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A model for Airline mobile, WiFi, digital entertainment, and “think outside the flight” continues to unfold

Looking at airline WiFi and passenger experience, it’s great to see technology from Gogo and other providers continue to improve and see airlines introduce variants along the lines of a model we introduced in late 2009 after thinking how a convergence of a handful of dynamic industries might occur: mobile technology, IFE, airline WiFi, and respective digital video/movie, book, game and music markets.

The key elements were:

1)       Use mobile technology and digital entertainment to drive ancillary revenue and disrupt the traditional cost-center IFE value chain

2)       Position passenger markets as a customer acquisition channel for strong consumer digital entertainment brands fighting a battle for “living room share” rather than try to sell content directly

3)       Deliver a more compelling online experience focusing on site experiences travelers engage in everyday life rather than a “walled garden” of tired brands like Skymall and HSN dominating portals such as “Skytown Center”

4)       “Think outside the flight” – own the itinerary to drive mobile engagement, capitalize more on explosive growth in digital media, and deliver relevant merchandising throughout the traveler’s “60-hour cycle”, not just on the plane

Since then, I’ve enjoyed seeing many airlines and connectivity partners download or view the model and talked with some directly, and it’s great to see these elements gradually unfold in various ways, albeit in fits and starts, with even better things to come.

For #1, this is clear now, but before we’d heard of the iPad and the mainstreaming of Netflix, Amazon Video, etc, it was a bit tougher to envision.

Now we’re seeing various models, either directly via new technology from traditional seat-back vendors, via Gogo (or comparable connectivity vendors), or via iPad rentals. It does remain to be seen whether airlines and Gogo can execute on promised technology improvements (Gogo’s announced GTO service), and if the model of selling content directly will drive WiFi adoption or result in significant ancillary revenue, but passengers clearly are enjoying greater options.

DISH_screen_shot[1]

However, #2 could still offer more upside, of which a great example has now emerged in Southwest’s new service with the Dish Network, which provides free live TV in exchange for the passenger’s viewing of a short video for Dish Network and likely earns Southwest referral revenue greater than trying to sell movies.

Customer acquisition is critical in the battle among providers like Amazon, Netflix, Apple, Microsoft, Comcast, and movie studios themselves (via their Ultraviolet services), and as I suggested originally, the opportunity to feed customers to these firms fighting for “living room share” is tremendous.

Virgin Australia mobile IFE app

For #3, as we encouraged in “Part II: Can Airlines Power Ancillary Revenue with Digital Media and Wifi?“, the site experiences of Gogo and others are better, emphasizing brands consumers engage with on an everyday basis. Remember, Aircell’s (Gogo) and Row44’s original core competencies were telecommunications technology, and the consumer experience competency will continue to grow.

For #4, Virgin Australia’s new approach of “thinking outside the flight” to market its mobile flight app through the “60 hour cycle” using its knowledge of the customer’s itinerary is a great way not only to engage passengers, but also capture WiFi and digital entertainment revenue before passengers download it from own digital media services, a potential missed opportunity I’ve written about before…

Delta’s Amazon partnership and gate experience with OTG at various airports are other great examples of engaging the customer in the pre-flight and airport experience.

And as the annual APEX conference unfolds, during which Virgin America and Gogo plan to introduce their new service together, it will be interesting to see how airlines and their partners continue to develop new and creative variations on this model to deliver a better passenger experience and drive more ancillary revenue.

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The Olympics and the Connected Trip Experience

Note: Originally published for IFExpress, I have included the IFExpress introduction with full article text and link to IFExpress below.

Image credit: IFExpress

“Now that the Olympic feeding frenzy is over, we thought we would offer one last Olympic-related opinion editorial tidbit for our readers. Aviation writer/consultant, Jonathan Alford (See Below) offers his spin on an Olympic experience in relation to IFEC, a concept he calls “Total Trip Experience and Connectivity”

As London continues to bask in its well-deserved post-Olympics glow (though Prince Harry clearly basked in a different glow), it’s good to recognize what most fans can’t see – the effort to stage a successful Games by working across a vastly complex ecosystem of hundreds of Olympic operating functions, security agencies, National Organizing Committees, media, and more – all of which compete as ruthlessly for resources as the athletes compete.

In 2002, I had the privilege of working for the Salt Lake Winter Olympic Committee on our executive program management and operations team, where I realized the blood of hospitality and travel also courses through a Games – through thousands of volunteers, staffers, and vendors – as an Olympics is geared to three things:

  • delivering a great experience for athletes and guests
  • providing inspiration to the world
  • making money, of course

The air travel ecosystem is complex as well, and as the role of IFEC and ancillary revenue continues to grow, it occurred to me that an Olympic Committee’s model of integrating multiple components of the transportation and destination experience could serve as a framework for airlines’ emerging desire to extend their customer relationships through
the total trip – via IFEC and mobile technology, personalized content and services, and improved airport experiences throughout the “60-hour cycle” I’ve referred to before.

Olympic Committees work closely with airlines, gateway and host city airports, hotels, and host cities not only to ensure appropriate security, but also facilitate a seamless immersion into the destination through the inbound flight, airport experience, ground transport, and relevant destination content.

The role of transport for an Olympics, like for any travel experience, is a challenge.

As soon as I arrived in Salt Lake, I was asked to take over Olympic Media Transportation – rebuilding a severely flawed system to serve 13,000 broadcasters, journalists, and photographers.

Never mind I had zero transportation experience, but I did recognize transportation would rarely be viewed by media as enhancing their jobs, but could easily detract from them by putting competition arrival times, deadlines, and their work at risk if executed poorly.

And since media influences the perception of the Olympic brand and host city in the eyes of the world, we needed to ensure media could do their jobs without fail. In fact, my goal was to avoid having transportation in the news at all – cynical, but realistic, since it’s typically mentioned only when things go wrong.

Sound familiar?

Travelers think similarly – the flight may not enhance a trip, but can easily detract from it.

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What Delta’s Amazon deal signifies for ancillary merchandising and digital entertainment

Note: This article appeared as the inaugural article for IFExpress.com’s “Speaker’s Corner”

Though I have worked in travel technology, strategy, and finance for years, I’m also a consumer and have enjoyed commenting, as you can see from other articles in this site, hoping to identify ways in which airlines, WiFi providers, and other partners can create a better – and more profitable – passenger experience.

In late 2009, mobile technology, fierce competition in digital media and entertainment markets, and airline WiFi installation trends seemed to present opportunity as they converged.

At the time, I encouraged the air industry to take an approach with a few basic elements:

1)       Use mobile technology and digital entertainment to drive ancillary revenue in a departure from the traditional IFE value chain

2)       Position passenger markets as a customer acquisition channel for strong consumer digital entertainment brands and to deliver a more compelling experience

3)       “Think outside the flight” with mobile and location merchandising to expand revenue opportunity

Now Delta, Amazon, and Gogo are following this model and proving that the 60-70 million passengers domestic airlines carry each month are recognized as a potentially large customer acquisition battleground in the cutthroat digital media and entertainment industry fight for “living room share.”

So for the travel industry, this is not just IFEC anymore – and thinking in the context of the broader Digital Media industry could be constructive.

What’s so special?

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Apple, Siri, Google/ITA, and the growing potential of mobile voice recognition to alter the travel search landscape

With the passing of Steve Jobs, the impact he and Apple have had on our lives and technology is well-documented, but what’s taken a temporary back seat in Apple news, albeit for good reason, is the new iPhone 4S and its clear focus on Siri’s voice recognition platform.

How could this impact travel? About 18 months ago in Spring, 2010, when Google first announced the ITA acquisition, followed by the controversy of Fairsearch and DOJ proceedings, I identified a convergence of forces that could enable Android voice search integration with ITA’s QPX airfare technology (click link to see original analysis) and shift the travel landscape further (see graphic at right).

Potential voice search partner paths (from October, 2010 Google-ITA deck)

I also noted the potential of Apple’s integration with Siri to enter the market, though it would still need the fare query platform, and now that Siri has launched and been somewhat of a revelation (usage has reportedly been 10x what even Apple anticipated), could we now be on the verge of another serious potential player in travel search and demand fulfillment?

This time last year, voice search was projected to be 15% of all searches by 2015, but that did not seem to account for what Apple could do. Android searches were already 25% voice, so along with Microsoft’s voice integration through Windows Phone, Xbox Live, Kinect, and coming Windows 8 platforms, natural language voice engagement is finally going mainstream, and that 15% may end up being quite an underestimate.

Siri tells you she doesn’t do flights – yet

We’re not there yet, but imagine when she does respond to a basic voice query such as, “I want to fly from Seattle to Boston from December 21st to December 28th on American Airlines.”

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Groupon’s challenges in China. What does this mean for its Expedia partnership?

In this article, Timothy O’Neil-Dunne and I raise potential issues for Groupon and Expedia in China and ask what it could mean for their travel partnership – if China is in the plans*

Last week, various media reported that Groupon let go a large number of staff and is closing up to 41 offices of its Gaopeng.com joint venture in China.

While it is not surprising a foreign company is experiencing challenges entering China, and Groupon’s PR professionals position its actions as normal strategic adjustments after entering a new market full-bore, the scale and immediacy of Groupon’s actions are noteworthy given that it entered the market with such force and pulled back so quickly.

Its issues may lie in the hard knocks many foreign companies, including Expedia, had already experienced, chief among them underestimating the foreign investor-averse and government forces just underneath the surface-level opportunity of China’s potential market size and support of capitalism-style commerce. The constraints of China’s foreign-investment, labor, and media policies, as well as promising but still immature online and mobile transaction markets – all critical for Groupon – are a few indicators. For other hard lessons, just ask Google and Best Buy.

The seemingly simple, yet complex lesson heard over again? China is different. And though whatever segment of China’s projected US$486 Billion in domestic travel spend in 2014 (source: WTTC), of which US$78 Billion may be online spend (source: iResearch), is attributable to group and/or daily deals, it’s bound to be a sizeable market. And it’s in a land grab that can enable irrational capital investment decisions, just as it is elsewhere.

Which brings us to our Groupon-Expedia-China questions. How does this affect plans for the Groupon-Expedia partnership in China – if there even are plans – and why do we question it?

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