PATA Conference Examines Agents, Air Costs

Sessions Wednesday at the 55th annual Pacific Asia Travel Association conference took on such subjects as the impact of technology on the role of travel agents and the survivability of low-cost air carriers. Panelists in a plenary session noted that while technology can challenge travel agents' role, it also could harness the speed and convenience of technology to provide needed service to their clients. As for the survival of low-cost airline carriers, the message was that this channel would survive if costs outside the industry's control remain at reasonable levels. The industry's common goal is to manage taxes and other costs within its control or influence, said panelist Bruce Ashby, CEO of India-based IndiGo. "Most people are willing to spend about 5 to 6 percent of their incomes on air travel," he said. "If fuel prices, which are determined by factors outside of our control, force airfares beyond a certain level, then this new lower-cost segment will be priced out of the market." Meantime, Malaysia Airports (Sepang) recently opened a terminal in Kuala Lumpur dedicated to low-cost carriers in anticipation of continued rapid growth in this travel segment. Azmi Murad, Malaysia Airports general manager, told the audience that the terminal was designed in consultation with carriers to provide such cost efficiencies as quick turnaround times, reducing fuel consumption while aircraft are on the ground.