Go ‘Smell The Roses’ With New Travelocity Brand Campaign




Travelocity’s newly-launched brand campaign is urging travelers to get off their couches and “go and smell the roses.” (Note: official hashtag: #gosmelltheroses).

Pushed though five new TV commercials, the spots will feature the now famous roaming gnome in a variety of situations, ranging from the running of the bulls to a ski gondola to a sandy beach, all with messages encouraging travelers to get up, go and experience.

We spoke with the company’s Chief Marketing Officer, Brad Wilson, to get the inside scoop on the new campaign and what makes Travelocity different from the other leading OTAs in the marketplace.

Competition from sites like Hotwire, Priceline, Kayak and Orbitz is tough, Wilson admits, but he believes that this new campaign sets Travelocity apart in its multi-platform approach. In addition to multiple ads pushed through partnerships with nearly all major television channels and many online outlets, the campaign is being offered via mobile and social channels as well.Housed on YouTube, the campaign will be seen in its entirety across all of the brand’s social channels, but also on mobile devices – a key differentiator, Wilson said.

The famed Roaming Gnome is still a major part of the campaign as well, serving as both mascot and inspiration for travelers.

But that isn’t all that’s new at Travelocity. The brand is aiming to capture travelers through a number of interactive and engaging methods, including a new video series with Courtney Scott, a “Let’s Roam” app launching in April that will let travelers use social sharing technology to solicit information about upcoming trips, and a billboard-like advertising program in major airports that will direct travelers to special offers through unique mobile codes.

We’ll keep a close eye on how this new campaign develops and what – if any – changes this makes to the OTA landscape.

Not knowing wife’s name gets her stuck in China

ChinaWhen you take the SAT, you get 200 points for spelling your name right. Ever wonder why? Well, you should ask Wen Ling Lian and her husband, Robert Schlund. Lian left Wayne, Michigan for China, on a trip to visit her family. While in flight, she saw that her name had an “e” stuck on the end of it. Though not a problem in the United States, she knew it would be when she tried to leave China later. Fortunately, a resolution was found in blaming a company that hadn’t done anything wrong.

So, here’s the deal. Lian was on the ground in China and running out of time. Her name was wrong on her ticket, the result of an error made by her husband when making the ticket purchase with online travel agency CheapOair. By the time Lian and Schlund realized what had happened, of course, nothing could be done … except to buy another ticket. CheapOair could not change the name on the ticket, as it’s a matter of airline policy that tickets are non-transferable after purchase – meaning that the name can’t be changed. The online travel agency can’t make the change without the airline’s consent.

But, this didn’t stop Schlund from trying. Rather than spring for the new ticket to get his wife home, which would have cost him a few hundred dollars – or even contact the airline, China Eastern Air – he decided to pass the buck. After claiming that the online travel agency wouldn’t help him – an absurd notion given the fact that it does not have access or ability to do so without airline consent – and never even bothering to contact the airline, he decided to turn to a consumer advocate the media. Schlund shared his sob story with WDIV – Detroit’s “Ruth to the Rescue,” still refusing to take responsibility for not knowing his wife’s name … and to think I used to catch hell for not remembering anniversaries!

%Gallery-76818%Well, this is where a new problem arises: the broadcast isn’t accurate. CheapOair, which got Lian a new ticket at its own expense even though her husband had made the mistake (eating
$200, according to a spokesperson for the online travel agency, despite making a mere $4 on the original transaction), had no obligation to do anything at all. Nonetheless, in a moment of chest-thumping, “Ruth to the Rescue” claims to have affected a remedy because she got involved. Really, she was an accomplice to injustice, as a company was compelled to pay for the obvious mistakes of a customer. Also, the loaded report emphasizes that the ticket was purchased in October, which is wholly irrelevant since the passenger didn’t notice the problem until the plane was in the sky.

So, the net effect was that the only party that could have made the change wasn’t contacted by the passenger. The party that could not do anything to help – the online travel agency – was put in the hot seat publicly and forced to assume an expense unnecessarily.

Is corporate greed the culprit? I doubt it. I’ve spent $4 on a cup of coffee for a colleague and didn’t ask for a dime in return. So, I don’t see CheapOair risking its brand for that amount. And, the company had earned the cash, a sum insufficient to bear Abraham Lincoln’s likeness. Instead, it’s a case of inattention and irresponsibility on the part of a customer.

When I reached out to CheapOair about this, I learned not only about the net $196 loss it sustained in order to cope with the effects of a customer who had made a mistake and found a platform but also that the company expended several man-hours across several departments to address media inquiries (including mine), a fact that any business mind could identify immediately. Schlund’s mistake caused a cost of several thousand dollars to be assumed by a company that hadn’t done anything wrong.

“Our hands were tied on the original issue,” said the spokesperson, after explaining the technical process by which data is captured from the website and sent to the airlines (explained at a high level, not in technical-ese, for my benefit, I confess). “We literally could not do anything – we physically aren’t able to change the customer’s name in the system,” she continued, “without a code supplied by the airline. We have an entire department that tries to secure these and other waivers for our customers, but it’s ultimately up to the carrier.” She added, “We sympathize with Mr. Schlund; we really do. But, we can’t change what we can’t access. It really is that simple.”

Now, I’m not a fan of the airline industry – anyone who has read my work knows that. I routinely bemoan the paucity of customer service in the space. But, we have to be realistic. Asking these businesses do the impossible for us just isn’t an option. And, as customers, we do have to be ready to take responsibility for our own buying decisions. We have enough to complain about already – there’s no need to invent more.

[photo by autumn_bliss via Flickr]

Judge blocks Sabre, gives American Airlines a break

American AirlinesI guess it would make sense for American Airlines to turn to litigation. After all, this approach worked well against Orbitz.

Here’s the situation: the battle between airlines and online travel agencies escalated from the beginning of November – with American’s announcement that it would pull out of Orbitz – through the new year. The latest move was by global distribution system Sabre, which has made it more difficult for American’s fares to be found. Along the way, Expedia dropped American in a defensive move, and Delta pulled out of three smaller booking sites: CheapOair, OneTravel and BookIt.

The decision by Sabre to “demote” American Airlines had obvious business implications for the carrier, which is likely why it sought relief in the courts. As a result of a hearing held yesterday, Sabre has been blocked from limiting the visibility of American Airline flights, but there’s clearly more to come.

In addition to making it more difficult for customers to find American’s flights, Sabre also increased the fees it charges American, which would lead to an annual cost of $157 million for the airline.

Sabre maintains that it was within its contractual rights, according to an Associated Press report, while American believes the move was anti-competitive.

Five reasons why you’re wrong about American Airlines and the booking battle

American AirlinesEveryone seems to think this is about the passengers. It’s not. In true airline industry fashion, nobody cares about the customer.

Okay, now that I have your attention, an analyst note from Avondale Partners was sent to me last night. While most people don’t get excited about this sort of thing, I have to admit that I still do. Nerdy, maybe. Insightful … in this case, it definitely is.

The analyst note gets to the heart of the matter pretty quickly. What’s the deal with American Airlines and the online travel agencies (e.g., Orbitz and Expedia)? Well, here it is in five straightforward points:

1. It’s the economy, stupid: remember that saying? Well, it holds true here. According to Avondale Partners, many press accounts of the dispute “confuse the relationships of the players and miss the underlying economics driving the dispute.” Stop thinking about people and start thinking about how American can save up to $9 per ticket in fees.

2. American will lose before it wins: according to Avondale Partners, “AMR [the airline's parent company] eventually prevails.” But, it’s going to take some time. Along the way, the analyst note explains, the airline will lose some of its online travel agency customers to its competitors. However, it continues, “should pick up the spilled traffic, given current loads.”3. Ultimately, it’s a break-even: AMR will wind up with the same amount of traffic it has now, Avondale believes, but it will come at lower net costs. Translation: for the same amount of passengers, American will make more money. For a business, that’s never a bad thing.

4. “I like to watch”: that seems to be what the other airlines are thinking. Avondale Partners believes they’ll jump on the bandwagon. As it is, Delta has already pulled out of three smaller online travel agenciesCheapOair, OneTravel and BookIt – though for slightly different reasons. When big, bold moves like this happen, you better believe that everybody’s thinking about it.

5. And, the folks with the most risk are …: it isn’t American Airlines, apparently. Rather, Avondale believes that Travelport and Sabre “have the most to lose,” though stock prices for online travel agencies, according to Avondale, “should continue to suffer from the press.” Translation: this won’t be fun for any of the parties involved for quite a while.

Here’s the full report:

Analyst Note From Avondale Partners Re AA Distribution, 1-6-11

Sabre tells clients of American Airlines drop, booking war is scorching

Sabre and American AirlinesOkay, we all saw this coming. The battle that was expected between airlines and online travel agencies as a result of improving market conditions has reached a high level of intensity, centered on American Airlines (with Delta playing a supporting role).

The situation is running deep, as both American and Delta have stepped back from online travel agencies (though for slightly different reasons). American Airlines is eager to push its Direct Connect system, which is what led it to pull out of Orbitz. Expedia, seeing the early stages of a trend, dropped American Airlines, likely as a defensive move to prevent a surprise later. Delta pulled out of three smaller online travel agencies – CheapOair, OneTravel and BookIt – to consolidate its distribution channel and focus on a core group of partners.

This has led to incredible amounts of uncertainty and angst in the airline and travel sectors, as the escalation has been swift and unconstrained. We’re past the early stages of the conflict between the two sectors. A month ago, Douglas Quinby, Sr. Director, Research at PhoCusWright, told me that things were just starting to percolate. Now, he explains, “[W]e saw the tip of the iceberg back in November, when American said it intended to pull its fares and schedules from Orbitz. We are now starting to see more and more of the iceberg,and it is a big one.”

Specifically, global distribution system Sabre has announced that it is terminating its relationship with American Airlines. This is ironic, of course, as the idea for Sabre was hatched on an American Airlines flight in 1953 by American’s president, C.R. Smith and IBM senior sales representative R. Blair Smith. Six years later, they made it a reality (Sabre spun off from American Airlines parent company AMR completely in 2000 following a 1996 IPO).

Quinby continues, “[W]ith Sabre’s escalation, the pressure clearly has to be building on American. What’s next is a near-term compromise that will result in an uneasy truce (with the potential for further escalation before we get there).”
But, that might take a while to reach, as you can see from Sabre’s recent message to its clients, revealed to Gadling yesterday. The company says:

Sabre has taken a set of actions to protect what you have told us is important to you – full air fare transparency and the ability to efficiently operate your business. As part of these actions, we have changed some of our availability and shopping displays to support airlines who value the transparency and efficiency of the proven system our customers use to serve travelers.

Sabre adds:

We have also initiated termination of our global distribution agreement with AA. We have provided AA notice that accelerates the termination date of our current agreement to the extent possible, culminating in early August. We are seeking a new agreement with AA that provides our customers long-term assurances of efficient comparison shopping.

AA’s stated plans regarding its “Direct Connect strategy,” backed up by its recent actions, are an attempt to impose a costly, unproven and unnecessary system that would make it harder and more costly for you to operate your business and for your customers to comparison shop based on full and transparent fare information. Based on AA’s actions, in addition to the steps noted above, we have also given notice that we are eliminating the substantial price discounts AA has enjoyed consistent with its prior long-term commitments to provide full content and support efficient comparison shopping for our agency and corporate customers.

It’s clear that the escalation is continuing, and Sabre isn’t the only player using heated language. In a statement on its website, American Airlines countered that Sabre has “taken a set of punitive actions against the airline and its customers, despite the fact that American has met all its obligations and continues to work in good faith with Sabre.” And, it has lobbed at Sabre the same “anti-competitive” accusation that the online travel agencies leveled at American. For good measure, American adds:

Sabre’s actions are discriminatory and patently inconsistent with both its contractual obligations and its professed goal of ensuring full transparency for the benefit of consumers and travel agents. In contrast, the actions only serve to protect Sabre’s market position and attempt to force airlines and travel agencies to rely exclusively on its legacy systems that only lead to higher fares and fewer choices for consumers.

In a message to members of its frequent flier program, AAdavantage, American said:

While there is much misinformation circulating on these matters, rest assured that tickets for travel on American Airlines and American Eagle – including all international and domestic classes of service – are widely available through a number of outlets, including American’s own website, AA.com, which features our Lowest Fare Guarantee. Tickets, fares and schedules are also available through American’s reservations agents, thousands of travel agencies in locations worldwide, other online travel agencies such as Priceline.com, and travel search engines such as Kayak.com. For more information, please visit AA.com.

There are rumors circulating that Priceline has signed on for American’s Direct Connect program, but nothing has been confirmed – a smart move given how volatile the disputes are getting between American and the other online travel agencies.

Of course, the actions by Sabre have led many to wonder if Amadeus, another global distribution system, is going to jump into the fray. This seems likely, Quinby told me by email: “Amadeus has a pretty small presence in the U.S. so they may sit this one out (with a good bowl of popcorn!)”.

Here’s the Sabre message in full and unedited:

Dear Sabre Customer,
This is to notify you that Sabre has taken a set of actions to protect what you have told us is important to you – full air fare transparency and the ability to efficiently operate your business. As part of these actions, we have changed some of our availability and shopping displays to support airlines who value the transparency and efficiency of the proven system our customers use to serve travelers. Specifically, we have made changes in the Sabre . system that alter the order in which some of American Airlines’ flights appear in availability and shopping displays. The display changes do not apply for points of sale in the EU or Canada due to specific regulations in those markets.
We have also initiated termination of our global distribution agreement with AA. We have provided AA notice that accelerates the termination date of our current agreement to the extent possible, culminating in early August. We are seeking a new agreement with AA that provides our customers long-term assurances of efficient comparison shopping.
AA’s stated plans regarding its “Direct Connect strategy,” backed up by its recent actions, are an attempt to impose a costly, unproven and unnecessary system that would make it harder and more costly for you to operate your business and for your customers to comparison shop based on full and transparent fare information. Based on AA’s actions, in addition to the steps noted above, we have also given notice that we are eliminating the substantial price discounts AA has enjoyed consistent with its prior long-term commitments to provide full content and support efficient comparison shopping for our agency and corporate customers.
We understand that some customers may have concerns regarding the potential impact of these actions on their operations. I want to assure you we decided to take these actions only after very careful consideration of the negative impacts AA’s plans would have on your business and ours. We have a track record of acting in the best business interests of our customers and doing what is necessary to grow the value of the proven and successful system that enables travel agents, corporate travelers and consumers to efficiently and cost-effectively comparison shop.
Sabre is taking these actions as part of our efforts to obtain a new agreement with AA that provides long-term assurances to our customers who prefer to continue using a proven system that provides significant value to both suppliers and buyers of travel. We are committed to delivering this value to our customers for the long term, and we will take the necessary steps to accomplish that objective.
Sincerely,
Chris Kroeger
Senior Vice President, Marketing
Sabre Travel Network

And here’s the message to AAdvantage members, in full and unedited:

Dear Thomas Johansmeyer,

As a valued AAdvantage member, we want to clarify what you may be reading in the press. As a result of a commercial dispute, over the past several weeks there have been changes to how we sell our tickets. American Airlines last month removed its fares and schedules from Orbitz.com, and effective January 1 Expedia.com stopped offering American Airlines fares on its website. Additionally Sabre, a company that distributes airline fares and schedules, made it more difficult for travel agents to find and select American’s flights by moving our fares lower in the display order than they normally would be listed.

While there is much misinformation circulating on these matters, rest assured that tickets for travel on American Airlines and American Eagle – including all international and domestic classes of service – are widely available through a number of outlets, including American’s own website, AA.com, which features our Lowest Fare Guarantee. Tickets, fares and schedules are also available through American’s reservations agents, thousands of travel agencies in locations worldwide, other online travel agencies such as Priceline.com, and travel search engines such as Kayak.com. For more information, please visit AA.com.

We are committed to working with all distribution channels, including traditional travel agencies, online travel agencies and global distribution systems. We will keep you informed of important updates on these developments.

Thank you for giving us the opportunity to address this matter. We appreciate your business very much and look forward to welcoming you aboard soon.

Sincerely,

Maya Leibman
President
AAdvantage® Loyalty Program