Flying high for meetings

Features

Ask most meeting planners about the process of booking group flights with airlines and you will be met with negative feedback. Common complaints include: “there are not enough airlines that offer a dedicated service for the MICE industry”, “many air operators don’t understand how business events operate”, “it is difficult for us to get groups of 100 to 150 out on the same flight”. 

Reed Travel Exhibitions (RTE) works with BCD Meetings and Incentives to coordinate all of its flights for the EIBTM Hosted Buyer Programme. With around 4,000 hosted buyers attending meetings tradeshow EIBTM in Barcelona, Spain, from across the globe each year “it is a very time consuming process and, as with any large-scale project, there are always some challenges, which our hosted buyer team are dedicated to resolving,” according to June Clark, Manager of RTE’s Hosted Buyer Programme.

“One of the issues we are faced with is the lack of flexibility when it comes to making group bookings,” said Clark. “Certain group bookings run from a Saturday and as our buyers fly specifically for business on a weekday, agreeing suitable group flight bookings can be a challenge.

Group bookings can also be affected by a delay in response from airlines as certain requests for group seats from particular providers have to be passed to regional head offices for approval.

“However, many of the airlines we work with have strong UK-based group departments, which usually alleviates the time pressure considerably,” she added.

“One of the other challenges we face are the terms and conditions, which are set around group bookings. Some specify that only the return leg of the group flight can be amended and sometimes that can cause problems when it comes to amending bookings.”

David Weir, CEO of Golden Carrot Australia, founded in 2008, organises reward programmes for businesses and individuals. He said: “Our number one problem when group booking flights is helping our clients come to terms with all the rules and subsequent fees that airlines charge. Every airline has its own set of rules and clients get frustrated by the varying conditions between airlines.”

When CMW asked meeting planners which airlines are most geared towards accommodating MICE programmes, Lufthansa was singled out as being supportive and offering a range of discounted published fares for groups and good flexibility on deviations. Air France and KLM, Swiss International, Air Portugal and British Airways were also found to go out of their way to help.

Challenging economy

Due to challenging economic circumstances some airlines have reduced their schedules, which poses problems for planners in particular countries.

Maureen Brennan, CEO of Incentive Connect International, founded in 2006, supports planners and organisers of incentive trips worldwide.

She said: “Demand for destinations with direct air links can boost a destination’s ability to host
an incentive programme in their region and attractive airline packages are making many destinations even more appealing.

“There are some great airlines in the Asia Pacific region flying to traditional and emerging destinations, and incentive planners are thirsty for new places to host their programmes,” she said.

“They used to go to neighbouring countries but now they want to go further, and with such a diverse range of airline product to choose from a host destination really needs to captivate the interest of the planner,” she added.

LOT (Polish Airlines) has added flights to its schedule during EIBTM, “purely for the benefit of
our EIBTM Hosted Buyers and we also work with Air Charter, who schedule a dedicated flight from Gatwick each year to ensure more flexibility for our UK Hosted Buyers travelling to the show”, said Clark.

South African Airways (SAA) recently launched a MICE division. “We are looking at how we can
better target events for destination South Africa, and partner with relevant stakeholders from a flight and pricing perspective,” said Sean Bradley, Global Trade and Product Support Manager SAA. SAA MICE division was formed to better meet the needs of this market segment, offering competitive fare levels to the meetings industry with the flexibility required by delegates.

Bradley said SAA has recognised the growth potential in business tourism globally and is strengthening its partnerships with South African Tourism (SAT) and the new National Convention Bureau (NCB) to better service the MICE market and attract meetings business.

“We are looking at how we can better target international meetings for destination South Africa, and partner with relevant stakeholders from a flight and pricing perspective,” he said.

SAA has taken its published fares and linked discount structures across various fare classes to create its MICE fares. “The reason we’ve used our published fares is that they offer
far greater flexibility in terms of fare rules than group or promotional fares,” Bradley explained.

“The validity periods for the MICE fares has also been extended to 14 days prior to and post an event. This will enable people attending MICE events in South Africa to extend their stay and explore the country, thereby also benefiting the tourism industry,” he added.

Singapore Airlines is the world’s most awarded airline. In 2011 it won MICE Magazine China’s MICE Golden Chair award for Best Airline, it also scooped the Frequent Business Traveler GlobeRunner Award for the Best Airline in the Asia Pacific.

The airline offers products designed to benefit event management companies.

“Through our group booking product we offer flexible ticketing and names deadlines and names do
not have to be known at the time of booking,” a Singapore Airlines spokesman told CMW. “We are
able to quote group fares from all our destinations including Silkair` s network (our regional arm serving destinations in SEA region) and for global events in SIN, a minumum of 10 person treshold on each flight does not have to be fulfilled.”

Through its MICE booking product it offers discounted fares for conference delegates travelling between UK and Singapore and two tiers for events below and over 50 people.

Lufthansa has a range of products including group fares, discounted rates on transient fares and a corporate scheme which allows passengers to accrue points which can be redeemed against future flights
which work well for corporate travel, according to Clark. “We are partnering with them for EIBTM to deliver group seats and also to offer special rates to our participants who arrange their travel independently,” she said.

“It is often the case that details of airline MICE promotions are very restricted so rather than special promotions, we would recommend that airlines offer a range of services for the MICE industry which are applicable regardless of route or time of year.”

Qatar

Qatar Airways capitalised on the connectivity of its expanding global network by launching a dedicated MICE programme recently, which it hopes will attract an increase in international and regional meetings on the carrier’s network.

The launch of the new dedicated programme followed the Doha-based airline becoming a member of the International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA).

Qatar Airways’ new MICE programme includes services such as meet and greet in Doha, preferential packages for groups, and a new MICE microsite: qatarairways.com/qmice.

Over recent years Qatar has benefited from state-of-the-art business facilities and five-star
hotels that encourage meeting planners and event organisers to do business in the country. Qatar Airway’s new routes and increased capacity on popular routes provide greater flexibility to business travellers and conference delegates, with the carrier now flying to 116 destinations, increasing to 170 destinations by 2015.

The new Qmice programme offers meeeting, incentive, conference or exhibition organisers the following benefits when they register their event: For events with 10 passengers or more, travelling in groups from multiple points of origin, MICE organisers can register their event with Qmice and receive preferred incentive group conditions, meet and greet, personalisation of groups, local arrangements, city tours, and side-trips by Qatar Airways Holidays/Discover Qatar and connections to local corporate sales teams.

For events with more than 100 passengers travelling individually from multiple points of origin, MICE organisers can register their event with Qmice and receive a bidding support letter, exclusive access to dedicated web pages on qatarairways.com with special conditions for registered events and their associated delegates and exhibitors, exclusive access to dedicated web pages which allows Qatar Airways to offer special fares on qatarairways.com for registered events and their associated delegates and exhibitors, benefits for the event management companies and professional congress organisers.

Despite some airlines choosing to launch specialist MICE departments to capitalise on events business, there still appears to be a long way to go before meeting planners are satisfied
with the service.

The main issue is that there is no one size fits all solution for planners when tasked with booking flights for MICE groups. Weir told CMW: “Our clients would love it if all the airlines would get together and agree to standardise the key conditions of group bookings.

“International airlines need to take a more international approach to convention fares and communication between their various international offices needs to improve,” he added.     

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Planner’s airline wishlist

  • Standardise the key conditionsof group bookings
  • Adopt a more international approach to convention fares
  • Improved communication between various airlines and their international offices
  • Look at the overall number of seats booked for an event, rather than the number of seats per Passenger Name Record (PNR). By focusing on thePNR, the airline’s terms and conditions aren’t recognising the total business the event gives them.
  • Improved discounts on published fares. Not all buyers fly on groupseats and we’d like to see more airlines recognising we are using their group fares and their transient fares.
  • More flexibility with the booking once it’s been ticketed.

This was first published in Issue 69 of CMW. Any comments? Email cmw@mashmedia.net

Conference & Meetings World is published for the international conference and meetings industry. It tackles the issues facing organisers of international events. The editorial is independent, fresh and news driven, with a global reach.

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