Tuesday 7 June 2011

True value comes from honesty and transparency

A recent report by Ideaworks and Amadeus of 47 airlines worldwide reported an increase in ancillary revenue of 96 per cent on 2008 to €15 billion. Let me write that again - €15 billion. That’s a lot of money. It’s a good thing for the airlines because ancillary charging is viewed as a financial necessity, especially following the economic downturn. But it worries me what airline passengers may think as their opinions of ancillary charging – or unbundling as it’s also known – have been well documented in recent years.

Why they feel so negatively towards unbundling is interesting because, on the face of it, unbundling is a good thing for passengers too. It allows them to customise their journeys and pay for only the things they want. Be clever, and unmanaged travellers can even save money thanks to unbundling. Sadly, unbundling doesn’t currently have the same appeal for managed business travel as GDS technology doesn’t give buyers access to unbundling options.

So if it’s not price, and it’s not the increase in choice, what is it that passengers find so distasteful? Well, in my opinion, it’s our very natural fear of being taken for fools, of being cheated and ripped off. When unbundling first launched through the budget airlines, it was almost instantly referred to in the media as ‘hidden costs’ or ‘hidden charges’ and the press took it upon themselves to take up the mantle of consumer champion fighting for a cause most of us were unaware even existed.

It’s this word ‘hidden’ that’s key. Hide things from people – or just as bad, make claims that don’t stand up - and you cause a consumer revolution. I’m not talking about just airlines here. This goes for every industry, from hotels and holidays, to entertainment and exhibition organisers. Customers aren’t stupid and it’s suicidal of any business to treat them as such. Be transparent and honest and customers will feel they are being treated fairly, even if the end price, product and service are the same. And happy customers will, of course, reward you with loyalty, fairness and word of mouth recommendations in return.

Posted by David Chapple, event director, Business Travel & Meetings Show