Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Pennsylvanian Bloggers in the First Blog Soap Opera

As David Gong noted in a comment, the Pennsylvania Tourism Office (U.S.A.) is using blogs as part of a campaign to boost spring and summer tourism. "Real People/Real Roadtrips" is what I would like to call a Blog Soap Opera. A group of people have been asked to daytrip around Pennsylvania and blog and flog about their experiences. There are (low-quality) videos with presentations of the roadtrippers, pictures and of course links to pages where you can find more information about the restaurants they're writing about, the museums they've been visiting etc.
You have the married couple Mike and Tamara, both native New Yorkers. You have 37 years old Robert who's going on a historical roadtrip to visit battelfields and "learn about the future through the past". He never goes on a roadtrip without his banjo(!) since "you never know when you'll come across a 'hoot-a-nanny'." To summarize: This guy seems hilarious! Then there's the adventurous single-guy Elliot, the biker Tom who's got nothing but his Harley, the "culture vulture" roadtrippers Manisha and Preethi - two graduates who are exploring the posher side of Pennsylvania. Finally there's the thrill seeking family in search of ice cream, cotton candy and theme parks.
It is, as Zachary Rodgers points out in an article on ClickZ, "up for debate whether the program actually qualifies as blogging, or is simply user-generated marketing content". I fully agree with him. The first thing I noticed was the lack of sequential blog posts, secondly the reversed order in the postings (oldest post is shown first).
There's definitely room for improvement on the site. The postings should be short but many, posted in sequence instead of, as today, only three extensively long postings per roadtrip. The roadtrippers should be encouraged to post more real-time updates with pictures using cell phones. The presentation movies could definitely be improved in terms of quality - why not film the roadtrippers with the Pennsylvanian landscape in the background instead of using a white back-drop?
In any case, Real People/Real Roadtrips is an extraordinary example of how blogs can and should be used in the travel industry. You have personal "real-people" stories - not too different from the docu-soap operas. The difference is that this Blog Soap Opera is online and it indirectly promotes Pennsylvania as a state full of life and cool things to do, no matter if you are a Harley-biker with leather vest or a posh 27 year-old going on a shopping roadtrip with your best girlfriend.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Low-cost Carriers Pushing Fares via RSS

A recent survey conducted by Amadeus e-Travel shows that extra services that airlines offer their passengers, such as the ability to make and modify a booking online, are becoming more and more important. Amadeus marketing vice-president and e-Travel managing director Ian Wheeler explains that "as low fares become the norm, extra services /... / become a key differentiator".
For low-cost carriers, I would assume that prices are becoming more and more equal among providers. It's therefore possible that extra services will become especially important among these competitors in order to stand out from the crowd.
One service I would like to see in the future is the possibility to get RSS feeds with fare updates on destinations of my interest. The feed could either be sent to a regular RSS reader or to a mobile device. Say for example that I'm interested in the lowest price on a ticket from London to Paris. Instead of manually checking all low-cost carrier websites daily for price updates, I could receive an RSS feed. It would also be great to set criterias such as "only notify me if the price goes under 100€".
FareCompare has a service in this area, but only on a limited number of carriers and only for US domestic destinations - and the spamload is significant. The sophistication level of the features are not that high either.
In order for a service like this to be successful, I see the number of air carriers in the inventory as a key factor, as well as the ability for the user to specify exactly what RSS feeds to be sent.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

More on Flight Delays

In May, Microsoft acquired MessageCast Inc. With MSN Alerts users can receive notifications from such sources as MSNBC, MSN’s sites and Real-time information such as in-route alerts, current weather conditions and shopping alerts can be received to MSN Messenger, e-mail and mobile devices.

Wouldn't it be possible to come up with a service, hosted by a flight information aggregator, that would automatically notify the end-customer with real-time information regarding flight delays etc.? The RSS technique could be used to push the information to the busy business traveler's cell phone, sparing him or her from having to wait at the airport for several extra hours - hours that can instead be used to do those other, more important, things at the office before leaving to the airport.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Flight Delays, PubSub & Prospective Search

Yesterday, a friend of mine called me from Nice Airport. She was about to go on a holiday to the US and was going to fly via Paris to Atlanta. Her flight from Nice was delayed by more than two hours due to a strike so she asked me to check if her flight from Paris was delayed as well or if she would miss it. The only information she had at the time was the name of the carrier and the flight number.

Said and done, I started by going to CheckMyTrip just to find out that I couldn't get any information without the reservation number. I then Googled "flight delays". The top results, several pages of the Air Traffic Control System Command Center of FAA (The Federal Aviation Administration), contained real-time information but only for general airport conditions - in the US. Another top result,, seemed at first glance only to cover American and Canadian territories (although I've now seen the international flights from overseas are covered as well). The layout of the page was terrible, with ads and pop-ups everywhere - not so credible in other words. I decided to turn to the main source, the air carrier itself. After Googling several keywords without success, I finally went to the page and navigated to the flight status page where I could check the status of the flight and see information about when the status last had been updated.


Should a passenger have to check flight status information on his/her own initiative? Should one have to call a friend with an Internet access in order to get the information? Should one have to use Google each time in order to get the information and what sources can one trust?

I want real-time information - and I want it now!


PubSub calls themselves a "matching service". PubSub has been covered frequently in the online press lately. So... what is so interesting about their services?

PubSub can be used as an alerting and notification system for virtually any type of online information. While search engines such as Google and Yahoo! deal with old, static information that can be searched, PubSub does the opposite: your query is stored and is then checked against all new information that passes through their matching engine (9 million weblogs, more than 50,000 Internet newsgroups and SEC, EDGAR, filings).

This new arena of search, similar to what Technorati is doing, can be called prospective search. This technology, if used correctly, has a lot of potential to merge with other technologies to form innovative functions and challenge conventional online businesses. Stephen Baker gave an example in BusinessWeek:

If you tell PubSub that you're looking for a Wharton MBA who's fluent in
Mandarin, and such a person posts those details on his or her blog, the search
engine makes the match for you - with little need for a job-site intermediary
[such as].

Bob Wyman, PubSub founder, predicts this technology to bring buyers and sellers together, which could easily challenge other forms of e-business.


So, how could PubSub have helped my friend at the airport?

How could it be used in the online travel industry?

To be continued...

Thursday, May 12, 2005 - THE Future Travel Site?

With regards to my previous post on collaborative filtering and travel diaries, I have now finally found a travel site that is going in (what I think is) the right direction. At, users can store all information related to their travel experiences in one place. They can not only post travel journals and pictures, but can also create their own travel maps along with ratings of cities that they've visited. When creating a new post, one automatically gets statistics on the number of visited cities, states and countries. By creating an itinerary, it's possible to store travel experiences for a multi-city trip such as "Cycling Adventure in the Far-East". Furthermore, you get an interactive routing map linked to your journal entries. And it's all for free!

Although is still in a Beta version stage, it has taken the online travel blog one step further - far more advanced than (over-valued) igougo. Not only is the functionality far beyond other similar sites, it's all searchable!

Combine this site with an online travel agency, travel metasearch engine or GDS, where all city names, hotel names, country names etc. are linked to a booking screen and you might have THE travel site of 2005.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Feed Me!

RSS, Really Simple Syndication or Rich Site Summary, is a simple push technique originally developed by Netscape. It is used for automatic sending of news and other web material from a website to the user. The user installs a simple program, a news reader, which receives information based on the user’s preferences and installations. The websites that support the technique send the information as an RSS feed, simple text files which don’t take up too much bandwidth on the Internet or on the user’s computer. There’s not yet a standard way to subscribe to different RSS feeds. Most users subscribe to an RSS reader, also known as aggregators, such as Bloglines that automatically checks the RSS feeds they’ve subscribed to and send a note when new content is added.

RSS provides opportunities to building customer relationships by increasing awareness and perceived brand. It’s an easy tool for being notified of new and changed content on multiple webpages instead of manually checking every site in which one is interested. The results are received in a well organized way, distinct from email which has become somewhat over-used.
It’s also likely that search engines soon will start reading RSS feeds, which could improve the ranking of the company’s websites, as content spreads faster and people link to the content. Some companies, such as PubSub, have some very interesting ideas on this area which I will discuss in a different blog post.

Microsoft blogger Robert Scole has said that "if
you do a marketing site and you don't have an RSS feed today you should be fired". Although it’s still in the process of becoming mainstream, he may be right considering the fact that 5% (6 million) of Americans now consume news and information through RSS (refer to Pew Internet & American Life Project, 2004). The first indicators of application of the RSS technology in the travel industry have started appearing, such as its high priority in the agenda of TravelCom Expo.


With regards to the thoughts of Paolo Torchio (International Association of Online Communication), I see several areas of use of RSS in the travel industry:


  • Providing partners with RSS feeds to help them to better promote the products of ones company
  • Notification of news and changes on websites
  • Notification of product launches
  • Sending information to internal subscribers without having to worry about huge e-mail attachments.
  • Use as a project management tool (such as Basecamp) to monitor the latest updates, communications, deadlines and other activities.


  • Notification of new products, product enhancements and events
  • Training/tips on how to get the most out of the products
  • Help travel agencies to keep track of new airlines, destinations and hotels etc.
  • Providing solutions that enables businesses to benefit from the B2C areas of use described below


  • Notification of news and changes on websites
  • Real-time alerts such as schedule updates, delays and other alerts of changing conditions
  • Notification of changes in ticket prices
  • Notification of special offers and events
  • Help users to keep track of new destinations, new hotels etc. within their area of interest.
  • Improve website rankings in the most important search engines, thus generating more traffic to the consumer Websites.
  • By appearing in RSS-specific search engines and directories, new traffic can be generated to the websites.


  • All press releases should be part of the RSS feed. By tactically including target keywords in the post titles and linking keywords to the company's websites, a larger audience can find the press release.
  • All regular bloggers are connected via RSS technology. By promoting news to them, there’s a large chance of having the word being spread for free since there’s a dedicated blogger for virtually any subject. News in the travel industry would attract travel bloggers, who would write about the news, link to the websites and creating a chain effect.[1]


Notification of Special Offers
A research done by the
International Association of Online Communicators showed that “on travel distribution websites (hotels, airlines, destinations rental cars etc.) the most visited pages or content is always related to special offers”.[2] From an end-user or travel consumer perspective, it becomes extremely time-consuming to manually check all websites. Although email is a great way to solve this via newsletter subscriptions, this method of marketing communication seems to be declining. Subscribing to an RSS feed which sends out regular updates on your area of interest seems like a better solution.

If an online travel site can be seen as an extension of Global Distribution System, then RSS could be seen as the second extension – “pushing” rates, fares and availability directly to the end-consumer and then bringing them back to make the reservation on the website. GDSs could in summary take advantage of this way of looking at RSS in three different ways:

  • Selling the solution to provider websites (i.g.
  • Providing the online travel agencies (i.g. with the solution (thus increasing bookings and booking fee incomes)
  • Using it for its own B2C websites

Improve Website Rankings Search engines give high priority to RSS content, which is why an RSS enabled website automatically improves its ranking. A real-life example of this is on of E-Site Marketing's first applications of the RSS technology. A solution was developed for a spa resort website, on which the hotel had an online shop where visitors can buy products, spa treatments and gift certificates. "After only one week after the RSS implementation, the store was ranking number 1 out of 256,000 results for a spa related keyword search. /.../ After three months the website was ranking number one for the highly competitive keyword "spa resorts" out of 11,000,000." [3]

Press Releases
RSS could be use as an effective news release tool targeting editors, building up a database of press releases with great value, both retrospectively and prospectively value. At the moment, it’s still not well-enough adopted by journalist to become an alternative to traditional press releases, but should rather be used as an adjunct to existing communication channels.

From a PR perspective, it could be argued that RSS has the flaw of relying on journalists signing up for the RSS feed. This can be solved by uploading news releases to one of the companies that summarize news releases into RSS feeds, such as Cisco, Cape Clear or PR Newswire.


[1] The Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa in Atlantic City recently used this technique to promote a charity gourmet food and wine event. The first blogger (Vivis Wine Journal) let to several others referring to the same event – ending up in a great awareness in the wine enthusiast area. Source: Torchio, Paolo (2005a).

[2] Torchio, Paolo (2005b).

[3] Torchio, Paolo (2005b).

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Tell Me Where I Want to Go on Holiday!

A survey, conducted by Forrester Research in 2002, showed that "six in ten [US leisure travelers] turn to friends and family for travel information", and more importantly - they follow through. According to the same study, almost half of the people receiving personal travel guidance from others purchase a trip.
These referral marketing travelers are highly interesting from a customer segment perspective: They earn, spend, and travel more than the typical leisure traveler does. In general, they're also more optimistic about technology which may imply that they're more likely to be online, using high-speed Internet connection. In summary: They are the perfect online travel customers!
In order for the online travel industry to take advantage of referral marketing, it's (as always) necessary to understand the customers. Depending on the product, customers are looking for different types and amounts of information and advice. One would imagine that most people don't ask for advice before buying a 2.80 € SNCF train ticket between Antibes and Nice, whereas going on a 10,000 € once-in-a-lifetime cruise trip with Queen Elizabeth III would make anyone turn to friends for advice.
Now, with regards to the facts above, think of all the marketers who are out there in the cyberspace. I personally have a travel diary where I frequently publish texts about my latest travel experiences. Imagine all the other people who, like me, want to communicate with their friends and family while they're on a trip. They write about what a fascinating hotel they're staying at, what a wonderful beach they've been to, not to mention the restaurant around the corner. However, they wouldn't wish even for their worse enemy to go with the airline they went with - 5 hours delay and rude staff. All these blogs, online travel diaries, instant messages while on holiday, e-mails - call it what you want - make up an unimagineable source of referrals, ratings and consumer preferences.
Imagine the day when Sabre improves IgoUgo to be more of a structured blogging site. Since a structured weblog (in this case travel diaries) would be XML-based, applications could be build on top of it. This would mean that ratings and reviews would become machine readable and all content could be tracked to build a customer profile. Finally add a collaborative filtering and each person writing a travel diary could be given personalized recommendations from other bloggers with similar taste. They could then turn to these other bloggers to find out more details about how they liked the hotel etc. It would also open up the doors to targeted advertisements without the customer having to fill out time-consuming and annoying profile forms.
So - what is needed?
  • Free-of-charge travel diary functionality à la IgoUgo or Swedish insurance company site Resedagboken. However, it needs to be based on structured blogging.
  • Collaborative filter.
  • Automatic customer profiling and personalization.

The results?

  • Advertisement such as personalized banners based on what you write about, where you travel, what you like and what you don't like.
  • Web services such as a feed for everyone who's going on the same tour as you are.
  • Firefox plugins for comparison shopping which reads for example destination- and hotel reviews.
  • Recommendations based on other bloggers with similar tastes - an improved version of what Amazon offers.
  • Automatic personalization of the website layout based on the customer profile.
  • Referral marketing travelers would looove this. And they would recommend others to use it as well!