GTMC: Agents buck unbundling trend to go full service

Nine out of ten travel management companies are bucking the trend among airlines of charging for every extra by offering ‘full service’ bookings to clients.

But they want the job made easier by charges being incorporated into global distribution systems (GDSs), which are testing just such a service due for launch later this year.

A survey of Guild of Travel Management Company (GTMC) members found 88% offer to handle additional items such as baggage charges, assigned seating and onboard food and drink.

One-third said the ‘unbundling’ of these services from fares made extra work and 32% said it caused confusion among travellers.

The survey found a majority will book the extras at no extra charge, with 29% levying an additional fee. All said having the ancillary charges on GDSs would save time – with a separate study suggesting ancillary charges add 30% to the booking time.

Geoff Allwright, head of travel procurement at aerospace giant EADS, told the GTMC conference in Hong Kong that unbundling fares was both good and bad.

“It allows you to pay only for what you want and we are looking to negotiate on speedy boarding and priority passes,” he said. “But no one wants to pay for where they sit or for an extra bag on a long-haul flight.

“Self-booking tools are unable to book [ancillary services] so travellers go direct to the airline website, which we don’t want. And what if a traveller changes a trip? Did they already buy a sandwich? Did they book a bag?”

Sabre Holdings vice-president of product marketing Kyle Moore said Travelport and Amadeus aim to make ancillary charges available on GDSs this year.

“We have 27 airlines test filing ancillary data. These will be bookable in the system and should be available by the third quarter of 2010,” he said.

However that prompted a warning from Tony Berry, distribution services director at travel management company HRG, who said:

“There is a long way to go. Standards are being worked on, but we see a long road to getting a seamless process. Some airlines want to be able to push a cash register down the cabin.”

British Airways head of UK and Ireland sales Richard Tams said the airline had no plans to unbundle fares. But he told the conference: “Traditional airlines are caught between a rock and a hard place.

“Our lowest fares have a slim, if not negative, margin – so we need ancillary revenue, but we sell ourselves as a full-service airline.

“If we turn too many frills into ancillaries we lose the right to call ourselves full service and to charge a premium. Maybe short-haul unbundling is inevitable, but we are not there yet.”

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