Questioning the travel industry status quo, one blog post at a time

Early last week I had an Op-ed published in The Beat on the topic of “Full Content” (if you are a subscriber to The Beat, you can see my Op-ed here). I then read, with interest, James Filsinger’s response to my Op-ed. I sincerely appreciate anyone taking the time to enter the conversation. However, James made a few assertions that, as they say in the news business, can be unpacked here.

The first point he makes is that consumers go to online travel agencies and service providers to procure travel and that is certainly correct. However, he asserted that GDSs have access to all content. While the GDSs have a lot of content, and they want the world in which they operate to believe they have all content, this is simply not true and never has been true. In fact, the GDS “full content” provisions came about precisely because they did not have full content, namely the so-called “web fares”.  Similarly, low-cost carrier content has been a major issue for GDSs since the early 1990s.  And of course, ancillary content is the latest gap to hit the GDSs. Not to mention hotel and car rental content which have never been close to being fully available through the GDSs.

You may also recall this research study undertaken jointly by IATA, WTAAA, T2Impact and Atmosphere Research that surveyed travel agencies worldwide. The resulting report concluded, among other things, that “GDSs are no longer the comprehensive ‘department stores’ housing all airline content” and that on average, agencies book 26% of their air outside the GDS.

Over the years, in an attempt to close some of their content gap the GDSs have been forced to accept disparate content from suppliers via APIs, primarily from Low Cost Carriers (LCCs). The difference today is that NDC makes it possible for the GDSs, and any others, to aggregate disparate content in an easier and much more cost effective way than the one-off efforts of years past. I’m certainly not saying the GDSs want or like to do this, but as more and more airlines become the single source of truth for their content and delivery (via NDC APIs), the GDS that reinvents itself into a new world content aggregator (think plug and play NDC connections with new display and selling UIs instead of Green Screens) will clearly win the new GDS market share game.

Let’s move onto Filsinger’s assertion that the GDSs are like Amazon. Sure, in an ideal world, a lot of people would all like to think of the GDSs like Amazon. Similarly, in my ideal world, I’d like everyone to think of me as a 30-year-old, with washboard abs, and flowing locks of gold. Of course, the problem that I share with GDSs is when you meet either of us, you are sadly disappointed. As a big Amazon fan, I really appreciate their intuitive user interface, their one-click selling capability, their smart-learning product suggestion algorithms, and efficient and straight forward product descriptions. Do you see the similarities with the GDSs? Me neither!

And, I’m sorry, but Filsinger is wrong on this point too – a seat is not just a seat. The number one desire for corporate travelers is seats, seats, seats – location, pitch, legroom, comfort – all matter.  And, many of us road-ragged warriors are more than willing and eager to pay for better ones. Just look at the numbers coming in around premium seat sales – it’s simply astonishing.

Lastly, regarding his comment about my broad brushing the GDSs as “anti-competitive evildoers”: in fairness, I don’t believe I ever said evildoers. But anticompetitive? You bet! And this is not just my opinion. A jury in a Federal Court found the Sabre Full Content provisions to be anticompetitive AND harmful to airlines and consumers. This is Sherman Act antitrust stuff, so yes, my broad paint brush works quite well, thank you. The Beat did a great job of covering the trial, so I’d suggest checking out their archives. Or, if you’re interested in prior actions directed at American, Northwest and other airlines, you can read the transcripts of the 2012 American Airlines v. Sabre trial here.

Thanks again for the comments on my Op-ed, and for continuing the conversation.