Air NZ problem, not net, say travel agents

Although the head of the travel agents' representative body has made negative comments recently about Air New Zealand encouraging online flight booking, he denies having particular concerns about being undercut by technology.

The Travel Agents Association of New Zealand was reported in a recent edition of the Australasian contact-industry email newsletter "The Contact" as being disquieted at any attempt by Air NZ to encourage customers to deal directly with the airline, a key avenue for this being its website.

Taanz chairman James Langton says the real point of contention is the airline's plan to cut agents' commissions on domestic flights. "We don't have a quarrel with internet booking as such. What we're up in arms about is the reduction of commission."

Langton acknowledges "The Contact" correctly quoted him as saying "if by Air NZ's marketing strategy the consumer is encouraged, or cajoled, to use a call centre or internet site rather than a travel agent, once they go there and buy travel they actually don't get any choice".

"That's true whether they use the internet, a call centre or go into an Air New Zealand office," he told Computerworld. "They only get offered Air New Zealand flights, while we can give you Virgin, Origin Pacific and a number of other options."

Is it not the customer's free choice to go into an Air NZ office or bring up its website, implying that he/she has already chosen the airline?

"But Air New Zealand's marketing tells customers that by going to them direct, they will get the cheapest flights," Langton says. "We intend to show the public that by dealing direct they're not necessarily getting the cheapest deal."

Langton declined to discuss the subject further, because Taanz is still in discussion with the airline. "I'd rather leave further comment until the end of July, when [Air NZ] releases its new fare structure and incentive scales."

Taanz, however, has already raised the possibility of approaching the Commerce Commission or the Consumers Institute if it does not get what it considers a satisfactory deal.

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