This week’s musings, reflections and observations about travel affiliate marketing…

1. I think that Jet Blue’s abrupt halt of their ‘All You Can Jet’ travel pass promotion some 2 days earlier than originally planned underscores my observation noted in last week’s column that this was a brilliant approach to “…stimulating consumer demand in the face of a still weak economy and during the post-Labor day period which historically is a slow period for airlines.”

I also suggested that the program would “… incent more people to fly the airline both during this during the promotional period and beyond.”  From all reports, it has accomplished this – and far more.

According to a USA Today article published on August 21, ‘All You Can Jet’ not only garnered an avalanche of publicity through mainstream media the moment the program was announced on August 12,  to to a very large extent, JetBlue’s strategic use of Twitter propelled the campaign to go viral. And that’s where the most impressive results were apparently achieved.

JetBlue spokesman Bryan Baldwin told USA Today that within moments after their first “tweet’ about the promotion, “We were just watching the hits come in on Twitter. They were coming in by the dozens. It really got its jumpstart in the social media world.”  The article goes on to note that in the 24 hours after JetBlue’s first Tweet, clicks to the airline’s online route-map by customers and would-be customers “…spiked a whopping 861%.”

Indeed, trackingtwitter.com, which tracks the top Twitter media, entertainment, and consumer product feeds in real-time, estimates that in terms of Twitter ‘followers’, JetBlue trails only Whole Foods, the NBA and Zappos. They also estimate that the airline’s current ‘followers’ list tops more than 1.1 million…quite an impressive ‘follower’ list.

Baldwin also told USA Today that should the ‘All You Can Jet’ promotion produce a loss for the airline, it’s still a clever way for them to attract and convert new customers. “If we can get them to try us one time, it’s a chance to win a customer for life,” Baldwin said, noting further that “We think they’ll continue to come back and keep flying with us.”

In light of this heavy demand, JetBlue pulled the plug on the program 36 hours before it was set to expire.  While no one at JetBlue is saying whether they made or lost money on the promotion, our bet here at TravelDividends is that carrier’s revenue management system shut-off the ‘All You Can Jet’ fare bucket early (and swiftly) to assure that the program would be (at a minimum) cost-neutral for the airline.

I think that the phenomenal PR and booking levels JetBlue achieved with this program speaks volumes about how a well crafted and brilliantly executed marketing campaign can help a travel supplier (or a travel affiliate) achieve both short-term tactical and longer-term strategic benefits.

We suggested in last week’s post that travel affiliates “pounce on JetBlue’s program” to increase their sales on this travel affiliate-friendly carrier. We hope you were one those that did.

2. I think that – apart from the obvious business synergies for the two firms – there are two major travel industry take-aways from Travelocity.com’s acquisition of Indian hotel distribution specialist Travelguru.com.

As PhoCusWright and other renown travel market research firms have noted, the North American online travel market has matured, and the battle here has long shifted from an online travel agency (OTA) internecine war for ‘control of the traveler’, to these OTAs fighting travel suppliers for overall market share and future relevance in the minds and pocketbooks of travel consumers.

I would add to these observations that the key to future viability for any OTA’s lies squarely in securing a steady stream of travel content (i.e., travel products and services).

And this leads to my two takeaways from the Travelocity/Travelguru transaction:

  • Take-away Number 1: To thwart the supplier’s obvious threat to bypass them by going consumer-direct, and to become an indispensable (though less than welcomed) distribution ‘partner’ to most travel suppliers, OTAs need to achieve appropriate global scale and scope economies.Once they’ve attained global ‘critical mass’, they can then leverage the threat of ‘selling-away’ from a supplier on a country-by-country basis; this is a powerful stratagem that first deployed by the GDSs some 30 years ago to build and then defend their business model, and remains a mainstay of their strategy today.
  • Take-away Number 2: Each of the ‘Big 4′ US-based OTAsExpedia, Travelocity, Orbitz and Priceline – has more than enough critical mass in North America; as such, growth opportunities in the online travel agency sector have been (and will remain) limited to international markets.So, it’s a given that there will be little interest for these ‘mega-players’ to acquire any of the remaining smaller players in the US market (unless some happen to offer a unique technology or business model). Indeed, I think that within the next 12-16 months, the ‘Big 4′ is very likely to be reduced to the ‘Big 3′.This means that the remaining smaller US-based OTAs either have to merge with others to survive, find a travel niche they can specialize in, or risk the fate of a slow, painful decline and likely future demise.

If I were a smaller OTA, I’d be looking at travel niche opportunities, as following such a strategy would in my opinion, offer both a safe short-term haven and enhance my longer-term prospects of becoming an attractive take-over target of one of the megas.

What’s your take-away from the Travelocity/TravelGuru announcement (or the earlier M&A deals like Expedia/ Venere.com this past January); where do you stand on this subject?

3. In response to several reader comments we received last week, I’d like to clarify the travel affiliate opportunities we mentioned in our August 13th, 2009 post about LoveVoodoo.com, a leading adult dating and swingers’ community site, and its 2010 tour program with SuperClubs’ Hedonism II.

We noted in that blog post – and would like to reiterate now – that although LoveVoodoo offers an affiliate program that pays affiliates for traffic that is sent to their site which subsequently converts into LoveVoodoo club memberships, their special Hedonism II 2010 tour packages are not available through the travel affiliate channel.  In writing that post, it was our intention to suggest that, in additional to travel agents, LoveVoodoo’s current distribution partner, perhaps travel affiliates might be as well (or even better) positioned to sell this unique product.

We apologize if we instead gave the impression that LoveVoodoo is selling their 2010 tour product through the affiliate channel.  Thanks again to our readers for bringing this point to our attention.

If you have any thoughts, comments or questions about this week’s ‘TITIT’ column, please drop us an email…as always we appreciate hearing from our readers.

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