Sabre Stays Profitable After Layoffs as the Company Vows to Become Nimbler

Sabre

This summer, Sabre CEO Sean Menke did a listening tour of major markets. This photo is from a stop in Kraków, Poland. Sabre

Skift Take: Investors liked Sabre’s third quarter revenue and profit report. But the verdict is still out on whether the company is relying on cheap fixes like layoffs to hit its targets or if it is laying the groundwork for sustainable growth.

— Sean O’Neill

Has Sabre’s executive team embarked on a brilliant pivot that returns the company to its former reliable status as a cash cow? Or, during a transitional period, does the company have underlying cracks in technology and talent investment that have undermined its foundations?

In releasing third quarter earnings Tuesday, Sabre reported that it expects to meet the revenue, profit, and cash-flow targets for 2017, but is it now heading on a path toward sustainable growth?

The Southlake, Texas-based company beat analysts’ consensus estimates for the third quarter, and investors bid up the price of the company’s stock.

That seems to be an expression of confidence in new chief executive Sean Menke. Menke has been selling investors on a narrative that his new leadership team understands how to lead the the company in retaining its profitable middleman status as an airline and hospitality technology vendor and distributor.

All this, though, comes despite suppliers talking about using new technologies to drive more direct sales.

But can Menke make the hard choices to drive long-term growth?

In the third quarter, Sabre saw its revenue rise to $900 million, up 7.3 percent from the same period a year earlier. This revenue gain came despite the hurricanes reducing passengers boarded by 1.3 million during the quarter. Sabre’s profit rose $91 million, a 122 percent increase over the same period a year earlier.

Lowered Expectations

But a significant chunk of the profit came from the layoffs of about 900 employees, or a tenth of the workforce, over the past several months, chief financial officer Rick Simonson acknowledged on a call with investors Tuesday. Another $27.5 million of the profit was from a one-time $43 million litigation settlement of a case with insurance carriers.

The company said in a statement that the layoffs and the trimming of products have “aligned the business to achieve expected growth opportunities.”

Based on trends, the tech vendor said it was on track to meet its outlook for 2017. Menke and Simonson said they expect the company will achieve the high end of its 5 percent to 7 percent annualized growth forecast for the year.

But the forecast set at the start of the year was a downward adjustment in what investors had previously expected. Investors often focus on cash flow as a signal of company health; Sabre downshifted the 2017 projection from $500 million to $350 million.

In short, the cynical take would be that the company’s lowered guidance earlier this year to make third and fourth quarter targets beatable.

One issue Menke will have to deal with is tax-related payments to Sabre’s former private equity owners; analysts estimate the payments will total about $350 million over several years.

Customers to Gain and Lose

Looking ahead, much depends on the company winning more contracts while it retools its technology to adapt to changing customer needs.

The outlook is hazy.

In October, news came out that Sabre had lost a chance to win Air Canada’s business when the airline went instead with its rival Amadeus. Menke used to be a top executive at Air Canada.

A game-changer for Sabre would be winning either United or Delta as customers. The two airlines currently rely on a mix of platforms.

But these airlines are said to have complained to Sabre that it tends to give preference to large customers like American Airlines and Etihad — two competitors that United and Delta compete fiercely with.

In a possibly negative signal, Delta recently persuaded code-share partner Virgin Atlantic to move over to Delta’s reservation system rather than opt for Sabre or another technology vendor. That may suggest that Delta is committed to its own system instead of considering Sabre’s.

On a call with analysts Tuesday, Menke noted he has been having conversations with the top officials at major carriers who are champions of the so-called New Distribution Capability, a set of messaging standards. Menke said he is still trying to convince them that the drive to downplay third-party vendors like Sabre comes with potential pitfalls.

Menke’s comments could be interpreted as suggesting that potential customers like United and Delta — which back the new distribution standards — are not sold on Sabre’s vision.

The other major U.S.-based champion of the New Distribution Capability is American, an airline that is in ongoing litigation with Sabre that some say is an effort to try to gain more leverage in its contract negotiations with the company. A verdict favoring American in the case, under appeal, could mean that it and other airline customers might be better able to argue for more favorable contracts.

Another cause for concern regarding Sabre is that it is at risk of losing contracts.

Our sources suggest that JetBlue, Alaska Airlines, and Copa Airlines have had heated negotiations with Sabre about their contracts for using Sabre to handle key technology systems. Sabre executives Tuesday did not have commentary on upcoming contract renewals. They noted that their 2018 forecast will come during the next quarterly call.

Menke also dropped two hints on the call that online travel agencies have indicated they may want to rely more on Sabre to handle the technological burden of interacting with airlines. Menke did not mention the company’s largest online agency customer, Expedia, Inc. But if that is a client considering throwing more business Sabre’s way, that would be a long-term plus.

Sabre also recently won the business of Flight Centre, a large travel agency based in Australia.

Alleged Technical Deficit

The backdrop for the airline turmoil is that many observers believe that Sabre has under-invested in its technology for several years and now appears to be caught in a game of catch-up with its rivals Amadeus and Travelport. To help reverse this, the company recently named a new chief technology officer and a new chief information officer, and deputized them to research the sequencing of new technology investment.

The company has not yet determined how it may shift its distribution business’ heavy reliance on IBM mainframes to one using more open-source methodologies and cloud-based systems. It is also still reviewing which products its Airline Solutions division will emphasize and which will be cut.

Simonson only said, “There is a sharper focus on investing for higher return.”

Simonson said the company plans to make the necessary investments, at least in the short term, by shifting the focus of its existing budget money to higher priorities rather than add more spending overall.

The caveat in that remark is that Sabre had already raised its planned estimate for capital expenditures at the start of the year.

Sabre confirmed its capital expenditures would be in the $335 million to $355 million range for 2017. That range is notably above the $328 million spent in 2016, the $287 million spent in 2015, and the $227 million spent in 2014.

Investors bullish on Sabre will take the increased spending as a sign that the company can grow steadily through this transformational period without a significant change to the attractiveness of its stock performance and dividends.

Cynics will say that to catch up with its peers Amadeus and Travelport, the company would need to start investing more — perhaps about $450 million a year — in capital expenditures to get back on track.

 

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Royal Jordanian Became Profitable After Struggling for Years

Christian Junker  / Flickr

A Royal Jordanian aircraft. The struggling airline has posted a quarterly profit for the first time in years. Christian Junker / Flickr

Skift Take: At a time when Gulf airlines are flagging, Royal Jordanian seems to have turned things around. Whether it remains profitable in 2018 is another story, and that may depend on stable regional politics, and increased demand from flyers.

— Andrew Sheivachman

Royal Jordanian says it has turned an operating profit this year for the first time in more than a decade, as part of a multi-year overhaul meant to turn the national carrier into the number one airline in the Levant.

CEO Stefan Pichler said Tuesday that Royal Jordanian won’t compete with larger carriers in the Gulf.

He says Royal Jordanian hopes to become reliably profitable after “many years of losses” by luring new customers with fare promotions, adding more destinations and aircraft and turning Amman into a regional hub.

Pichler says Royal Jordanian achieved an operating profit of 5.4 million Jordanian dinars ($7.6 million) in the first nine months of this year, compared to a net loss of 2.7 million Jordanian dinars ($3.8 million) in the same period of 2016.

This article was from The Associated Press and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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How Airbnb Ensures Business Traveler Safety in an Age of Permanxiety

Skift Take: Duty of care and traveler safety is top of mind for corporate travel managers today, understandably so. Airbnb has made traveler trust and security a focus for all who book with them, both on the leisure and business side.

— Dawn Rzeznikiewicz

Business travelers want more flexibility throughout every aspect of their travel experiences, and where they stay is a big part of that. As more travelers have experienced alternative accommodations such as Airbnb during their leisure travels, demand for these types of accommodations has grown among business travelers.

Airbnb booking data from Q2 2015 through Q2 2016, collected by Concur, shows just how much demand has grown. The number of companies using Airbnb for corporate travel increased by 32 percent during this time period, while overall spend increased by 42 percent year-over-year. Meanwhile, research from Morgan Stanley shows that 18 percent of business travelers booked on Airbnb in 2016, up from 12 percent in 2015.

“I think what we’re seeing is what we’re calling the ‘consumerization of business travelers,’” said Jeanne Liu, vice president of research for Global Business Travel Association (GBTA). “It’s what you do in your regular consumer life. If you use ride-sharing and home-sharing, or if there are certain apps you like to use, it’s going to go into how you plan and how you pick your options in business travel as well.”

While traveler demands are shifting, many corporate travel managers have been hesitant to integrate alternative accommodations services such as Airbnb into their programs, due to concern about how such services can ensure guest safety and duty of care.

In this day and age where it seems like anything can happen, the concern about ensuring duty-of-care for travelers is definitely valid. Airbnb realizes this, and has made trust and security a prime focus of its Airbnb For Work service. As Erin Sink, trust and safety operations manager at Airbnb says, “the trust and and security of Airbnb’s global community is very much the most important thing that we focus on everyday.”

Airbnb has invested in technology and human resources to provide duty of care oversight for both business and leisure travelers. Airbnb’s global team is composed of more than 250 people. The team is in charge of seeking out potential risks before they happen, and support both guests and hosts when they need help.

“For corporate travel managers, their fundamental role is to look out for the safety and security of their employees, both in terms of duty of care and knowing where their people are so they can provide risk assessment to help mitigate any challenges when they travel,” says Sink.

To help give corporate travel managers peace of mind, Airbnb created an Airbnb for Work dashboard that allows them to view where every employee is traveling, staying, and if they’re booking with additional guests. The Airbnb for Work dashboard also integrates other duty of care providers like iJET and ISOS, so managers can see where employees are staying, regardless of their choice being a Marriott or an Airbnb.

As Nick Shapiro, global head of trust and risk management says, “There’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes to ensure everyone using the service is safe.” Airbnb conducts global watchlist checks, background checks for hosts and guests in the U.S., and provides home safety workshops, which include free smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. Airbnb also safeguards all accounts with multi-factor authentication and doesn’t release payment to a host until a guest is safely checked in.

For more information about the rise of home-sharing in corporate travel, download the free 2017 Skift + Airbnb report: Demystifying Airbnb For Corporate Travel Managers.

This content was created collaboratively by Airbnb and Skift’s branded content studio, SkiftX.

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Women in Luxury Travel Share Perspectives on the Glass Ceiling

Indagare

Women who are executives in the luxury travel space spoke to Skift about leadership gaps and equality. Indagare founder Melissa Biggs Bradley is pictured here. Indagare

Skift Take: Although women are particularly well positioned to lead in the nuanced luxury market, it will take the effort and collaboration of men and women already within the industry to bring about change and more equal leadership teams.

— Samantha Shankman

The luxury travel industry is a nuanced, detailed sector where emotional intelligence, cultural subtleties, and market distinctions contribute to products, sales, marketing, and branding. Like almost all industries today, there is a growing movement to create more diversified and equal leadership teams within the luxury sector.

Skift recently spoke to women leading luxury brands throughout the travel industry from international hospitality brands to custom planning services and publications for the present-day pulse of the luxury sector. We look at whether women hold more leadership roles in the luxury segment than the mid-scale category, their alignment with the luxury category, and future opportunities for growth.

Accor Hotels is the largest hospitality company in the world with many women through its executives ranks, and Skift spoke to several of the leaders at brands including MGallery by Sofitel, Raffles, and Swissotel to learn what they attracted to them the industry.

“I personally love the luxury universe — the sense of beauty and refinement particularly in hospitality. The current luxury hotel market trends are very inspiring. We started with product-driven luxury and are more and more moving towards experiences and even transformation focused on people and human,” says Agnès Roquefort, senior vice president of luxury brand management for MGallery.

An allure to the emotional potency of luxury brands was echoed by Jeannette Ho, vice president of Raffles brand marketing & strategic projects.

“The power of brands to engage emotionally with our guests and consumers is more intense in the luxury segment, and it is very rewarding to see how consumers response to your brand when price is much less of a constraint factor,” she said.

The breadth of experiences available to travel professionals holds equal attractiveness in and outside the luxury segment of travel.

“The travel industry is one of those rare industries where you can work on such a wide variety of topics: design, food and beverage, wellness, culture, fashion,” said Lilian Roten, vice president of brand management for Pullman and Swissotel. “Every single day brings a new subject on the table.”

Representation in Luxury

Official statistics on gender breakdowns in the luxury travel space are difficult to find. The women we spoke to shared different perceptions of which segments of the travel industry are more likely to have women in leadership roles.

“I don’t know that there’s a marked difference between the ratio of females in the luxury space as opposed to mid-scale brands, but like everywhere we need to see more women in executive positions in our industry as a whole regardless of whether that’s in the luxury or economy sector,” says Sharon Cohen, vice president of Fairmont brand management, another Accor brand.

Others remarked that they notice a higher percent of female executives in the luxury hotel and cruise sector than other parts of travel. Skift previously reported that women account for fewer than 5 percent of airline CEOs around the world.

Crista Bailey recently entered the luxury travel sector to take the reigns of legacy brand Andrew Harper, which provides recommendations and editorial reviews of luxury properties, after a decade in the beauty industry.

Unsurprisingly, she saw much more female representation in the beauty sector. Many of the beauty companies she worked with were created and built by women fostering a staff with majority female staff — which is different than what she’s observed in her six months at Andrew Harper’s helm.

“In beauty, women clearly have equal to greater representation, and their voice is a credible and impactful one among their peers, investors and consumer set,” Bailey said.

Unlike Bailey, Edie Rodriguez, Americas brand chairman and corporate special advisor at luxury cruise line Ponant, has built her career in the travel industry, but shares a similar observation.

“I see many women moving in to business leadership roles, but the numbers and percentages are small still today compared to men. The challenges are the same for women across the business spectrum, not just in the luxury space,” Rodriguez said.

One segment of luxury travel where women have led is in communicating luxury experiences.

Melissa Biggs Bradley was an editor at luxury lifestyle publications including European Travel and Life and Town & Country Travel before founding membership-based luxury travel company Indagare.

In Bradley’s experience, there is a predominance of female executives in the luxury communications sphere.

“At many of the international luxury brands, women executives have been shaping the image and the message for years, and I think that has to do with their appreciation for nuance, talent for listening to others, and ability to capture the essence of places and trends and boil them down in an articulate vision,” she said.

Natural Disposition to Lead

The executives we spoke to said empathy and careful attention to detail were important elements of their ability to understand and transform luxury brands.

“The luxury market is driven more by the intrinsic and emotional value of the experience rather than the actual product. Sublime beauty and exquisite quality are also key factors in the luxury market, and many women are characteristically more in-tune with these more intricate and ethereal qualities of luxury,” said Ho, of Raffles.

Women are also the main buyers for luxury experiences and goods making them more attuned to the needs of their customers.

Women influence 85 percent of all purchasing decisions and account for 58 percent of online sales, according to Skift’s Trends Report: The Rise of Female Business Travelers.

Bradley also highlights the importance of segmentation in the luxury market.

“Women— more often than not — think about life and thus travel in chapters,” she said. “They’re uniquely able to see segmentations in the marketplace such as honeymooners, young families, and empty nesters. They are also natural matchmakers so they can assess people, discern their desires, and then pair them with the product that fits a particular purpose.”

Many of the women we interviewed highlighted that men also hold these important traits.

Opportunities for Growth

All of the executives spoke positively about the growth of opportunities in the luxury sector. And brands are beginning to realize that diversity in all senses is integral to creating experiences relevant to today’s sophisticated luxury customer.

One of Skift’s 2017 Megatrends describes a shift in the industry in which products designed with a predominantly female audience in mind are no longer sufficient. What is needed, it says, is female executive leadership that ensures products and services are created for all customers.

“Luxury is taking so many different shapes that diversity will be essential to embrace all the new trends, starting with gender diversity,” says Roquefort, the MGallery senior vice president.

Rodriguez, who recently resigned from her role as CEO at Crystal Cruises to join Ponant, is often quoted as a female executive. We asked her whether whether gender can be too emphasized here.

“I always say that I find it sad that we are approaching 2018 and the gender issue still comes up. However, it does as it is still a man’s world,” she said. “The world needs to work harder to change that for all women, and I am certainly doing my part as a female executive to help women and with this effort moving forward. At the end of the day, I get hired and judged for the performance I deliver and gender is irrelevant when it comes to that.”

Skift previously reported on the way female leaders in the travel industry are coming together to support and foster one another’s careers through organizations and conferences.

One such organization is the Association of Women Travel Executives, which organizes events and professional development opportunities for female leaders.

Sarah Hanan, AWTE board member, said: “The challenges in luxury are the same as the challenges across the travel industry as a whole — lack of flexible working and gender pay equality are the two most pressing challenges.”

The challenges faced by those operating in the luxury market are similar to those challenges, which are slowly shifting, in other industries. But invisible factors persist.

“While many barriers are no longer relevant as women receive equal education and many companies believe they practice equality, ‘unconscious bias’ remains a challenge that may slow down the selection of women to the very upper echelon of the leadership hierarchy,” said Ho.

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Colorado Officials Are Under Fire Over Mismanagement of Tourism Projects

Kent Kanouse  / Flickr

Colorado officials are being criticized for mismanaging funds allocated to tourism projects throughout the state. Pictured are tourists at Rocky Mountains National Park in Colorado. Kent Kanouse / Flickr

Skift Take: After Visit Florida’s tensions with state authorities over funding, tourism operations around the country are facing heightened scrutiny. It would be a shame to see state officials throw away some of Colorado’s tourism potential, especially with things like pot tourism already showing results.

— Dan Peltier

A two-year audit concluded that Colorado’s management of a program designed to pay for tourism projects has failed to establish proper controls and adequately monitor projects.

The state auditor’s office on Monday blasted officials’ handling of the Regional Tourism Act, the Denver Post reported. Passed in 2009, the act provides tax-increment financing to help fund large-scale tourism projects.

Five of nine projects that applied for funding were approved from 2012 to 2015 and awarded more than $445 million in state sales taxes to be paid throughout several decades. A total of $11.3 million has been distributed so far.

The audit, however, stated that three of those projects were approved despite a third-party analysis that found the projects didn’t meet standards. Furthermore, all five project applications forecast incremental state sales tax revenue calculations that were higher than the third-party analysts’ calculations, the audit stated.

State officials were unable to demonstrate how the higher calculations were justified, the audit stated. But during a Colorado Legislative Audit Committee on Monday, state economic development officials said the program is unique and has improved since it started.

Auditors also found that the state did not hold the entities behind the projects accountable for fulfilling their reporting obligations. Eleven of 57 required reports were not submitted, auditors said, and the state could not provide sufficient evidence that 32 of 64 meetings were held.

Many of the concerns from committee members center on an $81.4 million award to Aurora for the Gaylord Rockies Hotel back in May 2012.

This article was from The Associated Press and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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The State of Vacation Rental Software 2018

“The Tech-Enabled Vacation Rental Manager” examined the increase of technology functionality utilized by property managers (PMs) to meet and scale needs throughout the company. In this second part of the series, we take a deeper dive into the features that have been released in property management systems (PMS) in 2017, new functionality that is on the horizon, […]

The post The State of Vacation Rental Software 2018 appeared first on VRM Intel.

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Ryanair CEO Thinks Higher Pay Can Solve Drawn-Out Pilot Dispute

Bloomberg

Michael O’Leary, Chief Executive of Ryanair. The airline wants to bring in pilots from bankrupt former rivals. Bloomberg

Skift Take: Given the awful publicity surrounding its pilot issue, it is pretty amazing that Ryanair is maintaining its full-year guidance. While plenty of European airlines are struggling, Ryanair looks like it will make $1.5 billion in profit in 2018.

— Patrick Whyte

Ryanair Holdings Plc Chief Executive Officer Michael O’Leary said Europe’s biggest discount carrier can raise pay for disgruntled pilots and still retain a pricing advantage over rivals after a staffing crunch led profit to slide in its busiest quarter.

O’Leary pledged Tuesday to press on with a review of flight rosters, bases and salaries as he seeks a permanent solution to a meltdown that left Ryanair short of flight crew at the end of the peak summer season. The stock posted its biggest gain in almost a year after the Irish carrier said it aims to hire pilots from recently failed rivals and is offering 20 percent more pay than peers such as Norwegian Air Shuttle ASA.

While the proposed salary award would increase annual costs by 100 million euros ($116 million) if accepted across the company, O’Leary said that it “will not significantly alter the substantial unit-cost advantage we have over all other European Union airline competitors.”

Ryanair scrapped more than 20,000 flights amid a botched rescheduling of pilot leave in response to changes in labor law and the poaching of staff by competitors including Norwegian. The cuts have slowed expansion plans, encouraged cockpit crew to push for unionization and sparked a consumer backlash. Despite those headwinds, O’Leary stood by a forecast for full-year net income between 1.4 billion euros to 1.45 billion euros.

Shares of Ryanair rose as much as 5.8 percent, the biggest gain since Nov. 7, and were trading 5.4 percent higher at 16.60 euros as of 10:02 a.m. in Dublin, valuing the company at 19.6 billion euros.

‘Perfect Storm’

O’Leary said the rostering mess up — which has led to a complete change of all managers involved — resulted from a “perfect storm” that also included an insufficient focus on pilot recruitment over the summer and a bottleneck in deploying new officers following training. Ryanair should also have responded more quickly to a tightening market by lifting pay for experienced personnel and improving the range of bases and contracts on offer, he added.

The company said it has seen a surge in pilot applications in recent weeks after insolvency filings at Air Berlin Plc, Alitalia SpA and Britain’s Monarch Airlines, and has a waiting list of 2,500 qualified crew wanting to join.

O’Leary stood firm in his opposition to meeting with outside pilot groups, saying negotiations must be through the existing structure of employee representative committees. He dismissed as bizarre the involvement of labor organizations from Southwest Airlines Co. and American Airlines Group Inc. in a unionization push.

Stansted Plea

At the same time, the CEO encouraged pilots at London Stansted, Ryanair’s biggest base, to reconsider their opposition to the pay offer. New captains will in any case get the improved rate of 135,600 pounds ($179,000) a year, versus 112,600 pounds for Boeing Co. 737 pilots at Norwegian and 110,700 pounds at U.K. rival Jet2, he said. More than 10 bases have reached a deal.

Net income in the three months to Sept. 30 fell 2 percent to 895 million euros as Ryanair shelled out 25 million euros in refunds to more than 700,000 passengers hit by the cancellations. Analysts had anticipated a figure of 937 million euros, based on the average of eight estimates compiled by Bloomberg.

Punctuality has improved as a result of the steps, with 90 percent of flights now on time, up from a low of 70 percent in the first half of September.

Price declines stabilized over the summer, so that first-half earnings showed an 11 percent gain, demonstrating the robustness of Ryanair’s business model even amid the “material failure” of pilot rostering, according to O’Leary.

Ryanair will also be buoyed by the industry bankruptcies, he predicted, saying fares will rise as a result of the reduction in capacity and purchase of assets by full-service carriers, both boosting yields and enhancing his company’s pricing edge.

Fares fell 5 percent in the fiscal first half, compared with an initial forecast for an 8 percent slide, and are set to drop by 4 to 6 percent in the second six months, better than an earlier prediction of 5 to 7 percent.

While seeking to put the staffing crisis behind him, O’Leary showed some of his characteristic brio, warning pilots that they have “the best job security in Europe” and pledging to pile on capacity in Germany, Italy and the U.K. to exploit new opportunities.

 

©2017 Bloomberg L.P.

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Luxury Travel Brands Can’t Afford to Be So Far Behind in Digital Engagement

Aman Resorts

Aman’s Instagram feed. Aman Resorts

Skift Take: Social profiles and websites are the new shop window. Luxury brands can no longer afford to see their digital presences fall so far behind the quality of their products and services.

— Samantha Shankman

Since Skift’s luxury coverage launched in April, we’ve scanned hundreds of luxury websites from custom concierge sites to those of refined luggage brands.

While many luxury travel services have deliciously designed websites, many seem to lack the innovation that might be evident in their services, and have simple sites with little online engagement.

It is because luxury clients are perceived as part of older, more analog generations? Are their customers booking over the phone or through travel agents, rendering companies’ digital presences an after-thought?

Airbnb Emerging as a Factor

Luxury brands that fail to develop sophisticated digital presences and purchase pathways are beginning to face competition from Airbnb, which many stakeholders did not believe had the potential to touch the luxury sector.

“Airbnb became a real competitor for luxury brands when they started offering a luxury premium range of stays for their guests, with an incredibly easy-to-use booking system, which includes personalized recommendations of local experiences that they can book themselves,”says Chris Donnelly, founder of Verb, a luxury agency in London focusing on Web design and digital marketing.

“The streamlined path-to-purchase from mid-market brands such as Airbnb or Expedia is a real pull for Millennial consumers.”

Embracing new customers

We spoke to luxury digital agencies and the brands themselves for insight into how luxury travel brands can build superior Web presences that include both beautiful, alluring visuals and easy-to-use paths to purchase.

Yaroslaw Nichiporets heads the New York office of Vintage Agency, which is one of the most-awarded Web design and production agencies in Ukraine. Vintage Agency works with many brands that most Western companies don’t currently serve.

When asked whether Vintage’s luxury clients delayed in investing in their digital presences because their customers aren’t online, Nichiporents replied that it is unreasonable for brands to ignore millennials when considering the luxury business.

“Websites are usually being made to develop new business, not to keep the things as they are,” he says.

While millennials might spend less on elite accommodations, they are willing to splurge on available uxury experiences there.

Getting culinary and musical inspiration from platforms like Yelp and Spotify, respectively, Nichiporets says: “Imagine a hotel where your favorite meal is cooked and served in local ethnic style, and your favorite song is played in a remix with local traditional singing. This is the new luxury.”

He encourages brands to engage in deep research before designing their digital presence. Looking at something as simple as website search queries and pages visited can shift marketing priorities for a brand.

Nichiporets also suggests executives look at how their sales people approach customers to assess how this might relate to merchandising online.

“Imagine coming into Bugatti salon, and be immediately approached by a salesperson with questions like ‘What model you want?’ or ‘How much money do you have?’ and then being directed to a catalog with price tags next to small photos of cars,” he says.

Price is usually one of the last factors they discuss.

Losing market share

Verb is a luxury digital agency in London specializing in luxury web design and digital marketing whose leaders also underline the importance of building a digital presence no matter your primary customer base.

“Luxury hotels and travel brands reluctant to invest in digital technologies have seen a lack of engagement with their consumers, resulting in a loss of market share due to their disregard for a very obvious behavioral shift amongst their luxury consumers,” says Donnelly.

Aman Resorts or Song Saa are good examples of hospitality brands engaging with luxury customers through social media.

“#Amanjunkie is the perfect example of a luxury target audience fully engaged through digital platforms where Aman takes advantage of the content created to share their experiences worldwide,” says Clara Saladitch, Verb marketing manager.

The #Amanjunkie hashtag has been used 10,600 times on Instagram.

Instagram Photo

Instagram Photo

For companies whose target customers are more likely to discover them through Google rather than Instagram, content still plays an important role. Google ranks brands on searches, and content creation helps refine brand values and services.

“Even if your target audience is not millennials, you need to build your brand’s profile and spread the word about it, as well as set a tone of voice and a communications strategy in line with your customers’ (or future customers’) personality and preferences,” Bird Travel PR founder Daisy Bird said at Verb’s July event on the evolving luxury hospitality sector.

Making Luxury More Visible

Abercrombie & Kent is a great example of a luxury brand navigating to a more engaging digital presence. Its website was recently redesigned although the marketing team says it is still very much a work in progress.

Although the brand has a beautiful Instagram, it is focusing its efforts on how some of the world’s most luxurious travel experiences can be translated on screen. The team started by expanding the experiential content to give travel agents more photos, video, and information online.

With numerous luxury brands failing to provide appealing imagery and videos, few are ready to take the next step. Nichiporets of Vintage Agency likens simple websites to static posters. Savvy luxury brands, he says, should consider gamification, online 3D graphics, interactivity, and virtual reality.

For now, a beautiful and functional digital presence should be a primary goal for any luxury brand.

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Waymo Is Converting Standby Drivers In Driverless Cars Into Mere Passengers

Julia Wang  / Waymo via Associated Press

This October 29, 2017, photo shows a Chrysler Pacifica minivan equipped with Waymo’s self-driving car technology, being tested at Waymo’s facility in Atwater, California. Julia Wang / Waymo via Associated Press

Skift Take: Like a Lyft car on a map approaching from around the bend, Waymo’s truly driverless cars — and trucks — are approaching and getting closer to reality. The plan is to license them to automakers, and to enable Lyft, which is a Google partner, to put them on the road.

— Dennis Schaal

Google’s self-driving car spin-off is accelerating efforts to convince the public that its technology is almost ready to safely transport people without any human assistance at all.

Waymo, hatched from a Google project started eight years ago, showed off its progress Monday during a rare peek at a closely guarded testing facility located 120 miles (193 kilometers) southeast of San Francisco. That’s where its robots complete their equivalent of driver’s education.

The tour included giving more than three dozen reporters rides in Chrysler Pacifica minivans traveling through faux neighborhoods and expressways that Waymo has built on a former Air Force base located in the Californian Central Valley city of Atwater.

The minivans smoothly cruised the roads — driver’s seat empty and passengers in the back — at speeds of up to 35 mph (56 kph). By contrast, the Waymo-powered minivans that have been driving volunteer riders in the Phoenix area still use safety drivers to take over control if something goes wrong.

But Waymo’s real goal is to get to the point where people in cars are nothing but passengers.

Waymo CEO John Krafcik told reporters that the company will be making some cars and freight trucks totally driverless fairly soon, though he didn’t provide a specific timetable. “We are really close,” he said. “We are going to do it when we feel like we are ready.”

Since Google began working on self-driving cars in 2009, dozens of established automakers such as General Motors and Ford Motors have entered the race, along with other big technology companies, including Apple and ride-hailing service Uber. The competition is so fierce and the stakes so high that Waymo is currently suing Uber , alleging that one of its former managers stole its trade secrets and took them with him when he joined Uber in 2016 as part of an elaborate scheme. The trial in that high-profile case is scheduled to begin in early December.

Waymo is hoping to infuse its technology into ride-hailing services such as its current partner, Lyft, and big-rig trucking companies. It also intends to license its automated system to automakers such as Fiat Chrysler Automobile, which is already using it in 100 Pacifica minivans.

This article was written by Michael Liedtke from The Associated Press and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

Ryan Wolkov

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Author: Ryan Wolkov

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Half Dozen U.S. States Want to Join Hawaii in Opposing Trump Travel Ban

Evan Vucci  / Associated Press

In this Sept. 22, 2017, file photo, President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally for Sen. Luther Strange, R-Ala., in Huntsville, Alabama. Trump subsequently announced new restrictions on travel to the U.S. after his ban on visitors from six Muslim-majority countries subsetted September 24. 90 days after it went into effect. Evan Vucci / Associated Press

Skift Take: At least seven states believe President Trump’s third attempted travel ban is unconstitutional. Ultimately, it will be likely be up to nine justices in Washington, D.C. to make the ultimate determination about the travel ban.

— Dennis Schaal

Six U.S. states want to intervene in Hawaii’s lawsuit challenging President Donald Trump’s travel ban.

The states of California, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon and Washington filed a motion Monday asking to be parties in Hawaii’s lawsuit. They agree with Hawaii that the ban is unconstitutional.

Hawaii is challenging Trump’s proclamation issued last month targeting about 150 million potential travelers from Chad, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Syria and Yemen, along with some Venezuelan government officials and their families.

A federal judge in Hawaii granted the state’s request to block the policy from taking effect. The U.S. government is appealing that ruling to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Hawaii Attorney General Doug Chin says the motion shows that Hawaii is not the only state harmed by the policy.

This article was from The Associated Press and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

Ryan Wolkov

PRC Time Shares

Author: Ryan Wolkov

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