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Great Southern Travel taps into airport bookings

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Great Southern Travel has had a physical presence at the Springfield-Branson National Airport for more than two decades. Now, it has a presence on the airport’s Web site.

On May 12, the travel agency began running the online reservation system on www.flyspringfield.com. In an open-ended contract, the airport pays Great Southern Travel $3,000 annually for the service, said airport spokesman Kent Boyd. The fee is a $2,000 annual savings compared to its previous deal with Jefferson, Ind.-based SwiftTravel LLC, Boyd said, and it provides a local face for customers who need help after booking their flights.

Previously, people who needed to speak with someone after booking their flight would call a local number, Boyd said, which would be redirected to Indiana.

“To me, it’s the downfall of a lot of online booking services. When you make a mistake, it’s very difficult to get a hold of people,” said Kris Conley, managing director at Great Southern Travel. “A lot of times, when someone had customer service issues, they would end up calling the airport management.”

Now, Great Southern’s phone number is listed on the airport Web site, and calls are directed to the travel agency’s customer service desk in the airport. Conley said he didn’t know how many calls to expect during the first year, but with online bookings through the airport’s Web site historically averaging 30 to 40 a month, he didn’t anticipate a large volume of customer service calls.

“We hope it’s very, very little, because every time a change is made, there’s a charge from the airline,” he said. “Most of the calls are going to be, ‘Hey, what happens if my flight doesn’t make it,’ or ‘I’ve had a death in the family and need to change my travel dates.’ You want those calls to be at a bare minimum.”

There are no immediate plans to promote Web bookings, Boyd said, noting the booking engine is a way to draw additional traffic to the airport site.

“It’s to get them inside of the tent, if you will. We’re hoping they’ll go from there to other places on the site,” Boyd added.

While Springfield’s is the first online reservation system Great Southern is managing for an airport, Conley said the company hopes to offer similar services to other airports. The agency already received a request for proposal from the Louisville (Ky.) Regional Airport Authority, he said, though Great Southern hasn’t yet decided to bid on that job.

“Columbia, Mo., would be a good fit. We have an office there,” Conley added.

Where do passengers buy tickets?
A July 2009 survey of 569 departing passengers at Springfield-Branson National Airport found most travelers purchased airline tickets from airline and travel Web sites. Missouri State University students conducted the survey for the airport.

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