Lufthansa's Share Of U.K. TMC Bookings Declines, Lufthansa Trumpets Direct Gains

Lufthansa German Airline's booking share among United Kingdom-based corporate travel agencies fell 8.5 percentage points following the enactment of its global distribution system surcharge in September, according to data the Guild of Travel Management Companies released Thursday.

Lufthansa offered up counter data highlighting that its direct booking share had risen 6 percentage points in the second half of last year. Thus continues the back-and-forth debate of the impact of the company's distribution strategy.

Travel data and IT firm 7r Group compiled the figures for GTMC, based on 12,000 transactions on United Kingdom-Germany flights that the association's agency members booked between June (when Lufthansa announced the surcharge) and November.

"In June, Lufthansa's market share was 32.9 percent compared to 24.4 percent in November," noted GTMC. "When compared to rival airlines flying from all U.K. ports to all German ports during this time, the other carriers either matched or increased their market share." For example, GTMC noted share gains for easyJet, while British Airways' share held steady.

To GTMC, the latest data show "that TMCs have switched business away from the airline group to avoid passing on the charge to their customers."

Lufthansa countered that the figures "only represent the volume of bookings made though the GTMC channels and do not take account of increases in the bookings through other channels," according to a statement.

Ever since enacting the charge, Lufthansa executives have downplayed its impact on the company's business while other players, including GDSs and agencies, have offered figures and statements supporting a loss of share among travel agencies.

In November, Lufthansa chairman and CEO Carsten Spohr acknowledged that "some customers in some channels" were down but trumpeted significant direct booking growth. That was a couple weeks after he reported "some headwinds" in bookings in non-home markets while calling the impact of the surcharge imitative on the third quarter's bottom line "neutral."

This week, Lufthansa said booking share on its website rose from 29 percent in June to 35 percent in December. The Lufthansa Group, which also includes Swiss International Air Lines and Austrian Airlines, has waived surcharges for bookings made on carrier websites and the company's travel agent portal.

"Looking at bookings across the Lufthansa Group, we cannot see any decrease due to the introduction of the [distribution cost charge] on Sept. 1, 2015," the airline claimed in a statement. "As published in our Q3 results, the Lufthansa Group is heading towards a record in 2015."

Indeed, Lufthansa Group set a new record for passenger volume last year. For December, Lufthansa German Airlines passenger volume rose 4 percent year over year, and volume across the airline group rose 2 percent year over year (Swiss and Austrian posted year-over-year declines for the month). Further, Lufthansa this week insisted "published traffic figures for the later months of 2015 were influenced by the biggest and longest strike action in the Lufthansa history."

Meanwhile, "the Lufthansa Group continues to make a huge effort to establish modern and alternative distribution channels, which will provide a direct connection to the offer of the Lufthansa Group," according to its statement this week.