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NTA Meets With Southwest Airlines to Discuss Group Booking Policy Changes

August 29, 2003

NTA Meets With Southwest Airlines to Discuss Group Booking Policy Changes
A delegation of NTA tour operators and association staff met with Southwest Airlines at their headquarters in Dallas Aug. 22 in an attempt to amend new group booking policies. While Southwest will not be able to immediately change their new rule mandating a four-to-six month booking window, the airline did apologize for the communication surrounding the changes. Most important, Southwest agreed to the formation of a tour operator advisory council and invited tour operators to communicate their experiences with the new policies. Southwest committed to a further review six to eight months from now.

"Although nothing is going to change in the short term with Southwest’s new policy, it was not due to a lack of effort or quality of presentation by NTA’s tour operator representatives," said NTA President Hank Phillips, CTP. "In my view it was the quality of their presentations that resulted in Southwest’s interest in maintaining dialogue through and advisory council."

Richard Sweet, Southwest’s senior director of field and product marketing, indicated the automated system the airline uses is not capable of booking seats beyond six months. The previous group booking window allowed tour operators to reserve airline tickets up to one year in advance. This process was handled manually, making it time consuming and labor intensive. Additionally, Sweet told NTA representatives that a high percentage of group seats booked in the six-to-12 month timeframe were subsequently cancelled. NTA’s delegation emphasized throughout the meeting that Southwest’s changes would make it extremely difficult to utilize the airline.

NTA Chairman Charlie McIlvain, CTP, who moderated the meeting, is urging tour operator members to submit information to NTA staff regarding the impact of the new booking policies on their business. "NTA now has a heightened awareness or a ‘face’ at Southwest Airlines headquarters," said McIlvain. "We definitely need to encourage our members to provide facts and outcomes regarding Southwest policies and procedures in the months to come. Other opportunities may develop at a later date."

Other NTA tour operator delegates in attendance at the Southwest meeting included Bob Hoelscher, CTP, Flemming Tours; Mark Hoffman, CTP, Sports Leisure Travel; and Karl Storch of Sun Tours.

NTA tour operator members interested in submitting information regarding their relationship with Southwest Airlines should contact Matt Grayson, director of government relations, at NTA Headquarters.

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