As Phat Data evolves, our 2020 focus takes a deeper dive into the world of our suppliers. In particular, the airline space is intense and chock full of data. With so much information at their fingertips, how do carriers determine their strategies around the types of data to capture and, in turn, what they should be delivering to the marketplace?

For one airline, the approach they take to their strategy is what they call a “customers-focus first.” In a recent interview with Chris Gamman, senior manager, corporate sales operations at American Airlines, he stated that often the inclination is to “dive into the data first before considering the customer relationship.” However, he says, the approach that American takes is to “better understand the customer relationship first and then use the data to uncover insights about that collaboration.”

This approach also supports the frontline account managers who are seeking to continually grow the overall value of the relationship between the corporate buyer and the airline. Scott Sirianni, regional director of sales and service for American works closely with Chris and team to help them understand the voice of the customer.

Data Management

One of the biggest challenges is that “there are different versions of the data: Prism, agency, corporations, consultants,” Scott says, adding that “finding the ability to compare apples to apples is hard, but we understand that our customers want and need this.”

As Chris notes, “Being able to leverage data tools to support both our internal and external customers is at the forefront for American.”

All three major US carriers have invested heavily in the development of online tools to help deliver program performance data. Each is striving to deliver it in near real time. However there is still a lot of work to be done to get data out to customers in real time; nonetheless, the airlines are certainly focused on getting there.

This is important for travel buyers, because without real time airline data, it is nearly impossible to take action on the information until it is too late. With so many targets and market share commitments, not knowing until months after the fact that you didn’t hit the target is frustrating for buyers and airlines alike. Having this insight into airline contract performance when it’s needed enhances the overall value of the partnership.

Now buyers no longer have to wait for a quarterly business review. They can simply log into the carrier’s business-focused portal to how their contract is performing and the overall contract value. So being able to deliver on the actionable data is mission critical for the buyer and for the airlines.

If something seems awry, buyers can take steps to rectify the issue. Whether the problem is lane preferencing in a booking tool, or addressing service issues in a timely manner, buyers have more actionable and relevant data than ever before, right at their fingertips.

For American Airlines, the delivery of “faster timelier, more reliable data is growing, and it is getting stronger and stronger every day,” Chris says. “This allows American to support our customers’ stories.” Buyers, these are your stories, so the more conversations you have with your airline partners, the better it is for both parties. Allowing airlines to have a better understanding of your managed travel program objectives gives them the ability to provide you the data that you need to tell your story.

Focus on Traveler Experience 
While there is a lot of emphasis on corporate buyers and delivering the right data to them, the airlines know that the corporate traveler is their most valued customer. Understanding those travelers and designing products and services to offer them is critical both to maximizing the traveler experience and generating additional revenue opportunities for the airline.

The business proposition is no longer about just getting a seat filled; it’s about offering value to these precious travelers. IATA’s New Distribution Capabilities standard is probably going to blow the doors off the airline industry’s ability to truly sell value. “Our ability to sell the right products to the right travelers at the right time will enable American to more effectively enhance the traveler’s experience,” says Scott. “This brings us a whole new data set that we can bring to the travel buyer community. It’s powerful and will truly enhance the value of the relationship.”

Giving the corporate traveler more choice, recognizing the corporation’s policy and supporting it, designing offerings that really are logical and cost effective – all will be driven by NDC. The result will be the creation of a whole new set of Phat Data that the airlines and the travel buyers can use to tell new stories about their program.

The coming changes will validate a lot of what buyers already believe to be true: It [ital] is [end ital] about the traveler’s experience, and travelers will seek out ways to enhance their journeys and still remain compliant. It is a balancing act, however, as the buyer’s ability to control and enhance the experience becomes more dynamic and fluid in a changing and more complex distribution model.

The fact is, airlines do have more data than ever and so must be included as a strategic partner in the development of the story for the travel buyer. Whether you want to see how many free seats, bags, upgrades, or whatever you’re getting, or you’re tracking contract performance or service recovery, the airlines are keenly focused on making that easier for travel buyers and are striving to deliver more and more valuable data every day.

Buyers, as you build out your Phat Data strategy, ensure that you are not only considering the data you currently have available to you today from your airline partners, but what would you like to see tomorrow and how things like NDC can help you achieve those goals.

The distribution landscape is changing, and what’s coming will deliver completely new insights into your travelers’ buying behaviors. When combined with the new tools and technologies that are coming to assist in the aggregation and delivery of the information, suddenly the buyer’s ability to become more strategic and the airlines ability to become more valuable. The outcome will completely change the buyer-supplier relationship in the very near future.

Now that is Phat!

Next Month: Suppliers Perspective: Ground Transportation

Jennifer Steinke is Global Head of Travel for PPD, Inc., and an industry thought leader with over 30 years experience managing corporate travel. She holds an MBA plus Certified Corporate Travel Executive (CCTE) and Global Travel Professional (GTP) certifications from GBTA. Jennifer strives to deliver innovative and thought provoking ideas to the corporate travel industry.