A perpetual debate rages among BTN editors: Do we honor
as Most Influential those whose earlier work proved influential this year or those whose work this year should prove
influential in the future? In the case of Carsten Spohr, the
answer is both.
Back in 2015, Lufthansa Group airlines became the first full-service carriers to restructure their distribution. Lufthansa announced
it would enable New Distribution Capability-enabled connections
to corporate clients, agents and others while slapping a surcharge
on bookings through global distribution systems, with which it
also ended full-content agreements. Much speculation ensued
over whether rivals would follow suit when their GDS deals came
up for renewal in 2017. In the end, British Airways, Iberia and Air
France-KLM did. In Europe, following Lufthansa’s lead, the die for
permanent distribution change is now cast.
Meanwhile, the strategic focus in 2017 for Carsten Spohr, a
licensed professional pilot and Lufthansa boss since 2014, has
been making his aviation behemoth even bigger. The opportunity was created by the weakness of
competitors: Airberlin, Germany’s second-largest airline, went bust and Alitalia is throwing in the
towel after two decades of crisis. Lufthansa has bid €250 million to acquire Alitalia, giving Lufthansa
another long-haul hub in Rome, and has agreed to buy a large chunk of Airberlin, which would give
it a near-monopoly on the 100-plus routes on which the two overlapped.
German travel managers are deeply unhappy, fearing they will pay more if power is concentrated so heavily with one supplier. In fact, there are allegations those fears already have been
realized. Germany’s Federal Cartel Office, which has had to slap Lufthansa down in the past, is
investigating a sharp domestic fare rise from the airline following Airberlin’s cessation of service.
European Commissioner for Competition Margrethe Vestager has expressed concern about
the “risk of a very strong limitation on competition on quite a number of routes” and is poised to
intervene. Expect a major tussle in 2018.
AMERICAN AIRLINES GLOBAL SALES SVP
In just over a year leading American Airlines’ sales, Alison
Taylor has overseen a buildup and transformation of the
carrier’s corporate sales team, as well as an industry-first
strategy to use incentives rather than fees to promote
adoption of the New Distribution Capability.
Taylor, who joined American in September 2016 from
Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, said the carrier
is on track to add 132 new sales positions by the end
of this year, an effort that brought in new blood from
around the world, including from competitors, which
“has led to a momentum of the team feeling fabulous,”
she said. Taylor also has led numerous initiatives like
relaunching the sales team’s group and incentive segment, expanding flexibility around self-service funds for agents and travel buyers, increased training, and developing a sales portal that will roll out early next year.
Those efforts are bearing fruit, as corporate market share grew every quarter this year and as
the carrier added 16,000 small and midsize corporate accounts during the first three quarters. On
an anecdotal level, buyers attending BTN’s trends and forecast events around the U.S. have spoken of their sales relationships with American in a more positive light lately after years of critical
discussion that followed American’s merger with US Airways.
Taylor bears responsibility for American’s distribution policy, as well, and this year the carrier enacted
an incentive program to encourage travel agents and content distributors to connect via NDC methods.
The program offers $2 per American Airlines-marketed segment booked through a full, end-to-end
Level 3 NDC connection with the carrier. As of early November, about 120 customers were working
with American to approach the connection, Taylor said. “We want to be industry leading when it comes
to NDC, ” she said. “We’re not mandating anything, and we’re not putting a surcharge in place.”
—Michael B. Baker
PRESIDENT & CEO
Marriott International president & CEO Arne
Sorenson marks his fourth consecutive appearance on BTN’s Most Influential. One
might argue that anything Sorenson does, as
the head of the single largest hotel company
in the world, is going to have an impact on
travel. However, Marriott’s decision to enact
a 48-hour cancellation policy in place of its
24-hour policy caused a particular stir in 2017.
Marriott released the policy, in which travelers will incur penalties if they cancel their reservations within 48 hours of their stay, in June.
Hilton followed the next month, and then InterContinental Hotels Group changed its cancellation policy from same day to 24 hours.
Sorenson said in August the company
hadn’t seen much blowback. “Nobody likes
incremental restrictions on the flexibility of
reservations,” he said, “but I think most cus-
tomers understand that we’ve got a need to
manage our inventory and avoid walking peo-
ple and doing those sorts of things.”
Corporate travel managers and buyers,
however, had plenty to say. The general sen-
timent was that the policies were anticorpo-
rate and the inevitable result of consolidation
in the industry, the biggest example of which
was Marriott’s acquisition of Starwood Ho-
tels & Resorts.
still had been
able to negoti-
6 p.m. cancel-
lations on negotiated rates. With the new 48-
hour window as a starting point for negotia-
tions on corporate rates, corporates are now
being pushed to agree to a 24-hour cancella-
tion window instead.
The cancellation fees will hurt some organizations more than others, but the lingering fear
is that the change could lead to even stricter
policies in the near future and that Marriott,
with its market dominance, will lead the way.
we’ve got a need to
manage our inventory and avoid walking people.”