Since 2019, when it announced a new distribution strategy, Southwest Airlines had been in discussions with Sabre for enhanced global distribution system participation, to no avail. Though the carrier in 2020 inked deals with GDS operators Travelport and Amadeus to provide content and full distribution capabilities, it ended its talks for the same with Sabre. Further, at the end of December 2020, Southwest had plans to pull the plug on a bare-bones “basic booking request” model through which it had worked with Sabre for decades.
But on New Year’s Eve last year, the two parties announced an 11th-hour agreement that not only reinstated the booking model but also was a full-participation distribution deal with ARC ticketing and settlement, set to be implemented in 2021. VP of Southwest Business Dave Harvey was instrumental in reaching that agreement. Southwest content went live in the Sabre GDS in late July, in time to take advantage of a hoped-for rebound in business travel.
“We’re thrilled that during a pandemic we were able to fulfill the commitment from August 2019, when we launched the Southwest Business brand and said we were going to evolve our channel strategy,” Harvey told BTN.
Harvey added that reducing friction and making it as easy to book Southwest as it is to book other carriers will generate an uptick in incremental behavior. “For many of these large buyers, that is their channel of choice—GDS and specifically Sabre,” he said. “You can look at accounts and their trajectory year to date, starting back at the first of the year, and we know what Southwest Business as a whole is doing. You can see some of these heavy GDS and Sabre accounts with a nice change, exceeding the average. [There’s a little] shift from direct channels to the GDS, but we’re starting to see at the account level, the specific buyer level, some incrementality, where they’ve broken the trend, which was part of the business case all along.”