Business Travel is Flying High at Southwest Airlines
With origins as a business carrier in Texas, Southwest Airlines will celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2021. Along the way, the company has built its network and a loyal customer base, while always seemingly marching to the beat of their own drum. To learn more about Southwest, and specifically its dedicated business travel team, DTJ caught up with Dave Harvey, Vice President of Southwest Business during the GovTravels Symposium.
A Southwest employee since 1999, Dave worked his way through Southwest’s business development, network planning, commercial planning & performance, corporate strategy, and technology departments before taking on his current role. In this position, Dave is responsible for leading Southwest’s sales team, which manages relationships, sales programs, services, and B2B channels for corporations, travel management companies, and distributors.
DTJ: Dave, thanks for chatting with us today. First things first, what exactly is Southwest Business?
Dave Harvey: Southwest Business encompasses the teams responsible for developing, growing, and retaining business travel on Southwest Airlines. We’ve had a corporate travel team through the years, but they never exceeded more than 20 people until we started making major investments in Southwest Business. Over the last two years, we’ve devoted the resources to grow Southwest Business into what it is today. We now have more than 150 people dedicated to providing the absolute best hospitality to our business travelers, corporate travel decision-makers, government, and higher education travel managers, and organizations that book travel on Southwest.
DTJ: Can you expand on some of the changes your customers and travelers will see or are already seeing with the evolution of Southwest Business?
Southwest democratized the skies and gave the freedom to fly to people all across the country, and frankly, we wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for our amazing customers. That same philosophy runs true today. We’re not going to nickel and dime people over things that should be free like bags or change fees—why should you be penalized for when your plans change?
Dave Harvey: Southwest has always done things differently. As one of our executives likes to say, when others zig, we zag. Since beginning service in 1971, we’ve maintained our own booking experience so that we can control the entire customer journey from start to finish. We even had to become innovative in the corporate travel space, launching things like our first loyalty program in the late 1980s to launching our own corporate-travel booking platform, SWABIZ. SWABIZ allowed travel managers to easily book travel on Southwest. But, with everything, technology evolved and we saw an opportunity to reach more business travelers. That’s why we’ve been hyper-focused the last few years on better understanding travel managers’ needs and building a system that eliminates the friction in booking and servicing with Southwest. We’re now moving forward with industry-standard GDS [Global Distribution System] participation with Travelport and Amadeus. For our government customers, these new GDS capabilities will improve their Southwest experience in a variety of ways. CTO’s [Commercial Travel Office] that use Travelport and Amadeus will be able to fully service Southwest reservations in the GDS without having to call Southwest directly. Specifically for our military customers, this allows us to partner with DTMO to eliminate many of the booking frictions associated with Southwest Airlines in DTS [the Defense Travel System].
DTJ: What is it that drove these changes?
Dave Harvey: With everything we do, it’s all about our customers and what they want. Ever since we took off in 1971, we’ve been a business-focused airline—high frequency, low fares, easy policies like no change fees or bag fees. These things aren’t changing. But, what is changing is the ability for business travelers and travel decision-makers to book Southwest. We are excited about these new changes and offerings.
DTJ: How you treat your customers seems to be a part of what makes Southwest different—that responsiveness, the personal touches, and policies. What do you think it is that sets Southwest apart?
Dave Harvey: I wouldn’t be here today if I didn’t believe in what we do on a daily basis. Southwest democratized the skies and gave the freedom to fly to people all across the country, and frankly, we wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for our amazing customers. That same philosophy runs true today. We’re not going to nickel and dime people over things that should be free like bags or change fees—why should you be penalized for when your plans change?
We empower our employees to do what’s right for our customers—that’s our secret sauce that’s made us successful. Our network is also the most customer-friendly, offering more point-to-point options than other carriers means people are going to spend less time traveling and more time with the people that matter most in their lives.
DTJ: It feels like people are very familiar with Southwest as both a business and leisure airline, but I know you also have cargo operations. Can you tell us a little about that?
Dave Harvey: Absolutely. We have a very robust and award-winning cargo organization. Customers chose Southwest Cargo for its efficiency, fast connectivity, and reliable service. We transport a variety of goods, everything from life-saving medical treatments to fresh flowers, to fresh seafood and e-commerce goods from coast-to-coast. Because of our robust point-to-point network, we can quickly move goods across our network with ease for both shippers and customers.
DTJ: I’m sure the changes we have discussed entail some adjustments to your computer systems and programs, are there any other technology changes or implementation going on at Southwest?
Dave Harvey: In 2017, we underwent a major overhaul of our reservation system and moved to the Amadeus’ Altea system. This brought very robust options to our fingertips, ultimately making it easier for our customers to shop, book, and modify reservations. With this new modern foundation in place, it provided us the opportunity for capabilities like industry-standard GDS participation, enhanced re-accommodation options for our customers during irregular operations, and a whole suite of service options across southwest.com, mobile, chat, social, and the list goes on.
DTJ: On the subject of technology, what technology do you foresee as becoming prevalent or that you think will be particularly transformative across the airline industry?
Dave Harvey: I think what we are seeing across the industry right now is digitizing the entire travel journey and getting it into the palms of your customer. We want to make sure we have everything our customers need, where they need it, and when they need it. This is one of our big efforts right now and it’s exciting to watch our teams work on solutions that we all will be using one day.
DTJ: Besides technology, what trends do you see as being most influential on the entirety of the airline industry?
Dave Harvey: I think you’re seeing several different things happening industry-wide. You’re seeing airlines be more aggressive with greening the industry and being better environmental stewards. As a whole, the airline industry only contributes less than five percent of carbon emissions. But while that doesn’t sound a lot, we owe it to ourselves, our customers, the communities we serve, and the world to find better efficiencies, work toward better fuel economy, and identify things we can change today that will make an immediate impact on our overall carbon footprint. For example, in the last few years, we stopped using paper ticket jackets, sourced eco-friendly single-use plastics, and are working with airport partners to electrify more of our ground equipment in areas where we can. You can learn more about our environmental stewardship by reading our annual report at www.southwestonereport.com I think you’ll see even more of that in this decade.
DTJ: Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us. Before we go, is there anything else you would like to share with DTJ’s readers that we haven’t covered?
Dave Harvey: Thank you for sitting down with me. We have a lot of exciting things on the horizon for Southwest and Southwest Business, and we appreciate all your support. Our dedicated government team’s mission is to support the mission of our customers. Those we serve can always connect with our team by emailing us at SouthwestBusiness@wnco.com.