Business: Southwest Isn't Just For Leisure Travelers - InformationWeek

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Software // Enterprise Applications
11:25 AM
Tony Kontzer
Tony Kontzer

Business: Southwest Isn't Just For Leisure Travelers, Southwest Airlines Co.'s online booking tool for businesses, is fast emerging as one of the airline's most important distribution channels. When the site was launched in early 2000, the airline thought of it as an air-only booking and travel-management tool for small and midsize companies. But a handful of large businesses liked what they saw, and as Swabiz has evolved into a more comprehensive offering, it has grown in popularity with them.

Southwest has acted on the feedback it has received from large companies. In 2001, it added car-rental and hotel-booking and -management capabilities, as well as a field that lets bookings be tied to particular cost centers so companies can break down their travel statistics by department. Two years later, it added a feature to let business travelers build and save their preferences to speed up future bookings. Then, as more large companies came on board, the airline took its effort a step further, forming a sales team dedicated to large businesses early last year.

Bookings through the site grew 84% in 2004, with those by large companies mushrooming more than 2,000%, says Rob Brown, director of corporate sales. Meanwhile, Southwest's ongoing effort to automate more of its customer interactions--including increasing the number of airport kiosks--is expected to further cement the airline's relationship with its growing base of business customers, says Anne Murray, senior director of interactive marketing. Says Murray, "Anything that saves time is attractive to the business traveler."

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