Bookings Down, Mobile and Branded Fares Way To Go, says Bailey.
Tuesday, 3rd February 2009
So how bad is bad? Robert Bailey, Abacus International's President & CEO, gives his reading of the regional travel market -
Abacus International finished 2008 with a seven percent drop in regional bookings compared with the previous year.

President & CEO Robert Bailey (right) said, "Travel bookings were fairly healthy in the first half of 2008 and started to take a slight dip sometime in May due to the surge in fuel prices. It then took a steeper decline in October as the financial market collapse.

"All markets have been affected by the crisis in one way or another and the two power engines of Asia, China and India were significantly affected by the downturn.

"Emerging markets in South Asia such as Myanmar and Kazakhstan and, on the North Asia front, South Korea have done remarkably well over the last few months."

He said that 2009 remained a challenging environment. "The forecasts by industry organisations do not bode well for 2009 with indications that Asia will not be immune to the global economic crisis.

"However, there are still some opportunities to be found within the region as more routes are liberalised and budget carriers increase their flights. For instance, the open-skies regulation between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur has brought about a considerable increase in passenger traffic.

"In addition, the corporate and online segments will continue to be two key segments of the market that require constant nurturing and development. Travel players will need to continue evolving their support to corporate travel as the market environment shifts and while the online segment has established a rather strong foothold in the region's travel market, there is still lots of potential for further growth."

Bailey sees mobile technology bringing a change in the way travel products and services are delivered across the industry. "The use of mobile technology had penetrated the China, India and Japan markets in phenomenal ways last year. With a total of 1.5 billion mobile subscribers across Asia Pacific, the sheer penetration makes mobile a powerful tool for interacting with consumers."

Abacus, which held its annual Kick-Off in January to update employees and partners of its plans for the year, has also outlined its key priorities for the year.

It aims to provide leadership and guidance to help the travel industry steer through an obvious slowdown. "Abacus has been in the region for 20 years and we believe we will be able to provide our suppliers and travel agencies with the necessary technology innovation, customer service support and extensive distribution reach."

It wants to help travel agencies to be more productive and cost efficient. "We will be doing more to help our travel suppliers and travel agent partners improve their productivity and reduce their operating costs by streamlining their business processes so that they will be able to capitalise on the eventual improvement. Recent surveys we have conducted with travel agents revealed that agencies wanted more automation in their business process during the current economic climate."

It will support its network of suppliers. "With our travel suppliers, we are working very closely with them to roll out promotions that will help fill their rooms, seats, etc. Some of the promotions that we are working with them on are mentioned above."

One initiative is making airlines branded fares available to its travel agencies. "Airlines in the US and Europe are already consciously developing these fares and in Asia, Malaysia Airlines has started a similar programme. It is a matter of time before other airlines adopt same or similar fare programmes.

"Branded fares allow airlines to upsell services or products to the travellers.  Branded Fare where air fares are grouped into various fare families with associated attributes. It helps differentiate their services and increases the chances of upselling by TA (increase their revenue). Airlines are also rolling out Ancillary Services, which also help them to increase their revenue and create more value add services and products as travellers can select services that suit their needs such as extra baggage allowance and pre-reserved seats."

At the Abacus Kick-Off, Bailey underscored the 4Ps of the company – people, presence, partnership and portfolio – which he said would stand it in good stead during these difficult times.

"Although the year had been tough with overall bookings dropping sharply towards the tail end of the year, Abacus had some shining moments.  We have seen growth in some of the markets, in particular the emerging markets in IndoChina and Central Asia. We have also been busy working with our industry partners to bring more even greater value and delivery of innovative solutions," he said.

WIT stands for Web In Travel. It is Asia's leading travel distribution, marketing and technology conference, set to take place in Singapore, October 20-23, 2009.

More details can be found at: www.webintravel.com
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