Egypt Has a New Tourism Minister as Visitor Numbers Climb

Mathias Apitz  / Flickr

A resort on the Red Sea in Egypt. The tourism minister in Egypt was replaced as the destination recovers from a slump in visitors. Mathias Apitz / Flickr

Skift Take: While more visitors are coming to Egypt, the new tourism minister still has plenty of work ahead after several difficult years for the destination.

— Hannah Sampson

Egyptian lawmakers approved the appointment of a former senior central bank official as tourism minister, one of four cabinet changes after President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi called for a reshuffle.

Rania Al-Mashat, who held a top position at the bank before moving to the International Monetary Fund, takes over at the Tourism Ministry as overseas arrivals have recently been climbing after the vital sector was hit hard by the downing of a Russian airliner in 2015 and other militant violence.

In other appointments, the head of Egypt’s statistics agency was confirmed as local development minister, while Khaled Badawi, chief executive of National of Bank of Egypt unit Al-Ahli Capital, took over the public sector portfolio. Ines Abdel Daim, who formerly ran the Cairo Opera, was approved as culture minister. The reshuffle came as Egypt gears up for presidential elections slated for March.

Local media had earlier reported a more far reaching overhaul of the cabinet, including splitting the Ministry of Investment and International Cooperation into two entities, and the replacement of the agriculture minister, who had been dogged by a fight over the permissible levels of the ergot fungus in wheat imports. Several Egyptian newspapers had said up to seven ministries could see changes.

The new faces at the public sector and local development ministries come as the government is seeking to extend its program of economic reforms by selling stakes in some key state companies on the Egyptian bourse, slimming down a bloated public sector and improving local services.

–With assistance from Tarek El-Tablawy

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.

 

This article was written by Salma El Wardany and Ahmed Khalil El-Sayed from Bloomberg and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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Airbus Casts Doubt on the Future Production of the World’s Largest Jet

Bloomberg

Emirates is by far the world’s largest A380 operator, but it’s not sure it wants any more of the jets. That’s bad news for Airbus, which may not have other customers. Bloomberg

Skift Take: The A380 hasn’t sold early nearly as well as Airbus expected. Is it possible most airlines will never want a plane so big? Or is the A380 merely ahead of its time? Perhaps more carriers will want a massive jet as more airports face capacity crunches. But by that time, the A380 could be out of production.

— Brian Sumers

Airbus SE publicly questioned the future of the A380, saying its flagship aircraft program risks being shut down if the manufacturer fails to win a crucial order from the planemaker’s main backer, Emirates of Dubai.

Emirates is the only airline with enough capacity to take enough planes to keep the program alive, Airbus sales chief John Leahy said Monday in an online presentation. Discussions are ongoing, he said.

“I believe we can find a solution with Emirates in hopefully the not too distant future,” Leahy said in an interview with Bloomberg TV. “But we do need a strong base that only a big operator like Emirates can provide.”

Airbus has struggled to rack up sales of the superjumbo, which it argues will be needed to help increase passenger traffic at the world’s busiest airports. The company was forced to slash production rates in July to try and stretch out the order book. Emirates, by far the biggest operator of the plane, scuttled a deal to buy 36 of the planes in November, leaving Airbus hanging and raising doubts about the future of the program.

Airbus wants Emirates to order enough planes to sustain production at six a month over the next 10 years, giving the planemaker scope to sell two or three of the superjumbos on top of that to eke out a profit on the program, Leahy said.

The company produced 15 in 2017 and has said it plans to reduce that figure to eight next year. Airbus can break even producing as few as 6 of the planes a year, Chief Operating Officer Fabrice Bregier said.

The plane’s future has been in doubt for several years. As far back as 2014, Chief Financial Officer Harald Wilhelm said the program could be killed if demand didn’t pick up.

The final 2017 order tally for all aircraft, announced Monday, highlights the challenges facing Airbus as the company prepares for a wholesale overhaul of its leadership team. The planemaker, run from Toulouse, France, has had success selling smaller planes while demand for widebodies wanes — especially hitting the biggest plane in its commercial lineup.

The four-engine A380, introduced in 2005, is so big that some airports had to expand runway facilities in order to accommodate the 550-seat plane. While it’s used in the world’s biggest airports including London’s Heathrow and New York’s JFK, the industry as a whole has moved toward smaller planes going point-to-point, reducing airlines’ dependence on bigger hubs.

More business from Emirates is key to attracting other buyers of the plane and ensuring jets sold now would hold their resale value. With a list price of $446 million, the plane is one of the most expensive and least flexible for airlines to deploy in their fleets. Without new orders, it becomes impossible for Airbus and its suppliers, which include Rolls-Royce Holdings Plc, GKN Plc and the General Electric Co.-United Technologies Corp. venture Engine Alliance, to make a profit.

Bumper Crop

While the A380 struggles, Airbus is outselling its rival, Boeing Co., on smaller single-aisle aircraft like the A320 family. The company announced a bonanza of orders in late December, and said on Monday that it sold more than 1,000 of the planes in 2017. The achievement is especially notable since Boeing refreshed its lineup last year with the 737 Max 10, a direct competitor.

Leahy, the outgoing chief salesman, said Monday he’ll stay on for several months after handing over the job to his successor, Eric Schulz, on Jan. 25. Chief Executive Officer Tom Enders said last month he plans to step down in 2019. Bregier will leave in February. He said Monday he plans to seek a job at another company.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.

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Iceland Airport Will Get a $1 Billion Upgrade to Cope with Tourism Boom

Bloomberg

Check-in desks at Keflavik airport. Iceland is looking to expand the facility. Bloomberg

Skift Take: When the U.S. military built Keflavik airport in the middle of World War Two, nobody would have thought that Iceland would go on to become a major tourist destination. Expanding it therefore makes sense, but the country also needs to consider how other parts of the island will cope with millions more visitors.

— Patrick Whyte

A tourist boom has caused traffic at Iceland’s Keflavik airport to grow more than five-fold over the past nine years, with a predicted 10 million passengers this year. Now Iceland’s main entry point to the world is preparing to accommodate twice as many.

The airport expects to invest about $1 billion over the next 7 to 8 years to make room for new airlines and routes as it touts itself as a hub between Europe and the U.S. Domestic carriers Icelandair and Wow Air have opened routes to mid-size cities in North America, while Delta, United, American Airlines and Air Canada have or will soon start flying out of Keflavik, which was built by the U.S. military during World War II.

The airport will pick up the pace of investments after spending about 39 billion kronur ($372 million) since 2011, and will need the help of foreign investors as it takes its biggest steps, according to Bjorn Oli Hauksson, managing director of ISAVIA, the state-owned company that operates all airports in Iceland. This could involve issuing bonds, he said.

“It is simply a question of when in the next three to four years we will give the signal for the biggest step which will be a new finger for Keflavik,” he said in an interview.

Surrounded by black, barren lava fields, there’s plenty of room for Keflavik and other operations to grow. Its vision of the future includes an “Aerotropolis” that would stretch all the way to Reykjavik, some 30 kilometers away.

‘Family Silver’

Hauksson says this expansion will require a broad slate of investments. “There are many ways to choose from but it is clear that foreign investors will play a part in the build up in Keflavik,” he said.

The government has been refraining from taking out dividends to allow for investments and has, in that sense, increased its equity each year in a valuable asset, Hauksson said. “It is up to them what they want do,” he said. “They could decide to keep it or they could decide to put it on the market. You may say that Keflavik airport is like the family silver.”

As a gateway, Keflavik is a key part of Iceland’s tourism boom, which has been instrumental in helping the country resurrect itself after the 2008 economic collapse. The central bank expects economic growth have expanded 3.7 percent last year, after a blistering 7.4 percent in 2016.

While serving as a hub for travelers from Europe to North America, the airport operator is also looking to develop Keflavik as a cargo airport, according to Hauksson.

Neglect

Building cranes are now one of the main features of the landscape. Total public investment has not been greater since at least 2004, according to Statistics Iceland. Government investment increased 30 percent in past three quarters from a year earlier and municipalities invested 50 percent more in the same period, with the city of Reykjavik almost doubling its investments in 2017.

Icelanders are pouring on spending after it exited capital controls last year. There’s a pent-up demand of at least 400 billion kronur to fix infrastructure after years of neglect following the economic collapse.

The government, which took office in November, expects investments to increase by 21 percent over the next five years, but has also flagged that it’s aware that too much spending could breath too much life into an already hot economy.

Hauksson says he’s optimistic that the new government will be on board to expand Keflavik but that the size of the projects demand caution.

“We haven’t before experienced an infrastructure build-up on this scale within one company in Iceland,” he said.

 

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.

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Indian Government to Break Up Air India Ahead of Potential Sale

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An Air India 777. The Indian government is trying to sell a portion of the carrier. BriYYZ / Flickr

Skift Take: Prime Minister Narendra Modi is doing everything he can to make Air India as appealing as possible to potential investors. Stripping away some of the debt and breaking up the company may help persuade someone that it is worth the money.

— Patrick Whyte

India will break up its debt-burdened flag carrier into four separate companies and offer to sell at least 51 percent in each of them as part of a disinvestment proposed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The core airline business comprising Air India and Air India Express — the low-cost overseas arm — will be offered as one company, and the process will be completed by the end of 2018, Junior Aviation Minister Jayant Sinha said in an interview Monday. Its regional arm, ground handling, and engineering operations will also be sold separately in the same process.

A successful sale of Air India — with $7.9 billion in debt, five subsidiaries and a joint venture, and a combined workforce of 27,000 — is crucial for Modi, who wants to showcase his credentials as a reformist attempting to steer the state away from running businesses. The airline, which is surviving on a taxpayer-funded bailout, has strained government finances for decades, and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said last year that money spent on Air India could have been used for education.

Unlocking Growth

“The aviation sector is a very fast growing sector, with really exciting opportunities for all participants, so we felt all of this will unlock growth and competitiveness of Air India group,” Sinha said. “We expect it to be a very bright future for its employees.”

Sinha declined to name potential bidders but said management control will be retained by local investors. The government altered foreign investment rules last week, allowing foreign airlines to own as much as 49 percent of Air India. Investors’ interest will be sought by end of this month with details on Air India’s core and non-core debt and assets, he added.

The government will add most of the non-core debt owed by the carrier to its own balance sheet, while borrowings linked to core operations will be retained by the unit on offer, Sinha said. A so-called special purpose vehicle will hold the unsustainable debt of the airline and the government is making “every effort” to protect employees.

Air India has been unprofitable since its 2007 merger with state-owned domestic operator Indian Airlines Ltd. The company made an operating profit of about 1 billion rupees ($15.7 million) in the year through March 2016, primarily due to a slump in oil prices. It still posted a net loss of 38.4 billion rupees, according to the government.

$63 Billion Investment

India, the world’s fastest growing major aviation market, may not sustain the current 15-20 percent growth in the long term, but will expand at about 12 percent annually. To handle the surge in passengers, the country will need investments of as much as 4 trillion rupees to expand and build new airports over the next decade-and-a-half, with the bulk of it coming from the private sector.

Carriers in India, including market leader IndiGo, are set to order more than 1,000 planes as they look to tap an emerging middle class with disposable income to fly for the first time, according to Sydney-based CAPA Centre for Aviation. However, capacity constraints at the main airports in New Delhi and Mumbai mean there are hardly any landing and parking slots available.

The government is in the process of implementing new airports in these two cities and, in the short-term, improving infrastructure at nearby airports to handle some of that growth.

“As of now, we have very significant expansion plans underway. We’ve looked at the top 30 airports in the country,” Sinha said. “We now have a very clear roadmap for the next 15-20 years as to what we have to do.”

 

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.

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TripAdvisor Is Fighting to Keep Its Lead in Attractions: The Inside Story

TripAdvisor

TripAdvisor’s headquarters in Needham, Massachusetts. The company said its tours and activities business enjoyed strong performance in 2017. TripAdvisor

Skift Take: The attractions booking sector is TripAdvisor’s to lose, especially given its recent success. But unless it pushes faster on mobile innovation, rivals like GetYourGuide and Klook might overtake the company.

— Sean O’Neill

History is written by the acquirers. And TripAdvisor has been telling an ever more upbeat story about its attractions business since 2014 when it bought tours and activities booking leader Viator for $200 million.

TripAdvisor says its absorption of Viator has gone well. The division grew with a “positive margin,” according to the company, in the past year.

In the third quarter of 2017, the non-hotel side of TripAdvisor’s business — which includes bookings of restaurants, vacation rentals, and tours and activities — was up 26 percent to $126 million versus a year earlier. TripAdvisor doesn’t break out the financials of its tours and activities business, but company spokespeople said transactions sourced from TripAdvisor and Viator were double that of a year earlier.

Attractions are the fastest-growing part of that non-hotel revenue, the company said.

That’s welcome news for the Needham, Massachusetts-based TripAdvisor, where recent quarterly earnings reports raised questions about the growth prospects of its core business in hotels. Last week those questions partly led to a reorganization of its business units and their leadership.

CEO Steve Kaufer has repeatedly said he expects the attractions division will become the company’s “next multi-billion-dollar business.”

This week, as TripAdvisor Attractions holds an internal 2018 kick-off meeting, it has reasons to bullish about its attractions business. On Thursday, the company told us that it now has more than 80,000 bookable products. That total is more than twice as much inventory as its next-largest rivals, GetYourGuide and Klook, and more than six times Viator’s listings at the time of TripAdvisor’s acquisition.

But contrary to that narrative, some observers feel that TripAdvisor — unless it adjusts its strategy — could risk ceding its lead to rivals. And a look back at TripAdvisor Attractions suggests what can go spectacularly right — and potentially wrong — when a large online travel company acquires a smaller one.

Rivals making gains

Late last year, the two largest rival consumer booking companies received funding rounds that broke records for the sector.

Hong Kong-based Klook collected $60 million in a Series C round.

Berlin-based GetYourGuide received $75 million in a Series D round. The private company said it was “profitable” and had sped up its transaction growth to transact 6 million bookings last year.

Expedia has long been in the attractions business, and Ctrip and Hotelbeds have taken tentative steps into the sector, too.

TripAdvisor is still the leader and generates the most revenue for suppliers, according to tour operator software providers who made that judgment based on the booking volumes that pass through their systems.

Hotel-like Profits

Much is at stake. Viator charges typically 20 percent commissions, according to Skift Research.

TripAdvisor said in 2017 that its margins for attractions are increasing. It credited the gain to investing in technology, using search engine marketing, and acquiring more supply faster than it had done previously.

Michael J. Olson, a senior research analyst at investment bank Piper Jaffray, said in a recent report that, “Long-term, we believe there is no reason why this [attractions] segment can’t have a sustainable margin profile similar to (or better than) hotel segment.”

Until recently, investors thought hotels were the most profitable product for online travel companies. But attractions margins can be substantial, although the transaction sizes are smaller.

What Could Go Wrong? Mobile

TripAdvisor’s lead in attractions may not be sustainable. If GetYourGuide, Klook, Wlocals, or another player builds a mobile offering more intuitive than TripAdvisor’s/Viator’s, that might put the company at a disadvantage.

Attractions is a product that ultimately lends itself to relatively last-minute purchases while a customer is in a destination and using a mobile device.

TripAdvisor doesn’t say that its consumers make the majority of their attraction purchases while in-destination or while on its mobile channels so it’s possible that they don’t yet.

Klook said that last year 70 percent of its bookings came through the mobile Web and its mobile app.

GetYourGuide said that mobile transactions represented 40 percent of the 6 million tickets it sold in 2017. It forecasts a majority of its bookings will take place on mobile this year.

If true, these companies may be gaining on TripAdvisor. As consumers become used to booking attractions online, many may jump right to mobile-first bookings — giving companies with the best mobile offering an edge.

No Worries

Dermot Halpin is president of TripAdvisor’s global attractions and vacation rentals divisions. Two sources estimated that he oversees  500 to 700 employees and at least a $700 million a year budget, though the company keeps the exact numbers private.

Halpin told Skift the company’s mobile effort is solid. The company’s “focus on the app was a key contributor” to enabling TripAdvisor to grow transactions faster in the past year, he said.

TripAdvisor’s mobile Web and app offering is as not as good as it should, said one critic, who declined to be identified and whose company has developed apps for tour operators. The “things to do” section is a mix of content that is “not as well-categorized or searchable as the company’s hotel content is,” the critic claimed.

The attractions content is also “not displayed as intuitively as, say, Airbnb presents its Experiences product on its mobile app,” the critic said.

When asked about this, Halpin said: “Mobile is amongst our top priorities. The TripAdvisor app has been downloaded 440 million times, and an ever-increasing number of these users are planning and booking while they’re in-destination and on-the-go.”

“We’ve made this experience quick and seamless, and we’re constantly finding ways to better match travelers with the right products at the right moment during their trip and trip planning.”

When asked about the threat of rivals, Halpin said: “The significant, sustained growth we’ve seen in the last year clearly demonstrates we’re on the right path.”

“The combination of our demand and supply puts us in a unique position,” Halpin said. “We’re quickly growing and optimizing both of these assets.”

TripAdvisor branded sites and apps attract 455 million unique visitors a month on average, according to the company, although it’s unclear how many of them see the attractions content.

Fateful Decision

Halpin took over responsibility for the attractions unit in late 2016. But as early as 2014, he and Kaufer chose a strategy that had promise — and risk.

They decided to apply the company’s vacation rental business playbook to its attractions business.

The playbook called for looking for patterns in what is similar between the two segments. Then managers would apply the generic tactics used with one to the other.

An alternative approach might have been to look for what is unique about the attractions customer and product and work backward from that to a plan.

On the supplier side, the playbook called for mimicking a lot of the rental bookings management experience — meaning, the choices and drop-down menus that a supplier would see.

That differs from Klook, for instance. It noted that tour operators are often away from their desks. So Klook built a separate mobile app for merchants that streamlines their bookings management.

On the consumer side, TripAdvisor moved Viator from curated listings — which Airbnb and, to a lesser extent, Klook still offer — to a so-called open marketplace, meaning that listings receive less vetting.

That risked overwhelming consumers with too many choices. It also left shoppers with little sense of what made the TripAdvisor’s selection special. Airbnb, after all, emphasizes small group offerings and Klook hammers home a “best price” guarantee.

Employee Pushback

Viator workers resisted the rentals playbook — partly out of pride, it seems, along the lines of: “By what right does someone working on a different product tell me how to do a job I’ve been doing well for years?”

At Glassdoor, a website where workers review companies anonymously, reviewers gave Halpin only a 23 percent approval rating, based on 93 reviews by anonymous full-time Viator employees.

In comparison, the average CEO approval rating on Glassdoor is 68 percent and 63 percent of TripAdvisor’s overall review base approved of CEO Steve Kaufer.

Employee Departures

Some employees left, mostly around a year ago.

A source said that Viator’s product and marketing teams now only contain a small percentage of the same employees as 18 months ago. Viator’s CEO, five of six vice presidents, and several people working on products and engineering left — out of a Viator team of about 70 at the time of the acquisition.

When asked if the many departures suggested something was wrong with the company, Halpin said no.

“As in any case, when you buy a company that is 20 years old, and you say, ‘Let’s go this new direction,’ people make their choices,” he said. “We’ve also seen promotions and exciting career growth for many of our people.”

The Multi-Brand Question

Why did TripAdvisor Viator as a separate brand?

At industry conferences, Kaufer has often spoken of his vision of TripAdvisor moving from being a reviews platform to a company that sells products to travelers at all stages of a trip, with rentals and attractions being two of those products.

Assuming the goal is to make TripAdvisor a one-stop shop for consumers looking for “the perfect trip,” why keep Viator?

One reason: The vacation rental playbook called for that. The rentals division had kept several brands, such as FlipKey and Holiday Lettings, alongside TripAdvisor Rentals.

The company may also have fixated on increasingly difficult quarterly earnings targets. Perhaps it decided it couldn’t afford to drop any of its sub-brands at the risk of losing some short-term revenue — even if that move might pay dividends in long-term efficiency, clarity, and growth.

The company’s supporters might argue that maintaining multiple brands in attractions or rentals has been only a minor drain on resources, with only a small amount of duplicative marketing efforts and product development.

They might also say it is not obvious that any given supplier who is accustomed to working with the Viator brand for a decade or two would necessarily agree to switch to the TripAdvisor brand if forced to make a decision. By this logic, it would be safer to let suppliers who trust the Viator brand continue to use it.

When asked what TripAdvisor is going to do with the Viator brand, Halpin said, “We’re investing in it, that’s what we’re going to do.”

Mobile Indecision

The debate about brands may seem abstract. But the debate took on practical importance when TripAdvisor considered sunsetting the Viator mobile app.

Throughout 2017, managers held discussions on closing down in phases the Viator mobile app, sources said. But they worried about losing in the near-term the app-based revenue, which was continuing to grow.

The indecision cuts against the company motto that “speed wins.”

Since September 2016, Viator’s app hasn’t received a major update. It has never really delivered anything beyond what the mobile Web version could support, a sign of a lack of investment.

When asked about mobile, Halpin said on Thursday the company considered it a top priority. “The TripAdvisor app has exponentially more users. It has been downloaded 440 million times. And it’s true that this is where we focus the majority of our mobile work.”

The Viator app has been downloaded only three million times, though it has boasted favorable average reviews.

Halpin said, “We have a smaller audience in the Viator app, and we provide these travelers with an excellent experience, which we’ve seen reflected in its high ratings and growth in sessions.”

Halpin’s Defender’s

TripAdvisor began as a media operation, not a service business. The company lacked practice at building close relations with suppliers.

Halpin has helped the company make great strides on this front at both the rentals and attractions businesses, his admirers said, noting his brought experience from having once been the president of Expedia’s European operation.

TripAdvisor has improved Viator’s outdated supply acquisition approach in the past few years, a former Viator employee conceded. The attractions business’ customer service also improved, as reflected in “record-high” net promoter scores, a standard type of survey, a company representative said at a recent industry event.

Since the acquisition, the combined vacation rental and attractions unit increased supply by staffing up its Asia Pacific team from two to 15 and expanding its team for Southern Europe, Middle East and Africa from two to 11, an employee said.

A Data Lake

Officially, TripAdvisor defends its execution of its business plan, pointing to its strong recent results that it said are the result of savvy decisions.

“We made a number of foundational changes to our business earlier this year to best position ourselves for the opportunity ahead, and our data systems were a key focus of these changes,” Halpin said.

The company credited its improvements in attractions revenue during the past couple of quarters to a savvier use of data that has driven increased marketing and operational efficiency.

In the past year, the company’s engineers built a data warehouse to store all of its non-hotel information in one place — a so-called “data lake” that is TripAdvisor’s counterpart to the “customer analytics” movement that has swept other industries.

By unifying all of its non-hotel data, TripAdvisor was able to buy traffic via search engine marketing more efficiently. It made smarter bids on keywords thanks to a better understanding of its data, he said.

Insiders said that, for search marketing purposes, the data aggregation was a massive success.

Insiders also said that the rebuilding of technology is still under way after a year, eating the time of more than a dozen engineers much longer than managers expected.

Halpin said the work is foundational, a huge win in the past year, and will enable the company to become better at recognizing signals that suggest customer intent, such as whether a user is in a planning or booking mode.

His goal is to present content and deals that are more relevant, such as in the sort order of search results that any given consumer sees. This work will lay a good foundation for the mobile ground game, he said in an interview late last year.

Other technology rebuilds are happening on the web front end, to improve how sort order is displayed, and across the supplier access system, and to enable it to support more languages than English, a source said.

TripAdvisor’s Weak Spots

The company’s attractions efforts have a few weak spots that rivals might exploit to gain share, sources said.

If rivals such as GetYourGuide and Klook can be more attentive to small operators — such as making payments easier and keeping commissions low — they might take share.

Halpin said that TripAdvisor has significantly reduced the time it takes for suppliers to add inventory and planned to be competitive on fees.

Still, in the near-term, the company may be tempted to look for ways to earn more money off of suppliers as a priority instead.

One possible path: In October, the company debuted a TripAdvisor Ads product that lets restaurants pay for the chance to have their listing appear in the most desirable spots in the company’s search results.

It seems logical that the company will eventually offer such a marketing-based product to attraction operators, too. Some suppliers would see that as a cost, others as a benefit.

Acquisitions Might Help

One way to enhance supplier relations might be to acquire one of the business-to-business software providers that are used by many tour operators as a way to improve the end-to-end technology experience.

A strategic investment or acquisition in one of these companies — FareHarbor appears to lead in size in the U.S. — might deepen the company’s relationship with suppliers and increase the fees it can charge.

TripAdvisor’s Game to Lose

 

When CEO Steve Kaufer spoke last year about the attractions business, he said: “We love what we see pretty much every way we look at it.”

Critics argue that TripAdvisors’ attractions’ business could be overtaken by competitors if the company applies its vacation rental playbook to its attractions business without a bigger investment in mobile and a cohesive brand marketing message.

Defenders pointed to TripAdvisor’s supposed ability to iterate products  and optimize for growth by finding less expensive methods to acquire and retain customers than competitors do.

“We’re excited about and confident in our growth trajectory,” Halpin said.

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Virtual Reality Was Everywhere at CES But Lack of Adoption Is Still the Actuality

Skift

Attendees at CES testing out virtual reality technology from Samsung. Skift

Skift Take: Virtual reality continues to evolve as a media format. Vendors and developers are making new concessions based on how consumers use the technology, and the high costs associated with creating 360-degree content.

— Andrew Sheivachman

We’re a few years into the digital revolution that was supposed to catapult virtual reality to the forefront of consumer consciousness, but the technology still remains a niche product.

There are a few reasons for this; expensive headset units, fragmented platforms, and a lack of compelling programming are perhaps the most important.

While the travel industry has experimented with virtual reality content as a marketing tool, the lack of consumer interest has made brands wary about the large investment needed to produce top-notch videos and experiences.

Brands overall still need to be convinced that virtual reality content is worth it, according to developers.

“We are going through a period where education is needed with the brands,” said Guy Bedov, co-founder and CEO of Sidekick VR, during a panel discussion at CES in Las Vegas last week. “If you can get them through that, then you have an opportunity to do something really special.

“For [virtual reality] and [augmented reality], right now in the marketplace and where the tech stands, it’s very similar to where we were in the late ’90s with the Web. You didn’t know where you were going when you built that first site, but brands made that leap in the late 1990s and the ones that made that leap become these e-commerce giants and huge brands in the digital age.”

More Skift Coverage From CES

CES 2018 Dispatch: Transition to 5G Mobile Will Be Transformative for Hotels

Smart Robots at CES Have a Lot to Learn Before Hotels End Up Using Them

CES 2018 Report: A New Data Era Will Reshape the Travel Industry

The camera technology on display on the CES show floor has evolved to reflect he slow adoption of virtual reality. In the past, vendors at CES hailed cameras with a 360 degree as the next step in virtual reality filmmaking; this year, they focused on devices with a 180 degree field of view.

Content creators using these cameras won’t have to deal with producing full 360 degree images, and can instead focus on what a viewer sees directly in front of them. This means less neck-craning and spinning around for users, and reduced costs on the production front.

New Headsets, Similar Experience

The slow pace of growth in virtual reality entertainment hasn’t stopped technology giants from developing newer, more advanced headsets.

HTC showed off a new wireless version of its Vive hardware, dubbed the HTC Vive Pro, which will finally allow users to interact with roomscale virtual reality without tripping over cords in the process. The screen also has a higher resolution than the previous version, and a new type of sensor, that should smooth the experience for users.

This expensive solution is primarily for enthusiasts with deep pockets and powerful gaming PCs, though.

Several all-in-one headsets emerged from companies like Lenovo and Huawei, however, which will likely help simplify the virtual reality experience in a sales and marketing context. The Lenovo headset, which has been developed with Google, also features new positional tracking that will do a better job adjusting to movement in an effort to reduce motion sickness for users.

Most headsets today require slotting a smartphone in the front of the device to act as a screen, adding bulk and making it hard to start apps or view content.

These new headsets have built-in screens, so users don’t have to deal with sticking their phone in front of their face. For those in the travel space who rely on virtual reality headsets as a sales tool, these more powerful and comfortable devices will make life slightly easier.

But with new technology will likely come even greater fragmentation in the software ecosystem; apps that previous worked on a Samsung or Google headset may not work on devices featuring positional tracking, for instance, and this complexity may further discourage developers from creating for these platforms.

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#BookDirect: Guest Education Day, February 7: Let your guests know it pays to book direct, book smart, and book local.

With a multitude of new travelers searching for vacation rentals, vacation rental managers and homeowners are joining forces for one day with a singular message to let travelers know that there are many advantages to bypassing third-party channels to book directly with management companies and homeowners. On February 7, on this inaugural Guest Education Day, […]

The post #BookDirect: Guest Education Day, February 7: Let your guests know it pays to book direct, book smart, and book local. appeared first on VRM Intel.

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Priceline Group CEO Expects Mobile Payments to Catch On Like They Have in China

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Priceline Group CEO Glenn Fogel spoke in the Skift Take Studio about customer service, mobile payments, and the growing use of smartphones. Skift

Skift Take: It’s no surprise that Priceline’s CEO expects mobile use for everything in travel to increase. The question is what the online travel company plans to do about it.

— Hannah Sampson

Editor’s Note: This is one of a series of video interviews from the Skift Take Studio, presented by KDS, that were filmed at last year’s Skift Global Forum.

During the 2017 Skift Global Forum in September in New York City, we heard from a host of the travel industry’s top leaders from across every sector.

And after first speaking to them on stage in front of an audience of more than 1,100, we took another few minutes with them to get more insight in our backstage Skift Take Studio.

In our behind-the-scenes conversation, Priceline Group CEO Glenn Fogel shared his thoughts about customer service, smartphone ubiquity, and mobile payments.

“Right now in the U.S., you have very little mobile adoption of payments for travel,” he said. “But in other parts of the world, China for example, everybody’s doing it on things like WeChat and using Alipay. And the phone is going to be the center for everything.”

Fogel said since becoming CEO of the company in January 2017 — and getting customer complaints directly — he has realized the importance of getting customer service right.

“When you’re traveling and something is going wrong, no matter whose fault it is … you want help, you want it immediately, and you want it fixed,” he said. “And that’s something that I think we’re going to put a lot more resources into, because I know that successful customer service, that builds loyalty for life.”

Watch all the Skift Take Studio videos here.

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Announcing Group Rates for Skift Forum Europe 2018

Skift Take: Now is the best time for you and your coworkers to get tickets to attend Skift Forum Europe. Save now with group rates!

— Rafat Ali

Skift Forum Europe, happening on April 26, 2018 at Cafe Moskau, Berlin, is just over 100 days away! I know, we can’t believe it either. Last week, we told you about the first speakers to join our onstage lineup, and today I’m thrilled to announce that competitive group discounts are now available.

That’s right! We want to make it easier than ever for you and your colleagues to join us at our second annual Skift Forum Europe. You’ll have the chance to redeem exclusive savings when you register with a group today.

Grab Your Coworkers and Register Now

Here are the details you need to know to save:

  • How many people need to be in a group for the discount to apply?
    • Our group discounts start when three or more people from the same company register together. Our discount then grows as you increase the number of people on one registration!
  • What are your group rates?
    • 3 People — 15% off each ticket
    • 4-5 People — 20% off each ticket
    • 6-9 People — 25% off each ticket 
    • 10-14 People — 30% off each ticket
    • 15+ People— 35% off each ticket
    • You could be saving up to €520 OFF each ticket!
  • How do I redeem?
    • No discount code is necessary — Just add three or more colleagues to your registration and you’ll see these discounts automatically applied. Make sure you add your entire group to your registration before hitting complete to get the correct savings*
  • How long will these discounts be available until?
    • This promotion will not last. Register as soon as possible with your group to lock in your savings!

What are you waiting for?

We want to save on our tickets to Skift Forum Europe

And as always, we couldn’t bring this event to life without our incredible sponsors including AccorHotels Group, AirbusSojern and Travelsify.

Email us at forum@skift.com for any questions or if you’re interested in sponsoring our event.

*Discounts cannot be retroactively applied.

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Asian Casino Operator Melco Has European Ambitions in Cyprus

Eoghan OLionnain  / Flickr

A tour group walks through Larnaca, Cyprus on July 11, 2012. A Hong Kong casino operator is setting up shop in Cyprus. Eoghan OLionnain / Flickr

Skift Take: Melco’s challenge is less about getting Asian tourists, such as the massive Chinese market, to recognize its brand in Europe than it is to convince them to take long-haul trips to casinos when they have options much closer to home.

— Dan Peltier

The Hong Kong-based investor building Europe’s largest integrated casino resort in Cyprus wants to attract high-end customers from the neighboring Middle East to the island nation and target visitors from Russia, Britain, and Asia.

Lawrence Ho, billionaire owner and chief executive officer of Melco Resorts & Entertainment Ltd, will operate what will be called the ‘City of Dreams Mediterranean’ in Limassol on the island’s south coast, aiming to capitalize on the company’s ‘City of Dreams’ casino resort brand in Macau and Manila.

“Asian tourists will be able to recognize our brand and as time develops they could be attracted to Cyprus,” Ho said in an interview in Nicosia. “Melco as a company attracts sophisticated customers, middle and upper class customers.”

Initially, Melco aims to attract customers to Cyprus from the neighboring Middle East and to target visitors from Russia and Britain, the two major tourist source markets for Cyprus, Ho said.

Melco presented its plans on Jan. 9 for the construction and operation of the resort in Limassol as well as for another four satellite casinos in other parts of the popular vacation destination. The project represents a total investment of 550 million euros ($659.9 million) and is scheduled for completion in 2021.

Melco and local partner The Cyprus Phassouri (Zakaki) Ltd won an exclusive license to operate Cyprus’s first-ever casino. Cypriot authorities project that the resort could attract an additional 300,000 visitors a year boosting economic output by a further 700 million euros per annum, currently around four percent of gross domestic product, after the second year of operation.

Melco opened the City of Dreams Manila resort in the Philippines in 2015 and has invested in gaming ventures in Russia. Ho also plans to launch a global hotel brand, starting with a $1 billion high-rise building in Macau and has been seeking entry into the Japanese market.

“Traditionally we’ve been Asia based, but we have global aspirations and want to be a 21st-century gaming operator,” Ho said. “Cyprus is a fast growing market with a lot of potential,” he said.

This article was written by Georgios Georgiou from Bloomberg and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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