One of the most crucial elements for executing evolving merchandising schemes is essentially out of airlines’ control – antiquated travel agent workflows for managing the sale of ancillary products. But travel management technology providers tout some progress in the development of tools to ease agent workload.
Ensuring that products like premium economy, first-class up-sells, buy-on-board and other items are available to corporate customers through indirect channels including travel agents is vital for airlines in achieving success with their merchandising schemes.
Traveport vice president of merchandising and distribution Fergal Kelly acknowledges that travel agent workflow is a key topic driving discussion and debate, and airlines are “embracing the idea that the multi-channel environment presents a material opportunity”.
The company concludes that “airlines who choose to distribute through the travel agency experience yields up to 18% higher per ticket sold, relative to tickets sold in their direct channels”. It is probably not a stretch to assume that the yields on ancillary products sold through agency channels drive similar value.
During April 2013 Travelport unveiled a merchandising platform that includes Aggregated Shopping, which consolidates search results from traditional carriers connecting through the airline tariff publishing company ATPCO or those airlines connecting to Travelport through an API (application programming interface). This essentially eliminates the need for agents to compare products across several screens.
The Travelport Ancillary Services tool gives agents the ability to sell items including pre-allocated sating, meals and bags within an existing workflow rather than booking separately on an airlineʼs website.
A third element of Travelportʼs merchandising offering – Rich Content and Branding – was unveiled in November 2013. Its aim is to help airlines market and retail their various products through customization of product displays. Kelly says that after testing and gathering feedback from airlines and agents, Travelport aims to formally roll out the product late in the fourth quarter.
Large technology solutions provider Sabre also has technology available that streamlines agent workflow. Using Unitedʼs Economy Plus offering as an example, Sabre says it has a “one hundred percent interactive, real-time, dynamic solution in place with United, and it is fully integrated into the agency workflow, including graphical seat map capabilities”.
Still, with the fundamental shift in the way airlines sell their products, including unbundling and re-bundling, changes are required in the travel agent workflow, Kelly notes. Airlines are recognizing as more of their ancillary products move into indirect channels (in addition to direct channels), they need to understand how the agency and customer interact, he explains.
The robust discussion about travel agency workflows reflects the evolution of airline merchandising. Kelly concludes merchandising is “almost a universal trend now…a few years ago there was some hesitancy, but almost every airline is taking a first step [towards merchandising]”.
Kelly also believes that airlines have recognized that they can only grow and develop their merchandising businesses “by doing, not theorizing and strategizing”.
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