I had meetings at WTM, the evening events were in the City.

I was sitting at my office desk and had my desktop in front of me. Rather than using my favourite hotel booking app, Booking.com, on my iPhone, I opened the Chrome web browser (another Google product) and typed “Hotels in Soho” into Google search.

Within minutes I had inadvertently stumbled upon Google’s hotel comparison site and made a booking. It’s fast, it satisfied my need and, well, it worked. I didn’t have to remember a metasearch URL, I just used my default browser.

So, we have to ask if metasearch companies have a future, and if so, what is it? I think that Google sees many opportunities in this space – after all, fast search is Google’s core strength.

Originally posted in Travolution: click here

Inspired: The brochure is dead, long live the tablet

Inspired: The brochure is dead, long live the tablet

In this article I, imagine a world without brochures

Inspire me

Inspire me

Arguably there are 5 stages to online holiday booking.  Dreaming, Researching, Booking, Experience and finally Sharing.  With the plethora of tablet and fablet devices hitting the high street and a device on most peoples Christmas list does the online experience really support this process?

It was 1998 when I first entered the Travel technology market.  I spent many an hour discussing the demise of the traditional brochure.  An expensive and time consuming production which would end up in Travel Agents or be sent to thousands of potential customers.  We really believed back then that the brochure could be transferred to CD/DVD and using electronic media we could extend the “Magazine” experience to a PC.  Imagine clicking through thumbnail images and reading reams of copy interspersed with the odd panoramic image or video of the potential destination.  How wrong we were.  No one wanted to replace the magazine experience by loading up a CD and basically reading the brochure electronically.  The Dream/inspiration phase was still supported by consumers (dreamers) picking up a brochure and thumbing through it’s contents whilst relaxed at home.

Fast forward to 2013.  It’s taken nearly 15 years for a device to finally become so mainstream that it might actually challenge the traditional brochure: the tablet.  Using apps such as Flipboard (www.flipboard.com) we can quickly see how content can be transformed into an inspiring magazine, beautifully laid out onto flip-able virtual pages with delectable fonts and supportive white space.    This Christmas is the first year that consumers are most likely to the holiday search looking for inspiration using their tablets.  They will be looking for imagery that inspires, turning their dreams into reality?  Or will they?  How many of the OTA’s provide inspiration from their home pages?  What the consumer will most likely find is a tablet unfriendly search box where they are forced to put in dates, destinations and click the search button.  They will then be presented with uninspiring thumbnails and way too much text to consume.  All topped off with an overly large font showing price per pax!

Think about socialising.  In clubs pubs and restaurants people chat about experiences.  They constantly socialise on social sites about their holidays, their desires and post holiday images using Instagram, facebook and twitter.  Soon they will post their images to Pinterest creating a travel board that will be re-pinned time and time again as like-minded consumers find inspiration in those images and experiences.

Inspiration is the key.  Traditional search cost and book seemingly ignores the dreaming and inspirational part of the consumer journey.  The social aspect is dabbled with but not understood and so tour operators only achieve a small percentage of likes finding it difficult to create and generate social conversation by thinking of this phase and posting relevant, inspiring imagery on their social pages.

So what do OTA’s need to do?  They need to embrace the phases of holiday booking.  Ditch the search cost and book process of old and inspire, converse and start the buzz.  Focus on tablet first to provide an online inspirational magazine where the consumer can browse through inspiring images.  Inspiration that is relevant to the viewer where they login using social log in, where they can post their favourite images using any of the social media apps.

Come on Travel, 15 years on lets get inspired!

Article originally published on Travolution.com December 10, 2013.

Mapple

Has Apple become Microsoft

It wasn’t that long ago when you could guarantee that your Mac, iPad and iPhone would never crash, never get a virus and allow you to do what you needed to do and not worry about the tech. On the other hand, Microsoft based PC’s would constantly crash, be forever downloading updates, and you’d spend more time sorting an issue than being productive.

Fast forward to now. It’s very rare that I switch on a Mac device and it doesn’t start downloading updates to the OS, iTunes or one of the many apps I have installed (last count 27 apps updated since 7 Dec). On top of this OS Mavericks seems to have slowed my 2 year old iMac to a crawl and this morning iOS7 on my iPad crashed and rebooted twice. It seems to me that the consumer is fast becoming the BETA tester. At least @Priceline had the decency to badge their latest APP a BETA. I know it’s not Apples fault entirely but they are guilty of releasing updates to apps that clearly have had little end-user testing , to eager end users who accept that updates are a way of life.

Once again I find that my tech is starting to get in the way of productivity. Now my most reliable of devices (my trusty iPad) has started to crash and lock up just when I need it.

We are in a world now where immediacy is key. The pressure on software developers and tech companies to deliver new things and fast, is reducing the user test time that was probably three or four times longer than it is now. It’s refreshing to see that Google has reduced the footprint of it’s latest Android release (KitKat) so that it can run on older android devices. There is now an opportunity and Google are taking it, to steal Apples flame and as it is doing, release affordable, high quality devices and a robust platform on which users can enjoy higher levels of productivity. Now we just need better battery life!

A roundup of this weeks travel technology events

Personalization gone mad

Personalizaton must be relevant

Ever since 2008 I have been banging on about personalization and how it can be used to impact sales and better still “customer engagement”.  Earlier this week I attended the most excellent Travolution Summit in the exclusive and rather nice, GRANGE ST.PAULS HOTEL.  I was on a panel entitled “From a one-night-stand to a steady relationship” along with Vic Darvey, Managing director new business, travelsupermarket.com and Dirk Guenther, Sabre director, Air shopping and decision support.  Chaired by Travolution editor Lee Hayhurst (@leehayhurst) we discussed personalisation and how personalisation would be a key driver for OTA’s moving forward and also the impact of mobile on the travel market (a precis of the discussions key messages can be found here).  We also discussed the barriers to personalisation and how you need to build it into the core of your technology.  I argued that travel companies did not do a great job of getting the customer interaction right.  Vic Darvey said that legacy technology and lack of innovation from travel technology suppliers, made this extremely difficult without building from the ground up to get personal.  Whilst I agreed that there was a lack of innovation with the travel tech companies, its more of an outside in approach where you can harness the big data out there and just enable your inner sanctum to react to it. Vic Darvey’s views are expanded in an article on travolution.com.

Much was discussed at the Travolution Summit but the key take-aways were personalisation, trust, mobile first and customer engagement.  To summarise the summit messages:

  • Disruption: something that comes along to disrupt the norm.  Think mobile apps such as Uber, Hailo and twitter.
  • Personalization: to be a player travel companies are going to have to get better at using customer data and return more relevant search results offers and prices.
  • Mobile first: Travel companies should have a mobile first strategy.  This means think mobile deployment before you worry about the web and call centre strategy;
  • Trust: it’s all very well pushing offers and relevancy to customers but you don’t want to scare the crap out of them.  You need to win their trust and make sure they see your company as a welcoming friend rather than a spammer;
  • Customer engagement: Customers are happy to give travel companies their data BUT they want something in return.  Relevant and well targeted offers, with perfect timing, are the ones that will keep the customer happy and buying.  (Read my previous blog article “This time it’s personal”)
Mobile Strategy

Do we have a mobile strategy?

Later this week we had the Phocuswright Conference which although I didn’t attend (it was in Ft. Lauderdale Hollywood) watched avidly using the online stream from the centre stage.  It was great to see the Innovation Awards going to some companies who are really trying to improve the customer experience.  However, I didn’t really hear about anything this year to disrupt the industry.  Interestingly the UK and USA are in sync as the themes from Travolution Summit were again echoed across the pond.  So, high on the agenda were Disruption, Personalization, Trust, Mobile first and customer engagement.  Two presentations of particular note were TripAdvisor’s CEO Stephen Kaufer (@kaufer) and Sam Lessin (@lessin), Facebook’s Director of Product Management.  Both spoke of the “in-destination” or as Trip Advisor call it “in trip” experience and how mobile and personalization were going to “rock” the travellers experience.

A great week for Travel and Technology and so great to think I was talking about personalisation well before it eventually started being discussed at the two biggest Travel Technology events on the calendar, “now where’s that patent?”

Look out for my next blog on Meta Search: “Will Google be the new holiday meta search?”

This time it’s personal. Why personalisation is important to the travel market.

personalisation

This time it’s personal

“I give you everything, yet you give me nothing.” – this might sound like a song title, or an argument you have had with a partner, yet it’s how I feel every time I get an email marketing communication.

I am a consumer.  I am in charge of my data.  I decide who has my data.  I take time to set up my likes etc on Facebook and I often log into sites using Facebook login instead of creating yet another anonymous email/username login.  I give companies my data so that they can use it to personalise my experience.  So why on earth don’t they use it?  I keep getting emails from travel companies offering me generic holidays and destinations, tagged with “discount”, “free children” and so on.  If they used my data they could see that clearly I have not booked a holiday with them for a long time, that I don’t ever respond to these mailings, and often don’t even click them.  Yet week after week (and I can tell you the days and times I will get each operators marketing emails) the emails come through only to be destined for the trash bin.

Travel companies should take a leaf out of Amazons book.  The Amazon marketing emails are the ones I most click on.  Not only do they get the timing just right, they have the knack of making the whole buying experience so simple that I often forget I have even made a purchase: only to receive the always welcome Amazon packaging through my door when I didn’t even expect it.  Amazon get my business because what they offer me is very relevant to me.  However, even Amazon is starting to lose a grip on the personalisation they started.  Take this example:

I use Amazon frequently, and anyone with a simple bit of data mining would realise that my last 10 purchases have all been music on vinyl (albums or LP’s to you and me).  Yet how many offers do I get daily trying to sell me the “latest electronic goods” or “Try these CD’s” or DVD’s, both of which I no longer buy.  Its as if the marketing algorithms and personalisation engine has gone wrong somewhere.  Perhaps they should add “music media format = vinyl” to their engine.  or maybe they are falling back on their “people who buy X, might also buy Y” algorithm?

In the not to distant, future, data protection will afford consumers more control over their own data.  Companies will need to be far more data-aware or risk being sued if they don’t realise this.  It won’t be a case of an unsubscribe – companies will need to provide full access to the customers data through a dashboard where the customer can pull or edit their data whenever they wish.  The consumer is becoming the “savvy consumer” (well, we are savvy, aren’t we?) and won’t take prisoners.  Companies who get it wrong will most likely lose that customer.  How many times have you purchased something, only to find it has dropped in price the next week?  There’s another personalisation engine rule: “Do not send to a customer who has just purchased”.  Have the marketing team not heard of the marketing pool?  As marketers they should have done but maybe they have become too reliant on the, now outdated, marketing tools they use?

Tesco do a great job of consumer loyalty with their Tesco loyalty card.  Consumers unknowingly give them access to purchases through the loyalty card swipe and Tesco respond with money off vouchers for the things you have in your weekly shopping basket, or clever relevant alternatives.

Travel Companies hold some very powerful data and should start to use it to their advantage.  Unlike retailers such as Tesco and Mothercare, anyone who travels has to provide their full details to the operator prior to departure.  Offline retailers such as Tesco and Mothercare will sell you something without any knowledge of who you are which is why they have to use loyalty cards.  The travel company, on the other hand, has all your information before you even travel with them.  For any holiday we have to provide our name and address and other contact details before we can travel. How powerful is that? Additionally, the travel company can make it easier for the consumer to post reviews, photos, blogs through Trip Advisor, Facebook and Twitter.  The savvy travel company can then get permission to use the consumer data (likes and dislikes) and also what the consumers friends like.  Consider the additional personal data that Facebook and twitter provide and also two new direct methods of engagement.  Couple this with access to the consumer through mobile and the tech savvy travel company can be permanently connected to the consumer using their social accounts – It has been said that with mobile, 23% of users check their accounts five times or more every day (buffer.com).  Whilst you shouldn’t expect instant returns using social media you should start using it to build your brand awareness and to deliver targeted offers.  Don’t be fooled into thinking that social is just for the young the fastest growing demographic on twitter is the 55-64 year age bracket.

So come on travel companies.  Make your customer engagement personal.  Understand your customer likes and turn your offers into bookings, and stop sending those broadcast emails out every Friday at 16:00!  Make it easy for customers to use their social networks for feedback and they will give you everything you want, but only if they feel that giving you that information will be of direct value to them.  If not, sit back and watch your customers disappear.

This article was originally published as a guest post on the Travolution website here.

Why Hotel Technology will be Travels “Next Big Thing”.

tech-savvy hotel image
For some time hotel technology has been limited to online booking.  With so many Hotels out there what will be the differentiator for both the leisure traveller and business traveller?  It’s time for hoteliers to embrace tech and step up the game.

Some tech-savvy hotel chains and hoteliers are now introducing additional mobile information to the customer:

  • Book
  • Loyalty points
  • Promote upgrades and ancillaries – social
  • Hotel info with photos and features
  • Location-based things to do and weather
  • Getting to hotel
  • Customer service notification

However, these functions are becoming the norm and the next-gen hotel needs to become a “smart-hotel”.

In addition to “basic functions” the “smart-hotel” should add power features.  These are features that make the hotel experience better for the consumer, especially the time precious business customer.

The “Always-Connected” hotel

Let’s start with always on, free Wi-Fi web access.  There is no excuse for any hotel to charge for broadband – Even McDonalds restaurants and Costa coffee houses, now provide free Wi-Fi.  I won’t even book a hotel unless I can guarantee free Wi-Fi.  I make sure at check-in that it’s available in my room and throughout the hotel.  If not, you won’t find me booking again.

Bypass check-in and open the door

OK, sometimes it’s nice to be able to chat to the reception crew but most of the time, and on a repeat booking, you arrive at the hotel and just want your room.  Imagine being able to check-in remotely from your mobile and get an update when the room is ready and your electronic NFC or barcode key is ready.  The Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites in Marion, Illinois has enabled guests to “breeze past the front desk and head up to their room as long as they have their mobile to unlock and enable the room”.  This uses a tech from OpenWays (http://www.openways.com).  This provides a Crypto Acoustic Credential (CAC) using text messaging to deliver a unique acoustic key to the guest anywhere in the world.  The good thing about this tech is that a CAC compliant door lock can be retro-fitted to many hotel electronic locks.

In-hotel services

In the last hotel I visited, neither the TV nor the remote worked.  I could not order movies or room service (there was no phone you had to use the TV).  So, why not pop up a mobile page on your phone using NFC or post your remote check-in to order room service?  Consider the upsell opportunity here as the mobile site shows me the delights of the room service menu in glorious Hi-Def and tempts me with side orders and beverages.  Alternatively let me pre-book dinner and my selection?  Why not show reviews of each course and better still show me any peer reviews.

Downloadable movies and (free of course) and TV channels could also be facilitated to my mobile or better still via the room flat screen TV.

A relatively new app on the scene is the iRiS app (http://www.irisapps.com/).  This ingenious app enables the guest and hotelier to communicate in any language and offers the guest many enhanced features such as setting room temperature, opening the door, closing curtains and set the mood lighting.  This is a cloud based facility so that the guest can set the room temperature while they are out and about and also make spa or golf bookings, or order a meal.  The hotelier, on the other hand, can push real-time offers and discounts to the customer and also ask the customer to fill in a questionnaire: all from their mobile.

What else will we see changing our hotel experience?

Bill Payment

With a mobile enabled hotel, we should be able to review our bill each time we buy a drink or book a service with the ability to pay from the mobile.

Calls

Should you wish to call the front desk why not offer Skype or other network calling capability?  Genius, but simple.

Personal service

Hotels need to offer a more personal experience where the customer’s preferences are remembered for each visit making the customers life as easy as possible.  The hotelier can then harness the power of personalisation to send personalised offers.  I recently had a call from a hotel I regularly use in London.  Their room rates have skyrocketed and I was politely asked why my bookings had tailored off.  If they had checked my history they would have seen I only book when the price is reduced.  All they offered me was a direct contact for my next visit.  I may not return unless they do something drastic with their rates!  A great mobile experience could be just the bate I need to return.

Enabling technologies

So, smart-hoteliers need to ensure they have enabling technologies for many of the things I have mentioned above.  Why not also provide QR codes for the guest to scan to read magazines, info about the hotel?

Oh, and let us not forget, all this smart-tech must work on iOS (iPhone, iPad), Android, Windows Phone, and Blackberry.

This article originally published in Travolution magazine Q3 2013 http://www.travolution.co.uk/.

What Smartphone APPS can I not live without?

I do a lot of consultancy for companies reviewing their mobile apps and making recommendations for enhancing their mobile apps.  I have been a smartphone user since the very first Nokia Communicator (9000) released in 1996.  I have moved between devices as more and more features are released and having gone through all incarnations of the iPhone and Android I now find myself with a Samsung Galaxy S4.  Am I happy with it?  Well, no not really as the problem Android has over iOS is that it is often disjointed and cumbersome.  Switching between apps is somewhat manual unlike iOS’s seamless experience.  Anyway, that is not what this post is all about.

I test a lot of apps and have therefore, many redundant apps on my smartphone which gradually slows it down and leaves no room for the vast amounts of media I take around with me (ebooks, videos and music).  So, I thought I would give my Galaxy a spring clean and clear down any apps I have not used in the past 4 months.  It was liberating but left me with a select few key apps that I could not live without.  Here’s what I call my essential top ten.  I have excluded bundled apps so these are the ones I have downloaded:

Hailo - Magnetic Taxi

Hailo – When in London (or one of the other 12 cities supported by the Hailo network) I use this app to hail a taxi cab.  Not only does it show where your taxi is on a map, it also says how long it will be and who is driving it.  The most useful thing about Hailo is the ability to create an account and lodge a credit card or debit card with it.  This means no more fumbling for cash or panic visits to a cashpoint when out and about, just opt to pay with your account and add a tip – cashless cabs – sensational – the best most useful app out there when travelling in the big city.  Every woman should use this app for trusted black cab drivers.  It has saved my bacon so many times. https://hailocab.com/ 

twitter social media app

Twitter – What is there to say about twitter?  Its essential for commenting on the world as it passes you buy.  As someone who comments on just about everything twitter is possibly the only social app you need? http://www.twitter.com

Facebook

Facebook – Facebook is my way of keeping in touch with my kids (all four of them), friends and family – oh, and the odd group also.  Essential app for keeping up to date and pasting piccies for those back home.  http://www.facebook.com

LinkedIn business social

LinkedIn – Business social media app – when you need a job you need this to keep in touch and network.  LinkedIn is something that I use every single day.  reading posts, networking with business colleagues and lining with new contacts.  The business networking app to beat them all.  http://www.linkedin.com

Instagram Logo

Instagram – So you want to post an image to your social posts and want to do it fast with some image edits?  This has to be the app.  The great thing about Instagram is that you can select one or more of your social feeds to upload an image to and fast.  Currently instagram supports Facebook, tumblr, Flickr, Twitter and Foursquare which should be enough for everyone.  I like the quick edit filters that you can apply to your pictures before uploading them – some real nice retro filters in there.  You can also use instagram to keep up with and follow your friends and celebrities should you so wish.  The great thing about Instagram is that you can just use it to take pictures – you don’t have to share them.  It’s a great and easy way to keep a visual diary of your day.  http://instagram.com

Flipboard make your own magazine

Flipboard – I started using Flipboard from the beginning – this app is essential and a great way to create your own magazines.  The interface is one of the greatest user interfaces of all time allowing the user to flip over pages and deep dive into stories.  With some great images on Flipboard you can keep in touch with worldnews, hobbies, music, photos almost anything within your own personalised social magazine. http://flipboard.com

any.do The best todo list manager app

Any.do – The web site says Any.do is here to help you manage life in a simple clever & fun way.  Well it’s right!  This is simply the best reminder and task manager on the planet.  A seductive interface the any.do app works seamlessly across devices and looks awesome.  Functionally it’s got a logical simple and effective interface letting you add, edit and complete any tasks or reminders.  For me this is my PA. Great web site imagery also: http://www.any.do/

Poweramp play ANY format music file

Poweramp – Now all of my music is in iTunes in Apple’s Lossless codec (the format I save my music in for those not in the know).  The problem is iTunes only really works with Apple mobiles and so for me with an Android device it doesn’t work.  I have been seeking a music playing app that plays apple lossless files (and indeed any other format) on my Galaxy – Poweramp does it.  Just drag your music from the iTunes folder to your phone and it plays.  Poweramp also has amazing controls, and great sounding EQ.  It’s essential if you don’t use an iPhone. http://powerampapp.com/

Google Calendar the best calender app

Google Calendar – If any of you have used Samsungs calendar app (S Planner) you will probably hate the faux leatherette brown and yellow user interface, the cumbersome calendar appointment editor and the inability to sync with anything else.  So, go to the Play store and download the stock Google Calendar app.  It just works and also beats the iPhone calendar app for ease of use – hands down.

Google chrome a fast browser

Google Chrome – Ditch the standard Android internet app or the iPhone Safari and grab the quickest most easy to use web browser, Google Chrome.  Not only is it a doddle to use but its fast and syncs with your desktop so you can pick up where you left off.  You can also read offline pages and do a host of other things with this outstanding mobile browser.