Digital design agency Amorphous New Media have provided Comair, the local airline owned by British Airways, a web-tool with which to sell their excess inventory online: [email protected].
The site allows customers to search for flight availability by date and destination. They then submit a request and fill in the booking form together with payment details. A consultant then gets in touch with the customer to arrange booking and confirm all the details.
According to Lara Holing, Sales and Client Services Director at Amorphous New Media, the site is intended to sell “distressed inventory” in a quick and cost-effective manner. “It is aimed at the impulsive week-end traveler and bargain hunter, as well as the flexible travel market,” she says.
Inventory control is the responsibility of Comair personnel. Holing states, “They are provided with the tools to ad, amend and remove flights when and as often as required, and can pre-load flights at any time.”
The tool has recently been extended to include deals for flights booked well in advance of scheduled take-off. Future enhancements include international flight bookings, overseas holiday packages and domestic holiday packages. Registered users are kept aware of the site through special offers and packages announced via a weekly newsletter. None of which is good news for travel agents.
The global online travel industry is predicted as being worth US$25.2 Billion in 2003 by eMarketer - a pie that the travel agents are no doubt eager to get a slice of. This may prove to be a difficult task, however, given that airlines -all the airlines- are offering direct access to cheap flights. The disintermediation of travel agents is already happening..
According to Airlines Reporting, for example, the number of travel agencies in the USA has slumped from 47,000 in 1995 to 43,000 at the beginning of 2001. In June, Orbitz is being launched, a coalition of four American airlines to offer online sales. Orbitz will be so huge, offering access to such a large variety of fares, that it is under investigation by the US Department of Justice on antitrust issues.
In order to survive, travel agents must begin to offer more than simply tickets and hotels. Many are beginning to offer lifestyle specific -e.g. gay and lesbian- packages, hoping to survive through niche-marketing. Going a step further, Lastminute.com offers an entire “spontaneous lifestyle”, cross selling tickets to plays in destination cities, cigars, champagne, hot air ballooning. And, like Comair, they continuously remind their clients that they exist with personalized email newsletters containing special offers.
The point is that travel agents will stand or fall on customer service. The airlines understand this already - hence the easy availability of cheap airline tickets directly from Comair’s site.