October 29, 2007

Facebook Consumerism?

Microsoft's recent $240 million investment into Facebook.com has resulted in a valuation of over 15 billion dollars for everyone's favorite social networking app. Why so much? Do we honestly believe that the company has a business / revenue model that would warrant such a price?

Many people have speculated that Facebook's advertising announcement on November 6th will pave the way to revenues for this darling social community, but what are they thinking? Are they planning on leveraging all of the profile and demographic information to allow advertisers to send targeted advertising messages? If they are, so what? Are people really open to advertising messages when their primary goal on the site is to communicate and "SuperPoke" their friends? Look was happened / is happening to Myspace.com, once the site became saturated and cluttered with advertising, it started to loose its key influencer user base and their growth stagnated.
What about add on apps, or widgets? There has been a lot of corporate buzz about buying your own widget, and companies such as Tripadvisor, eBay, Zoho, Jobster, and Blue Nile have all created or purchased existing apps. These widgets are used to complement the user experience on Facebook and to have banner ads or links back to the corporate site. But this whole process still needs to have a long tail marketing approach, users are there to communicate, if you don't facilitate that, then your app will not survive.

How does this relate to the travel industry? Can a connection be made between travel experiences and face book? Would users be willing to share their experiences in a non-travel related site? How can a travel company effectively advertise or promote using this media?

There are 197 applications that attempt to bridge the gap between travel and the general online community. The sad thing for travel industry companies is that the most popular apps have the least functionality. The most active widget is one that allows you to have an image of a car on your page, and your car gets better with more points. This is followed by a number of apps that show a dot on a map or a flag from the countries that you have visited. You may speculate that this is a result of Facebook apps being in their infancy, and that greater functionality will follow, but that is not the case, there are some apps that are not popular that have a great list of features, one app Travel Map can:

"Plot your travels with this quick and easy tool and show the world how well-travelled you are. Brought to you by Travellerspoint, where you can also upload photos, start a blog and get all the travel help you need."

This sounds mightily impressive until you realize that there are only 388 daily users.

What is the point?

If you are thinking about creating a widget for Facebook, keep it simple, complement the communication process, and give friends something to chat about. Have a soft ad, and link to your site through the widget. You may want to finish your development before November 6th, as there are going to be some BIG changes.

October 16, 2007

Loss of Online Bookers? Really?

Recently David Wilkening at Travelmole wrote a review of a recent Forrester Research article titled "Are Online Travelers Saying "Buh-Bye" To The Web?". David's review gives little introspection into the true state of online travel, it focuses rather on the decline in the number of people booking online.

There is a noted 9% decrease in the number of American leisure travelers that have made online bookings from 2005 to 2007. One can assume that they compared the years up until October, as the winter travel season has yet to begin. What he neglects to mention is that in the same article Forrester Research states
"online leisure travel spending has increased 41% in three years."

While David does attempt to peg the blame for the declining number of travelers booking online on the customer booking experience, he does not give any source or research into this diagnosis. Of course giving all consumers the most efficient booking experience will increase sales, but are we really loosing bookers due to less then efficient booking engines? I found this article from way back in 2002, it states that "66% of American users believe that eTourism web sites provide better services than travel agents!". If you can remember the state of booking websites in 2002, then you will realize that we are way more advanced now then ever before and that David's diagnosis is off base. I still have doubts about the price competitiveness between a travel agent and a travel website, are we really seeing a discount? Are travel whole sellers really giving the public rates that are comparable to those given to travel agents?

One of the reasons hypothisized by the original Forrester artical is humanizing the digital experience. This holds promise, adding direct connect to a live agent on a booking site will give the babyboomer+ market the warm personal connection that they are accustomed to when booking travel. This trend will continue for a matter of time, but it is a certainty that future generations will become much more tech savvy, and comfortable with booking online then their money holding predecessors, and thus the concept of having an online booking source will change from a "want" into a "must".

Moving forward, lets bridge the gap between the agent and the website, give consumers a personal touch (blog, chat, live link ect.), and use technology to make the travel industry more standardized and efficient for all.

What have you found for your booking site? Are you finding that your user numbers are decreasing? What have you done?

October 15, 2007

Environmental Technology - What is an 'Offset'

What is a Carbon Offset?

Carbon offsetting is really the act of mitigating greenhouse gas emissions. This is done by persons, organizations, and companies that take a voluntary action to neutralize their greenhouse footprint.

The idea for Carbon offsetting grew from the concept behind emissions trading. Emissions trading is often the realm of legislation governments, while carbon offsetting is the domain of voluntary action and the individual.

Carbon Offsetting takes many different forms including tree planting, renewable energy offsets, energy conservation, and the purchase of emissions allowances from governments and eliminating them. There is some controversy regarding the merits and value of each type of offset, yet all offsets are a step in the right direction of a carbon neutral society.

How can you use carbon offsets for your company?

Creating awareness for the need for greenhouse gas accountability is the first step in how you can help. Post an article on your blog, have a link on your website, and talk to a friend about what they are doing. The company I work for, Sentias Software Corp., has implemented a sustainability policy into the daily happenings of our company, it was based off of a great local company's policy, The Mountain Equipment Co-Op. I recommend that you consider adapting one at your work place.

As far a implementing new technology, consider joining a society that supports carbon offsets. I have seen carbon calculators, and offset meters. Some DMOs like Tourism Vancouver offset all of their corporate flights, now that is taking responsibility! Sentias is a member of Sustainable Travel International, and we are implementing a carbon offset option into every booking that is made with the Rezgo Online Booking System.

Think of creative ways to adapt and implement change, it will give everyone else a little more breathing room.