Airlines Pay House Calls to Businesses

Meetings & Conventions: Newsline newsline.gif (8042 bytes)   CORPORATE SEMINARS AIM TO EASE TRAVELERS’ FEARS
Airlines Pay House Calls to Businesses
Going courting:
A Delta pilot and a flight attendant talk with Invesco CFO David Hartley (center). While air travel woes seem to be easing, the major carriers are continuing their aggressive program to woo back business travelers sometimes face to face.

In the months following Sept. 11, American Airlines, Continental Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines and US Airways, among others, all held seminars with their corporate clients to talk about security changes and to assuage lingering travel fears.

“Our format has officers giving a 10-minute overview of changes, then opening it up for questions and answers,” said Houston-based Continental regional sales manager Joe Pizzitola. “Earlier on, we were reassuring clients. Now they want facts, such as what is the new legislation.”

Continental held 219 seminars at corporate headquarters around the United States to drum up sales in the last quarter of 2001. Another 233 functions are planned for the first quarter of 2002, according to Pizzitola.

Similarly, Delta has 1,174 volunteer speakers meeting with 6,840 corporate workers to answer questions about the carrier’s new policies, said a spokesperson.

For the airlines, the effort is expected to pay for itself by bolstering sales. Business travel represents about 43 percent of the airline industry’s consumer base, said Chris Tarry, an airline analyst with Commerz Bank in London. But even more crucial is how much business travelers pay for their tickets often several times more than leisure travelers.

A Rosenbluth International branch in Boston has run three forums for corporate clients, said Michelle Borelli, account manager for the travel agency. “We have airline representatives talk about their processes before Sept. 11, and how they’ve done a complete turnaround since,” said Borelli.

Clients were growing more comfortable with the notion of flying by early December, said Borelli. “We are likely to see leisure traffic come back first,” said Tarry. “Business travel is more dependent on the economy.”

As leisure travel fares returned to near-normal levels in December, Continental, among other carriers, extended deadlines on business fare sales well into 2002. Its “Back to Business” program offered up to 50 percent off on tickets purchased 21 days in advance.

An October survey by the International Air Transport Association of more than 1,000 business travelers found 36 percent expected business travel budgets to fall due to the Sept. 11 attacks. However, 57 percent expected normalcy to return within six months.


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