05 July 2001 | Liam O'Brien
Corporate travel buyers have labelled a soon-to-be-launched online air ticketing site, set up by a group of major European airlines, as anti-competitive and claim it could lead to more expensive flights.
Last week, British Airways, Lufthansa, Air France, Alitalia, Austrian Airlines, Finnair, KLM, Iberia and Aer Lingus announced plans to launch the London-based site, called Opodo, before the end of the year. It is aiming at the increasingly lucrative business traveller market and holidaymakers.
The Institute of Travel Management (ITM), which represents UK travel buyers, fears that the site will be used by airlines to manipulate prices upwards. It points to previous airline alliances such as Star Alliance which, it fears, have forced up prices on many routes.
Loraine Holdcroft, executive director of the ITM, said: "Airlines want to join together to cut their distribution costs, but will they reduce fares to their customers? The experience with some alliances seems to be that they don't."
Colin Brain, managing director of corporate travel consultant Management Solutions (UK) and a former chairman of the Association of British Travel Agents, said airlines were taking over control of the sale of seats.
"They are determined to remove agents from the equation. Agents fight to get a good deal and can play one airline off against another. When you don't have them, and all these airlines work together, there is no competitive element," he said.