Airlines and Travel Management Companies

I genuinely find it interesting to note that very little has changed over the years despite commission cuts/removal, direct sell and net fares. Airlines still need TMCs to sell their seats and TMCs are still just as much in need of airline funding. The essential metrics remain the same and it is only the methodology that has flexed to meet market changes.

 [more]This status quo has not changed despite intense efforts from airlines as they strive to find ways of getting corporations to book direct. The only trouble is they are not TMCs and can only offer individual booking service which represents a fraction of the whole TMC integrated package. Add to this their obvious bias to their own fares and flights and it becomes clear that unless they incur the cost and role change to embrace the total TMC product not much is going to change. It would not take them long to do the math that says it is cheaper to outsource to TMCs than transform themselves. In fact, if they really were smart they would outsource more of their own services, like reservations for example, to TMCs. Some years ago an airline did just that for a short time and discovered TMC staff took more calls and got better customer reaction than their normal service.

The relationship between airline and TMC can be a rather strange alliance. The only comparison I can think of comes from the animal world where the female praying mantis makes love with its mate and then tries to eat it! It can often be very turbulent and can be tracked by just how well the market is doing. When airline sales go up they start thinking "who needs these agents" and the cooperation and incentives go down. Partially as a result their market share starts dropping until they start thinking "hey, we better start being nice to these guys again." The result is a constant wavy line of highs, lows and then highs again. Some time someone is going to realise that some kind of continuity (say a mid point) between the highs and lows would provide better results.

Some corporations are puzzled that there is still a financial relationship at all despite market changes where they too pay the TMC. I cannot understand this as they are constantly driving down their payments to TMCs so the TMC has to make up the shortfall elsewhere within the supply chain. Also TMCs do all sorts of things for suppliers that have little direct influence on any particular corporation. These can be activities spanning access to staff, marketing, M.I. and exposure of special airline benefits. Despite this I still think airlines mainly 'incentivise' TMC to increase client volume and share and they are right to do so in my personal opinion.

So, in summary, TMCs still maintain the same (or possibly more) margins from airlines despite the onset of fees. The airlines want to stop it but have failed so far. The more corporations drive for commoditisation, net pricing et al, the more these incentives will grow. My recommendation to corporations is to let it happen. As long as you are getting what you need why try and influence other relationships.

I am sure everyone will agree!This post was syndicated from the blog of former managing director of HRG UK Mike Platt.