Airlines, it turns out and contrary to recent statistics, are pretty serious about beefing-up their own websites.
I say that somewhat facetiously because, of course, airline direct-to-consumer distribution has been a priority for years.
But, a new Air France-KLM Group agreement with iSeatz, the New Orleans-based technology company and inventory aggregator, symbolizes a renewed carrier push to, as iSeatz puts it, knock online travel agencies “further out of the food chain.”
Why would a traveler need to visit Opodo, Ebookers or lastminute.com if they can surf over to KLM.com, which is now using the iSeatz OneView platform, to offer consumers the Kempinski Hotels Dukes Palace in Bruges, and a rental car to go along with a Da Vinci Code Walking Tour in Paris?
At least that’s the feeling of many airline execs, who hope they will earn incremental revenue from non-air sales while keeping consumers loyal to their websites.
In using the iSeatz OneView platform, which is also used by Delta, Northwest, Air Canada, Southwest and several financial institutions, klm.com visitors can book or change reservations for this disparate-inventory mix in a single transaction, iSeatz states.
Incidentally, iSeatz is a technology company and aggregator, getting some of its hotel inventory directly and and some from businesses like booking.com, for instance, says founder and CEO Kenneth Purcell.
And, much more of this stuff OTA-like product is on the way for airline websites. Purcell tells me that iSeatz is in the process of implementing similar capabilities on Air France websites, and, also unannounced, is under contract to deliver its dynamic-packaging engine to a major US carrier.
In addition, the new Air France-KLM pact with iSeatz, its first foray into Europe, contains a provision that would enable it potentially to strike agreements with the group’s other airlines, including Martinair, Transavia, Brit Air, Transavia France, Regional Compagnie Aerienne Europeenne, CityJet, Alitalia, VLM Airlines and Kenya Airways, Purcell says.
As travelers know every time they check a bag these days, airlines are very bullish about finding ways to attract new revenue rivers. But, Purcell says, iSeatz faces an obstacle in convincing airlines to come on board.
“They are desperate for sources of ancillary revenue, but at the same time they don’t want to introduce anything in the shopping engine that would disrupt passengers from buying airline seats,” Purcell says. “That’s the biggest challenge we face with the airline industry.”
Of course, as you might expect, Purcell says he has the numbers to show that introducing iSeatz hotels, car rentals, airport transfers and destination activities on an airline website “has zero impact on core product sales.”
Meanwhile, airlines increasingly are giving a sympathetic ear to the noise about selling nonair products on their websites.
Much of the destination tour product and some of the other inventory iSeatz aggregates is unavailable in the global distribution systems, which feed travel agencies like Travelocity and Orbitz with inventory. So, airlines hope that their ability to offer these products on their own websites will give consumers another reason to visit the carriers’ websites without bothering with OTAs.
Thus, as airlines continue their uphill drive to knock OTAs off the roadway, I don’t think it was any accident that when Delta Airlines began using iSeatz technology in 2007, iSeatz replaced Expedia in that role.