23 February 2006

Travel e-commerce findings

E-commerce’s ACSI score experienced a 1.3 percent boost from Q4 2004’s 78.6, to Q4 2005’s 79.6. ForeSee Results uses the University of Michigan’s ACSI methodology, which includes site users’ likelihood of using a site again or recommending it to other users, to determine rankings based on a 100-point scale.

The report segments e-commerce into four subcategories: e-retail, online auction, e-brokerage, and online travel companies.

The industry score for travel web sites improved one percent to 79, with Expedia coming in at 79, Travelocity 75 and Orbitz 74. A year ago, the big three were within a point of each other. But Expedia differentiated itself last year with new products such as cruises and packages from popular resorts, as per the information available.

“Online retail is figuring out ways to compensate for being a virtual experience by providing a lot more information than you’d be able to find in-store,” said Larry Freed, president/chief executive officer, ForeSee Results. “Many online stores offer extensive product information, side-by-side specification comparisons, customer reviews and 360-degree views, all from the convenience of your computer.”

16 February 2006

InterContinental expanding in China

InterContinental Hotels today furthered its expansion in China by signing an agreement to manage six hotels in the second most-populated province.

The group, which owns the Holiday Inn chain, will oversee 4,500 rooms in Sichuan, south-west China, a region with more than 90 million residents and a growing tourism trade.

The move supports the group’s target of 125 hotels in the country by 2008. It currently has 50, adding as many 60,000 rooms to its total portfolio of 539,000.

InterContinental has had a presence in China since 1984 and is one of the largest hotel operators there.

The six hotels are owned by Chengdu International Exhibition & Convention Group, a company with an array of interests including travel agencies and real estate.

It entered into the contract to increase the attraction of its hotels by adopting well-known brands, an InterContinental spokesman said.

Three of the hotels will become Holiday Inn – the group’s mid-market operation - two will be upper market InterContinentals and one will be a Holiday Inn Express, which targets the convenience sector.

The buildings are located across Chengdu City, the business hub of Sichuan, and Jiuzhaigou, a mountainous tourist resort.

Hilton.com drives online bookings

Hotel companies have gained control of online sales despite fears years ago that independent Web sites would take the majority of business.

Hilton Hotels and Marriott International executives, speaking this week at the Reuters Hotels and Casinos Summit held in Los Angeles, said they are not dependent on travel agencies for sales but find such outlets helpful to unload last-minute bookings that otherwise would have gone unsold.

Hilton in particular takes pride in its Web site, claiming that 90 percent of its total online sales are made there.

Third-party travel sites led by Expedia Inc‘s Hotels.com were powerful forces in the travel industry a few years ago as hoteliers in the midst of a downturn struggled to attract guests, and Web sites delivered.

But as the industry‘s fortunes have improved, hotel companies have wrested back control of inventory and room pricing and focused on building their own Web sites.

Consumer perceptions of supplier direct sites operated by hotels, airlines and car rental companies have improved, especially among customers who prefer to avoid the booking fees charged by third-party travel agencies.

More here.

Expedia quarterly profit falls

Expedia Inc. said on Wednesday its quarterly profit fell 43 percent, missing analysts’ expectations and sending its shares down 15 percent in after-market trading.

Expedia, which was spun off from IAC/InteractiveCorp in August, said international growth slowed from earlier in the year due to competition in Europe, and revenue per room night declined in Expedia’s hotel business.

Revenue as a percentage of bookings, essentially Expedia’s cut of a sale, fell for both domestic hotels and domestic airlines.

Domestic hotels have been doing well, while airlines have seen fuller planes and thus may have less need to depend on third-party travel sites. Higher operating expenses, including marketing costs, also cut into profits.

Chief Executive Dara Khosrowshahi said on a conference call that worldwide competition from suppliers as well as travel agencies intensified in 2005. In Europe, he said Expedia had also seen an aggressive push into the online space by the traditional offline travel agencies.

Aaron Kessler, an analyst at Piper Jaffray, said increase in competition was not a new trend, and added that third-party travel sites needed to differentiate themselves in the market.

14 February 2006

Travel Just a Drop

Just a Drop - the international water-aid charity for the travel industry - expects to double or even triple the amount of good work it carries out throughout the world, thanks to the generosity of .travel.

The new internet domain has committed to donate $1 (US) to the charity for every .travel domain registered. Just a Drop trustees estimate that the new initiative means they can save the lives of thousands more children.

The first donation of $16,162 was presented in New York by Ron Andruff, president of Tralliance Corporation, the .travel Registry responsible for administering the domain, to Fiona Jeffery, Founder and Chairman of Just a Drop.

Unveiled in at World Travel Market 2005 in London, the Tralliance philanthropic initiative has the potential to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars in the decades to come and is the largest funding pledge for Just a Drop in its young history.

In addition to the .travel Registry’s donation, Tralliance will continue to encourage all entities that hold those names to match the company’s contribution. The goal is to provide Just a Drop with $2 (US) per domain name as that amount can provide a child with clean drinking water for ten years.

Current number of .travel registered domains after only 16 weeks almost tops that of all other Sponsored Top Level Domains combined, including those that have been in existence more than five years.

More here.

13 February 2006

Asia Pacific travel predictions

Don Birch, President and CEO of Abacus International, one of Asia Pacific’s travel facilitator, recently shared his key predictions for Asia Pacific travel in the year ahead.

“The growing number of travellers is fast changing the travel landscape in Asia. Their needs are becoming more complex and demanding. For example, mass travellers prefer the traditional travel agent service, competitive pricing and travel more often; while on the other end, the elite travellers seek authentic experiences and customized itineraries,” Mr Birch predicted.

“Travel is no longer a luxury for most people throughout Asia, it is a necessity. This demand from travel is for both business and leisure travellers, and although airlines continue to be affected by higher fuel prices, the increase in ticket prices and added fuel surcharges have yet to deter the Asia Pacific traveller,” he said.

Not only are habits changing, but according to a recent MasterCard survey, Asia’s aging population is also producing a new group of wealthy frequent flyers with more leisure time. Household incomes are rising with the number above US$100,000 per annum set to increase by 13% to 17 million by 2014. Similarly, their travel spend is predicted to double in 10 years, reaching US$17.6 billion.

Female travellers are becoming the fastest-growing sector in Asia Pacific. The survey claims that by 2010, an estimated US$13.4 billion will be spent by women in four leading Asia Pacific destinations – Seoul, Hong Kong, Singapore and Bangkok.

Moreover, women are not only shaping travel demand patterns by travelling independently, they are also the travel organisers and decision makers for the entire family, making around 70% of all travel decisions, according to the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA).

Mr Birch predicted that although 2005 was a golden year for LCCs in Asia, 2006 will see new LCC players as well as further consolidation of LCCs in other markets.

“The low cost carrier (LCC) in Asia has begun to mature and expand. This expansion is good for the entire travel industry, stimulating demand for travel across the board, driving the development of tourism infrastructure, creating jobs and delivering choice and convenience for travellers. Airports such as the new Budget Terminal at Changi Airport in Singapore opening in March this year will attract more visitors and expand the market for both LCCs and network carriers,” he said.

“With the need to operate under tighter costs and offering increased discount fares, LCCs will increasingly see the benefits of working with Travel Agents and GDS’s. As LCCs find their place in Asia, more will adopt GDS distribution, particularly in markets where the effectiveness of direct distribution is limited by the availability of the Internet.

“Full service airlines will look at new ways to incentivise travel and provide good deals for their customers on both their long-haul and short haul routes. It is anticipated that the business traveller will remain one of the key customers of full service traveller, retaining loyalty for their reliability in service, flight times and added membership and alliance benefits,” Mr Birch predicted.

Abacus believes the Internet will perhaps be the single-most important factor in the future and growth of the travel agent industry.

Airlines to Streamline In-Flight Ops

Gulf Air and TAP are targeting savings in their on-board service costs. The two carriers have signed up to use Sabre Airline Solutions' AirServ In-Flight Solutions, allowing them to integrate their entire range of catering and cabin services and drive savings of up to 15 percent from their total catering budgets.

The product is enabling e-business collaboration between the airlines' caterers, suppliers and warehouse operations across the globe. It streamlines the entire range of in-flight operations across each carrier's network of business partners, transferring real-time information to caterers and vendors.

Tariq Sultan, vice president of Gulf Air, said: "The AirServ solutions give us the ability to automate all our catering and cabin services, from menu planning and scheduling, beverage services and duty free to entertainment, reading materials, cleaning services and more. The software will deliver an immediate increase in operational efficiency and a significant return on investment."

Murray Smyth, Sabre Airline Solutions' senior vice president for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, said, "The decision by these two very different airlines to use this one product demonstrates the flexibility of our entire range and our ability to help any carrier, regardless of size, improve efficiency and decrease costs."

Users of the AirServ solutions have seen particularly significant savings through automation of invoice auditing, resulting in reduced mis-payments. Inventory costs are cut through better order visibility, forecasting and control, while meal wastage is reduced through accurate, automated passenger forecasting. The products also help the carriers reduce distribution costs, decrease catering spend, and increase 'multiple provisioned' or 'back-catered' flights.

06 February 2006

Galileo news for travel agents

Galileo is to announce a new surcharge guarantee to protect travel agents from fuel and security charges often imposed after bookings have been made.

According to media reports, the current situation means agents’ commission is often reduced once the additional charges have been deducted.

“From now on, agents have the simple guarantee that the surcharges they see are the surcharges they pay,” said Patrick Lukan, County Manager for Galileo UK reportedly said. “There will be no surprises after they have issued the ticket.”

In another development, Galileo has introduced its Clickpoint facility making searching for flights, hotels and car-hire faster for travel agents. Lukan reportedly said: “We're trying to bring the rich content to the desktop so agents don't have to go through traditional GDS data. Agents can determine which they use. It also reduces training time for new agents.”

Using Clickpoint agents click on the required element and the booking information is automatically shown on their Galileo Desktop screen, according to travelmole.com. It was added that the technology also means agents do not have to wade through a series of screens to make the booking and Clickpoint also provides them with access to additional information such as airport terminal details and hotel photographs and maps.

03 February 2006

Denmark, Finland, United States free to travel without visas

Citizens of Denmark, Finland and the United States enjoy the greatest freedom to travel without needing visa, according to a study published Thursday. The report, compiled by the Zurich-based firm Henley & Partners AG, found that Danes, Finns and Americans can travel to 130 countries or territories a visa.

These three are followed by mainly European countries, including Germany, Ireland and Sweden whose citizens can visit 129 countries without a visa then Britain, France, Italy and Japan on 128.

"In today's globalized world, visa restrictions play an important role in controlling the movement of foreign nationals across borders," said Henley & Partners, which advises private and business clients on international tax and real estate issues. "Almost all countries now require visas from certain non-nationals who wish to enter their territory."

At the end of the list, Afghanistan came in last place, with its citizens allowed free travel to just 12 countries. Internationally isolated Iran was next at 14, followed by Iraq, Myanmar and Somalia at 15. "Not surprisingly, Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan score lowest," the company added.

Henley & Partners which compiled the results by assessing some 40,000 combinations of countries and territories said it was the first global ranking showing international freedom of travel.

"Visa requirements are also an expression of the relationships between individual nations, and generally reflect the relations and status of a country within the international community," the company added, reports the AP.

Planning for cheap travel

When it comes to traveling on a shoestring budget, a little bit of planning can help your hard-earned dollars go a long way.

Keeping accommodation costs down, researching the cost of living in your destination, taking a sensible mix of travel money and keeping a daily budget should result in an enjoyable and economical trip.

Jessa Boanas-Dewes from Lonely Planet's talk2us team, which gives free travel advice, said the first thing to do when planning a trip is to work out the money you'll have to lay out on pre-departure costs such as flights, visas, immunisations, insurance and equipment.

"Depending on where you are going, picking up on accommodation specials in advance can save a bundle," she said.

Another way to keep costs down was to exploit your contacts - look up old friends and long lost relatives and ask if you could stay with them.

"Cutting down even a few days of accommodation costs - especially in expensive countries - can save a significant amount of money," she said.

Travellers should also have investigated the cost of living in the places they are headed.

Check these details out and work out roughly how much you should spend each day of your trip so you can make your money last steadily through your journey," Ms Boanas-Dewes said.

"Then add at least 20 per cent. Allow for the occasional luxury, and have a little 'emergency fund' somewhere in case of emergency."

It's also worth finding out from your bank how much they charge for ATM withdrawals overseas.

"These days ATMs are mushrooming and the most cost-effective way to access your money we've heard of is putting your credit card in credit and withdrawing funds as you need," Ms Boanas-Dewes said.

"But make sure you tell your credit card company you are travelling, otherwise they might block your card if they see charges suddenly coming in from overseas to combat potential fraud."

American Express head of travellers cheques Barry Fletcher said people should take a mix of travel money - a card of some type, a small amount of cash and the balance of their funds in travellers cheques.

"We recommend that they do carry a card of some description, use it when they do want to make a large purchase but they don't want to eat a hole into their available cash funds," he said.

"`If they do take cash, we suggest only to take a relatively small amount in the local currency where they will be landing so they can cover off any initial purchases, whether it's a cab from the airport or whether they just want a coffee when they land."

Travellers cheques provided an excellent budgeting tool because you always know what you have spent and how much you have remaining, Mr Fletcher said.

02 February 2006

Free Bus travel for over 60's in the UK

Over-60s look set to get free travel throughout the county in a deal being negotiated between councils and bus companies.

A new Government scheme due to come into operation in April will ensure that all over 60s will have free bus passes to travel within their own district.

But councils across Herts are now hoping to introduce a county-wide scheme.

Cllr Chris Oxley, St Albans District Council's resources portfolio holder, said: "Bus companies and councils are all agreed that a single county-wide scheme would be the most efficient than individual district-wide schemes."

The county-wide scheme would cost significantly less than individual district ones because it would be more efficient to administer.

St Albans spends £690,000 on its present bus-passes which provide half-price travel for over 60s in the district as well as free travel for over 70s, the blind and some disabled people who pay an annual fee. The pass also covers journeys to local hospitals.

The Government has added a further £490,000 for the district to introduce the new free travel scheme, but Cllr Oxley said the bus companies were asking for large increases.

Visitors spend more on travel than lodging

Iowa State officials say visitors to Iowa's welcome centers spent more money on travel than lodging last year -- a possible effect of high gas prices.

The average welcome center visitor spent about 208 dollars a day while visiting Iowa, according to a survey conducted last year by the state's welcome centers. That's up about one-point-four percent from the previous year.Transportation spending, which includes gasoline, was up six dollars and 57 cents per day, while spending for overnight lodging fell by two dollars and 79 cents per day.

The majority of travelers came from within Iowa and surrounding states. Trips averaged four days, about the same as last year. Vacationers made up 47 percent of the travelers surveyed -- the largest traveler segment.The Davis City Welcome Center, near the Missouri border south of Des Moines, was the busiest, with more than 34 thousand travel parties visiting.

New travel domains on the internet

The .travel internet domain name has firmly established itself worldwide, as the necessary Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) limited launch phase came to a close this week.

Speaking at a gathering of travel industry leaders in New York, Ron Andruff, president of Tralliance Corporation, which administers the name, revealed that 16,162 companies had signed up in the name's first 16 weeks of operation.

These include such big names as British Airways, Marriott, Carnival Cruise Lines and Disney.

Unlike the generic .com name, companies registered as .travel will have to be verified operations that fall under the banner of travel and tourism, and as such will help to give the industry a unified presence on the web, edging out time-wasting "cyber-squatters".

Consumers should therefore find it easier to research and purchase a wide range of travel-related products, from package deals and cruises, to hotel bookings and flights.

"The .travel registry is now open and we are inviting all the world's travel-related businesses to claim their space on the internet," said Mr Andruff.

"Averaging 1,000 domain names per week at this stage clearly indicates a high level of enthusiasm throughout the industry. And while no one expects this pace to continue, it certainly demonstrates that the .travel space will continue to populate in a robust fashion over the next decade."