US View – September 2008

Industry must put more focus on ‘non-air’ travel


If airline tickets propel the entire travel market, then seemingly we’re all in a bit of a predicament.


In the US, air fares have increased with fuel prices, and hundreds of cities have lost air service as carriers focus on the most profitable routes.


But, a new ‘not-so-White Paper’ by Chicke Fitzgerald, the founder and CEO of the Solutionz Group in Tampa, argues that travel sellers, from traditional agents to online retailers, are missing a huge opportunity in the self-drive market, including consumers who take to the highways in cars, motorcycles and recreational vehicles.


The paper, ‘Are You Reaching the Forgotten Mass Market? Marketing to the Non-Air Traveller,’ argues that the travel industry is too air-centric, too product-focused (air, car and hotel) and doesn’t have the tools to tap into the travel impulses of those millions of travellers who favour asphalt over atmospheric transport.


“The bottom line is that you need to market with all types of travellers in mind and for leisure travel, broaden your view,” Fitzgerald writes. “Sites that are focused on the pure vacation (e.g. top-destination approach) and business travel markets miss a huge part of the leisure travel market, such as the people travelling every day to the other 86,500 cities, towns and villages in the US.”


For example, Fitzgerald notes that a site will have a good chance of selling a hotel room in Omaha to a traveller flying to that Midwest city. “But, if that person is driving from Seattle to Dallas, although they may want to stop in Omaha overnight, your chances of getting in on that trip are slim to none if your site or your call centre can’t plot out that trip for a consumer,” the paper says.


For years online agencies have worked to move away from a focus on air travel, pushing hotels and holiday packages, but they have a long journey and much to do before they adequately address the disparate needs of the road traveller.


For San Francisco residents, Travelocity offers points of interest in Napa Valley, a drive of an hour or two away, in its deals emails, which also pinpoint driving distances. Other non-air tweaks? Travelocity users can personalise their homepage and view hometown deals; there are links to Amtrak and Rail Europe; and the online agency markets neighbourhood car-rental options, too.


Orbitz sees the non-air ingredients in its revenue mix increasing monthly, says Orbitz Worldwide spokesman Brian Hoyt. The Orbitz push includes promoting discounts on hotel rooms, the introduction of holiday rentals like condominiums, and a partnership with the US Environmental Protection Agency to tout hotels’ Energy Star ratings.


Expedia Inc. spokeswoman Katie Deines says she’s unaware of any broad efforts by the company to stress non-air travel, although Expedia does offer petrol-card promotions, hotel deals and packages.


Fitzgerald doesn’t specifically address these recent initiatives, but argues that the travel industry has stalled when it comes to the drive market, which can be broader and more upscale than many believe. She contends that the industry must understand the travel needs of people engaging in everyday events, from weddings and funerals to concerts and athletic events, and to identify gaps in offerings.


For example, hotels, restaurants or other destinations should “geo-audit” their facilities to ensure they appear in online mapping sites, which need to move away from point-to-point directions toward “multi-day, multi-destination” travel.


And, for travel industry executives, whether you are in the office or on the road, you can discuss these issues at http://distribution-solutionz.blogspot.com.



Sabre wises up to web applications


New apps appear daily on Facebook and other trendy consumer sites, but the global distribution systems, with their far-flung travel agency users and ties to TPF-based airline hosting systems, have proceeded at a turtle’s pace when responding to airlines’ needs to unbundle, brand and otherwise merchandise their products.


The GDSs’ tardiness on this front was illustrated a couple of years ago when Air Canada reduced ties with Sabre, which couldn’t replicate the way the airline marketed its products on AirCanada.com.


Still, Sabre has been a leader among the GDSs in making these types of offerings available through the travel agency channel.


In August, in tandem with launch partner Midwest Airlines of Milwaukee, Sabre gave agents connected to its GDS the ability to offer their clients the ability to reserve bigger Signature seats at the time of booking for a fee paid to the agent.


It’s all part of Midwest’s drive to reconfigure its Boeing 717s into premium Signature seats as well as cheaper Saver seats, and to give agents the ability to offer the differentiated products to their clients. Consumers can go directly to the airline website to book the two seat types without an extra fee. Sabre hosts the airline’s internal reservation system, a fact that aided implementation.


The Midwest solution is part of the Sabre Air Merchandising Suite, and the new capability was developed by Sabre Airline Solutions, the Sabre Travel Network and Midwest Airlines. The solution gives agents the ability to book the differentiated seating from their desktops without having to disrupt their workflow by reserving the seats on the airline’s website or through its call centres.

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