Kyle Mabry, American Airlines' new vice president of global sales, entered the post late last month amid a pandemic-fueled 64% decline in revenues las
Kyle Mabry, American Airlines’ new vice president of global sales, entered the post late last month amid a pandemic-fueled 64% decline in revenues last year and a bottom-line loss of $8.8 billion. Airlines editor Robert Silk spoke with Mabry about his daunting gig and about the carrier’s engagement with travel advisors, which resulted in ASTA naming American its 2020 airline partner of the year.
Q: You’ve come into this position at an exceptionally challenging time. Is there anything you can do right now to improve sales, or perhaps to change your relationships with travel advisors?
A: We’re doing an awful lot. There’s all the work we’re doing on the [Covid] testing front. Also mobile health passports — our work on the Verifly app. If we’re able to facilitate the testing and the other things that are going to be involved in travel going forward, then we’re going to be able to provide an ease of experience that customers are going to want. And then on top of that just really being focused on the Clean Commitment.
We also knew going into this we were going to have to be a great partner for the corporate and agency space. So we’ve set out to be very flexible. It’s been very gratifying to see our team work closely with customers during a time that they too are homebound. Somehow through that our relationships are more personal. They’re more productive than they’ve ever been.
Q: Can you elaborate on the ways in which they are more productive?
A: Our team began to work really closely with our leisure agencies especially. And we began to see more agencies and more travel advisors than ever before begin to sell, for example, American Airlines Vacations. In the second half of 2020, we saw the number of packages sold through travel advisors grow by 150% year over year despite the pandemic. That growth was driven by both travelers’ desire to book through an advisor, given the complexity of the travel landscape, as well as advisors’ desire to work directly with suppliers.
Q: Tell me about some specific things you are doing differently to work with agents.
A: It’s really a matter of knowing them. For one agency we might need to do something completely differently than the rest. It’s the reason that we’ve got an entire team looking after our biggest leisure agencies. We want to make sure we have a customized approach. It’s the same thing we are doing in our traditional travel agency space and the same thing we are doing in the corporate space — making sure we don’t have a one-size-fits-all approach, but making sure we are sensitive to the needs of a particular travel agency.
Q: What has happened to your sales team size?
A: It’s smaller. Like other companies in this business and like many of our customers, we are doing more with less. And so we’re having to figure out better ways to do our business. A big part of what we’re doing is trying to empower agencies to work with us the way they want to work with us. We launched our new groups and meetings tool last year. That was a really great example of how we want to put the empowerment in the hands of travel agencies.
Q: With travel being more complicated than ever, is the agent community more important now than before?
A: I think the role of travel advisors in the lives of their clients has done nothing except grow. They’ve got great information to share with their clients. It provides peace of mind. It’s more important than ever before.
Q: When you talk about working more closely with travel advisors, does that include finding ways to get more money into their hands in the form of commissions and overrides?
A: This has obviously been a very difficult season for the airline. It has been an extremely difficult season for travel advisors and agencies. In the midst of all that, we’ve tried to be closer partners than ever. For example, one of things we did with travel agencies was guarantee their payment rate, so they didn’t have to worry about that.