Working with the airline bosses. Travelstart 10 years of stories 3/30

 

When we
first started pi.jpgtching our ideas to airlines back in 1997 for an online travel
company no one in top management knew what we were talking about. I must confess
we didn’t really know what we were talking about either. Actually, my partner
thought we were going to start a GDS´s.

We had this
basic idea that everything in time to come would become digital. We thought
that especially flight distribution was ripe for selling over the Internet.  And that was our pi.jpgtch.  They all nodded and agreed and after
each meeting I felt like we were the amusement section of the day, before they
went back to “real” work.

We were legitimate
in our presumptions, after all flights had been a digitally distributed product
since the early 70´s. All travel agents used computers to sell flight inventory.
Now just take what you do and push it to the web. I had been using SABRE on CompuServe,
which was basically the same screen as the travel agents were using and I knew
the SABRE environment well. So making a booking there was a pi.jpgece of cake for
me. But how did everyone else do it? That process could be simplified and wuups
you had a bookable online travel tool.

After the
first online travel conference arranged by Jupi.jpgter Communications in Los Angeles
in 1997 I understood that our markets, which was Scandinavia, at the time was airlines
led by people who had no clue.  People whom didn´t WANT to have a clue.

In the US everyone
was planning major moves into the Internet. Travelocity was already happening
and Priceline was just about to kick off. Jay Walker, the Priceline founder,
told me about his concept and I loved the free spi.jpgrited American way of just seeing
endless opportunities

On my way
back I got so discouraged that I made a stop in London where I met with an
airline consultant. We had a chat about online distribution and I explained my
problems with the airline bosses. He was an ex British Airways guy and knew all
the ins and outs. He said something that I will never forget: “Dealing with airlines
is simple. Don’t bother them; you’ll just be wasting your time.  When you have volume they will come and
see YOU.” We started practice this very simply rule and it worked.

Airline
bosses of the network airlines are more involved in politics than in business.
Doing business is a sign of weakness, which is why it has been a walk in the
park for the low cost carriers of this world to enter the stage and start
stealing market shares and create new markets. Most airlines refused to even
meet with us especially SAS, until their useless pre Internet management got
sacked.

Sept 11 changed
airline bosses behaviour to a certain degree. But you will see that, in most
cases, were there is a successful airline, its either a start up or an airline
with new management. I’d say hardly no one in top management survived the
greatest opportunity of his or her careers pre Internet.

When we
finally got around to launch Travelstart there were so much commotions in the
industry that the airlines didn’t know in or out. Where we a friend or a foe?
KLM and Air France, especially, even though they were not under same ownership
as today, hated our guts. Swissair also. We were persona non grata.  What they refused to understand is that we
also issued ticket, answered weary customers calls, we also cleaned up the
airline mess of schedule changes. We provided a valuable service that customers
were willing to pay for.

Airlines
did everything to bully us. When people checked in at airports with tickets
from Travelstart the check in staff could say that we were unreliable. I was
furious but knew that there was nothing to do but show results. The one thing
airlines are interested in is volume, pax. There’s only one thing that’s more important
to an airline boss than amount of pax and that is what TYPE of pax. Is he
economy or business class? If you send them business class pax they will kiss
your dirty feet. But since 99% of online sales is economy class we all have to
make the numbers still they don’t kiss our feet.

Even though
we and our competitors started to fill the planes it took a mad Taliban like
Usama Bin Laden for the airlines bosses to cave in for the dangerous online
travel companies. And since then things have been a lot easier.

The
airlines and Online Travel agents now live in symbiosis. It´s a love hate
relationship since zero commission levels became reality.

OTA´s are
here to stay as long as people have more than one option where they are going.
And airline competition is not going away soon. It’s never been easier to start
an airline and some of the best start-ups are still to come. So a good airline
boss is a humble one.

Oh by the
way I finally got to meet SAS in 2000. They invited me as a guest speaker to
all their marketing people worldwide. They even paid me 3.000€ for the job.

Stephan-1

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