One year ago, Travelport and Southwest reached a ground-breaking new milestone together, with the airline going live as a full GDS participant. This game-changing move was a reflection of Southwest’s desire to better service their existing customers, and reach more business travelers.
Senior Manager of Strategy and Relations at Southwest, Eric Hall, told us about how this helped 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.
Historically, Southwest was known for its determined focus on direct distribution. But they began to realize that it was time for a change.
Feedback from travel management companies (TMCs) has been that direct isn’t always the best way to do business. For example, Southwest not being a full GDS participant meant that agents had to pick up the phone and call to modify bookings, which created delays in their workflow. Equally, limited access to content meant that 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. After becoming a full GDS participant with Travelport last May, the airline can now better service existing customers, and get more access to new high-yield customers.
“The main goal of this project for years has been to deliver better solutions for customers, with a priority around business travel,” said Eric. “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”.
For TMCs, this means agents can now access all of Southwest’s fare families and manage tickets within a single workflow, significantly reducing the need for manual intervention.
The process for full participation began in Autumn 2019 but came to fruition last year, at a time when efficiency had never been so important. By enabling full content with Travelport, Southwest is now set up to emerge from the pandemic stronger than ever.
“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,” said Eric. “Our goal is to make all of our fare families available via the GDS, and then provide access to TMCs to manage those tickets.”
Southwest’s immediate focus is to retail more of its existing products through Travelport, and then ultimately get EarlyBird Check-In® available on the platform as an ancillary cross-sell option. The other net benefit for Travelport agency customers is that Southwest’s international destinations are now available in the GDS.
“The term ‘game-changer’ has been used by us at Southwest, as well as by agencies,” said Eric. “This success has been lauded by our executive team as ‘possibly one of our best enterprise technical releases ever.’ And we did so in a quarantine world, via a virtual command center.”
As a full GDS participant, Southwest has been 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 is particularly useful for communicating with travelers about what they can expect when flying with the airline going forward.
A winning partnership
Travelport and Southwest’s partnership began over a decade ago, and being the first GDS to offer full Southwest content was a proud moment for us. It’s a reflection of the journey we have shared, and the strong relationship that exists between us.
“Travelport has always been more flexible and easier to talk to than some of the other competitors in this space,” said Eric. “Its people always look to do things differently, and keep agents in mind.”