22 February 2009

JetBlue Now Loves the GDS - Higher Yields...BUT...

I find this an interesting discussion. For some stats - click on over to the Beat's website and check out David Jonas's blog on the subject of jetBlue and its relationship to the GDSs:


The GDSs and the Hotels have long argued that the GDS represents a higher yield channel. And actually it probably does. But lets consider the reasons before drinking all the KoolAid and rushing headlong into the arms of Dallas, Madrid and Atlanta.

The Travel Agency market has largely lost the small travel agency. While pockets still exist - the travel distribution market has fundamentally changed within the last 15 years. There are very few Mom and Pop type businesses that sell airline tickets. That business has gone online and for no commission the remaining business is split between the OTAs and the airline direct business. However the Corp market has largely not changed. Even though GetThere and other online versions of corporate tools have been out for a long time - they have not fundamentally changed either the profile - or more importantly the habits of the Corporate travelers. So the TMC remains a largely captive GDS market. A fact that the GDSs still hang onto. A word to describe that process would be - FEROCIOUSLY.

So with jetBlue wanting to access the business travel market as its own model matures - it is seeing a higher yield emerging from the GDS channel. Indeed Southwest and in Europe EasyJet are seeing the same thing and are so pursuing it. But I caution, this is not a function of the GDS model itself but the market. And this is where the non-sequitor exists. The self fulfilling prophesy means that there is a very tight symbiotic relationship between the GDSs and the TMCs. Hence Charles Petrocelli's statements at PhocusWright in LAX in November to that effect.

However as I talk to real travellers and workers who live with the constraints of the TMC/GDS based booking services made by people who (the travellers believe) have little or no consideration of their needs, its become obvious that the situation is not sustainable for the long term. The move to a tight budget environment has travellers making decisions on what is the cheapest flights rather than the most convenient. This pressure has been there for the SMEs for a long time whose yields have always been lower for airlines as they tend to book direct or via OTAs.

Now in today's new reality, the bigger Corps are feeling the same pressure. If you want to travel for business you had better chose the absolute lowest cost solution or not go. Guess what? In droves business travel people are going to their managers and showing them the lower prices available on the OTA or direct websites.

This is a dirty little secret that none of the existing players - the Suppliers, GDSs and TMCs - really want anyone to notice.

I am not slamming anyone for this behavior. Convenience always trumps price in a conventional environment. But these are not conventional times. The creativity that used to be applied to maximizing frequent flyer points is now being applied to justifying trips that the corporate travellers absolutely need to make so that their businesses can actually stay afloat. Survival drives some radically different behavior.

Bottom line to all this - the GDS/TMC model is due for sea change. Already we see this occurring in that there is competition creeping into the mix. The GDSs are now competing with their best clients (Travelocity for Business as an example) and TMCs are developing their own holistic full content supply chain management systems for which the GDS is not the sole/exclusive source.

I will conclude by reminding you dear reader - that I, fundamentally and for a very long time, have believed that fragmentation is a way of life. You cannot legislate against it or prevent it. It is inevitable. Those who embrace it will be winners. Those who deny it will be road kill. 'Nuff said?


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