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BA vows to support travel trade

British Airways has pledged its support for the Middle East travel trade, despite declaring its overall goal to ramp up direct sales.

British Airways has pledged its support for the Middle East travel trade, despite declaring its overall goal to ramp up direct sales.

“We don’t want people to think that just because we have a target of 50% direct business [by the end of 2008], that it means we don’t want to work with the trade,” said Paul Starrs, who was appointed area commercial manager, Middle East & Pakistan for BA on June 1.

“Since I have been here and talked to the trade, many people have said our objective of increasing direct sales is anti-trade. But we do see a future for the trade. A very large majority of our business comes from the trade, and I forsee that will be the case in the short- and long-term.”

He emphasised that BA’s aim was to educate travel agents about how they could add value to customers in order to justify charging service fees.

“As the travel market matures and customers become increasingly value-driven, people will question what value they get when buying their travel,” he said.

“There are many ways to add value. If you take the emergence of the travel management company, [for example], it specialises in corporate travel and meeting people’s corporate travel objectives, whether that means adhering to a company’s corporate travel objectives, negotiating with airlines, supplying management information or the extension of credit terms.”

Since Starrs was appointed, he has restructured BA’s Middle East team into three key selling channels; corporate, trade and direct. He has appointed 14 staff on the trade team across three agent categories; those that drive large volumes and represent a substantial percentage of BA’s Middle East business; those with smaller portfolios; and the remaining agents will be dealt with by telephone account managers.

“This way every agent in the Middle East has a point of contact,” said Starrs.

Before moving to Dubai, Starrs held several UK and global sales roles with BA and helped develop the UK’s corporate and travel agent dealing processes during his seven-year tenure.

For a full interview with Starrs, see the November issue of ATN.

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