Southwest went live on May 4 with full content for travel management companies (TMCs) in Travelport's Worldspan and Apollo GDSs -- the airline's first full-participation GDS offering. Southwest president Tom Nealon and Travelport CEO Greg Webb recently connected online to talk about the partnership. Here are excerpts from that conversation, which was provided exclusively to Travel Weekly by Travelport.
Reason behind the launch
Nealon: For our nearly 50-year existence, Southwest has been a business traveler-minded airline, with our point-to-point network, high frequencies, low fares and exceptional hospitality. As we began working on our road map for the future, we really focused in on our business travel segment and seeing what we could do to win more customers. What we found was many of our processes were outdated and created enough friction that caused some to book away from Southwest. We started asking ourselves, "What do we need to do today to remove those pain points?" Where we landed was a brand refresh with a new name, Southwest Business, dedicating resources to update our direct booking tool, Swabiz, and investing in industry-standard GDS tools that would make it easier for a corporate travel manager or travel management company to book Southwest.
Why Southwest led with Travelport
Nealon: When we first started having conversations with the Travelport team, they instantly got what we were looking for in a partner -- fair, honest and a company with similar values to Southwest. By partnering with Travelport, we're able to reach more business travelers than we'd ever be able to do on our own. To prepare for this launch, we've grown our teams, including standing up a TMC Relations group, so that we can provide the highest level of hospitality to our new and existing customers. We're looking forward to showcasing Southwest's high frequency and low fares to more travelers thanks to our new GDS participation.
Full participation capabilities
Webb: Travelport provides exclusive access to Southwest Airlines' full range of content, including flights and ancillaries. With our Branded Fares and Ancillaries retail capability, our customers will have detailed descriptions of fare families and their inclusions all in one place, making it easier for them to shop, price, book, upsell and add-sell options in a single workflow.
Southwest being a full Travelport GDS participant also means enhanced and faster after-sale capabilities, all done within the Smartpoint platform. Agents will no longer have to deal with a fractured booking process for their Southwest business reservations, and this will ease the client servicing process, help reduce errors, save time while processing automated exchanges with Rapid Reprice or processing regular refunds and Miscellaneous Change Order residual value.
Providing efficiency for agencies when business travel returns
Nealon: As regions begin to ease travel restrictions, we want to be in a position to welcome business travelers back with heart and a new level of service travel managers never had. Thanks to the partnership with Travelport, we'll be in a position to make that possible and make it easier for organizations to book travelers on Southwest. When we set out on this project last year, we wanted to remove pain points and areas of friction, and I'm proud to say we've accomplished just that. Thanks to our partnership with Travelport, customers using Apollo and Worldspan will now be able to book and modify their travelers' plans without ever picking up the phone.
Webb: Until now, content access to Southwest has been fractured, which has a direct impact on the agency productivity and revenue. Agents must go through a painful and time-consuming booking process from searching flights to sending invoice information to the back office. After-sale servicing requires them to contact Southwest directly for anything related to exchanges, refunds, special requests, etc. All these inefficiencies are taking the agents away from selling and generating extra revenue for the agency and Southwest. As well, since special booking processes will no longer be required for those reservations anymore, there should be no additional training required for agents.
On the future
Nealon: We're really focused on welcoming new TMCs to the Southwest family, and even corporate buyers who never thought Southwest would have an industry-standard GDS agreement. This is an exciting time for the industry, and we're looking forward to bringing the Southwest Effect to this space.
Webb: We're very aware that businesses across the travel ecosystem are all facing challenges that none of us have ever seen before, and at Travelport, we're doing everything we can to support our customers through this time. To ensure that we can all emerge stronger when we enter into the recovery phase, we're enhancing our capabilities to give our customers what they need: access to the best, enriched content so that they can offer the best possible service and support to travelers.
Correction: An earlier version of this report incorrectly used the term "full content" to describe the agreement; it is full participation, meaning GDS users have access like booking, modifying and canceling Southwest tickets and settling through ARC.