Business News

Southwest Is Bullish on Meetings Travel

Skift Take

The new Southwest Business Meetings platform made a splash at this year's IMEX America. Now, the airline is considering expanding the platform's capabilities beyond group air travel booking.

One of the big stories of IMEX America this year was the new Southwest Business Meetings, a platform aimed at planners managing travel. The platform facilitates the management of groups of 25 or more travelers heading to the same destination from different destinations. It offers planners automated proposal processes, complimentary name changes, and meetings-specific reporting, among other benefits. 

Southwest has been increasing its involvement and investment in the meetings industry. Maritz CEO David Peckinpaugh commended the airline’s approach In a recent episode of the Skift Meetings Podcast. On Wednesday, Southwest Airlines CEO Robert Jordan was at the Skift Aviation Forum discussing the airline’s overall strategy and economic outlook.

The genesis of this idea, according to Dave Harvey, the Chief Sales Officer and Vice President at Southwest Airlines, happened a year ago, also at IMEX America. “It was from this meeting last year that we kind of mobilized and said, if we’re going to scale and provide the right digital hospitality, we’ve got to have the right platform,” Harvey explained.

Harvey emphasizes that this initiative is heavily based on customer feedback, which was obtained through a comprehensive listening tour. He suggested, “We knew enough and really kind of thought through how do you digitize the end-to-end flow, make it self-serve, super easy, but then also have kind of the milestones along the way.” Beyond mere lip service, the company has marked traction with a soft launch and plans for a larger rollout soon.

Big Opportunities in Meetings

Southwest has taken aim at the meetings industry, a sector Harvey notes is full of untapped potential. According to Harvey, air travel accounts for 10 – 12% of a typical meeting budget. He believes the company is well-placed to secure more than a fair share of this lucrative market. “That point-to-point network, the loyalty, the flexibility really makes for a winning combination here. I think we’re going to be able to win. We’re not even close to our fair share,” he stated.

The platform has been well received at the recent IMEX America. “We wanted to kind of get through IMEX, but we shattered our record yesterday.” This level of interest and engagement sets a promising precedent for the future of their new business meeting offerings. with Harvey hinting that there is more to come, saying, “Meeting planners out of the gate saying, this is awesome, I want to book other elements of my meeting on this platform. So, the sky’s the limit of where you could go with this thing.” 

Southwest may be looking to expand beyond offering only aviation services on the platform. Harvey hinted at users booking other elements of their meetings, like hotels, directly through their platform. “I think the Southwest brand, the ease of doing business, a good digital platform, it’s going to draw a center of gravity,” he said.

Impact Beyond Meetings

Southwest is looking to leverage the synergy between transient and meeting business. Harvey points out that meeting planners often also oversee transient business. Hence, entering the meetings market not only boosts that sector but also helps grow their transient business. “This is not only growing our meetings business, but it’s also going to help grow our transient business,” Harvey shared.

Southwest isn’t merely content with the progress made so far, and Harvey emphasized the importance of industry relationships and continuous learning. He commented, “So we want to be a good partner across the board and be a good listener because we don’t have it all figured out.”

As Southwest continues to invest in meetings, its impact is being felt across the industry. With an innovative platform and a commitment to customer service, the company is looking to redefine what it means for airlines to offer meetings-focused business travel solutions.