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Preserving the Efficient Marketplace

We influenced the industry conversation about travel distribution economics, swinging media opinion on the topic 40% and boosting media reporting by 1200% year over year. The Sabre campaign was honored with an IABC Silver Quill Award of Excellence in external communications.

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The Story

2006 was the year of the perfect storm – for the travel industry and for Sabre Travel Network, Sabre Holdings’ Global Distribution System (GDS). Major airlines looked to cut costs by shifting distribution from the GDS to emerging niche players. Travel agents clamored for continued single-source access to airline fares and schedules. Corporations demanded to retain control over the choice of travel management providers. And industry analysts began forecasting the death of the GDS.

How We Told the Story

Seeing the need to lead industry transformation, Sabre’s media relations team and our Sabre account team implemented a year-long media relations campaign to quantify and articulate the business value of the GDS distribution model, lay the foundation for acceptance of an economic shift to balance the current system for all industry players, and to gain acceptance for Sabre’s solution that preserved the world’s most efficient travel marketplace.

As a first step, Sabre conducted in-depth primary and secondary research to examine what might happen if GDSs were eliminated from the market. Other research identified interested media and analysts, examined current coverage to determine media perceptions of the GDSs, and analyzed published quotes by airline officials to determine their perceptions about travel distribution trends.

During the first phase of the media relations campaign, Sabre aggressively launched information into the industry discussion that reinforced the business value of Sabre’s GDS and deemed it as the world’s most Efficient Marketplace for travel. The campaign included viewpoint papers, educational materials to key media and analysts, contributed articles and agent testimonials in key trade outlets.

The second phase launched the Efficient Access Solution (EAS), offering an industry-leading balanced solution to preserve the current GDS distribution model. To prepare, Sabre media relations hosted a pre-launch Webcast for customers and select media, posted a program website, and conducted embargoed pre-briefings with airline and travel agency trade publications, business writers and analysts.

Over time, Sabre closely tracked the EAS signings of major North American carriers, issuing releases as each carrier signed five- to seven-year, full content agreements. As the deadline for agency participation approached, we worked with Sabre to seek out and issue releases for agencies eager to promote EAS and its value, garnering positive coverage for agency clients.

Beginning in Sept., Sabre embarked on the launch of comprehensive new solutions to enhance agency business performance. We planned a Sabre-hosted media breakfast at ASTA’s THETRADESHOW in Orlando to launch the new leisure agent offerings. More than a dozen trade reporters attended the travel-themed event to hear top Sabre executives emphasize the industry value offered by the Sabre GDS, learn of new offerings made possible by EAS industry participation and preview demos of new industry capabilities for agents and carriers alike.

The Result

The success of Sabre’s campaign was undeniable. In all, 1,356 articles addressed the topic, compared to 324 articles in 2005. Sabre saw proactive inquiries from trade journalists on the topic of travel distribution escalate 53% during the 12 months of the campaign.

In a highly adversarial environment, aggressive media outreach resulted in positive and balanced media coverage that tracked 60% with Sabre’s desired messaging. Qualitative and quantitative daily tracking revealed that the campaign moved the needle clearly – swinging media opinion more than 40% during the life of the campaign and boosting media reporting on the topic of distribution economics by 1200% year over year.

The Sabre campaign was honored with a 2007 International Association of Business Communications Southern Region Silver Quill for excellence in external communications.