Lufthansa began life in 1928, and after a shaky period during the war (its legal director was executed in connection with an assassination attempt on Hitler, fact fans), it went on to become Germany's most successful airline. Now the company is trying to bolster its Web presence with a site for the UK and Ireland that has been redesigned by Webmedia.
Visitors to the new site are presented with a smartly designed applet menu in Webmedia's minimalist style that contains links to company information held on Lufthansa's US site. There you can learn about the company's stringent environmental policy as well as look at current timetables which may be a little higher on your list of priorities. The timetables include scheduling for all airlines, which is a little unusual but potentially very useful if you're a frequent flyer. Too good to be true? Well, while it includes airline, journey time and departure and arrival information, it neglects to mention the most decisive factor - price. So "choose-the-cheapest-airline" scenarios are not possible.
WHAT'S ALL THE FUSS ABOUT?
At the time Internet World went to press, Lufthansa was putting the finishing touches to an online ticket auction which was scheduled to take place on 28 and 31 August. It is the first live online ticket auction to take place in the UK and follows Lufthansa's first attempt in Germany.
This is how it works: bidding on all flights starts from #5, with further bids then rising by #10 or #20. And to stop the Net punters finding themselves caught in a bidding frenzy and paying over the odds for something they don't really want (easy to do, as anyone who has ever played Fantasy Football will testify), Lufthansa is limiting the bidding to each ticket's cost price. There will be a virtual auctioneer presiding to prevent cheeky fake bids.
HOW DOES IT WORK?
The auction is running from an Intel Pentium Pro server with 256Mb of memory which was used in the first German auction. It is being physically shipped to a location in the UK. To allow bids to be made in real-time, a Java applet runs in the browser which acts as the user's interface with the auction.
"The goal of the project was to make it interactive and exciting for the end user," says Alistair Forbes of Lufthansa. "It has to be really fast for real-time. Performance is a very important factor."
WHAT'S THE BUSINESS ANGLE?
Although Lufthansa says it could be repeated if successful, the UK auction appears to be little more than a good idea if it's not going to become a regular occurrence. When you think that 100,000 people tried to get into Lufthansa's German auction, with only 10,000 able to take part, there will be a lot of miffed Web users angry at missing out if the same thing happened in the UK.
So why only have it as a one-off? "We had just relaunched our Internet site and we saw this as a marketing tool to make people more aware of it," says Marcus Ruedigger from the Lufthansa press office.
Running the auction is an innovative move on Lufthansa's part at a time when airlines are desperately looking to use the Internet as a way to sell empty seats on flights. And the fact that the company is already planning another German auction to be held at the end of September - with 1,000 tickets this time - testifies to the popularity of the scheme.
WHAT'S IN THE PIPELINE?
Lufthansa is planning to introduce online ticket selling for any traveller, rather than just the members of its Miles & More frequent flyers club. The rest of the company's global strategy is also impressive. The revamped UK and Ireland site joins the company's main site in Frankfurt, together with 16 others around the world, including sites in Israel, Thailand and China. Rather than construct a uniform site for its global operations as rival British Airways has done, the company is serving regional needs with individual sites.
A regionalised Web presence makes a lot of sense. "A decision was made to produce sites with a local flavour emphasising local aspects," says Mark Davies, Lufthansa marketing co-ordinator. It also enables the European-based sites to carry special offers like Lufthansa's Young Europe Special (YES) deal without offending the people who live in countries outside Europe that are not eligible for the promotion (the Israeli and Japanese sites, for example, contain no mention of YES). And with popular initiatives like ticket auctioning, a localised Web approach to contact customers looks like the way forward.
Target Audience: Frequent flyers
Development Cost: Redesign under #20,000
Network: 2Mb link
The Auction: Java applets in browser with Unix server.
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