Scott Kirby, United Airlines
"It’s less about a distribution strategy; it’s more about a strategy of doing what’s right for the customer, which means the customer is ultimately better served by coming direct."
Quote from Scott Kirby, CEO of United Airlines, in an article on PhocusWire this week on travel executives' top priorities for the year.
Each Friday, PhocusWire dissects and debates an industry trend or new development covered by PhocusWire that week.
Every airline CEO and their distribution team wants more passengers to book direct - a strategy that carriers have yearned for over many decades.
This desire increased as digital services (i.e. the web) came on-stream with booking tools from the late-1990s - although many consumers will remember just how poor those early airline websites were for many years, at least compared to the online travel agencies that had the internet in their DNA.
Scott Kirby, of course, should be saying that the best for everyone is to come direct to the airline for bookings, services and information.
But the reality is far from simple.
Whether they like it or not, airlines need their intermediary partners to assist in filling their planes. That's the trade-off with losing the one-to-one relationship that they crave.
And, lest we forget, the ability to upsell
ancillary products is, some might argue, what the airlines really want to focus
on while OTAs and other agencies manage the basics of information around
checking-in and ticketing.
So this is where the discussion gets somewhat strange, as those with long(ish) memories will recall that the introduction of IATA's New Distribution Capability standard in the early 2010s was designed to allow intermediaries to do much of the ancillary activity that ordinarily happened on an airline's website.
Some OTAs are now doing exactly this, by way of their own NDC integrations with airlines or using global distribution system-run services.
The "pipe" was created to give intermediaries the ability to be airline-like in the way that they sold tickets and related ancillaries.
All that progress (of sorts) and hand-wringing for years has given way to some genuine progress in the airline distribution arena. So the rhetoric around still wanting consumers to book direct is, some might argue, unhelpful to the evolution of the technology so far.
Modern airline distribution, by its very nature, is collaborative and should - eventually - allow all parties in the food chain to serve customers in equal ways.
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