Three months prior to their first flight, USAfrica Airways (USAA) hired Siddall to create brand awareness and build a positive image of USAA among travel writers, travel agents and consumers in an effort to generate immediate sales. The cost of operations in this industry was extremely high. And as a new airline, it was critical to generate revenue immediately.
As the only US flag carrier offering service to southern Africa, USAA was positioned to enter the market. This was important because US government employees must fly on US carriers when available. And with the end of apartheid, US government travel was expected to increase significantly. In addition, USAA would be offering direct service, saving a traveler 14 hours over British Airways’ routes.
Despite these advantages, USAA faced several challenges. In addition to the short time period to develop and implement a comprehensive marketing communications plan, it faced a lack of awareness among two essential targets: travel industry professionals and consumers. More importantly, its service was launched at a time of political and economic unrest in South Africa, meaning consumers viewed the country as an unsafe destination. Finally, it was to be introduced in the face of well-established and well-funded competition from British Airways.
Research provided a valuable insight that the key to success of the airline would be travel agents’ awareness and acceptance of USAA. After all, 78 percent of all travelers to South Africa consulted a travel agent prior to booking their travel arrangements.
So, Siddall set two goals. First, to establish awareness among travel agents immediately. And second, to generate reservations from travel agents through the 800 phone number to attain a minimum 50 percent load factor per flight after six months.
The positioning strategy was pretty ambitious. “Brand USAA as America’s flag carrier to southern Africa, offering unparalleled levels of comfort, safety and service to ultimately become known as the preferred provider of service to the area.”
Within three months, a comprehensive and integrated communications plan targeted to travel agents was developed and implemented. A saturation-level media strategy and public relations blitz were used to introduce and provide immediate impact. And the Agency created ads, direct mail and sales materials featuring the landscape and wildlife of the country.
The results were dramatic. Within three months, a national study of travel agents was conducted to measure awareness of USAA. The study found that 43 percent of travel agents were aware of USAA, exceeding the original goal of 20 percent.
And after six months, USAA’s load factor averaged 83 percent, exceeding the stated goal by a whopping 33 percent.