© Sarayut Thaneerat

Even the more reluctant airlines are now embracing booking platforms, in a bid to give customers more choice, as well as to collect more data.

“Using the platforms becomes a value add,” said Nabil Sultan, divisional senior vice president of Emirates SkyCargo, which in September signed up to WebCargo by Freightos, as well as CargoWise’s platform.

“Our own platform has inventory and pricing. It’s easy-to-use tech.

“We have our own distribution channel with advanced features, but we want to give our customers the choice. They may want to book multiple airlines, and going on booking platforms lets them.

“We are also trying to plug our systems into key global accounts, they can then see live, in real-time, our inventory. It is more efficient and reduces errors. Most importantly it’s real-time. Emails are wasted time.

“We are making good progress on digitising all our inventory.”

Even Cargolux, which tends to be an outlier, is joining in.

“Platforms are trying to be the intermediary in prices,” said Richard Forson, chief executive. “It’s taking a step back, like using travel agents. But in cargo, it’s more of a challenge.

“We have our own platform – but we are also talking to others, and I expect we will sign up in the next couple of days,” he told The Loadstar at Transport Logistic in Munich last week.

“But we won’t put all our capacity on there. From our perspective, we have direct APIs with customers, our booking portal, and then the traditional methods of phone and email.”

AF-KLM Cargo now has some 73% of its bookings made online. Its own platform, MyCargoPortal has a new ‘modify my booking’ option, including dynamic pricing.

“Customers have full control, and can change their allocations,” explained Adriaan Den Heijer, Air France-KLM Cargo’s EVP. “This is unique in the industry, and customers have asked for it.

“In the current dynamic market, it’s an important distribution channel.”

Mr Forson added that the data from online distribution was critical.

“We constantly analyse the data and talk to our customers too.

“Other platforms get a lot of data as well – and will sell it – but IATA sells data too. But the quality of the data depends on the platform, and the number of users they have.”

McKinsey recently published an article exploring the benefits of data for revenue management. It noted:

“Many cargo airlines have invested considerably in their digital strategies since the pandemic began. In particular, online sales have boomed, and consequently, cargo airlines have access to much more data than was possible three years ago.

“For instance, due to the increase in online sales, cargo airlines have more data available about their customers’ behaviour. This is particularly the case for airlines that have their own sales portals. Through digitalization, the air cargo industry has an opportunity to build a 360-degree view of demand across the entire customer journey which includes data that is above the sales funnel, such as which flights customers search for, lead times, how the cargo request was made, how long it took to fulfil, and if there was a cancelation or modification.

“Having all of this data in one place means that cargo airlines can improve their customer experience: better understand what customers want, and when they are likely to want it. This is the type of insight that companies in B2C industries, such as passenger airlines or hotels, typically have access to and cargo airlines could consider using a similar approach and leaning into the e-commerce aspect of sales.”

While McKinsey argued that airlines’ own booking platforms are the best for data, third party sites are seeing increasing numbers of sign-ups. Cargo.one recently announced that Virgin Atlantic, Silk Way West, Ethiopian and Hongyuan are all now on board. Webcargo, meanwhile, has raised its game in China with three master loaders, Sinoair, CIMC Anda Shun, and Sinotech, now on the platform.

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