A reality check for airlines and the direct channel

Look beyond websites to the digital behaviour of 16 year olds for clues to where mobile travel booking is headed.

The mobile travel industry has been gathering momentum for two or three years yet many airlines don’t have a mobile app or website optimised for mobile.

In addition, there’s now a “whole other revolution going on in conversational AI and voice recognition.”

These were the words of Skyscanner commercial chief Frank Skivington who says of the top 150 airlines in the world only 77 have a mobile application and of those, only 30 are native apps.

He adds that only 60% of the top 150 airline websites are mobile optimised.

“That’s a really shitty user experience at an industry level.”

Speaking during the recent ACTE/CAPA event in Amsterdam, Skivington says its refreshing to see airlines such as KLM investing in chat services but that for most the reality is different.

He adds that going forward airlines need to think of the direct channel as wider than their own websites.

“When distribution people in airlines speak about the direct channel what they mean is airline.com and everything else is indirect.

“If I ask Siri for flight information from Amsterdam to Glasgow, I will be able to book that flight, it will grab my credit card details, drop the ticket into a mobile wallet and the reservation straight into the airline’s reservation system.

“What’s that? It’s a direct sale. I haven’t touched your website. There’s a continuum now of channels that the airline industry has to embrace as direct.”

Skivington says while mobile is here and now, airlines need to start planning for how the 16 year old is going to be booking because he or she “is not going to be going anywhere near your website.”

He adds that it’s not only about users, companies also need to think about technology engineers who will look to develop software based on what they use themselves.

This is why Skyscanner has been investing in voice recognition via Amazon Echo and chat services.

As part of the same panel on disruptive technologies, CarTrawler tech chief Bobby Healy, says that not only are consumers shifting to mobile, they exhibit different behaviour, which is challenging for airlines.

“When we look at some of our airlines in Europe and Asia, the traffic shift is happening so quickly. We’re ready from a technology point of view but we’re a B2B businesss, the challenge is getting the airline to be an innovation partner with us.”

Healy adds that chatbots will be huge, pointing to current trends in South-east Asia and China where they are already at critical mass.

Related reading:

Chat is where it’s at for KLM as it finds customers on new platforms 

NB: Mobile travel image via BigStock.

NB2: Reporter’s attendance at the event was supported by Travelport.

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About the Writer :: Linda Fox

Linda worked at tnooz from September 2011 to June 2018 in roles including senior reporter, deputy editor and managing editor.



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  1. Alexander v. Bernstorff

    I agree mobile experience with airlines is poor. Our own NDC prototype is actually mobile only and we believe a website is mostly marketing/advertisement space the airline may want to use. Usability is dominated by mobile, and NDC makes a big contribution to that.

    But what I’m puzzled about is the statement about direct/indirect. Assumed Apple/Siri is not processing my shop & order for free, where’s the difference of this use-case compared to walking into a travel agency? They will take my order and use their reservation system to place the booking in the airline’s reservation system. Is the difference that no GDS is being used? This will need a particular (and not very common) definition of what a GDS is, because otherwise, what is then an airline.com booking of an Amadeus/Sabre hosted airline?

    The point I am trying to make is that airline distribution is not that easy, and this is particularly so because of the broken business model and market structure. Providers and other players should not tell airlines that everything that does not incur a GDS booking fee is direct distribution. There’s much more to it and my experience during 10 years in distribution and corporate strategy at a major airline I’ve seen many trying to relocate the GDS booking fee away from the GDS ant straight into their pockets. Which is OK if there’s added value, but it should not come under a “the new world of direct distribution” banner.

  2. Bobby Healy

    Healy, not Healey 😉

    Great article Linda.


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