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Barney Harford Now Orbitz CEO – Welcome to Chicago

For the past few years, I thought that there might be a new entrant to Chicago’s Internet scene. It was exciting to me because Chicago could certainly use some geographic diversity in it’s leadership. For a long time, it looked like that person would be Mark Cuban, but it now appears that he will not be the high bidder for the Chicago Cubs. That is kind of a bummer as it would have probably made Wrigley Field a playground for the who’s who of the Internet people like Michael Arrington, Jason Calacanis, Gabe Rivera and many venture capitalists. BTW, you are still welcome guests irregardless.

They say that when one door closes another one opens and apparently Barney Harford is the gentleman that was actually meant to darken the doorway. He’s had extensive experiences in Asia and elsewhere for Expedia and more recently as an advisor to and eLong. As mentioned in the article linked to above, I strongly believe that geographical diversity is important to high performing corporate cultures and I praise the Board of Directors for this choice. It is my hope that this will effect Chicago’s landscape in a positive way far beyond Orbitz. Time will tell.

I know what it’s like to arrive in a strange new place from my experiences living in New York and Cleveland. I’ve always appreciated people orienting me to the cities I’ve moved to so I thought I’d return the favor before giving you a few thoughts on Orbitz. Here we go:

Odd objects in parking spots that have been shoveled clear of snow: You managed to move to Chicago in the dead of Winter. It’s not exactly the most friendly welcome the city can give you. In fact when I moved back here in 1999 – we received 22 inches of snow on during the day I was supposed to move in – it took me a week to recover. Anyway, if you see a chair on a side street claiming a spot, my advice is to pass it by and go elsewhere as you never know what that person that put the object there might do. Of course this practice is chronicled in detail on a blog from Montreal.

Orginal’s Hair Designers – Good haircut for $16 with the bonus of then giving you a touch up between hair cuts at no charge. You want John to cut your hair there. He arrives at 6AM sharp Monday through Saturday going there between 6-7AM is the best time to go. No appointment is needed. They are located at 134 North Wells.

Shoe RepairBeehive Shoeworks gives great on the stand shines and they do an excellent job with any shoe repair you’ll need. Ask for Sam.

Lower Wacker Drive – A cab can usually make it to the Lakefront or Michigan Avenue faster this way, but they’ll never do it unless you ask as Chicago pays cabs partially based on waiting time. Yes, this is the same Lower Wacker Drive as in the movie the Blues Brothers!

Free Valet Parking at Most Restuarants in Greektown – Take advantage of this, my favorite place is The Parthenon on Halstead.

Pizza – As you likely know Chicago is home of the deep dish pizza. My favorite is Giordano’s, the one where the primary office of the chain at 310 West Randolph tastes the best in my opinion and I usually order it withcanadian bacon and mushrooms. If you want something a bit lighter near your office (my answer would be different in the suburbs) , I recommend Tomato Head Pizza at 945 West Randolph. They make their pizzas with a somewhat rare Faulds pizza oven.  You may have experienced this special oven at Delfino’s Chicago Style Pizzeria in Seattle previously. I researched this as I’ve often considered moving to Seattle.

Italian Beef – This is a rare sandwich that you’ll have to work hard to find anywhere outside of the Chicago area. It’s roast beef immersed in flavorful gravy that is properly presented on freshly baked French bread. If consumed at the right places, this can be heavenly. In the loop you will find this at a place called Luke’s (walking distance from the currentOrbitz office location) or Portillo’s. Like the pizza above, many will passionately advocate their favorite place over another. It’s kind of like a sport.

Origin of the term Windy City – This is highly disputed. But I mention it because you can judge how much a person studies history by asking if they have any opinion on this subject. Statistically speaking, there are many places in the Midwest that are technically windier, so I personally do not favor this explanation. The most likely in my opinion is the explanation of the politicians being full of hot air. There are others that abound on the net.

If Your Furniture is Damaged by Movers – Weber Furniture has been in business since 1950 repairing, refinishing and reupholstering fine office and antique furniture. I recently did some work on the site and it already ranks #1 for the term – Chicago furniture restoration. It still needs a bit more authority from off site factors but the link above should likely fix that. Thanks for the opportunity but I hope your furniture travels safely.

OK, now that you are oriented a bit, let’s talk business a little bit.

In terms of my thoughts and philosophy on Internet companies:

– The world is enduring rapid business transformation which historians will may one day judge revival the Industrial Revolution. Corporations need to constantly test and learn to create and maximize the optimal business model mix. Those who create rapid testing and learning cultures will outperform.

Search engines are changing the foundation of branding from brand name to one of a brand’s attributes to be found by the searcher and user experiences when interacting with the brand. This is a fundamental shift from push to pull where the consumer controls the conversation and it’s about meeting those expressed needs.

– Quotes of business leaders I highly admire are on this page, they are my guide posts.

– I believe that corporations need to restore balance to focus on both revenue and expenses equally, recent focus has been on expense reduction and risk aversion is preventing focus on new revenue potential. This blog post sums up my thoughts.

Thoughts on Internet travel vertical in general:

– Too highly dependent on paid search, need to lower traffic acquisition costs (TAC).

– Desperate need to create long term relationships with customers outside of purchase transaction.

– Customer data models need to evolve to create niche experiences to create best in space customer experience to meet the evolution in branding mentioned above and to increase CPM advertising rates.

– Considerable business travel is booked manually via phone from legacy providers. This presents a potential opportunity.

In terms of Orbitz from a consumers point of view:

– Orbitz does yet not consistently win the price competition in the hotel + airfare category – for my three day trip to SJC to speak at UGCX at the same hotel – Priceline was $411, Expedia was $428 this morning while the Orbitz quote was $476.

– The current Orbitz Terms of Service appear to be in need of revision in regards to link policy in terms of winning the search engine optimization battle.

– I use a pop-up blocker, but I’m sure you’d win alot of points with people if you removed those completely.

There is other advice I have but will keep that private at this time. So again, welcome to Chicago! Please let me know if there is anything I can help you with as you settle in. Good luck with your role at Orbitz!

OK folks, sorry this post was a bit long.  What suggestions do you have for Barney to improve the customer experience, customer acquisition and conversion rates at Orbitz while still reducing costs and improving profitability? I’d love to see your comments on this.

17 thoughts on “Barney Harford Now Orbitz CEO – Welcome to Chicago

  1. As I see it, everything today is about niche. Google did one thing that few people consider: you, as a searcher, now have the ability to find EXACTLY what you’re looking for. So when you want a wooden wagon for your six year old that’s hand-made from poplar, you can find it. So clearly positioning yourself in a highly refined niche market is where sustainable growth is in today’s economic climate – and always will be.

    Same can be said for large companies. Orbitz simply needs to decide is it trying to win the pricing game – which is a niche – or is it trying to offer a specific set of services to solve a specific set of problems travelers face (and really want) better than everyone else.

    Every company – big or small – should be asking themselves these questions. And if they don’t know, they should poll their target audience to find out exactly what they want – and give it to them. Hence, they’d be positioning themselves as a specific problem solver within a specific niche.

  2. And don’t forget Lower Wacker Drive is the featured underground highway in the major chase scene in ‘The Dark Knight.’ 🙂

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  4. I recently booked a room through Orbitz, only to find myself with a hotel that was closed. I spent @ 1 hour going door to door trying to find hotel with my family.
    When I called Orbitz TLC I was given the infprmation that they would refund the money and they were aware that the hotel was out of business but the computer was not updated. They did relunctantly agree to give me a refund – for the room at the hotel that was out of business and they thanked me for using Orbitz!
    What planet are the Orbitz people from?
    Be careful using Orbitz.
    I tappears they are more interested in getting paid than sellingt legitimate reservations or customer satisfaction.
    I hope Barney can fix this!

  5. I recently shared my concern with my experience at Orbitz, I sent an e-mail to CEO – Barney Harford and expected nothing to happen – Of course.
    You want believe what happened – He actually replied personally and apologized and personally handled getting me refund and seem to truly care about my concern. After exchanging some e-mails – I got the feeling that this company is trying to do the Right thing!
    Guess what I am booking some future travel with Orbitz and I even recommended them to 2 of my friends.
    What does this prove? Well it proves that they are still CEOs that are trying to do the Right things and Care about their customers.

    Thanks Barney!! and I hope others will give Orbitz a try, I know I will. Great Values and Management that Cares!

    Sometimes Your Messes become your Message and your Obstacles become your Opportunity!

  6. Hey,
    My wife and I took a trip through Orbitz for our honeymoon and had the worst trip of our lives…
    I am wondering if you could help me contact
    Barney Harford, could i get his email off ya?



  7. we are out $1,800 and customer service keeps giving us the runaround….

  8. What is Barney Harford’s email address and how did you get it? I have some MAJOR compllaints about Orbitz I’d love to share with him.



  10. I had a medical emergency that interrupted my recent trip to Hawaii from NY. I called Orbitz 24 hrs in advance of the required change and was assured 2x that the tickets were purchased and issued.

    At the gate in Honolulu 30 minutes prior to takeoff I noted that my boarding pass (which even had the seat assignment) did not have a required ‘zone’ number. The agent (Alan) advised me that my name did continue to appear on the reservations but that the ticket was not yet purchased by Orbitz. He immediately called Orbitz to expedite the ticket purchase; he was advised that Orbitz needed to ‘find out what was wrong’ with their own process before they could issue the ticket. The 10:30pm flight left before Orbitz completed the purchase. Alan asked that the next flight (10:55pm) at a nearby gate hold a seat for me. He advised Orbitz that a ticket should be reissued for this 2nd flight instead and was put on hold again.

    At 10:50pm I purchased a ticket at the gate from USAir for $664 to insure that I would be able to board the 10:55pm flight in order to get home to my very ill daughter.

  11. Those are some great Chicago tips. I don’t use orbitz directly anymore. I access it through’s great that Barney was an advisor for the website.

  12. I would like Barney Harford’s email address too if anyone has it. I would like to voice a complaint I have. Thanks in advance.

  13. Can I please get Barney’s email id. My cousin recently booked tickets on orbitz (great deal for tickets to India).
    She called them and confirmed the tickets too. After couple of hours, they sent her an email stating, they cannot honor the reservation. We called them and spoke to them, but they were extremely rude and did not help us out at all.
    I would like to contact the CEO and see if he can help us.


  14. I recently use orbitz to book a flight to Hawaii, and was excited at the rate was given. However, being my first time crossing multiple time zones, I made the mistake of putting the wrong departure date due to flight being an overnight. An honest mistake, that service rep and supervisor would would only assist with a $25 off future coupon; nor did travel assurance help. I ended up get charged $378 for my error. However, I still see flights cheaper than what I was charged. The supervisor even blame Delta for all the new charges I incurred, and said the cheaper flights are reserved for new customers only. Customer service seems to not exist, and I am looking for any assistance on how I should pursue this.

  15. I have written to YOU,YOUR STAFF,FACEBOOK; with copies to the clients of the same.(Your facebook page) I am sorry that your staff has takeing such steps to collect and demanding I pay 125% of my income, on a planned trip that I can not take. The seat on a fully booked aircraft will be used by a stand-by,five (5) months in the future, at my expence.This is a notice that” I will not go away” until your company,Orbitz, pays me an the my members of the family, the same percent of income you have collected from me.This is a 24 hour notice of the event. Sincerely,Thomas Thorpe,Senior Citizen,70.yrs of age. THIS IS NOT A DEMAND, BUT A FACT!

  16. My name is Eric Zizza and I am schedule for a flight on 3/9/11. My seat assignment was confirmed with representatives of Orbitz on two different occassions. I am very tall, so an isle seat is essential when I travel. While printing my boarding pass this evening my seat assigned was different and in this isle. I called Orbitz and now your represesntiative is saying they don’t guarantee seat assignments. WHY WAS THIS NOT SAID IN MY TWO PREVIOUS CALLS CONFIRMING MY SEAT ASSIGNMENTS? I had a very lengthy conversation with a supervisor of Orbitz named Jennifer #66928. She provided no cure or accomodartions to a valued customer. As a result, I will never be using orbitz my travel arrangements in the future. In addition, I have many clients in my business and I will be very vocal for them not to use Orbitz. Lastly, I have located a few websites grading and critiquing travel websites. I will be postng numerous and frequent postings in an attempt to assist customers not to experience such negatives and misrepresentations from your company.

  17. Please train your customer service people to give all important information, not just try to sell more tickets. It was the worst customer service experience I ever had. They do not understand what courtesy means.

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