This is a guest post from Geoff Galat, CMO of Tealeaf

Barely a day goes by on Travolution without the mention of an exciting new mobile play. But for me, the key thing about mobile is not flashy features but the importance of customer experience in defining strategy.

The truth is consumers don't care how companies deliver their mobile strategy so long as it works. Travel operators hoping to grab a slice of the multi-billion-dollar m-commerce pie need to wake up to the fact that customer expectations for mobile experience are sky high.

Online bookers are an unforgiving bunch, even in a developing area like mobile. A recent Harris Interactive survey, commissioned by Tealeaf, showed that 75% of UK consumers believe there is no excuse for mobile transactions failing to complete on first attempt.

So, what does this mean for the mobile web versus mobile app argument? Here are five considerations seen from a customer's standpoint:

1) Take all devices into consideration

While desktop web browsers each have their individual quirks, they all function in largely the same way. Not so in the mobile world. A mobile-optimised website could be seen as an easy solution to the problem, but does it provide the best experience?

Often an app that has been specifically created for the device in question will be easier to use - but will you develop an innovative new travel app for the iPhone now but leave your Android customers waiting a further six months? Will the app be free, or will there be a charge for less popular platforms?

2) Make the most of improved functionality

Mobile devices are obviously much smaller than laptops and desktops, but they also use a wider variety of input mechanisms, such as touchscreens. So optimising your site or app for touchscreens or making sure users don't have to scroll too much when searching for information on a small screen is vital.

This isn't just about matching the experience customers will receive on a desktop though; it's about enhancing it.

3) Think about location

An airline customer might not book an entire holiday on a mobile device, but they might want to use it on the way to the airport to check in or change flight details. Or a customer may use an app to compare prices and deals on the high street before making a booking in a travel agent. Location can therefore be a major driver in altering customer expectations.

4) Multi device, multi platform, multi channel

The majority of us have multiple internet-enabled devices that we use on a daily basis. And that is a challenge for travel operators.

While we might browse holiday destinations on a tablet or a mobile phone, we might feel more comfortable waiting to actually book at home on a desktop computer, through a contact centre or a representative in a high street travel agent.

The mobile experience must therefore take into account the fact that an online shopper may access the same site or brand on a number of different devices, mobile and otherwise.

5) Analytics

It is essential that, once the mobile strategy is up and running, travel operators have visibility into what their customers are doing on mobile devices so the site or app can be optimised on an ongoing basis.

Rather than seeing mobile as a threat to sales through other channels, travel companies need to gain insight into how mobile fits into the overall customer experience.

The best way to achieve this is by understanding how online bookers actually use the channel - and that means getting a good analytics package can track your mobile properties as well as your standard web ones.


One of the hotel owners who contacted KwikChex with concerns about TripAdvisor has written to Travolution to set out how bad reviews on the site have damaged her business.

Monica Charles, who runs Crystals, claims that TripAdvisor has been slow to respond to complaints about fake and malicious reviews, and that on more than one occasion she has struggled to get her replies to negatives reviews published.

 

Crystals on TripAdvisorAlthough Crystals has an overall rating of 4.5 and plenty of five-star reviews among the 159 posted, Charles admits the off-the-beaten-track resort is not for everyone.

She told us in an email: "I do not mind negative reviews. In fact it helps people make a choice. For example if a guest puts 'Crystals is off the beaten track, horrid road, you might get a lizard in your room' and so on that is quite understandable."

While many guests heap praise on Crystals there are a small number of negative reviews. Charles was particularly upset by one review posted earlier this year by a customer from New Jersey who she believes posted multiple negative reviews under false names.

This prompted her to contact KwikChex, the reputation management firm that has prompted an ASA probe into TripAdvisor.

Actually, there's no evidence to suggest the review, entitled "Total disappointment! Avoid at all costs!", was written with any malicious intent. Indeed in a follow-up comment the reviewer addressed this allegation, asking why she would want to do such a thing.

But the situation does highlight the power of TripAdvisor, and the impact of a negative review, even if it is surrounded by otherwise glowing reports.

Charles said: "Just to show you what the power of a few negative reviews can do. My small mom-and-pop business has gone from April being 90% occupancy for 11 months of the year [to] no guests and no one has booked for two months.

"Amazingly people assume the false comments are true in spite of my past. How can one company be so powerful?"

There's little point trying to get to the bottom of what is basically claim and counter-claim between reviewer and hotelier - and in a period of sustained hardship for the travel industry, the decline in bookings is unlikely to be solely down to a TripAdvisor review.

But the ASA investigation will focus on what TripAdvisor does when instances like this one occur, and might help set new parameters of responsibility for the content such an influential medium publishes.

All publishers, including the one behind this website, have both legal and moral responsibilities for what gets into the public domain under their name.

There would appear to be little difference in this respect between more traditional publisher and the new breed like TripAdvisor.

The review site points to its own internal process for weeding out fake or malicious reviews, although no one really knows how robust this is and it's clear the industry for fake reviews is alive and well.

Of course there is the 'aggregation argument' that the community itself provides a self-policing service, but it's an open question as to how effective or efficient this is, particularly in markets where TripAdvisor is less well used.

One of the more worrying aspects of Charles's complaint was that Tripadvisor was slow to respond to her concerns, something it will have to address if it wants to keep the regulators off its back.

The legal view from law firm Thomas Eggar

"TripAdvisor undoubtedly has a loyal following of customers worldwide who use the site to decide where to stay.  Therefore, it has great value where it is used properly by reviewers and hoteliers alike.

"Its value has even led to the UK Government suggesting earlier on in the year that the star rating for Hotels in the UK should be replaced by a customer review database similar to the one maintained by TripAdvisor on its website.
 
"However, TripAdvisor constantly faces complaints about the genuine nature of reviews and its position regarding the removal of comments that are not true and/or defamatory. In England, defamation claims can be brought against third parties like TripAdvisor if having been notified of a defamatory statement they continue to publish it. 

"However, TripAdvisor values free speech and might not always consider that it is appropriate or necessary to remove allegedly defamatory reviews.  If a review appears on TripAdvisor's website that is factually inaccurate and damages the reputation of your hotel in the UK, your ultimate recourse is to obtain a court order that is enforceable against TripAdvisor in the US. 

"In these circumstances, it is more than likely that TripAdvisor would remove the defamatory content.  However, such claims are expensive to pursue in the UK and the US and unless severe damage has been and is being caused to your business such claims are going to be rare. 

"As a result, TripAdvisor's overall policy is unlikely to change. With this in mind, hoteliers should welcome the recent confirmation that the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) are investigating claims that some reviews on TripAdvisor's website are defamatory or made up. 
 
"The investigation is interesting in that the ASA has only recently had authority to look at websites and in that context will be specifically considering third party user generated content. 

"However, it should give TripAdvisor the opportunity to consider its policies on how reviews are verified, used and if appropriate removed. This can only be of benefit to those in the industry (including TripAdvisor) who all have a vested interest in reviews being factually accurate and helpful to customers."


It's been a week or so since Google rolled out its new expanded Sitelinks display including as many as 12 for branded searches, up from a maximum of eight.

So we thought we'd take a look at a purely random selection of travel firms' websites to see how they are being indexed.

The move has caused some consternation among developers who invest a great deal of time and energy constructing their sites to optimise them to Google's requirements.

Posters on specialist site searchengineland.com have been trying to work out exactly what the search engine is up to and how the new functionality works, having found mixed results.

One said: "I'm kind of irritated that Google preach so much about title tags and meta descriptions, I go through all the hard work of making them perfect; and then they totally ignore them and choose their own."

Certainly the new 12-pack indents display provides brands with far greater first page, above-the-fold exposure, something that fits with Google's ongoing squeeze of natural results for non-generic searches.

Google itself says on its blog: "...sitelinks help you navigate to the most relevant part of the site, which is particularly handy for large and complex websites. Sitelinks can also give you a good overview of the website's content, and let webmaster expose areas of the site that visitors may not know about".

Google also claimed to be improving its algorithm so that ranking of these links is better organised and duplication is reduced.

Intermediaries are likely to lose out while brands ought to benefit, but as we found although the new display regime might appear to offer an enhanced service it can throw up some less than helpful results.

First up let's look how it works for a larger brand like P&O Cruises. Below three paid ads, all notably not from the operator, the UK's cruise leader gets the full 12-pack.

 

P&O Cruises SitelinksHowever, not all of the operator's eight ships get their own indent, whereas 'Careers' does, as does 'Your Account' - not an area of the site someone searching for a cruise is likely to want.

Lastminute.com also gets a full quota and the various indents do point to a good selection of product segments.

 

Lastminute.com SitelinksHowever, one headed 'Mobile site' takes you to a defunct page dated 2009 about the launch of a 'new' Nokia app.

This pointless indent was second in the second column on Monday but became promoted to second in the first today. Is that Google's updated algorithm telling it that this link is useful? 

It's also not clear that any of the four or five word intro snippets add much to the user experience, one under the 'Stag & hen parties' indent helpfully explaining 'this page requires IFRAME support'.

The Monarch search result shows how although the full 12-pack is available some sites do not get the full Monty.

 

Monarch SitelinksThe UK charter airline and tour operator also gets an indent headed '36' with the intro 'sorry there has been a problem' that takes you to a Manchester to Lanzarote flight search for February 2010.

On to long-haul travel agency specialist Trailfinders and another full 12-pack, this time with a search bar underneath, something Thomas Cook (with only six indents) also warrants.

 

Trailfinders SitelinksYoutravel.com's 10 results take you to a selection of its various international sites including it's .fr .it and .se versions.

 

Youtravel SitelinksOne of the best examples we found was the result for Lowcost Holidays, it's 12 sitelinks all directing the user to useful sections of the online retailer's site.

 

Lowcost SitelinksQuestions have been raised about only the larger brands with the greater traffic volumes will benefit from the expanded number of sitelinks so we've looked at some smaller agencies.

Multi-award winning high street travel agent Haslemere Travel gets the full 12, but Garstang Travel gets none while Clapham-based Travel Designers gets six.

 

Haslemere Sitelinks

 

Travel Designers SitelinksAll in all a mixed bag, but yet another Google tweak for web designers to get their heads round if their websites' search results are to be as useful as they ought to be.


This is a guest post by Nucleus founder and CEO Peter Matthews. It also appears on Nucleus.co.uk.

If you believe the sales data there are plenty of Android devices out there, but over the past year we've noticed they don't seem to be browsing travel websites.

According to Millennial Media, the US independent mobile ad network, in the second quarter of 2011 Apple had 49% of the mobile application mix, Android 41% and RIM (Blackberry) 9%.

But looking at the Google Analytics data of a sample of 10 travel sites this market share is not reflected in mobile users' browsing habits, especially for premium and luxury brands.

Apple's iPad is powering ahead with consistently longer and deeper browsing and lower bounce rates than other devices. Interestingly, iPad traffic also has a better conversion rate and a higher average booking value than iPhone or Android.

The iPhone is firmly in second place, way ahead of all Android smartphones and tablets put together.

You can simply forget the rest and question whether it's worth spending any money developing for them. RIP BlackBerry, HPOS and Symbian.

Here's how the most popular devices break down across the ten sites we looked at:

 

Share of mobile traffic by device

 > iPad: 45.8%
 > iPhone: 36.1%
 > Android: 9.1%
 > BB: 2.1%
 > iPod: 1.6%
 > Symbian: under 1%

The 10 sites sampled collectively average 9.64% mobile traffic, with no sites below 6% and the highest reaching over 15%. They include mass market tour operators, OTAs, cruise sites and luxury hotels. All are transactional.

This data shows the market is changing rapidly. While mobile browsing is growing month on month, there has been a rapid slowdown in PC sales across Europe (Acer unit sales down 44.6%, Asus -22.9%, Dell -12.7%, and HP -6.1%, only Apple increased by a mere 0.5%).

Apple sales in China recently overtook those of domestic device manufacturer Lenovo, which has traditionally held around 30% of the market but has been comparatively slow to move into mobile products.

Worldwide, the stellar growth in iPad sales continues unabated. Apple forecasts iPads will account for 294m units sold by 2015, so we are certain that the growing importance of mobile browsing will quickly start to drive the look, feel and build of tomorrow's websites; with or, quite possibly, without Android.

Here's a more granular look at the data above:

Website 1 (6.69% mobile traffic)

 > iPad 47%
 > iPhone 30%
 > Android 12%
 > iPod 6%
 > BB 1.5%

Website 2 (6.03% mobile traffic)

 > iPad 45%
 > iPhone 34%
 > Android 14%
 > iPod 2%
 > Symbian 1%

Website 3 (10.1% mobile traffic)

 > iPad 74%
 > iPhone 19%
 > Android 2%
 > BB 1.6%

Website 4 (10.9% mobile traffic)

 > iPad 58%
 > iPhone 30%
 > Android 7%
 > iPod 1.5%
 > BB 1.5%

Website 5 (9.1% mobile traffic)

 > iPad 57%
 > iPhone 32%
 > Android 6%
 > iPod 1.5%
 > Symbian 1%
 > BB 1%

Website 6 (10.1% mobile traffic)

 > iPad 48%
 > iPhone 39%
 > Android 6.4%
 > iPod 2.7%
 > BB 2%

Website 7 (15.3% mobile traffic)

 > iPad 54%
 > iPhone 33%
 > Android 8%
 > iPod 2%

Website 8 (9% mobile traffic)

 > iPhone 49%
 > iPad 16%
 > Android 16%
 > BB 6%
 > Symbian 4%

Website 9 (8.9% mobile traffic)

 > iPhone 47%
 > iPad 20%
 > Android 14%
 > BB 5%
 > Symbian 3%

Website 10 (10.3% mobile traffic)

 > iPhone 48%
 > iPad 39%
 > Android 6%
 > BB 2.9%
 > iPod 1%


I've just played a round of Paradise Island, a Nassau-promoting game from Staffordshire-based developer Koko Digital.

I made a paltry 14,916 against a high score of 120,692. Paradise lost, as it were.

Paradise Island score

I'm obviously not winning here. But more importantly, is the game going to be a win for Nassau?

Research done in 2006 indicated that most casual gamers are female and over 30, which is good - mum is a key decision-maker when it comes to family holidays. I was helping pitch baby-friendly destinations to a friend just last night, and every one we suggested was batted back with "My wife won't go for it".

So far so good. But the elephant in the room isn't whether travel advergames will appeal to the right people - it's whether those people will ever see them.

Here's a quote from an advergames guide on gaming business site GAMESbrief:

"If the brand has any sense, they will realise that games are great at Retention and Monetisation, but rubbish at Acquisition, and use the rest of their marketing to drive customers to the game. Unfortunately, in my experience, most brands think of games as being equivalent to a television spot. They are not."

'Viral' is the stock answer to that, backed up by passalong and embed tools. The problem is that viral transmission isn't something you make happen by offering certain mechanics. It's something that users make happen based how interesting they find your content.

Remember this?

That went viral, and it did so because it was completely out there. There are other examples that originated from travel brands, but they're fewer than you'd think, and none of them (to my knowledge) are games.

Contrast the risks MyTravel takes above with this account of producing an advergame for a major brand by Xiotex Studios' Bryon-Atkinson-Jones:

"...absolutely everything about the game was going to be scrutinized, judged and changed if just one person feels that it doesn't match the brand in visuals, feel or any other possible reason.

The agency that was commissioned to produce a game acted as a gatekeeper to the brand and as such retained full control over the visuals down to the smallest detail. The idea was that they protected the brand to a level that they were confident that the brand holder would not reject images that were to appear in the game."

Fair enough. Brands are important assets. But if the sanctity of the brand trumps all, your branded game is unlikely to thrill anyone enough to pass it along. That leaves you with an asset you have to spend more cash promoting - in other words, you're left marketing your own marketing.


Distillation: "Buy lots of little things to solve lots of little problems."

Deals around the £440m mark are so last year. Encouraging news for start-ups, and there's some +1 talk in there too.


...and here's the TechCrunch original. I'm an apologist for the new logo, by the way. Love it.


Usablenet logoThis is a guest blog post written by Jason Taylor, vice president of platform strategy at Usablenet.

The traveler is inherently mobile. And since travelers carry their mobile phones with them 24/7, smartphones have fast become their essential device for on-the-go communication, organization, and planning.

Travelers have led the way in terms of using their mobile devices to interact with businesses for the better part of the last decade. In fact, travelers were the first to use mobile phones to access the Internet - visiting not just travel websites, but also other consumer verticals from retail to restaurants.

Given that the traveler is mobile, location-based services have become an essential way for travel businesses to create a true mobile experience for their customers. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that airlines, hotels, booking services and other travel companies are incorporating new location-based features as an essential element of their next-generation mobile strategies - making simplicity and functionality the hallmark of a heightened user experience.

Location-Aware Experiences are a Game Changer for Brands and Consumers

Contrary to the desktop experience, the traveler using their mobile device to search for local information is typically already on the ground in their destination city. They want to use their smartphones to find an address to a famous local attraction, directions to and from the airport, the check-in time of their hotel, and anything else that will improve their overall trip.

There is a huge opportunity for companies like hotels, airlines, trip planners and others in the travel industry to leverage location aware technologies to create entirely new experiences for customers. By incorporating the internal GPS that is ubiquitous in today's smartphones into the mobile travel experience, brands can use the consumer's physical location to their advantage - and more easily deliver localized information that pertains to their trip.

All travel companies should view location aware services as adding significant value to the customer by offering inherently relevant offers and information. By leveraging smartphones' GPS capabilities to enhance search results and overall communications, travel companies can both improve relevancy and open up new opportunities for customer interaction throughout the travel purchasing lifecycle. For instance, since hotels know where you are when you use a smartphone to check your reservation, they can easily deliver information like restaurant recommendations and local activities that will add value to the trip experience. Beyond improving the brand loyalty from travelers, hotels should view this as an opportunity to further their partnerships with local businesses.

 

Mobile Travel Goes Local with HTML5

Expedia.com is a great example of a travel company that is consistently innovative in both its overall mobile strategy as well as its use of location-aware features that add value to the traveler. The company has recently incorporated next-generation HTML5 technology into its mobile site - allowing location-aware features like push notifications to be more easily accessible to the traveler. Other new features recently incorporated into Expedia's mobile site include using the phone's internal GPS to offer travelers the ability to search for hotels with same day vacancies near their physical location. Overall, Expedia's optimized mobile site is able to leverage location-aware features to deliver more relevant airfare results and hotel information to travelers researching and booking trips on their mobile devices - creating a site experience that will add relevancy to the searching process.

Brands Should Use Mobile to Separate Themselves from Competitors

Despite the extreme advancements in mobile engagement among travel companies over the last several years, there remain huge unmet opportunities to fulfill additional consumer demands across the entire travel experience. The potential of location aware experiences will be game changing over the coming years, and the companies that leverage location to deliver compelling consumer experiences on mobile devices will be the ones that separate themselves from competitors.


 

peerindex_logo_300dpi_176.pngThis is a guest blog post by Louise Sinnerton of PeerIndex.

Trust is hugely important to the travel industry, as holidays, hotels and adventure activities have such a great talk-ability factor.  People don't tend to talk about which deodorant or dishwasher tablets they use - they talk about the more glamorous parts of their lives. There is a tendency for people to tweet about something they consider to be the attractive side of their life, about luxury products and unique experiences- and this is where Word of Mouth holds real power. People change their Facebook status when they are about to go on holiday, when they get there, 3 days in when they need to check everyone knows how much fun they're having, and again when they get back, and they tweet just as much. So, it can be difficult to know who - amongst the cacophony of hundreds of thousands of voices proclaiming they've found the city's most authentic restaurant - to listen to.

Many travel agencies, hotel websites and comparison sites have gone to some lengths to help their online customers - giving them the ability to share their experiences with others and read other people's views. However, the sense of community can be somewhat distorted in these sites, with people not knowing who each other are, and what makes "Jenny from Sussex" an expert on wind surfing in Morocco? For people to take more notice of the comments on review boards there needs to be a greater degree of transparency. People need guidance as to who they can trust.

If you read the reviews online, there is currently no way of knowing which one to believe. Less than a year ago, there was the scandal of hotels posting their own reviews on websites to boost their popularity online. There have also been stories about people being paid to post five star reviews on travel websites.  So online scoring can help people know who's experience they are reading about and whether or not they should listen to the advice. This is based on whether they are influential at all - a lot of people might be interested in whether Michael Palin recommends a destination or not, but not quite as bothered about their old school teacher's opinions.

Knowing who to listen to can be important for airlines, hotels, cruises and any other kind of travel business that exists, from the extremely broad to the most niche.  A hotel could target someone who is authoritative in French cuisine with their service if they are located in France, or have a French restaurant in the hotel. What they need is to find people who have a good reputation and a good reach, in other words, influence online, and these are the people who these companies will want to target. If you know who is influential in a specific area you can find out who may have an indirect interest in a product - someone who engages with this influential person. As people are linked by characteristics and attributes, you can find where the overlap lies, which can lead to more potential customers being found.
 

peer graph.JPGKnowing who person A talks to and their interests is crucial, as it allows companies to see the overlapping areas, and then to find more customers. By knowing who person A is and who they engage with, person B can be targeted. Of course the more connections that person A has, the greater the scope the company has to find potential "B" people - not currently being targeted, but people who the brand is likely to appeal to.

In the online sphere, influential customers are invaluable as they have the potential to bring in huge business and big spends of a myriad of people. Perhaps person B (that person A has introduced to the company) will be loyal to the new brand and spend a great sum of money on this brand during their lifetime. The number of so-called "life time spends" person A may bring in is dependent on their reach. Companies are well aware that the most influential people buying into their brand have the power to multiply their reach because of their online impact.

A customer who is kept informed - who knows who to trust in relation to the company or service - will start to build up their trust in the brand. In turn the strength of the brand will be increased. With such a vast index of hotels and travel deals online it would add value to these websites if people knew who the reviews were written by. Someone looking for a holiday online would be able to take the advice of someone who has a good online reputation, or who is authoritative in a particular area. The customer would be able to disregard the eight or nine positive reviews from people who have no experience in the fled and pay attention to the one that really matters to them - the one from a trustworthy and authoritative source.

And in general the travel industry has a great deal of social potential: people like to talk about their experiences. Promoting transparency and trust by knowing who is talking about what and who else they are engaging with could help travel companies to have a better relationship with its customers. In the offline world not everyone's opinions are of equal value, and this is also the case online. While it is obvious to the user that each comment does not have an equal weighting, there is nothing in place to signal this to the people browsing online - potential customers.

In niche communities, where brands are looking for a specific customer and that customer is looking for a quality service or product, authority scores and online transparency can bring "niche" customers to the brand. People who are interested in similar subjects and who are ranked accordingly are likely to bring people with similar interests to the brand. For sailing trips, for example, a good review online from somebody influential in the topic of sailing would attract quality customers that already have an interest in that particular market.

Knowing exactly who the comment writers and reviewers of the travel industry are would highlight the top influencers and would make their impact far more visible online. Knowing who the most authoritative people are in specific groups within the market would enable those seeking advice or expertise to search by topic, and therefore obtain results more tailored to their needs. Both of these can help to create intimate communities of people with local or specific knowledge online and valid conversations in the travel industry.


 

Thomas Cook logoWhen 45 former employees of BlueSky Travel Systems won a Manchester employment tribunal last week, it was not only significant for them but also shed fascinating light on a troubled technology project.

BlueSky was the firm tasked with developing Thomas Cook's iTour system under the operator's Globe Project, something court documents said had cost BlueSky £25 million.

The 15-page judgement from judge John Sherratt documents how relations between Cook and BlueSky broke down following the former's merger with MyTravel in 2008.

The case centres on how Thomas Cook acted when BlueSky was put into voluntary administration by its directors in September 2009.

Cook claimed BlueSky was working for other clients, a crucial point to be made if Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations (TUPE) were not applicable.

However, BlueSky set out the extent to which it was dependent on Cook's business.

"BlueSky had other customers including Mark Warner Holidays, Slatteries and First Choice....The income from these customers was primarily in relation to annual maintenance and usage fees with the income from them respectively being £93,000, £40,000 and £183,000 per annum.

"Budget Travel became a customer of BlueSKy in January 2003 with a contract value of £1 million over a three year period or £330,000 annually.

"The Thomas Cook income for 2008 consisted of licence fees of £4 million, development fees of £2.4 million, further development fees of £240,000 and for maintenance and support £513,000. Management fees were £519,000.

"...Thomas Cook's lowest quarter's contribution [2008 and 2009] was 71% of total revenue and the highest quarter's contribution was 92% but averaging around 85% of total revenue."

Although BlueSky was the developer, the actual agreement was with IBM and between Thomas Cook AG, the German parent until Cook requested a significant "ramping up" of the project in June 2007.

This saw BlueSky increase its head count from 56 to 108 and the licence agreement was assigned to Thomas Cook Group Plc "which significantly expanded the potential use of the iTour software within the Thomas Cook group".

Former BlueSky director Gary Haynes told the tribunal how this increased the development days for roadmap by 36%, for cost price bespoke development by 55% and for full cost bespoke development by 27% compared to original estimates.

The ruling goes on to refer to a report produced by MCR Corporate Restructuring, the administrators appointed by BlueSky in November 2009.

"BlueSky required additional working capital adequately to fund the expansion but it occurred [sic] a loss of £1.77 million in the five months to 31 May 2009 due to research and development costs. The company missed a payment to HM Revenue and Customs. There was minimal investment on new business to generate additional income. The company was heavily reliant on fees from Thomas Cook.

"The company had been negotiating for several months with Thomas Cook to improve the contractual relationship and the directors had instructed a merchant bank to market the business as an going concern in the months leading up to the appointment of administrators. Whilst an initial interest was shown the business was not sold.

In September 2009 the relationship between BlueSky and Thomas Cook had become strained. BlueSky anticipated the termination of the agreement was likely to come from Thomas Cook and so they sought legal advice and following advice from MCR the directors believed it would be in the best interests of the company to place it into formal insolvency...."

What then ensued was a process that saw the assets of BlueSky, including the valuable iTour source code bought by Thomas Cook subsidiary JMCH Services Limited for £550,000.

JMCH beat four other shortlisted parties to the deal, Cook having put itself in prime position in the administration having become BluSky's main creditor after buying debenture loans from its original investors.

This deal came after Cook set out five options to get access to the BlueSky code including "...acquiring 51% of the equity in BlueSky, secondly terminating the contract, thirdly suing BlueSky for breach of contract, fourthly BlueSky's insolvency and fifthly an agreement with BlueSky".

After the parties failed to reach an agreement that covered formal handover from BlueSky and redundancy programme for employees, the process ended in insolvency.

There followed a period when JMCH mopped up a number of former BlueSky employees to carry out "critical changes identified to support implementation within Thomas Cook both in the immediate and slightly longer term periods".

In December 2009 Thomas Cook agreed a contract with CapGemini UK to implement the Globe project in place of IBM.

So there you have it: the tale of the demise of a travel technology company with a prized contract but one that ultimately it was not able to fulfil.

A number of questions remain about this saga, but the above answers much of the confused picture at the time of the demise of BlueSky.

We now know the BlueSky Thomas Cook contract was not officially terminated, and that Thomas Cook managed to get its hands on a piece of software that it estimated would cost around £2 million for a mere £550,000.

Other details about how Thomas Cook managed its relationship with the developer may be answered in further tribunals the 45 BlueSky staff are now likely to pursue. But that's for another time.


This is a guest blog written by Ed Stevenson managing director, Europe of Marin Software

More and more consumers are accessing the internet on their mobile devices each day.  There are over 5 billion mobile phones worldwide and according to recent research by Trip Advisor reported on Travolution, almost a quarter of Britons have used a mobile device as part of their travel planning process.   The majority of these mobile users are performing Google searches, providing a growing marketing opportunity for paid search advertisers in travel.  In addition, rising smart phone use means consumers are expecting more from their mobile experience.   Instead of looking up restaurants or hotels before leaving for their holidays, more people are now searching for places and services with their phones on-the-go.  
At a high level, managing mobile paid search ads is very similar to managing desktop paid search campaigns. However, user patterns and consumer intent are different on mobile phones and therefore, campaigns should be managed separately.   We've actually found that, in the case of large scale advertisers, mobile campaigns tend to have higher Click-through-rates (CTR) and lower Cost-per-Click (CPC) and CPA.
So how can travel companies make sure they're making the most from mobile search? Here are some best practice tips:
Run Separate Campaigns
As above, ads perform differently on mobile devices. To therefore make the most out of mobile, advertisers need to separate mobile campaigns from traditional desktop paid search ads. The best way to do this is to replicate existing high volume travel campaigns and target them specifically at mobile devices. Although marketers should pull together data for their mobile campaigns by using their existing brand campaigns (this will offer brand protection and ensure lower CPCs while getting started), they need to be running separate, mobile specific campaigns, to get more granular control over bids, creative, and landing pages that should be optimised for mobile devices.
Think about the User
As most mobile browsing takes place on smartphones, the desktop browsing experience is mimicked, but with two key differences:  everything is smaller and there is limited support for adobe flash.   With the proliferation of smart phones, it's not necessarily important to have a mobile specific (or WAP) website for your travel brand, but you want to ensure that users get the most from your landing page, especially if they're planning a holiday on the go.  To do this, you need to evaluate what pages look like on standard phones (iPhone and Android) and fix those that show broken images or flash files. The user's experience is the most important thing, yet they are often forced to scroll back and forth to read the content on a page.  Tailoring mobile landing pages or developing smartphone-specific websites is also a good way to streamline the conversion process, and make it easier for users to book their accommodation, or flights. 

Position is Important
Google shows only 1-2 paid search ads on the top of mobile search results, and a couple of ads at the bottom of the page. This means that mobile searches have limited inventory in comparison to the 10+ ads that are displayed on the top and side of desktop browsers. Therefore, in order to get ads to appear when a user searches, travel companies need to place bids that ensure a listing in one of the top positions. On top of this, advertisers need to be setting their bids higher, even though the typical clearing price may be lower. In this case, they should look to experiment to make sure their ads are coming top.
Get the creative right
The combination of limited listing space for mobile search results and different user intent, means that ad copy must be specific for mobile. Shorter, snappier messaging is more successful than ads that use all of the available characters.  You also want to make your advertisements as clear as possible so that consumers know they will be able to book a room, flight or hire car, etc when they click on your ad.  Customising creative to the browsing device, for example putting the words "iPhone" or "Android" in the creative text has also demonstrated better click-through-rates-- just be sure that you set the device targeting parameters to match the messaging.
Focus on Local Offers
With separate mobile paid search campaigns, you can now begin to focus on the mobile experience for your travelling customer.  Consider how consumer intent for mobile users might vary from your traditional desktop browser.  Are mobile searchers looking for a nearby hotel location or tourist office?  If so, you can use location and click-to-call extension to provide that information directly in the search results.   In addition to providing additional information, local offers or coupons placed directly within ads provides further encouragement for in-person conversions
Also, when focusing on local conversions, don't forget about page content.  Placing location, contact information, and deals clearly on mobile-specific landing pages will help consumers get the data they need more quickly, which is important for those travelling on-the-go. 
Mobile search may still represent a small amount of overall spend, but it's crucial that marketers get ahead of the trend. With the use of mobile devices growing all the time, mobile needs to not only be considered, but must be a significant part of campaign development. With so many consumers looking to book their holidays on the go, advertisers in the travel industry are missing out on a trick by neglecting mobile search.