Quo Vadis Airline & Travel Distribution

Michael Strauss of Pass Consulting, developer of an “aggregator” system for travel distribution systems addressed his thoughts on why the NDC (IATA for “New” Distribution Capability) is already “old” (it’s XML, not contemporary JSON for one) and why we still need the GDS.

I find all those developments Michael addresses to be “baby steps”. And is it 18 months already again since I questioned the very same thing? Quo Vadis OBE?

Carefully tiptoeing around, while I still wait for the first airlines to make the bold step, leave the tangle box, cut the spider webs, dust off the past and make bold moves embracing the possibilities “digital” offers us. The likes of a C.R. and R.B. Smith back when they gave birth to what eventually became CRS,, GDS, PSS. Or Louis Arnitz (and myself) making Internet-Amadeus-booking reality, when all the GDSs told us, this is impossible and tried to protect the holistic, old way. Good, GetThere launched about the same time, but when we started, all it’s infancy could was to take a Sabre-entry and return the GDS-output. But yes, that gave us the idea.

1.44 MB = 0.00144 Gigabyte or 0.00000144 Terrabyte. Those thoughts tell me how old I became…

Now we are “surprised” that Cytric bypasses the GDS-side of Amadeus, linking directly to Altea (Lufthansa direct link). I just happen to wonder if Louis Arnitz also fondly remembers that “white paper” he wrote about “Mozart” (what later became Cytric). Few people remember the evolution from “Woodside Travel Trust” (today Radius) “Hotel Disk” (3.5″ ‘floppy’) to eHotel or that eHotel has been a spin-off of what became Cytric… It just tells me, how the GDSs keep the thumb on the thinking of our self-proclaimed experts. A battle they can’t win if they don’t embrace (carefully) those changes you so nicely summarize. Working on an airline’s business plan, I just emphasized that I see the future of travel distribution with Facebook, LinkedIn, Google, Amazon. Individual like a book. Common as a book.

20 years ago (!) my friend Richard Eastman emphasized disintermediation at ITB Travel Technology congress. And that it is about packaging what the traveler wants.

Voice recognition like “Alexa, book our vacation”. GDSs? Aggregators? Airline seat? Car Rental? Hotel transfer? Restaurant? Or …

  • “Jürgen, this is Alexa, I believe you wanted to go to that “new movie”, they show it tonight at the cinema here in your vacation area, shall I book you two or four tickets?”
  • “Jürgen, this is Siri, there is a Pink Floyd revival concert in xyz, I could book you and Yulia two flight and concert tickets in four hours as well as the babysitter for the girls?”

Things I would have overseen…

Richard emphasized, the consumer does not want to bother about all those detail. They want an offer. And consume. GDS? Aggreggators? NDC? …?
Hey Richard, that was 20 years ago we discussed and envisioned those things. Ain’t it faszinating, how our industry keeps stalling…?

Food for Thought!
Comments welcome…

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Narrow-Minded Management

Content

Airport Passenger Statistics
Catchment Area Case Study
Passenger Terminal Expo
Face to the Customer
“New Airline” Business Concept
Narrow Minded Management

Airport Passenger Statistics

The last weeks were rather challenging. Speaking at Passenger Terminal Expo on Data Silos, Silo Thinking and the need to Tear Down the Walls, Yulia and I also worked on the update of the airport passenger statistics, adding movements to the database to expand our information. And we fell right back into The Numbers Game trap.

The main Key Performance Indicator (KPI), the value that reflects the “importance” of the airport, is the passenger numbers. All other KPIs, like movements, on-time-performance, revenue are scondary. Where I can understand that airports publish preliminary numbers for the press, those numbers are then updated and finalized. By that time, they reach Eurostat, national statistics, Wikipedia, ANNA.aero, Airports Council International (ACI), IATA and other official bodies. How do you define “Total Passengers”?

But then we go back to the airport’s monthly and annual passenger numbers. And to give examples that really bugged me the past weeks.

  • A worse case: No codes, different sortation, wrong numbers.

    Spanish AENA had what I understood an error in their May-data. The numbers are three to four times above the average. And their own annual numbers confirm it, being about that difference too high. If I’d be lazy, I would simply correct the May numbers so the annual total matches the total given by AENA. But is that the error? Working professionally, I informed AENA (airline marketing). Matter of fact, as the airline, I’d be embarrassed and would make sure those numbers to be updated immediately. After one month of no reply, I inquired. Both verbal (phone) and e-Mail. The response was a “blame game”, I shall contact the statistics group at AENA. Excuse me? That’s your understanding of customer support? Are they unable to clear that internally, bothering the customer with the internal (bureaucratic) hierarchy? The following week, the numbers were still not updated. Now, that is embarrassing. So the fact is, I do “unprofessionally” and assume the mistake, as the data owner neglects the issue. Again. Main KPI.
    And their tables? Monthly data split to 12 tables, available as Excel without the airport code. Why again do they provide “Excel”-format? Not for quick data-exchange, that’s for sure.
    The day after I wrote this blog, AENA finally identified the “error” on the data. While all other files showed the current month’s data, the may file was set to show the accumulated data Jan to May. Nevertheless this though being just a “forced error” and not a real data issue, it proves my point that it’s enforcing errors if you split the data into tables. And it does not change that the different subtables in those same Excel sheets are sorted by “totals” instead of airports, such you got to re-sort. And spend time associating the IATA codes to the airports.

  • ANNA.aero maintains what they call the European Airport Traffic Trends “Database”. Now in order to make sure we have all airports’ data that publish monthly numbers, I imported the data into our database and compared. And instantly ran into trouble. Because for i.e. France, more than half the airports’ monthly data does not sum up to ANNA.aero’s annual total. As such, the data must be disqualified for professional use! Interesting, three French airports responded to Yulia’s inquiry for official numbers to use ANNA.aero’s numbers. All three airports being ones where the total does not compute.
  • ZRH-BUD route level data. We wonder, why we have four different values for the route Zurich-Budapest for out- and inbound passengers. Two of them by the respective airports. Two courtesy by “official data providers”. Different numbers on a single given route?? So we find ourselves at a loss, we likely won’t use them. Not just for Zürich oder Budapest, but that is just an example! We happen to wonder, how Eurostat can compile passengers, flights and seats and, when the airports say they don’t report such numbers.

We find several sources for public accessible data. Sometimes you find it on the airport’s own website, somewhere in “Statistics”, sometimes in a press release, usually not in one, but in 12 press releases (see image). And even when publishing the annual numbers in one file, the file comes as a PDF, formatted that they cannot be extracted into a table but copy into one value a line. On a complex table, that renders that useless. So the airport forces users of their data to write the data off the PDF? You can’t be serious, can you?? Sometimes national airport associations publish the data, usually monthly. After we found them to occasionally change the formatting and order even within a given year, we double-check that on the import, burning valuable time. Then we learned to now download monthly data before the annual one was available, as we also happened to fall the trap of intermittent changes (see ANNA.aero). Many such files do not contain the airport codes. But the airport name in the national language. Upper case. No, that does not compute easily and is prone to cause data errors.

Even where Excel is being provided (like by AENA), the files are not ready for instant import, very often missing the unique IATA airport code that would allow to properly associate – but usually airport names in national and uncommon naming, requiring additional work to add the three letter codes to allow for proper import. And then you have those cases, where the monthly numbers do not sum up to the annual totals.

All in all, that shows the neglect airport managers handle “numbers”. Given that we all talk about e-Commerce for 20 years now and for 20+ years I keep addressing the data quality as an issue. Before the internet, airports published their data in the format they now provide by PDF. For journalists or other data providers to type them off. They simply moved the paper to the PDF, being a print format, not a data exchange format. They obviously did and do not understand that times have changed. Keeping with the times, they should maintain and publish the data in ways that they can be pulled using an HTML-call (returning a given-format CSV), if that is not possible, they should at least use an Excel file. If they change data, they should inform the data users about that. But nothing at all shows the modified file (rev.1, v.1), so in case of a discrepancy they enforce a check of all monthly files. Again, we talk about their main KPIs, something they should be interested to make sure that everyone uses the “right” number.

Catchment Area Case Study

Based on our (constantly expanding) catchment area case study about the numbers given by the airports, we understand the concerns, disbelief and rejection of such airport numbers by airlines. As any quick check from other sources (like our free isochrone analyses) unmasks them as useless, guesstimates or even intentionally beautified. I confronted Fraport Bulgaria with their given numbers in a brochure I picked up at ITB Berlin, being 2.3 to 2.5 times, or in percent 230 to 250% above our sound, European-wide calculations. Initially, they backed off, not knowing of the brochure, so I forwarded them photos of it. Then they referred to “drive time offsets”, neglecting the fact that we have comparisons on a European scale and even giving extremely ambitious drive speeds, that calculates to 10, 20% offset at the maximum on the population reach, but not to 230 or 250 percent! So instead of taking this up professionally, their managers decided to stick their head in the sand.

shutterstock 135630023 (licensed)Passenger Terminal Expo 2017

Speaking at Passenger Terminal Expo in the Management & Operations track (speaker notes here), I challenged my audience about Data Silos, Silo Thinking and the need to Tear Down the Walls. It addressed A-CDM and why A-CDM rather usually gets stuck in the early stage of the process. Silo Thinking and not invented here being the most common cause as all my friends in the A-CDM arena tell me. The same being true for airport managers. And an airport general manger told me: “If we don’t embrace that we got to exchange our data, we miss to do our job”. I was sorry I had to tell him his airport being one I don’t have the passenger data for yet.

Brand Management

Another Post Scriptum: These weeks, another several faces left our industry, another “trusted face” leaving UBM. Some few remaining in aviation at least, others move on to other industries, others again (like myself) struggle to keep in our industry.

Ever since I started addressing “Airline Sales & e-Commerce” in 1994″ at the Airline Sales Representatives Association (ASRA), I emphasized the importance of the “face to the customer”. A Logo, a face are things, users attach themselves to emotionally! It’s your emotional USP. Customers (“contemporary” B2B, B2C) knowing someone in the company attach themselves to it. That is not all, sure. Prices for example must still be competitive But not ultra-low. Reputation of the company can (and does) outweigh the price. But also the person you know there usually has an impact to who you make business with.

This is an example from 2007, explaining it to the ASRA members. Unfortunately, they proved they did not understand it. Neither the need as usually well paid Sales Managers to embrace the “new sales channels”; in most airlines the “traditional Sales” and “Social Media” are different divisions. Some airlines more recently trying to bring together what’s meant to be together, usually at the expense of the “old faces”. Nor did my ASRA fellows understand the importance of networking, the group fell apart two years ago and is meanwhile unregistered.

And let’s not go into brand management here, I addressed the idiocy to rename and kill brand identification often enough.

“New Airline” Business Concept

In the last weeks, I got approached about investors being interested to invest into aircraft, seeking which business model to use. The initial idea was Airbus A320 or Boeing 737, leasing that to the low-cost airlines. As if we wouldn’t have a record on the order books, long delivery times and the low cost airlines recently leasing their aircraft to other airlines as they find it increasingly difficult to find new routes. So I came up with a completely new model, quickly qualified numbers and viability and offered it to them. The intended aircraft maker learning about the idea took it up.

Friends I introduced the business concept to, in order to qualify it and get questions about the viability answered wondered why no-one has established such a model yet. I think that takes a little hammer. Or some out-of-the-box thinking.

Working on that concept and following up on Passenger Terminal Expo, also about my rather negative experience with HR and head hunters a discussion arose about a shortcoming of our business culture:

Narrow-Minded Management

We mostly agreed, that most managers today encourage a narrow-minded thinking. This is your job, don’t you bother about the jobs that are managed in other departments. If you do in fact think outside the box, you challenge such managers.

Food for Thought
Comments welcome!

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Page 1

Which Network???

At the recent Hamburg Aviation Conference one of the speakers questioned all those airport different apps. And it reminded me of my issue about a common login process for the airport wifis. But then he questioned, that all those apps simply don’t make it to the users first screen. Initially 16, meanwhile on the larger phones more like 24 apps fighting for the attention of the user.

Then my friend Erica forwarded me that Wired-article, addressing the increasing problems the news-industry has with their advertising-driven business model. Which reminds me of those magazines I happen to read. And I simply thought, what they do wrong from my very personal point of view.

What is the advantage of Google, Facebook and those new players? If is their ability to intelligently and dynamically associate my interests and provide me with the information I am interested in. To show me that on the first page. Without omitting other possibly interesting information. Even the advertising is targeted (which requires mass). And we happen to believe that intelligence.

Until we switch to the time-line view. In Facebook with /?sk=h_chr – in LinkedIn no such URL-tweak since Microsoft took over, but if you use the browser you can hover your mouse on the … on the right above the first news, selecting “Recent Updates”. Yes, I use Google, but I understand they also mix advertising in. But…

Ow-my-gawd, but I’m German, what about my personal data and stuff?

That was another topic we discussed in Hamburg. Travelers and readers are willing to give personal information … If. It. Makes. Sense.

No, I do not want to drop my pants for a general news headline or another “case study”. And I do not like to use “real data” when someone asks me to download this nice new study they did. Have Feivel Mousekewitz on your mailing list bouncing? Good chance I’ve accessed data without seeing the need why I should add myself to a mailing list of yours. Oh yes, and I assign “custom e-Mail” to many of those and it’s wondrous who sends me advertising and how quickly on many of those “trusted business partners”!

And I do not want to get another app. Ages ago, I decided to limit myself to 10 newsletters and two or three social networks. Facebook I use mostly privately. LinkedIn for business. And LinkedIn being “difficult” both in Russia and China is an issue of concern. Google+ I dropped. I use airline apps on my travels, in fact only to get the boarding pass into my phone’s “wallet”. I used some apps for airport information, just recently learned about FLIO and try that now. But pay? Or apply profile? What’s in it for me? I like TripIt to take track of my travels, though since it was acquired by Concur and Concur by SAP it’s anything but perfect. Same as with Skype and LinkedIn since they got part of Microsoft.

But yes, it is a constant fight for space on my first smart phone screen. Or for my PC’s Windows start menu (which I customize for the sake of finding what I “need”). Yes, I’d like a single (trusted!) app to do it all.

I use phone (1), messages (2, SMS, iMessage), Facetime (3) and Viber (4, video calls), mail (5), calendar (6) and address book (7). Camera (8) and camera library (9), eBook-Reader (10), Musicplayer (11), Videoplayer (12). Maps/Navigation (13) and weather (14). Facebook (15), LinkedIn (16), browser (17). Twitter, Skype, WeChat, etc. are on the secondary page. I use Shazam (18) to identify songs I hear somewhere. Threema (19, secure messenger), Trello (20) and PayBack (21, shopping loyalty card). Amazon and IP-TV were moved to secondary pages too. A single (trusted) general news source (22). And AirVideo (23) for at home access to our video archive. My phone only has 24 spots, so the last one is used “ad hoc” as needed. For Hamburg Aviation Conference they asked to use Slack (which did not make it to my permanent apps). Routes has its own App. Where would I put “airports”? Even as a frequent traveler, I have either Wallet on the first page for travels. Or maybe FLIO. There was a time I had four or five screens. I have two left. A third if you consider the “travel” folder with all those travel apps I only need on occasion.

Want to make it to my phone? What shall I remove for the sake of your app?

So I think, the airports must ask themselves, it it truly makes sense to bet all their money on their app. Or if they should look for an aggregator, providing their information from a single app. If I travel i.e. from Berlin via London to Belfast, that I do not need three apps, but a single one. If I use the commercial lounge in London, same app. If I want to use WiFi inflight and enroute, same app. But that requires common standards. Which brings me back to Data Silos and the need of common interface standards I addressed in my last post and will address at PTE.

We need common interface standards.
We need to tear down the silos.
We need to communicate.

Food for Thought!
Comments welcome

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Hamburg Aviation Conference 2017

As I attended to be interviewed about the stuff we do at CheckIn.com, you can click the image to view the video on Facebook.

Reviewing the recent Hamburg Aviation Conference, the aviation conference addressing new developments and ideas, it boils down to a “known issue” for the future of the aviation industry:

To tear down the walls.

Data Silos … and it’s not new.

As outlined here in Food for Thought and have been asked to address at Passenger Terminal Expo, there were a lot of very fancy ideas and outlooks where we want to go. About any session addressed the “data silos”. There are a lot and I mean a lot of good ideas and developments taking place as we speak. But all of them are isolated ideas and developments. Look at what airline X does. See here airport Y.

Just one of the many statements at Hamburg Aviation Conference on the topic:

“The check-in process is a totally disjointed process” [Peter Parkes]

Remember my posts about Checkin 2015 and the follow up Check-in 2020?

The underlying line I hear, though not really addressed, just mentioned, is the data silos. Even when being mentioned, it was mentioned as something that “naturally” has to happen. But without it, all or most of those wonderful developments remain what they are. Silos. Be it an(other) airport-silo, an(other) airline-silo, silos being disconnected from the other silos within the same company.

But. This. Is. Not. New! Together with Richard Eastman, from 1996 I emphasized the conversion from a whole sale model to a consumer driven model and the disintermediation in aviation distribution: Everyone deals with everyone. The example Yesterday / Today to the left is from my presentation at ITB in 2000.

On the floor, there were many discussions that there is a need in “change managers”, as there are all those fancy solutions and understanding of the need. That again reminded me of my question, why after 20 years only 20 airports implemented A-CDM – in my opinion for the very same reason. Everyone talks about it, nobody really knows how to do it, everyone thinks everyone else is doing it, so everyone claims they are doing it…

There were quite some discussions about the data silo issue and airports and tech companies telling about those very new and fancy solutions they develop. But when I look across to other airports, airlines or tech companies, I find they just build new Data Silos.

It’s not about Data Silos …
… but about Silo Thinking

Data Silos are simply the result of the real problem.

It’s about “who’s data is it?”. It is about the decision makers and stakeholders unwillingness, inability and misconception about a collaborative approach: “Give me your data but don’t date touch mine”… The very same as on the A-CDM side of our business.

The point when the aviation industry reinvented itself and evolved into e-Commerce was back in the 60s t0 80s, when the rise of the CRSs required standardized messages to exchange through the aviations teletype (telex) network. The birth of what today is AIRIMP. Nowadays, IATA works on “New Distribution Capabilities“, though there are fundamental issues when you compare airline sales to Amazon. Where Amazon works with warehouses and even opens own shops, the airline seat is one of the most perishable goods – something Amazon for good reason touches very differently.

The second large move was again forced, when in the mid 90s to 2000 the Internet forced the players to “get online”. Since 1994, I preached the need for airline sales to embrace that change.

I mentioned A-CDM and TAM as a starting point to tear down those walls, but I see a lot of not invented here responses.

Else … The Passenger Journey

Some of the really good ideas in the dead lock of silo thinking, where about one of the new hypes: The Passenger Journey.

When talking about the customer, how do we identify that very customer? By e-Mail? I just happen to change my employer at times. And I get a new address. I currently run three “main addresses” and use different ones for the various social networks. If you identify me by e-Mail, I use a different one when I travel for business than what I do personally. I’m two customers. Data Silos.

There was quite some talk about the need of the “passenger journey”, but also how fragmented that journey is. No wonder, the passenger being split to “airport customer”, “border control/security”, “airline” and the exchange of the traveler from one to the other complicated by Data Silos.

Around 2000, I mentioned in my annual presentation about Airline Sales & e-Commerce for the Airline Sales Representatives Association, that Google was said to identify a unique person within 20 searches, based on IP geographic area, typical questions, etc. That was what … 17 years ago? And we don’t even have a single source of truth for a passenger in aviation. Very often we have separate profiles even within an airline – for GDS/CRS (old legacy tools), check-in and operational processes, but separate for social network contacts. A customer contacting via Twitter or Facebook is (in my experience) usually not associated to the passenger profile! Some examples to the contrary, usually on the large and newer players (i.e. Norwegian, easyJet). Is this a premium customer on the social network or is it a first traveler? Is it someone enroute or at home? Data Silos.

At lunch we talked about another example. I may be a prime customer (“frequent flyer platinum”) at airline A, but I have trouble, getting recognition at airline B. Because it is not about being a frequent traveler, it’s solely about revenue. You are not with us, we don’t want youThat a good treatment of the frequent flyer on your competition might entice him/her to your own product is beyond the decision makers in most if not all airlines. Data Silos? Silo Thinking!

Else … Global WiFi access

On the “customer journey”, every stakeholder forces the customer to change Wifi on the way, use an app for the airport, the airline, the other airport, etc., etc. I mentioned that back in my Check-in 2020 blog.

Whooops. And my friend Stephan Uhrenbacher has to tell me he had an app developed that does it all: FLIO. But… Unfortunately the providers don’t want this, they oppose it and fight to not make this happen. And the airport WiFi is hardly in the control of the airport, but of “some provider” the airport just pays. So they want their log-in processes and pages and have no interest in “usability”. That being true especially on the U.S. market, where in addition the “free WiFi” very commonly fails and then the users complain about FLIO and not about the free WiFi provider of the particular airport. Stephan promised me, the idea is not dead, but yes, the task is not as easy as it might sound. Thanks to Data Silos.

Else … Ryanair, Air Berlin & Lufthansa

Kenny Jacobs in his very interesting interview announced they complained legally about the Lufthansa/Air Berlin merger, saying that is what it is, being called a “lease” business or whatever. As such, Germany remains a protected market with Lufthansa dominating 62% of the domestic travel.
Side note: That also goes in line with the trade press reporting the remaining Air Berlin being not sustainable. Questioning if Air Berlin is now simply bled dry, leaving the commercially loss making parts in the remaining company, accepting the bankruptcy as a logical end to it. I happen to agree with that assessment.

He also  announced they will feed to Aer Lingus and Norwegian on an “interline light” model but with baggage thru-check. Another step from Low Cost to classic operations model. As I kept emphasizing in my Airlines Sales & e-Commmerce presentations. Low Cost will only need a business case to provide “classic” services. Also nice to remember that ANNA.aero article a year ago (right).

Ryanair develops inhouse, for speed and prioritization of development. Ryanair decided to stop looking at other airlines what they do on their digital strategy, but they look at digital pacemakers, Amazon, Facebook, etc. to learn what they can do to attract the customer.

WiFi onboard? Consumers want to use their own devices on board. But the bandwidth inflight is not sufficient for mass communications. He believes the speed to come up in two years, but then the bandwidth demand will also increase. Yes, for long haul, but on regional flights not a real issue he believes.

User Centric Design

Konsta Hansson of Reaktor.aero had an interesting look into user centric design, not to decide for the user what he needs, but find out what the user needs and leave out the rest. He questioned if a check-in is a given need – or just a legacy process. Using RFID and e-Passports, I strongly agree with him.

Question I’d have and could not answer is based on the assumption that “check-in” is obsolete, how would you really refresh processes from the existing legacy processes to a completely digital process? And how do you manage the necessary change management with stake-holders like government bodies? Data Silos.

Who’s Customer is it? A Revenue Issue

Shall the passenger be shopping in the airport or in the airplane?

My three friends Stefan, Daniel and Marjan were on stage, discussing the different models the airports have to decide upon about their revenue stream for the passenger, called “ancillary revenues”. Daniel emphasized that within 20 years, the revenue for the airports no longer comes from the airlines. But (declining) from the in airport shops and (increasingly) the aerotropolis.

With Ryanair talking about “free tickets”, keep in mind, there is nothing such as a free meal. Someone will have to pay the air ticket somewhere in the process.

Summary: Start Moving

There was a lot of visionary ideas about where to go, but rather little about how to get there. The above concerns were quickly voiced but not identified as concerns. Steps taken are taken by individual stake holders (technology companies) and less on a development of common standards. So we have fantastic ideas, but we all keep develop our own individual standards = Data Silos. And worse: Silo Thinking!

We talk about “passenger journey” but the solutions are neither user centric nor easy to use. There was recently a story on LinkedIn titled Brand suicide case study: British Airways I strongly recommend… It is a good example about Data Silos, Silo Thinking and not specific to the named airlines. The same story unfortunately is true for most airlines. What we need is a management effort to Tear Down the Walls!

Food for Thought!
Comments welcome

… and if you happen to have a job for me looking after this, please keep in mind I am a job seeker!

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