An Airlines Reporting Corp. executive challenged the Computerized Airlines Sales & Marketing Association to take the lead on "fulfilling the promise" of ancillary revenues and merchandising. The chief executive of a technology company wondered why travel agents aren't "kicking down the doors" of their GDS providers to demand that they enable them to sell airlines' differentiated products. An airline executive bemoaned the legacy technologies that "don't necessarily keep up with our marketing brilliance."
The merchandising/ancillary revenue issue dominated discussions at CASMA's spring meeting in Montreal, but as Mike Premo, ARC's vice president of marketing, sales and customer care, noted, few airline representatives were there either to hear or to make the case.
Although CASMA claims "over 100 member airlines," representatives from only 14 had registered and fewer showed up. As is the case with many industry associations, the economy and reduced staffing at member organizations have taken their toll.
But, as Jim Davidson, chief executive officer of Farelogix, noted, the momentum for ancillary revenues through the sale of airport lounge access, inflight meals and other "extras" is strong "There's too much money involved," he said and he fears that "some new kid on the block" will come along and make it happen while the rest of the industry dithers.
Airlines can sell ancillary products directly to the consumer via their Web sites, but they want to reach the corporate market, which relies on the services of travel management companies. The TMCs in turn are largely dependent on GDSs for connections to airlines.
GDS companies have been working to satisfy the needs of their airline and agency constituents, but the process has not been swift. It has been nearly four years since Air Canada, frustrated with GDS companies' inability to display its innovative "fare families" and "attribute selling," pulled its Tango fares from the GDSs.
Graham Wareham, senior director of product distribution for Air Canada, said the carrier is "challenged" by legacy technologies in its efforts to deliver new products to the end user. Meanwhile, efforts to overcome those roadblocks have challenged the concept of the single source of content, he said.
Davidson, whose company has developed an agency desktop that will aggregate content from multiple sources, noted that the electronic miscellaneous document will not be fully implemented until 2013. The EMD will enable travel management companies and their clients to understand the true cost of a trip, including ancillary products. "We won't need an EMD in 2013," Davidson said. "Someone else will figure out how to do it more efficiently by then."
Davidson deplored the lack of any sense of urgency. Travel agents, he said, should be telling GDSs "to make this happen before we become irrelevant."