British Airways CEO Keith Williams

POSTED: 09/18/11 11:02 PM

“Customer at the heart of everything we do”

St. Maarten – “We are determined to put the customer at the heart of everything we do. Everyone in the tourism industry should work on this,” British airways CEO Keith Williams said in his keynote address to the CTO State of the Industry conference at the Westin Hotel last Friday.

Williams said that British Airways will invest heavily in the next five years, not only in new aircraft, but also in technology designed to improve the travel experience of its customers. In the UK, the company has invested 73 million British pounds ($115 million) in the expansion of its terminal at Gatwick Airport.

The investments focus on improving customer experience at the airport. Travelers at Gatwick are able to print their own boarding passes, choose their own seats and get all information they want about the craft they will be travelling with. BA cabin crew is equipped with iPads that contain information about the passengers on board, from their travel history to their food preferences, enabling crew to further enhance the travel experience.

“There are a lot more developments in technology to give travelers a better experience,” Williams said.

British Airways will also focus on its role in supporting sustainable tourism and put policies in place that address its impact on tourism.

“Travelers are educated about climate change and the impact of tourism on local communities. There is a demand for green holidays.”

Starting in 2015, British Airway will power its planes with sustainable jet fuel. A plant that produces this fuel from household waste will open that year in the UK. The company also aims to reduce its CO2-emissions by 50 percent by 2050.

Williams said that 2010 was a difficult year for the travel industry and that the recovery in 2011 was slow. While the sale of premium tickets is strong, he pointed out that overall leisure travel is still guided by price.

“The overall conditions remain very difficult. The projected growth of the UK economy has been downgraded for the third time this year. At the beginning of the year it was 1.9 percent, now the expectation is that the economy will grow by just 1.1 percent this year. In the meantime, unemployment keeps rising.”

The economic conditions have forced the industry to consolidate – both in the aviation industry and the travel agency sector. In January, British Airways and Spanish carrier Iberia crowned their 12-year long relationship with a merger into the International Airline Group. IAG is one of the world’s largest airline groups with 408 aircraft that fly to 200 destinations and carries 55 million passengers a year.

Williams said that taxation in the UK has put leisure travel under pressure.

“A family of four that travels to the Caribbean pays 300 British pounds ($470) in air passenger duty tax. Taxation is getting worse and that will have an impact on the Caribbean routes. Demand is not as high as it has been at the moment, but this winter British Airways will still carry 1.5 million passengers to the region.”

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