routerank
563 days ago
 

Cutting out the noise to get the full travel story – but now what do we call it?

NB: This is a guest article by Jochen Mundinger, chairman of RouteRank.

Six years ago – still a mathematician at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne – I had to organize a conference trip to Poland.

The institution did not work with a travel management company then and the planning and booking relied to a large extent on the traveller or their assistant using websites and agents.

I forget the exact number of websites that I visited that day, but they certainly included Google (and its maps), Expedia, EasyJet, Kayak, the Swiss and German railways, several Polish airport transfer information pages and a couple of rental car websites.

Neither the search nor the dedicated websites really did the job. And what a misery with all those browser windows open!

Perhaps the lack of a single solution was a result of the B2C-like approach. But different means of transport are equally separated across the entire travel industry, including business travel.

There are, of course, portals in either world that allow searches for both flights and rental cars, say, but then in different windows or tabs, and without integration.

The institute has since moved to managed travel, working with a TMC and an online booking tool. But as in the case of many, the traveller still has to essentially decide first on the means of transport – air, rail, (rental) car – and depending on this decision they can then go find and book that means of transport.

Besides alternate means of transportation, travellers need to be able to craft the entire journey, for example including their ground transportation and transfers, all through multiple possible departure and arrival airports.

Whereas leisure travellers may find this planning enjoyable. at least to some degree, business travellers view it as a productivity killer.

Perhaps the lack of a single solution was due to the technological challenge or the data challenge? The algorithmic complexity in the routing and the huge number of possible results, combined with the difficulty of obtaining and integrating enormous amounts of heterogeneous content certainly are substantial obstacles.

Perhaps there is also an element of different means of transport often used sequentially as part of the same trip competing in parallel on other trips, and the latter being the predominant view?

For example, a rail provider competing with an airline on one O&D-pair might be reluctant to collaborate with the same airline on other journeys even if they made for a good airport transfer (in sequence) there.

The Ryanair effect

In any case, if the traveller was informed of the different options of transport means and their combinations in advance, they might well arrive at a different decision in the end.

Even within air travel, flying Ryanair into “Frankfurt” (meaning Frankfurt Hahn as opposed to Frankfurt Main) might well lead to the cheapest flight, but not to the cheapest trip overall, as a result of potentially higher transfer costs from Hahn into Frankfurt or the actual destination.

Fare cast or cost saved?

And how about the time lost on the far longer airport transfer? Another limitation of existing systems – whether B2C or B2B – was the focus on cost in terms of the fare.

However, there is a limit to how much time travellers are willing to loose, unless perhaps that time can be used productively or for reading a good book.

And then the consideration of the environmental impact of at least the main leg of the trip has become standard. When talking detailed connections and trade-offs, this then enters a space where personal preferences also play a role.

(See recent BTN Research Issue on The Frequent Traveller].

Whether to the traveller or the company’s (triple) bottom line: the actual cost is much wider than the main ticket fare or even the sum of all the trip’s fares.

The full travel story

There are now solutions to do this, both in consumer and business travel. The company I started in the follow-up to the conference provides a web-based software solution for travel planning.

Unlike traditional sites that consider only one means of transport at a time, it addresses the entire travel route by integrating rail, road and air connections and their numerous combinations.

In a single search, the patent-pending technology finds and ranks the best possible travel routes, allowing users to sort them according to their priorities such as price (fares and availability), travel time, productivity and CO2 emissions – all in a single view on one screen.

Essentially, all business trips include more than just the single obvious air ticket (common sense). For the first time, the 2013 edition of the Advito Industry Forecast specifically includes ground transportation as an area of travel spend and estimates that together with two other secondary categories this accounts for close to 20% percent of spend in the US.

The report admits that data is harder to come by – precisely because it is traditionally not considered from the beginning – so chances are they account for more overall.

Our solution has shown to scale in terms of traffic, content, as well as customization. It has also inspired other initiatives, startups such as Rome2Rio and Zoombu (later sold to Skyscanner) and projects from different industries, typically set up by people with a technical background and not previously associated with only one particular means of transport, putting them in a better position to overcome the challenges mentioned above, and it is safe to say that the concept is here to stay.

Now what do we call it?

In the above, I have avoided referring to the full travel story with any particular terminology, although it should be known under a widely accepted name, of course.

In particular, with the next generation of extensions on accommodation planning and on meeting optimization already available in beta and in need of more naming, it will help to have conventions on the basics in place.

A poll by PassengerFocus in the UK asked what people would call it, specifically:

“Imagine a journey on public transport where you have all the information you need, seamless connections and integrated ticketing. What would be the best way of describing this?”

At the time of writing this article the answers yielded a near-even split between the three alternatives proposed:

  • 29% – end-to-end journey
  • 37% – door-to-door journey
  • 34% – from A to B

Other candidates include ‘address-to-address’ search, ‘entire route’ planning or ‘total trip management’. In business travel, ‘end-to-end’ already has another meaning referring to the process. ‘From A to B’ and ‘entire route’ planning might be perceived as somewhat vague.

So perhaps “total trip” is most appropriate – capturing both the door-to-door aspect and the wider interpretation of the trip cost.

And what do you call it?

NB: This is a guest article by Jochen Mundinger, chairman of RouteRank.

 
 
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  1. Jochen Mundinger

    Thanks again all for the comments and suggestions!

    For those of you interested, a wrap-up post with the full list of the names suggested so far, with some structure and comparison (as well as our own resulting new favourite) can now be found on routeRANK’s blog: http://www.routerank.com/en/blog/2013/02/22/multi-modal-door-to-door-travel-route-planning/

     
  2. Santosh Marar

    Dear Jochen

    Thanks to your efforts, this is certainly going to help travel managers, travel arrangers and individual travelers alike.

    As a corporate travel manager I have always struggled with what you struggled six years back.

    My suggestions to have such a site at various intervals went into drain since people don’t easily accept travel consolidation in a logical manner.

    I would suggest inclusion of payments to vendors and expense reimbursement to employees and close the loop of travel arrangement.

    If I had to provide a name to the product it would be called “Journey Console”.

    All the best to you and we look forward to this product in the global market.

    Warm regards
    Santosh

     
  3. Yannis

    Thank you. I enjoyed the article and I think that naming this complex enhanced version of what I would normally call “total trip dynamic packaging” is both fun and a noble quest indeed! So here is a thought that might help:

    I believe you are talking about a fairly intelligent, customer-need-aware, possibly trended, possibly meta-search reliant, interfaced, cross-sector/medium, end to end, dynamic packaging ideal…. which as a name will obviously never catch on.

    So let’s bring out the axe, cut out some of the essence and some of the fat and let’s call it a: End to End Dynamic Packaging service. Indeed both “end to end” and “dynamic packaging” have at least a couple of different meanings each, depending on which segment of the industry is using each phrase; but I think that when used together, one is clarifying the other and “dynamic” is such a nice and flexible word…

    In fact, if you like sound-bites, you can call it Dynamic End to End Packaging – which nicely abbreviates to DEEP (which can also be “DEE Packaging” – or using some poetic license: “Deep Packaging”). I think Deep Packaging has not been used in our industry before, and as a new phrase, you can define as you like.

    Good luck with it all :)

     
  4. Rod Cuthbert

    Jochen, Thanks for the mention. It’s a big space and we take your point about the need for a name. Here at Rome2rio we prefer “Second generation travel search” (2nd Gen Search if you like) because we see air-only search as being first generation and something that was always going to be superseded by a form of search which showed all the available forms of transport between two points. The current situation, where major OTAs only show flights between city pairs such as London-Paris and Barcelona-Madrid is just silly, and obviously not feasible in even the medium term. If high-speed rail was prevalent in the US we wouldn’t be having this discussion!

     
  5. Joe Bühler

    Oh, I agree but like with so many other standard issues in travel technology the one about a nomenclature will likely be a messy one too.

    Criticism of the planner functionality is justified, based on what’s required for a complete “endpoint-to-endpoint” solution today. Tour planner is an alternative but more limiting as the tool lets you plan the entire vacation at least as we understood the term back in 2000.

     
    • RobertKCole

      It is rather ironic that Eurovacations and Neat Group were both launched in 2000, but are still in use today after new development essentially ceased a decade ago. Both innovative projects that were well ahead of their time.

      In the case of Neat, the company that acquired the technology killed the original business model in favor of a strategy to become Expedia-lite, which failed miserably. The concept of true dynamic packaging – dynamically pricing integrated travel options based on supplier rules and consumer preferences by rewarding distribution efficiency has not yet been resurrected.

      Similarly, the multi-component vacation planner offered by Eurovacations had great potential in 2003 and similar potential today, but is primarily hindered by a lack of attention to the user experience.

      My question is what changed within the industry from the travel innovation sparks of 2000 to the iinnovation-snuffing post 2004 that has somewhat continued through today. My only theory is that the primary objective of consumer-oriented value creation gave way to investor-oriented value creation.
      Not that the consumer value creation model failed to provide ROI, but that perhaps the goal to generate ROI took precedence over deriving ROI from the creation of consumer value. Just a theory…

       
      • Joe Buhler

        I share your theory, Robert. It seems evident to me that the OTAs, who dominated the scene seven, eight years ago, decided to go after the low hanging fruit first and with investors foremost in mind that was inevitable. This focus on the transaction for single components, first air then hotels and car rentals produced results faster than grappling with the very complex pre-transaction phase of inspiration, research and planning.

        Now that the marketplace has changed dramatically, especially with the social media and networking explosion the focus has shifted to that earlier phase but there is still a disconnect between the various stages resulting in consumer frustration with the whole process.

        It will be interesting to follow ongoing and future developments that eventually should result in a seamless, integrated consumer friendly process. At least I can always dream….

         
        • Daniele Beccari

          Joe,
          OTAs decided to go for single components because that’s the way GDSs worked. All OTAs did for years was just plugging a nice end user experience on top. No additional intelligence inside – as you say, low hanging fruit first.
          The high hanging fruits are really exponentially more expensive, for a much lower marginal return. Honestly, I don’t need anyone to tell me how to go from my home to my home airport. I’d appreciate some trusted help at destination, but I’m not sure it’s going to be any faster than grabbing a cab.

           
  6. Joe Bühler

    Does it matter to the customer what we call it? I guess not.

    For an example of a site that offers a fully integrated solution to inspiration, planning and booking go to EuroVacations.com introduced back in 2000 and still in operation today. While the interface looks dated, the vacation builder functionality is still pretty amazing.

     
    • Jochen Mundinger

      You are right, there are customers that might not consider the naming important. I find that sometimes people are referring to Kayak and Expedia as places to book flights in the same breath, not bothering too much with the difference between an ‘online travel agent’ and a ‘meta-search’. It still helps to have the two widely accepted names.

      The vacation builder functionality is nice for the inspiration and for piecing together the holiday destinations in an overall itinerary. ‘The full travel story’ as covered in this article is more about considering all and complete travel routes, often from a given A to a given B, which is a different concept.

      For example, in the vacation builder, selecting both Bern and Berlin as holiday destinations there is one link to find a train and/or another link to find a flight between the cities’ main airports (but without taking into account different transfers to multiple possible airports such as Zurich or Geneva). The two links also lead to separate places as opposed to a single view showing all of these (complete) routes on one screen, including their total durations, fares and other costs. (For example try this search http://www.routerank.com/en/search/berne–bern–switzerland/berlin–berlin–germany/.)

       
      • Joe Bühler

        As for the terminology, there is a difference between the industry jargon and what consumers understand. Has always been that way in travel. Doesn’t matter as long as we understand the difference.

        Your points are valid but let’s remember, the site was built in 2000 and the technology then was ahead of its time. As far as I can tell, it has not been updated only the content. I’m not sure about it as my involvement with the company ended more than ten years ago. Was actually surprised today that it still exists.

         
        • Jochen Mundinger

          In my opion it would already help to have a good and widely used piece of industry jargon. My impression is that there are several different terms flying around, some less concrete (like ‘A to B’), less correct (like ‘address-to-address’, which nicely covers the door-to-door aspect but not the wider notion of cost) or more prone to cofusions than others (like ‘end-to-end’).

          Regarding the vacation builder I did not mean to convey any criticism. Rather to point out that I view it as a different concept, with different use cases and a different name (would you say ‘tour planner’?) as well.

           
          • Joe Bühler

            My comment below belongs here:

            Oh, I agree but like with so many other standard issues in travel technology the one about a nomenclature will likely be a messy one too.

            Criticism of the planner functionality is justified, based on what’s required for a complete “endpoint-to-endpoint” solution today. Tour planner is an alternative but more limiting as the tool lets you plan the entire vacation at least as we understood the term back in 2000.

             
          • Alex

            I agree that it’d be nice to have right jargon to get the point across easily and correctly. It’d be also useful from the consumers’ standpoint because today they are already trained to search for various modes of transportation separately – find your flights under this heading, click here to rent a car, or visit that municipality’s website for transit schedules. Speaking from the UX/UI perspective, we need a name for this option to convey its meaning and intention clearly and intuitively.

             
    • Jochen Mundinger

      PhoCusWright speaks of packaged travel when there is a ‘travel reservation containing at least two of the three major travel components (flight, accommodation, car rental) where there was a single booking and payment transaction’ (taken from http://connect.phocuswright.com/2009/06/package-tour-or-fit-defining-the-packaged-travel-market/).

      So with this definition the focus is really put on the booking as opposed to the planning process (which might be the more painful pre-requisite) and also on the three major components as opposed to the many other possible means of transport.

      As a result, for instance, taking a company car (which does not require a booking in the travel industry sense) for at least one segment of the door-to-door trip, say an airport transfer, constitutes an example of the article’s concept but would not constitute packaged travel.

       
      • RobertKCole

        That PhocusWright paper from 2009 takes more of a “state-of-the-union” snapshot-in-time approach as it was developed in cooperation with American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA), the National Tour Association (NTA), the United States Tour Operators Association (USTOA) – groups not exactly known as bastions of innovation.

        I don’t think that should be considered the official definition. It really describes more of a bundled, multi-component transaction. Not necessarily anything close to an end-to-end travel experience.

        The true end-to-end approach must be more experience & goal related, as opposed to purely transaction based. For example, aligning the selection, sequence & timing of various activities to best fit time and budget constraints – in addition to considering the logistical transportation, lodging and dining options available.

        There are actually five levels of travel packaging – what we see today is somewhere in the 2.5 to 3.0 range. There is still a long way to go to accomplish a true-end-to-end experience.

         
  7. Alex

    We went for a very generic approach – named the option to search for flights/trains/etc simply “Transportation”. Without being specific as to the mode of transportation this option will offer (but having a helpful tip explaining just that), we can then provide a full end-to-end multi-mode search.

     
  8. Ron Mader

    Joined Up Travel?

     
  9. RobertKCole

    From 2000, when we were designing the first dynamic packaging platform, we called it the end-to-end travel experience. It ultimately involved a seven-step travel process:

    – Inspiration
    – Research
    – Planning
    – Validation
    – Booking
    – Travel
    – Sharing

    The actual travel phase encompassed everything between walking out the door of your home to walking back in at the end of the trip, with choices based on the composition of the trip itinerary & the combination of traveler personas who would be sharing sharing the experience.

    That meant intelligence whether it was “better” to take a limo or drive a car and park at the airport; sequencing of activities (dining, sightseeing, ticketed events) to pace the in-destination experience appropriately.

    Sadly, after the company was sold in 2003, a lot of that work that planned to integrate the travel experience has not been resumed, with most startup and large groups preferring to tackle small aspects of the challenge and not the “holistic trip” that is the ultimate end game.

     
  10. Alex Bainbridge

    Howabout “holistic trip” – would that make sense?

     
 
 

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