Traveling for the holidays? Getting a few last meetings in, but worried about snow storms hitting Chicago? Hauling two kids to see family in St. Louis or New York? Especially this time of year, travel can create stress before the trip, but also a sense of helplessness when things go wrong.
With tools like TripIt, GateGuru, airline, and TMC apps to consolidate itineraries, help change flights, and search for airport and destination services, mobile is the rage in travel technology. But in my experience studying mobile travel technology to develop product strategies, none really give you peace of mind or help solve all the right problems.
When your flight takes off late, you might miss your connection. Your connection might be delayed or canceled. You may not know if there are other options, how to access them, or what airlines can (or should) do to help.
And while mobile apps provide some good information, you’re still left to figure it all out, often juggling multiple apps, and trying to communicate with colleagues or get those tired kids through the airport.
So what is Cranky Concierge?
Since this site is MakeTravelBetter.com, I had such a good experience with its Flight Monitoring plan over Thanksgiving that I thought I’d highlight it as you prepare for holiday travel.
Leveraging mobile technology and live, personal service together, Cranky Concierge proactively monitors your flights, identifies alternatives, provides real alerts (not automated alerts that show up when they’re irrelevant), suggests changes, and can re-book on your behalf.
In other words, it doesn’t just provide information after you need it, it helps anticipate problems and solve them.
Before we even boarded our flight in Seattle, our concierge, David Hotz, alerted us our connection in Atlanta was already delayed and gave us two options at neighboring gates through Detroit or Minneapolis, whose weather looked better.
Frankly, we wouldn’t have had any idea of a downstream delay, and searching a mobile app would have been fruitless. We stuck with the original since the other gate agent wasn’t cooperative, but options were there.
Landing in Atlanta, our connecting flight was delayed further. Unfortunately, there were no alternatives to Richmond left that night, and we were hungry and wanted a decent, non-fast-food experience.
So we used normal mobile search for restaurants in the Atlanta airport. It didn’t help. We tried to use an airport app. Not that helpful. We tried looking at airport maps, going through four terminals, and checking out restaurants ourselves. Nope.
So we asked David, who gave us a spot-on suggestion for OneFlewSouth in Terminal E (where I also got the best Old Fashioned I’ve had).
When our Richmond flight was delayed even more, he called the Alamo desk to make sure they would have a representative after 1am.
To be clear, this was not an on-demand agent who would have to look up our information and figure things out while we sat on the phone. David was proactively watching our flights, identifying alternative plans, and unsolicitedly offering to call the Alamo desk.
All for $30.
Who is Cranky Concierge good for?
After our trip, I talked to Brett Snyder, The Cranky Flier himself. According to him, his original target was “regular people when traveling,” but a few segments seem to stand out:
- Infrequent fliers, who tend to be most appreciative because they’re more nervous
- Unmanaged business travelers, who don’t have TMC agents
- Expert travelers who do know what they’re doing, but like to have someone to connect with
And if you need different levels of service, like Urgent Assistance, Flight Planning, and Award Travel, they’re available.
I also asked Brett what he felt the key qualities of the service need to be.
His response? Primarily, Cranky Concierges have to be able to “figure it out”, but also demonstrate:
Tough getting all those in today’s consolidating airline world, even as industry profits are up.
Bottom line? The airport and flight experience can be tough, especially this time of year. So if there are ways to mitigate risk – and even enhance the experience – Cranky Concierge is one of them.
Give it a try.
Gogo is pricing its IPO today (Update: it launches at $17 per share) after shelving its original plans.
Since I introduced new potential passenger experience and IFEC economic models in late 2009 that could capitalize on the coming growth in digital media and mobile technology, leverage the “60-hour cycle” of passenger engagement opportunity, and encourage airlines to “think outside the flight”, about 70 airlines and others with vested IFEC interests (Gogo, Panasonic, Amazon, etc) have talked with us or viewed them to inform their own strategies.
Progress has been good, and credit airlines and Gogo for improving a previously customer-challenged experience (when’s the last time you saw SkyMall online?) The “Think outside the flight” ecosystem has improved as well, with iPads at airport gates, food-ordering capability, etc.
But financial investors should consider a few key things:
1) Gogo’s penetration strategy in cutting deals with most domestic airlines has worked brilliantly, but the model is still based on paid WiFi, countering larger consumer trends toward free WiFi.
2) Employers may still be showing willingness to pay, but what is the elasticity of that pricing and demand?
3) How much of Gogo’s revenue growth is result of increased passenger demand per flight, or just additional plane installs?
4) Gogo’s product does not provide capacity for what passengers really want – streaming video and uninterrupted internet service
5) This is caused by constraints inherent in Gogo’s ATG model, which airlines adopted primarily because installation took only one night and cost half of Row 44’s satellite install cost (even though Gogo financed much of it).
7) However, investors should consider when the continuous capital investment cycle will ever allow the product to command pricing necessary to deliver a healthy marginal profit, or whether it will result in a marginal loss (see graph to right)
8) Is IPO capital actually going to fund capital investment for an unproven long-term profitability model or return capital to earlier equity investors and management?
9) In conjunction, since Gogo also just took out a $11o+ Million line of credit, it will be prudent to watch its capital structure over time
10) Will product suppliers – namely entertainment industry content owners – will provide attractive enough margins given the battles they’re engaging in with Netflix, Amazon, etc? My original model suggested customer acquisition relationships with the new digital media firms as they compete for share, so going it alone in dealing with Hollywood may not work
11) Will (or When will) the consolidated airlines, if Gogo’s profitability becomes attractive enough, decide to take a larger piece for themselves?
So it’s certainly interesting, and Gogo and its partner airlines have done a great job trying to deliver a better passenger experience, but the investor viewpoint may require a different lens.
In somewhat understated fashion yesterday, Concur announced its new voice-driven mobile travel search.
This is a great step for a number of reasons. As mobile bookings grow, particularly for new hotel bookings and in-trip changes, any advancement that enables business travelers to cut friction out of managing their trips is fantastic.
And while this is cool technology, it also helps deliver what business travelers and their companies really need as hard travel costs and fees continue to rise with airline consolidation and a strong hotel industry – economic productivity.
This has been coming for a while. As Google announced its ITA acquisition in 2010, I showed via the linked presentation how a convergence of forces could enable Android voice search integration with ITA’s QPX airfare technology and why travel is a great candidate for voice to potentially help shift the consumer travel landscape.
And as I’ve worked with corporate travel clients the past two years, it’s even more applicable to business travelers.
Now, congratulations to Concur for making it happen, likely using its late-2012 investment in Evature, which seems to have pivoted to voice search after launching as natural language text search, and tapping the Android voice API.
Why is the timing right now?
Simply, voice engagement continues to go mainstream. Android searches were already 25% voice around 2010-2011. Siri, of course, received a lot of fanfare.
But it’s not just mobile. Microsoft continues to push its vision in the striking example of its new Xbox One, architected to markedly drive voice engagement in the living room with its hardware install base and 45-50 Million Xbox Live subscribers.
For travel specifically, as I wrote earlier:
“Travel is still a commerce category that needs innovation…the beauty of Expedia and others is that they gave consumers the ability to cut inefficient offline search and intermediary steps and costs and go directly to the transaction.
So could natural language voice help cut inefficient online steps and costs? Current online booking UI’s…were great advancements, but still create friction. GDS’s create friction and cost.”
So back to the subject of business traveler productivity – how can we offset those costs?
- Voice technology isn’t just about convenience…
- Avoiding typing and drop-down menus can easily save a minute or three, and those minutes add up…
- Imagine saving just ½ hour out of the entire booking and itinerary management process…
- For a company whose employees take 100,000 trips, value that time at even just @ $100/hr…
- that’s a $5 Million economic productivity gain…annually
- Even as a soft cost, it’s a nice bite out of those increasing airfares, ADRs, and lovely ancillary fees
So what’s next?
TMC’s can continue to improve their own product, and for open booking via Concur, the opportunity for suppliers to capture business travelers by reducing friction in their own sites and apps should be compelling.
As for voice search, we’ll see how adoption takes, so keep on talking…
Amazon launches bold digital media expansion. Airlines (and hotels) – don’t wait until travelers get on the plane…
Amazon has dominated the eBook market with its Kindle, is vertically integrating into eBook publishing, and as anticipated, today it launched its new Kindle lineup, clearly targeted to take on Apple and Google’s Android marketplace in the broader digital media industry.
Consumers will have 4 dominant hardware options with Apple, Android devices, Amazon, and Microsoft – if it can get its tablet and Windows Phone act together (don’t underestimate its Nokia deal prematurely) to leverage a 35-Million-strong Xbox Live base.
All zeroed in on using that hardware penetration to sell digital media content and services, so virtually any traveler carrying a device will have unprecedented access to huge libraries of content only 1-touch away.
So beating the drum again (see articles below) – while the in-flight product is clearly improving, airlines, Gogo, and Row 44 (as well as international services) need to think outside the flight and use their primary advantage – the itinerary – the holy grail of any merchandiser.
Could the new Android market and cutthroat digital media industry ground the new Gogo before take-off, and what can airlines do?
I noted previously that the transformation of Gogo’s and airlines’ approach to in-flight WiFi and entertainment is a positive step for consumer experience and, depending on how well they execute, potentially economically beneficial. Gogo has done an admirable job aggregating airline passengers to create a potentially effective channel and opportunity, and Row44 seems to have an updated focus on consumer content experience.
However, it seems their plans – publicized as of this week’s APEX conference in Seattle anyway – may risk not getting off the ground as much as anticipated if they and airlines do not continue to take steps to compete in a fast-moving digital media industry.
That’s right – the broader Digital Media Industry.
This is not just In-Flight Entertainment and Connectivity (IFEC) anymore. A new, less-myopic mindset is needed.