While some Airlines — Delta Air Lines, US Airways/America West, and Southwest Airlines, for example — have eliminated or scaled back their group and meeting services, a number of carriers are adding online tools that enhance or replace their meeting departments.
Delta, which eliminated its meeting department and meeting fares early last year, has an automated group-booking tool under development. It had planned to implement the service early this year, but the process “has been put on hold for now as we focus on our restructuring and transformation plan,” says Delta spokeswoman Gina Loughlin.
Both American and Continental Airlines have maintained active meeting and group desks but continue to look for ways to complement those services, including new online features. Last year, Continental revamped its MeetingWorks program with an online tool for booking and tracking group business, and American Airlines has been enhancing its meeting program with new online products as well, according to Mary Butler, American's product marketing manager, groups and meetings.
As an example, Butler points to a new system that allows planners to use a code to identify appropriate pricing andinformation online without having to go through the meeting desk.
Low-cost carriers are moving online as well. Southwest Airlines, which eliminated its meeting program in November 2003, has since implemented Swabiz. By tracking air spending, the new system enables planners “to manage and lower costs, and better understand where that money is being spent,” says Rob Brown, Southwest's director of sales and multicultural marketing
Alaska Airlines, in conjunction with Horizon Air, has just implemented online group booking, and Frontier Airlines is revamping its Web site, which will add an online meeting-booking tool when it comes online later this spring.
With so many airlines hurting financially, it should be no surprise that they are turning to the Web for relief, says Kevin Mitchell, chairman of the Business Travel Coalition. “Right now the airlines are in lockstep — cut, cut, cut,” he says. “Once the economics turn around — assuming they do — and airlines have more to spend, they'll see that there's market share to be gained by dealing with market niches a little differently. Perhaps that will mean augmenting a Web-based program with other programs that may require hiring — things like meeting programs that have been cut can still easily come back.”