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

Archive for the ‘Travel Industry’ Category

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.

brucebishins smallWe were saddened to hear that Bruce Bishins, president and CEO of ARTA Canada, passed away last week. For all those who knew Bruce, either personally or simply through his speeches, blogs and media, it is no exaggeration to say that our industry lost a titan. A powerful, compelling voice has fallen silent, but the impact of Bruce’s legacy will live on for decades.

In a time when travel agencies and travel agent groups are experiencing enormous pressures—economic, political and technological—Bruce was consistently forward-thinking and unabashed to share his view of our industry’s future. He embraced modernizing the industry, but always demanded that his constituents—the travel agents—not be overlooked in the process. No matter the venue or the audience, you could rely on Bruce and his inspired mind to deliver a solid, fair message that challenged all of us to think bigger and to walk our talk.

The last time I saw Bruce was at the Department of Transportation Consumer Protection meeting in August 2012 in Washington, DC. Seeing Bruce at this meeting took me by surprise as he no longer had the physical appearance of the man I had known for years. I learned he had suffered a pretty severe stroke months earlier, which had clearly taken its toll on him. Outwardly, he seemed a shadow of his former self, but inwardly it was the same old Bruce, with his never-ending passion to do the right thing and to call out others when they did not. While Bruce had clearly suffered from his stroke physically, his heart, soul, and even his sense of humor were all still intact. And despite his struggle to “get the words out,” Bruce delivered a power-punched speech to a room full of industry and Department of Transportation executives. At one point he told me he was learning to talk all over again and joked that was the last thing he expected he would ever have to do, but that he was up for the challenge… as he always was.

Bruce was very seldom at a loss for words, and he certainly was not on that day many of us saw him in DC. He was an outspoken leader for the travel industry, driven by passion, the quest for innovation, and personal creativity. His calm, compassionate yet powerful voice will be missed.

I’m not sure if you caught IATA’s recent paper, “A Road Map to Prepare for Tomorrow’s Passenger: Five Goals Towards Sustainable Profits and Better Service,” but I must say I was more than impressed. My hat goes off to IATA for understanding that the status quo is no longer working for airlines, distributors, and the consumers they serve.

The paper, part of IATA’s Simplifying the Business (StB) program, looks to “define the next wave of projects that will allow the industry to save costs, improve service and prepare for tomorrow’s passenger.”

There are several key words there that make me believe IATA really gets it. Save costs—a clear need for an industry that is still using old and expensive technology. Improve service­—in case you haven’t noticed, the airline industry isn’t exactly winning over consumers, but we have the ability to change that. Tomorrow’s passenger—yes, yes, yes! Exactly! What consumers have come to expect is well beyond what we’re providing today. We have to recognize and anticipate the needs of tomorrow’s passenger today, and by doing so we will also save costs and improve service.

© Marek - Fotolia.com

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For someone who travels as much as I do, sleep is at a premium. Besides being a time for me to regain my strength, it’s also a time to escape the trials and tribulations of daily life. I mean, I love those dreams where I’m Indiana Jones. You know, chasing the bad guys, winning gunfights, and of course, recovering the gold. Or the ones where I’m a Pro Bowl quarterback throwing the game-winning touchdown, giving the postgame interview, then giving some kid my game ball as I tussle his hair on the way to my helicopter.

Now those are fun dreams. An escape. And let me tell you, there is nothing worse than dreaming about work. I’m awake worrying about work 16 hours a day. The last thing I want is for it to start permeating my dreams. But sure enough, the other night I had a dream about what the conversation must be like these days between a Corporate Travel Manager and a Travel Management Company. Yeah, I know, not nearly as exciting.

Luckily for us, I was able to film one of my dreams. Don’t you imagine the conversation between Ms. Corporate Travel Manager and Mr. TMC would go something like this:

A Bobblehead’s Corporate Travel Manager Dream

You just gotta check this out. Over the past couple of days I have read a few Beat articles on which—for as much as I would like to just relax on a beautiful Sunday morning with my Metamucil, or Muesli, or whatever it is us “experienced” guys are supposed to take to keep us feeling spry—I simply must comment. I am referring to the articles where some large TMC execs (TMC is large, not the execs) have determined… let me get this right, “…should it [American Airlines] become unavailable in global distribution systems. CWT has indicated that because booking AA outside the GDSs drives up operational costs, the carrier’s exit would result in a $3 per-transaction “search” charge applied on all bookings for those clients wishing to include AA in their shopping. An additional $22 would be charged for bookings actually made with AA.”

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So there I was on Sunday—Mother’s Day—sitting on a very comfortable couch. I had just returned from the bakery after picking up a few of my wife’s favorite breakfast pastries. Now obviously she’s not my mother, but I figured I had to do something considering that the kids would probably once again be scrambling that morning to find something they didn’t want anymore to re-gift to her, or make a dash to the gas station for a lovely floral arrangement.

Anyway, everyone else was still asleep and I was enjoying a lovely cup of coffee. I figured I might as well catch up on some emails. As soon as I logged on, there it was—an email from the marketing team. The subject was, “BTC is at it again.” Great. What now? I had yet to even open it and my Sunday—Mother’s Day—was ruined.

Look, I’m sure the folks at Business Travel Coalition are not bad guys. Really. We just happen to be on diametrically opposite sides of the travel distribution debate. Oil and water. Fire and ice. You get the idea. Read the rest of this entry »

Hello blogosphere! I’m so happy to have you here on our new Ask the Question blog! We finally have our own little piece of the Web where we can share our—okay, my—thoughts, views and insights on travel distribution and technology with you. Isn’t it so exciting?!  I’m happy enough I could — ugh, who am I kidding? I can’t fake it anymore. Despite all these exclamation marks, I am not a happy camper.

First, the marketing team won’t give me the password to the blog, so I have to send everything to them first. I mean, what are they worried about? That I might have a glass of wine (or three) and write and post a blog piece that ends up in a libel suit? Not me. Yours truly would never commit such a peccadillo (thanks, word of the day calendar).
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