Archive | July, 2007

Are Travel Agents the Future?

31 Jul

Travel agents will continue to evolve into niche players in the tourism industry. They will be most successful where they embrace specific types of travel (i.e. those seeking exotic adventures in the less-traveled regions of the world) and specific customer groups with high demand for travel assistance (i.e. businesses, or the elderly).

Robert Buckman’s post today on Fast Company’s Expert Blogs (“Innovation: Tired of DIY Travel Bookings?”), in response to a recent New York Times Article (“Happy Returns for Travel Agents”), analyzes the surprising continued success of traditional bricks and mortar travel agents, in light of the strong trend in DIY travel bookings seen in the last few years at sites like Orbitz, Expedia, and Travelocity. Buckman rightly predicts not only the continued existence of traditional travel agents, but describes them as becoming more successful as they adopt to a niche.

But travel agents have found a definite niche among travelers who are too time-pressed or impatient to deal with the vagaries of the Internet. Why not turn that chore over to the expert?

DIYism is great if you are not up against the clock and are persistent in resolving problems that inevitably crop up during a trip. But if you’re on the road and you need a solution quick, there’s no substitute for an experienced travel agent who has seen it all before.

TripologyWhere Buckman fails to take his analysis a step further, is to point to emerging startup businesses who are tailor made this this precise niche-targeting in mind. For instance, Tripology, a site which was recently covered in depth by VentureBeat last week after it raised a round of funding led by Ascend Venture Group, targets travelers with exotic destinations in mind. The articles by the NY Times and Buckman’s analysis provide the evidence that a niche play can be successful. VentureBeat points out the wisdom of Tripology’s particular strategy.

The problem for adventuresome consumers is that the best specialty travel agents are not always easy to find. The problem for specialty travel agents is that finding the adventuresome consumers is even harder. Sites like Specialty Travel and Travel Hub list specialty travel agencies, but the listings on those sites requires digging and guesswork, and is somewhat cumbersome.

Tripology addresses this: It asks intrepid travelers what they want to do on their trip and automatically finds three to four travel agents who know how to make that happen. For the consumer, finding the agents is free. For the travel agents, the qualified leads come for $5 dollars a pop.

Are travel agents here to stay, as Buckman predicts? Those which customize their service and target a niche (even a very large niche, as American Express Travel has done for corporate travelers) will be the true winners.

SeedHive: An Entrepreneur’s Social Network

30 Jul

SeedHive Honeycomb

The Core of the Idea:

SeedHive would be an online community build around the collaboration of entrepreneurs on startup businesses and business ideas. It is a site not purely about networking and relationships, but also content.

A Community of Entrepreneurs

Individual members form the core of the community and are predominantly a mix of entrepreneurs, small business owners, and people with an interest in entrepreneurship. As a community, they have ideas, knowledge, and opinions about business and are eager to collaborate with their peers.

A Network of Providers

Service providers, freelancers, businesses, and consultants form another important part of the community, meeting the product and service needs of the core. They use SeedHive as a prospecting platform for finding new business and employment opportunities.

A Showcase for Venture Capitalists

Venture capitalists are not only an active part of the core community, but also form a special group of shoppers looking for promising ideas and individuals with whom they can develop relationships and make investments. SeedHive helps them find them.

How It Would Work:

SeedHive would build upon the successes of other virtual communities such as LinkedIn and Doostang, which have begun to help professionals build their networks by maintaining contacts and relationships, but extend the idea further: to content.

When I recently moved to London from San Francisco and found myself with suddenly no social life and a lot of time on my hands, I began to look for a website where new business ideas were shared, emerging trends in business and entrepreneurship were discussed. I wanted to be able to quickly immerse myself in a part of the business world that was new and unfamiliar. That was two months ago, and I have yet to find such a site.
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Domestic US All-Business-Class Airline?

25 Jul

On l'Avion airplane, which flies between Newark and Orly Airport in Paris. The walk-up airfare for a recent trans-Atlantic flight was $1,650.

An article today in the New York Times (“Demand Grows for All-Business-Class Flights“) discusses how airlines with only business class seating have been successful in the trans-Atlantic flight market. According to the article, four startups, L’Avion, MAXjet, Eos and Silverjet are all doing business only on long (5+ hour) international travel.

This raises the question, could the all-business-class model work for domestic service within the United States? I think it could, and am surprised that I have not heard of airlines pursuing this niche (with one exception, below).

Arguably, the profile of the average business class customer on coast-to-coast flights is not entirely different from those crossing the Atlantic. Whether going from New York to London or Los Angeles to DC, a business traveler has the same needs: quality lay-flat seats for sleeping, on-time departures, limited waiting time and hassle, decent food, and good service. He or she also has the same budget: substantial.

United Airlines is the only domestic airline I know of which offers a service in this arena, which they call P.S. for Premium Service. Having flown this service from San Francisco to Boston, however, I can certify it does not truly compete with the all-business-class airlines.

For one, it suffers from all the standard delays and hassles of flying domestically on United. Additionally, it uses old, outdated aircraft with few modern niceties such as individual video screens. The experience is more akin to flying your typical United flight than to a truly premier airline.

What would an airline need to do to really compete here?

  1. Offer reasonable prices for the quality of service (most likely in the $900 – $1500 range)
  2. Utilize smaller airports with fewer delays and easy access
  3. Equip new aircraft with modern amenities and comfortable, lie-flat seats
  4. Choose routes which are common for business travelers, but under-served by services like P.S. (for now), such as Seattle – New York and San Francisco – Washington DC.