No-frill airlines already operate on half of the routes used by European business travellers and are likely to grow this percentage still further in 2005, according to Partners Software, the latest company to start selling no-frill booking products to British travel agencies, tour operators and online travel portals.Research carried out by Partners Software and one of its major customers shows that no-frill carriers have been steadily building their presence on routes used frequently by European business travellers.Ê Of more than 10,000 routes most commonly used for business travel, slightly more than 5,000 are serviced by at least one no-frill carrier.
“When no-frill airlines first became significant some four years ago their routes were very obviously aimed at the leisure traveller,” said Robbie Schlagboehmer, Partners Software’s international sales manager.
“That has all changed.Ê We were as astounded as our client to see how many business travel routes are now serviced by no-frill carriers.Ê It’s leapt from about 20 percent in 2002 to more than 50 percent today and it has all been happening very much below the radar, we suspect in order to prevent the full-service carriers from realising the extent of the threat.”
Schlagboehmer believes many no-frill carriers will start developing products and services for the business traveller and travel management companies during 2005.
“When you look at the load factors of most no-frill carriers, and then at the number of aircraft they have on order, it becomes clear they are going to have to do something really special to put new bums on these new seats,” he said.
Initiatives that Partners Software believes may be in the offing include greater acceptance by no-frill carriers of negotiated corporate fares, last-minute availability of the lowest fares for travel management companies and corporate travel buyers, and an even greater range of routes commonly used by business travellers.
“It may even be possible that some of these carriers start expanding across the Atlantic and into the Middle East Gulf states,” Schlagboehmer said.
Bremen-based Partners Software is exhibiting its LOW.FARE no-frills booking system at the Travel Technology Show in London in February.Ê The system gives travel agents and tour operators access to more than 40 no-frills carriers from across Europe
There are five versions; an entry-level product costing £10 a month for every office and a fee of £1.95 on every booking, a version that can be connected to a travel agency’s booking website, two business travel versions aimed at travel management companies and an XML version that can be integrated with dynamic packaging platforms and other customised applications.Ê
The business travel products allow agencies to override public rates with any corporate travel rates negotiated with a no-frill carrier, and to integrate no-frill flight booking details with the rest of a traveller’s PNR, pushing all management and financial information into the TMC’s mid-office and accounting systems.
Partners is selling LOW.FARE to travel management companies, tour operators and travel agencies - both online and offline.
“As GDSs continue to struggle to bring no-frills fares into the mix, we are seeing huge demand from agencies.Ê This includes online travel sites that are, after all, powered by GDSs themselves,” Schlagboehmer said.
He is bullish about Partner’s chances in the UK.
“We have only one serious competitor here, and its product can’t match either the range of carriers we cover or the breadth of LOW.FARE’s functionality.Ê The fact that we are flexible with so many versions of our product is also a distinct marketing advantage.”
Hot air and sales prose?Ê Schlagboehmer is vehement in his denial.
“I’m heartily sick of baseless claims from companies who have the leading this or the world’s best that.Ê People who visit our stand at the Travel Technology Show will be able to judge for themselves.”
Although relatively new to the market Partners does have an existing UK customer base. One of Partner’s existing UK customers is CWT.Ê More than 8,000 of the agency’s staff are using Low.Fare in 800 offices across the EMEA region.