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I lead Force Five Partners, a marketing analytics consulting firm (bio). I've been writing here about marketing, technology, e-business, and analytics since 2003 (blog name explained).

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4 posts categorized "Travel"

March 11, 2012

#SXSW Trip Report Part 1: The Journey

Arrive Houston late.  Some lady steers my Hertz car out of space 125, toots cheerfully, and is off. (Wonder how she'll persuade the guard: "Yes, I am Cesar Brea...")  I arrange a replacement, and promptly get lost somewhere near Hobby.  

Later:  looking up from the hotel lobby floor is like looking down a shaft on the Death Star.  Thirty stories of beige-brown cantilevered soul-crushing sameness.  Can't sleep.  Accept insomnia, opt for double-header dystopia: the HBO Julianne Moore / Ed Harris / Woody Harrelson docu-drama Game Change about Sarah Palin, then Repo Men.

Morning.  I-290 West, toward Austin; it's  moonsooning.  Vaguely Quixotic: a "Dry-Force Water Removal" van blasts past me doing seventy.  Cattle line up near the road, backsides to the storm, in the bovine manner. 

Who says frontier towns are dead?  They're just spread out more, reflecting today's faster horses.  No horseshoes, but plenty of brake shoes. First Church of Such-and-Such -- still here.   Saloons? Gringo's Tex Mex, with "Latino Fusion".  Doc's specialized, or maybe just re-branded to game insurance billing -- "Drive-in Gynecology Clinic" (really).  Depending on local laws -- or lack of them -- gentlemen's clubs = brothels by another name.  Fireworks - pawn - gold - boots - tack - guns - ammo.  Plus, still plenty of 'tude:

 

We don't dial 911


I cross the Brazos.  (Always wanted to say that.)

"We got all your outdoor needs." Even if those extend to giant welded roosters:

 

Giant welded chicken

 

Obligatory BBQ stop. Chopped BBQ sandwich, slaw, jalapeno at the Lost Pines BBQ in Giddings. Highly recommended for friendly service and great food:

 

 

Lost pines bbq giddings texas

 

 

McDade: two chihuahuas play by the road.

They jump into the traffic.

Doing sixty, I swerve and miss.

The tractor-trailer behind me doesn't.

 

Crosses, mostly singly, sometimes in bunches: "Have you found Jesus?"

Austin, 30 miles: "Do you know Linux?"

 

 

Do you know linux


Part 2: Being There 

April 14, 2009

Smart Destinations: Creative Intermediation for Growth-Challenged Times

I had breakfast last week with Rob Schmults, an ecommerce veteran who after gigs at Fort Point Partners and GSI Commerce is now CMO at Boston-based Smart Destinations.  Rob's firm sells you and me a fixed-price, all-you-can-eat, multi-day "Go-Card" that provides discounted admissions to a variety of attractions in 15 cities across the US.  In an otherwise tough economy, Smart Destinations is growing at a healthy rate.  As such, it provides an interesting model for others trying to find ways to do the same.

For us customers, Smart Destinations offers convenience, savings, and less hesitation to do "one more thing" if we're taking the family to, say, Miami.  For the attractions in different cities that enroll in the program, discounting off the retail rate, and being listed in Smart Destinations' guide book, drive additional visits that they are betting they otherwise wouldn't have seen from you and me.  One cool feature of the service -- when an attraction signs up, it gets a Smart Destinations card reader, similar to a credit card terminal, that it sets up at its member/ information desk by the entry.  That way, visitors don't wait in the conventional admissions lines, the attraction gets another POS terminal, and Smart Destinations gets paper-free instant accounting for admissions fees (bought at wholesale) it owes the attraction.

Together, increased savings and convenience link customer groups and attractions that might not otherwise have hooked up, creating an economic pool that Smart Destinations can then try to maximize and harvest through creative packaging, pricing, and marketing.  And there's still plenty of room for innovation!  For example:
  • Today, Smart Destinations sells principally to folks in city X visiting City Y.  But imagine if it were to reconceive itself as a "platform" for "third-party affiliates", and allow local teachers and grad students to put together "profjonestourofcoolthingsforkidstodoinharvardsquare dot smartdestinations.com", tapping new market segments of suburban families desperate for high-quality activities in their own cities on grim winter Saturdays.
  • Today, attractions are enrolled ahead of time and are relatively "slow-in", "slow-out" of the program.  A logical extension might be to offer a "Site59.com"-style "dynamic-packaging" approach in addition to the base service.  Site59.com was an ingenious service created in 1999 that purchased blocks of unsold airline seats, unbooked hotel rooms, and unreserved restaurant tables and concert tickets on the cheap, and combined them into conveniently pre-planned packages for busy professionals desperate for a weekend away with significant others, but unable to plan more than a day or two ahead.  The resulting attractive arbitrage -- buy what someone's desperate to sell, and sell what someone's desperate to buy, was a big winner in the dark days of 2001-2002.  (My erstwhile colleagues at ArsDigita were proud to have worked with the Site59 team to build the service.)
  • Today, Smart Destinations markets through a variety of conventional channels -- search, affiliate programs.  But travel journalism suggests a number of potentially synergistic relationships.  Think for example, of a Smart Destinations partnership / sponsorship of iconic regular editorial features like the NYT's "36 hours" .  A few purists might sniff at the erosion of "Church-State" boundaries, but pragmatists no doubt would cheer! 
So, the question is, what other sectors have the potential to spawn businesses models like this?  

If you're a kid looking for work this summer, maybe start a Zipcar-ish lawn equipment exchange in your town?  Sign up folks with stuff as suppliers when they're not otherwise using their things.  Sell a "lawngear" card to others without stuff.   Use some of the proceeds to return sharpened, well-oiled gear to its owners, and pay for damages.  Pocket the difference. 

Or, if Smart Destinations doesn't provide enough inspiration, check out The Coupon Diva. (Listen especially to the point she makes at 4:15 into the video.)

January 25, 2007

Missed Connections

Last night I checked out TripConnect.com   In theory, a useful service: travel recommendations are a popular thing to share, as other folks like Tripadvisor have demonstrated.  Presumably, they would be even more popular to share within groups of folks you know and whose opinions you trust, which is TripConnect's premise.

Problem is, as far as I can tell, you have to manually enter / invite the network of folks you'd like to share trip reviews with.  No thanks.  Within the circle of folks whose names I'd have the patience to  put into the system manually, I'm better off calling or emailing them.

TripConnect's UI looked eerily like LinkedIn's (the usual Web-two-oh pastels and rounded buttons).  So I thought, "TripConnect is a useful focus for collaboration in search of pre-existing networks of folks to use it.  LinkedIn is a network of folks looking for useful things people could share.  Why don't they partner?"  I'm sure someone has thought of this of course. 

I'm more interested in the general case -- what other networks and other service ideas, existing or envisioned, should get together like this?  Where's the LinkedIn API so folks like TripConnect could build mutually beneficial services onto it?

Referrals to stuff like this appreciated!

December 05, 2006

A Web 2.0 Travel Service That Gets Web 2.0

My friend Perry Hewitt, who runs the online marketing consulting firm Colechurch Consulting (so named because it helps bridge marketing-IT divides for its clients), pointed me to FareCompare this weekend.  FareCompare, an airfare comparison engine, uniquely albeit gratuitously  does the Google maps mashup thing with airfares.  Gratuitous, since the map doesn't add much to your processing of the information provided -- most people know where the cities listed are.  But what I like are the multiple approaches to syndicating its service:  Firefox plug-ins, Google and Yahoo desktop widgets.  (I checked Expedia to see if they offer the same thing -- they do, but only one, and it's the buggy, out-of-date version of what FareCompare distributes.)

This syndication thing is going to be big one of these days.

(BTW, Perry, love your site's new design.)

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