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The Game Changer

Why Southwest Airlines became a full GDS participant
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Customer: Southwest Airlines
Channel: Airline
Product: Smartpoint

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In May 2020, Travelport and Southwest reached a ground-breaking new milestone together, with the airline going live as a full GDS participant. This game-changing move is a reflection of Southwest’s desire to better service their existing customers, and to reach more business travelers.

Eric Hall, Senior manager, Strategy and Relations at Southwest, told us about how this will help the airline to achieve its goals, what the experience of partnering with Travelport was like, and how this will help to deliver more value from every booking.

New business solutions for Southwest

Better reach, better servicing

In the past, Southwest was known for its determined focus on direct distribution. But over time, the airline has experienced the internal mindset shift needed to bring about change.

Feedback from travel management companies (TMCs) has been that direct isn’t always the best way for them to do business. For example, Southwest not being a full GDS participant meant that agents had to pick up the phone to call in order to modify bookings, which created inefficiencies in their workflow. Equally, limited access to content meant that agency partner trust in the shopping and booking process was degraded and the full booking potential wasn’t being realized.

Southwest listened, and decided to adapt its distribution strategy to provide a better customer experience. By becoming full GDS participant with Travelport, the airline can now better service existing customers, plus get more access to new high-yield customers.

This is mutually beneficial for TMCs too, as agents can now access all of Southwest’s fare families and manage tickets within a single workflow via Travelport. This will significantly reduce the need for manual intervention compared to what was required when Southwest had minimal GDS participation — or ‘basic booking’.

Southwest Airlines Smartpoint screen

Eric noted “The main goal of this project for years has been to deliver better solutions for customers, with a priority around business travel. Technology’s just too good these days for basic booking to continue to make sense — there’s no reason to force agents to call us to change a ticket”.

Unlocking the true potential of agency sales

The implementation process for full participation began in Autumn 2019, but has come to fruition at a point in time where efficiency has never been so important. By enabling full content with Travelport, Southwest is set up to emerge from the COVID-19 crisis stronger than ever.

Southwest’s immediate focus is retailing more of its existing products through Travelport, and then ultimately getting EarlyBird Check-In® available on the platform as an ancillary cross-sell option. The other net benefit for Travelport agency customers is that Southwest international destinations are now available in the GDS for the first time.

As a full GDS participant, Southwest will be able to use Travelport’s Rich Content and Branding tool to communicate the value of its Wanna Get Away®, Anytime® and Business Select® offers to agencies. Southwest can also engage with agencies using a wide range of other features and tools available through Travelport. This will be particularly useful to communicate to travelers what they should expect when flying with the airline going forward.

“This GDS channel very specifically helps all of us rebound because it provides a much more efficient and cost-focused channel for travel agencies to use. Our goal is to make all of our fare families available via the GDS, and then provide access to TMCs to manage those tickets.”

The Partnership Experience

The flexible partner of choice

Travelport and Southwest’s partnership began over a decade ago, so being the first GDS to offer full Southwest content is a proud moment for Travelport. It’s a reflection of the journey we have shared, and the strong relationship that exists between us.

Commercially what this means is: agencies that use Travelport will be the first to benefit from the efficiencies now possible by full GDS participation, compared to basic booking. Our agencies will gain a significant competitive advantage, particularly in using the streamlined, industry standard payment process. In the short term, this will be extremely important for recovery, and will help to position for future growth.

‘Travelport has always been more flexible and easier to talk to than some of the other competitors in this space. Its people always look to do things differently, and keep agents in mind’.

Winning through collaborative working

Realizing full GDS participation was possible thanks to the hard work by the technology and commercial teams on both sides. The teams collaborated daily, over a period of months to achieve the end goal of getting Southwest live on Travelport — on time and on budget.

Speaking on the collaboration between the Southwest and Travelport teams, Eric said ‘We’ve never had that many people that focused on the GDS at Southwest — ever. When we worked with the Travelport team everything was nimble, everything was flexible. We were aligned on this being a priority for us all, and because everybody worked at the same speed, we delivered on time and on budget.’

Compatible culture fit

For an airline like Southwest — who had been staunch advocates of direct distribution — full GDS integration required more than just technological synergies. The process was underpinned by trust and mutual understanding.

Eric continued “Our companies look at culture in similar way — different spaces — but our teams are really proud to work for our well-respected brands. Our people are willing to think outside the box, and are always focused on the end-user as the main priority. I don’t think you get the technology roll-out like we did, and you certainly don’t get the press and the internal camaraderie unless there’s a true culture fit and true partnership at hand.”

Why this will be a game-changer for Southwest

Full GDS participation, including Rich Content and Branding for Southwest’s bundle products (Wanna Get Away, Anytime, Business Select), and support for cross-sell of EarlyBird Check-in, will allow agencies to accurately and transparently merchandise the Southwest retail offers in agent desktops and corporate booking tools.

Corporate travel managers will be able to shop, book, pay, and service customers for the entire journey, and create a user experience on par with Travelport will also deliver intelligence to Southwest to allow the airline to continue to evolve its indirect retail strategy.

As travel resumes, Travelport is excited to see the true benefit that becoming a full GDS participant will offer Southwest. From now on, the sky’s the limit for Southwest when it comes to reaching corporate travelers.

Travelport’s people always look to do things differently, and keep agents in mind
Eric Hall, Senior manager, Strategy and Relations at Southwest

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