Asia's airlines must defend their patch(1)

17 August 2001

Cathay Pacific's head of e-business has warned a regional gathering of travel agents that the real enemies to fear for Asian airlines are still waiting in the wings.

"It's not you in the room that worry me - it's people who aren't in the industry yet that I'm most nervous about," said Tom Nunan, manager, e-business for Cathay Pacific, addressing the recent Sabre Asia/Pacific Airline Executives Summit held in Bali.

Nunan told TravelWeekly East the soon-to-be launched Travel Exchange Asia (TEA) - which this week renamed itself ZUJI - was one example of the region safeguarding its stake in the airline business, in the face of the very real threat of others coming in to grab it.

"We want to establish regional competitiveness. We still look at the region as what we want to defend. We want to get closer to our customers - as do a lot of people," he said.

He said that the region's aviation industry needed to take seriously the potential threat of outside players entering the chain.

"A lot of people are very interested in becoming part of this region and the value chain. They are non-airline players outside the traditional industry."

Nunan said TEA would also have to consider very carefully its relationship with the travel agent. "We have a whole initiative within Cathay Pacific to support agents. TEA is going to have to be realistic about this too. Business fulfilment is a tough challenge, and I imagine travel agents will still be in the picture there."

Cathay was one of the first airlines to float the idea of a joint portal. Nunan said it was now necessary for airlines to grab the customer's attention earlier than was currently possible.

"We want to look at how you start effecting your cusotmer's decision before they decide which airlines to fly. How do we get in early enough and effect that process?"

In addition, he said the site would be about creating a very real sense of location, providing regional content and links to other tourism partners. "The regional focus is currently not there."

Asked how different TEA would be to the American portal, Orbitz and Europe's Opodo, Nunan said, "The concept is not that different. There are others that aggregate content and delivery now. We had little influence over it. We want to maintain branding and not become a commodity.

"When you have no control over content, you really have no control over what people do."

He said TEA would overlap with existing sites addressing "broad travel concerns", but nobody had a real regional presence yet.

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