Mobile sales now ‘highest priority’ for airlines, says IT giant

Airlines expect mobile devices to join the web as a dominant sales channel by 2015, according to a survey by air transport technology provider SITA.

The survey among half the world’s 100 biggest carriers found 70% expect smart phones to be a “dominant channel” for direct sales within three years.

Nine out of ten plan to sell tickets via mobiles by 2015 and, for a second year in succession, mobile services topped a list of airline investment programmes.

Presenting the Airline IT Trends Survey results to the Air Transport IT Summit in Brussels, SITA strategy development and market intelligence director Nigel Pickford said: “Mobile will be a dominant channel. It is the highest priority for nearly all airlines.”

Pickford said: “By 2015 airlines are planning for significant personalisation [of offers] sold direct through new channels; 75% are committed to planning personalisation in direct sales.”

SITA reported current airline sales via mobiles, social media and airport kiosks combined as “barely 2%” of total sales, but forecast this would grow to 12% by 2015 with mobiles accounting for 7% of bookings.

The company forecast 35% of global sales would be direct through the web in three years, but declined to put a figure on the proportion of total sales likely to be direct, saying only it “would grow”.

However, SITA chief technology officer Jim Peters described 7% for mobile sales as “not a huge amount” and told the conference: “There are challenges in selling on a mobile.

“Phones have to be easy to use so you’re not having to type everything in, and direct sales often decrease yield so a challenge will be how to maintain yield.”

The annual survey of IT trends suggests continuing pressure on relations between carriers and global distribution systems (GDSs) with 64% of airline respondents planning to by-pass GDSs and have direct connections to third-party agents by 2015.

Tony Tyler, director general of airline association IATA, reported agents still account for 60% of his members’ global sales. He said: “Agents play a major role in airlines’ distribution and I expect them to continue to play a major role.”

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