American Airlines will have an online group bookings platform fully operational for U.S.- and Canada-based travel advisors during the first half of 2021.
The platform, which is already operational for select travel advisors with European points of sales, "provides real-time visibility into every aspect of a group's itinerary and access to modify bookings 24/7," American said. It will also offer quick itinerary quotes and the ability for travel agents to place a 14-day hold on reservations.
The platform will replace American's current process for agency bookings of groups of 10 or more, which is mostly handled via phone. American also currently offers a basic group booking online platform for price quotes. Receiving price quotes can sometimes take days, said Kyle Mabry, American's global head of leisure, groups and middle-market sales. And once a group booking is made, agents must speak with representatives by phone to make updates, such as adding or removing names from the manifest.
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"The reason we are excited about this is we are taking what is a clunky process for agents and making it much easier to shop and to book and to manage that process," Mabry said.
American will roll out the platform in stages beginning Oct. 26. On that date, the carrier's in-house booking agents will be able to use the platform themselves on calls with travel advisors, giving advisors access to faster price quotes.
Early next year, said Mabry, American will begin training agencies on how to use the platform. That will be followed by the rollout of the system for agents later in the first half of 2021.
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The launch announcement comes as the Covid-19 pandemic has decimated demand for group travel. The market, Mabry said, is down to a similar degree that corporate travel is down.
The number of corporate ticket segments sold through the U.S. agency channel was down 85.7% year over year for the week that ended Oct. 11, according to ARC.
Mabry said the platform was already in trial for Europe points of sales before the pandemic began.
American, he said, expects group travel to bounce back at a similar pace to corporate travel.
Features of the platform include:
• The ability to review terms and conditions and accept quotes when ready.
• An improved process to modify existing quotes and bookings and re-quote a group trip.
• Automatic reminders for key important deadlines to accept quotes, enter traveler names and ticket travel.
• Automatic free seat assignments.
"We're really excited to get this out into the marketplace and we think it is going to be a great experience for our customers," Mabry said.