Airlines think they are merchandising, but UATP conference speakers beg to differ

April 25, 2012

ATW Air Transport World

By Michele McDonald, 4 April 2012

For several years, airlines have yearned to adopt “merchandising,” a term that is applied indiscriminately to everything from fare families to checked-bag fees. Depending on who is doing the talking, they are held back by their own systems, which don’t easily accommodate innovations in how products are sold, or by the global distribution systems, which some airlines accuse of dragging their feet on investment in new technology.

But Montie Brewer, former chief executive officer of Air Canada, adds another reason that airlines are held back: When it comes to merchandising, they haven’t got a clue. “Airlines are terrible merchandisers,” he said. “They don’t even know what the word means.”

Brewer, who participated in a panel discussion of merchandising at the UATP Airline Distribution Conference in Madrid, said airlines “are so far into the Dark Ages about what we are really selling.” The key factor, he said, is that “they see it as a revenue stream instead of differentiation.”

… Aidan Brogan, senior vice president global sales at Datalex, said airlines are missing out on untold numbers of opportunities to give customers what they really want. They could, for example, work with other companies to package the real essentials of a trip.

“Yesterday, I parked my car at the airport,” he said. “Then I went to Starbucks. But the airline only got the air fare.”

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