British Airways set to raise budget in U.S.

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The International Air Transport Association predicts overseas travel will be down between 15% and 20% because of the war in Iraq, but at least one major foreign carrier is continuing to commit to new U.S. marketing efforts.

Despite the drop in bookings, British Airways-which began its fiscal year April 1-is pressing on with plans to keep itself front-of-mind for those continuing to fly. It intends to spend slightly more on marketing than it did last year, when it spent $24 million in measured media, according to Taylor Nelson Sofres' CMR.

British Airways has allocated $1.5 million for initiatives pegged to its third sponsorship of the Wimbledon tennis tournament in London in June and July. Wimbledon is broadcast in the U.S. by General Electric Co.'s NBC.

Longtime creative agency partner M&C Saatchi, New York, plans an outdoor initiative that recreates Wimbledon's center court in New York's Grand Central Terminal. Visitors will be able to play tennis and buy official merchandise. Amy O'Kane, manager of marketing services at the airline overseeing advertising, brands and sponsorship, said the tie-in will extend even to the in-flight experience and airport lounges. "We'll be serving Pims [drinks] and strawberries and ice cream. It's a nice link in terms of service. We'll also have airport decals reading `Prepare for Service' and will give out tennis balls on board."

The airline also plans a sweepstakes to win a trip to the tennis event and Agency.com-backed Web firm Itraffic is helping develop a microsite for the airline.

The British carrier is focusing marketing attention on its unique Club World, or business-class, flat beds. The ongoing flat-bed ad, also created by M&C Saatchi, New York, features a man getting into bed in New York's Times Square and getting out of bed in London's Piccadilly Circus. The ad has run in local markets since September, but will get its first national showing on NBC during the tournament.

Patrick Collins, client-services director at M&C Saatchi, New York, said, "The airline will be buying throughout the summer to jump-start travel to the U.K. and Europe. In the fall we'll begin focusing again on business travel."

Airlines have been ailing since Sept. 11, 2001. The air transport association estimates the industry's 2002 global losses were $13 billion, with U.S. carriers alone losing $10 billion. United Airlines remains in Chapter 11, while US Airways is just emerging from bankruptcy-protection courts. Last week, Air Canada declared bankruptcy. That follows the collapse of Swiss Air in October 2001. British Airways has also been affected by the downturn, and intends to cut 13,000 employees by 2004.

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