11 April 2007

Every Juan can now fly, but not rebook online

FROM the GMANews website, there's an interesting blog entry by Ruben Canlas Jr. comparing the eTicketing services of Philippine Airlines (PAL) and Cebu Pacific Air (CPA). No surprise there: CPA again trumps PAL in this department, highlighting the newfound superiority of the Gokongweis over Lucio Tan in the passenger aviation business.

What struck me though is this comment by Romulo, a Pinoy now living in Europe, especially the following money question, which he wants answered:

"How come the Philippines is not that known when the rest of the region is competing heavily in the tourist industry?"
Having stayed in the UK for a year, I can vouch for the same observation. For instance, there's this popular travel company -- STA Travel -- that specializes in providing for the needs of students. Aside from the de rigueur online presence, it regularly publishes a glossy travel guide covering popular destinations all over the world, especially during school breaks. An accompanying world map highlights most of Southeast Asia in brilliant colors, but grays out the Philippines. It made my heart sink.

Romulo's experience in arranging travel to the Philippines, I think, has part of the answer. While it is good that CPA, PAL and South East Asian Airlines (SEAir) already offer online booking and eTicketing services, the other leading carriers -- Air Philippines and Asian Spirit -- have yet to do so. To avail of their services, you will still need to go through the hassles of contacting a travel agent.

Unfortunately, even CPA and PAL's industry-leading eTicketing service is still short of international standards. Why? Because if your travel plan changes (and in all probability, it will), prompting the need to rebook your ticket, you cannot effect the change online. At best, you will have to call a telephone number (and go through the hassle of waiting on queue if others called in ahead of you, and being subjected to boring company spam), talk to a customer service rep, and then dispose of your business.

Compare that with Southwest, Ryanair and JetBlue (particularly the last two, with which I have had a pleasant first-hand experience) and you will see why to me, CPA and PAL's online services are still wanting. When I went through the hassle of rebooking my first CPA eTicket late last year -- still unused, with my everchanging travel plans -- I suggested this to the lady CSR. I even remember emailing the same to the company email add. I am still waiting.

If you want an idea how important the online revolution is, and the potential it represents, check out Wikipedia's entry on Southwest, the little Texan airline that started it all. The following tidbit is particularly enlightening:
southwest.com is the number one airline web site for online revenue according to PhoCusWright. Nielsen/Netratings also reports that southwest.com is the largest airline site in terms of unique visitors. In 2006, 70 percent of flight bookings and 73 percent of revenue was generated from bookings on southwest.com. (Italics mine)
If eTicketing in the Philippines is still not up to par, we haven't even talked about hotels yet, especially for the secondary provincial destinations that include Naga and Legazpi. But I will, for my Vox Bikol column this week.


Urbano dela Cruz said...

I thought it was bad enough that the NAIA doesn't have a website -but they at least they have the (paltry) excuse of being a GOCC.

The private airlines have no excuse for being behind the technology curve. -Obviously they aren't competing in the region.

Then again, we probably shouldn't be benchmarking it against Ryanair. At least, not until we get an open skies policy in SEA.

Willy B. Prilles, Jr. said...

Unfortunately, the protectionist bent remains strong. Cebu Pacific, for instance, joined the other carriers in lobbying against opening up the DMCIA in Clark to budget carriers.

I have a feeling local carriers don't want to part with the P100 service fee they slap on you everytime you do rebooking through their outlets/authorized agents. Which is why online service is limited to booking your first preferred sked.

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