British Airways nears launch of B2B portal

By Julia King, Computerworld |  Software

LONDON -- British Airways PLC (BA) is weeks away from launching a new
business-to-business Internet portal that will give it direct access for the first time
to the
highly lucrative $5.04 billion small business travel market in the U.K.

In an unusual twist, the $11.52 billion airline also is launching a twin version of
its new portal for use by UK travel agencies, which can co-brand
the technology to offer their mostly off-line customers Web-based services of their

The second version of the portal serves two purposes. First, it should take some of
the sting out of the disintermediation effect that direct access to BA by small
businesses is bound to have on UK travel agencies. Currently, more than 90% of
small-and midsize companies book their travel with BA through these agencies.

Second, it should help travel agencies move their existing customers online more
quickly. This would also benefit BA, which will require the agencies to funnel all
customer data they receive via the portal back to the airline. Eventually, BA plans to
use this highly-coveted data to develop and sell new personalized services such as
insurance, automated expense report management and credit cards.

"This lets us access and transact in markets that we've never been in before," said
Simon Parks-Smith, head of the company's business-to-business e-commerce unit.

"We'll get information about the kinds of travel small companies buy, their travel
habits, and how much their business is worth to BA," Parks-Smith said. "The intent is
to personalize and do one-to-one B2B marketing."

For their part, U.K. travel agencies that collect and forward the data "get a Web
presence they couldn't before afford," Parks-Smith said. They also will pay a
transaction fee of less than $4.32 per booking of flights and other services on the
portal, he said.

Going forward, Parks-Smith said the plan is to expand the portal globally, starting
with other English-speaking markets, including South Africa, Australia, Hong Kong and

In the U.S., small and medium-size companies already have direct access to British
Airways via a link into its reservation systems, built by San Francisco-based GetThere
Inc. Large corporate customers worldwide have direct business-to-business access to the
airline via some 170 private extranets, which generate more than 40,000 hits per week,
according to the airline.

Parks-Smith said the new portal took seven months and cost less than $1.44 million
to develop. The new system incorporates's online flight-booking engine.
The remainder of the system was developed at BA's 120-person dedicated e-commerce unit,
which was formed in April.

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