THE airline industry’s move to direct selling could
ultimately lead to the end of agents, research has claimed.

Travel agencies have reacted furiously to a report
published last week highlighting the airline industry’s dramatic switch away
from agents to their own websites as the preferred booking tool.

The research, which polled 107 of the world’s major
carriers, revealed sales through airlines’ websites have doubled to more than
£30 million in the past 12 months. Direct web sales now account for around 10%
of the world and 11.2% of European markets.

Traditional airlines plan to sell the majority of
tickets direct to the consumer on-line within the next three years, while
direct corporate sales are set to double within two years. Seven out of 10
carriers now use their websites to sell tickets compared with only 40% in 1999.

The report, by airline technology provider SITA and
Travel Weekly sister publication Airline Business, shows airlines are not only
snubbing the trade but muscling in on its core business. Almost a third of
airlines already offer packages, hotels and car hire with many more planning to
follow in the next few years.

Scheduled Air vice-president of sales and marketing
David Hall is concerned the trend could spell the end of travel agencies.
“Agency after agency will fold up and down the country and there will not be an
agency community,” he said.

“Only the big boys will remain and even they will be
squeezed.”