In June, Lufthansa became the latest travel supplier to launch what I believe to be a commercially catastrophic distribution strategy that tries to coerce the consumer to book direct, and highlights just how out of touch the airline is with the evolving world of distribution in a mobile-first world.
How many weather apps do you have on your mobile phone? One. How many email apps do you have on your mobile phone? One. How many calendar apps do you have on your mobile phone? One. How many travel apps does the consumer really want on their mobile phone? One.
And that's the crux of it: consumers want to use their preferred travel app or web site to shop for travel products. They don't want to go to lh.com to book their flight, then Marriott.com to book their hotel, then somewhere else to book something else.
Why have meta search engines such as Skyscanner taken off like a rocket? Because they deliver the convenience and user experience that the consumer craves. And you can bet your bottom dollar that as Skyscanner and their pals start to integrate booking flows into their sites, referrals to supplier sites are going to drop off a cliff__because the user experience of getting the job done entirely on the consumer's site of choice is going to win, every time.
Back to Lufthansa. They're not the only ones stuck in this "silly phase" of trying to coerce customers to book direct with them by penalising them if they book elsewhere. We also have Marriott trying it on by offering free wifi only to customers booking direct with them.
But whenever I stay in Marriott, I now just use the personal hotspot feature of my phone. Hence they're not winning__in fact, they're losing, because my user experience when staying at Marriott sucks when compared to Hilton, or Holiday Inn, or any of the gazillion other hotels that offer free wifi, because it's an added annoyance to my stay that I have to faff around with the hotspot.
Is it going to make me book direct with Marriott? Of course not. Because it's far more inconvenient to break away from my preferred app than it is to sort out the hotspot.
Travel suppliers need to wake up to two fundamental shifts in the world of distribution:
1: The future of distribution lies in APIs (tools for building software applications, used for sharing content and data between communities and applications). They need to publish APIs that will enable them to bring their content closer to the consumer, by plugging in directly to the consumer's app of choice, thereby cutting out huge swathes of distribution cost such that the cost of sales is far lower than they could ever hope to achieve through marketing, advertising and sales gimmicks that try and lure consumers to buy direct.
2: They need to understand and accept that customers have different needs and preferences, not only when it comes to which cabin they sit in or room they stay in, but also with regard to the tools and processes they prefer when researching and booking travel, hence the customer experience during this phase is highly likely to be shared with third parties. We all need to work better together so that we can jointly delight the customer.
Lufthansa clearly don't recognise either of these fundamental shifts. They don't have an API strategy to speak of, and they are seemingly arrogant enough to think they can dictate to their customers where they should buy their product and penalise them if they don't comply.
It's nothing short of madness.
Simon McLean is the managing director and co-founder of United Kingdom-based Click Travel. This post originally was published on the travel management company's blog and is reprinted here with permission.