Ask The Expert: Antoine Medawar, VP, Amadeus
Confusion over the role of travel agents
While some airlines have a limited understanding about how their product is sold by travel agents, the fact remains that more revenue is generated by airlines through travel agency distribution than any other channel. This is particularly relevant in Middle Eastern markets, where people prefer the personal interaction of a travel consultant, and where internet penetration is lower than the global average. In addition, global distribution systems (GDS) offer an unparalleled reach into new markets, which could prove beneficial as Middle East airlines become more and more successful on the global stage.
Integration is the key to travel agency success
Many travel agencies have booking systems that are completely integrated with mid and back-office reporting, quality control and customer management tools, among other functions, which helps to automate their administrative tasks and increase efficiency. For airlines, this means that the better their content is integrated into the travel agent’s booking system, the easier it becomes for their flights to be booked.
However, unless the process is handled correctly, an extra layer of complexity will be introduced into the agent’s workflow. For example, if each airline were to push its own channel and booking process for ancillary services, you risk a level of confusion that would severely impact the ability of agents to book those services. For this reason, Amadeus has developed a solution that is adapted to the travel agent’s work process and supports the booking, payment and fulfilment of ancillary services, while eliminating the need for agents to venture outside of the workflow.
Neutral presentation to the agency channel
Airlines’ content is presented to the agency channel in accordance with the principles of neutral display – that is, the logic behind flight display is not linked to the GDS’s commercial interests. The agents use the GDS because it offers the clearest possible view of the options available, and includes the greatest range of content in a single display. However, airlines must differentiate their product using criteria other than price and schedule.
In the Amadeus system, airlines can choose to display their flight features, such as 180 degrees flat bed in business class, when agents look at a their particular flight. Travel agents find this particularly useful, as any extra information will help them reinforce their travel consultant role.
How travel agency loyalty can help airlines
Customers in Middle Eastern markets will often select the travel agency channel over direct sales channels, which allows travel agencies to develop an established relationship with them and cater to their specific preferences. However, airlines can also influence this customer base and encourage loyalty around their own brands through merchandising efforts at travel agency and individual customer levels, such as tailored campaigns or relevant offers to a particular segment of the market.
In order to understand where airlines should invest their marketing efforts, it’s important to compare their strategy with the current dynamics of the market this wish to address, asking questions such as: which types of agencies make bookings on my airline or on my competitor? And what are the opportunities I can generate by targeting the currently under-represented travel agencies? Airlines can then target specific campaigns to specific travel agency segments.
Other factors that airlines should consider
It’s important for airlines to have a clear set of travel agency target segments in mind and build relationships with them. Some of the most successful airlines view travel agents as an extension of their team and empower them accordingly. Airlines should not underestimate the importance of establishing proper marketing communications with the travel agents that sell their products. The more information that is provided, the more effectively an agent can sell (and indeed upsell) the airline’s products.
Antoine Medawar is vice president of Amadeus in the Middle East and North Africa.