19 August 2010

Who Is Fooling Who?

This post is going to be a bit self serving - but I have been waiting for a long time for someone to ask this question. Since no one seems to be doing the honours - looks like I will have to ask it myself.

The question is directed specifically to the legacy GDSs. Each of them has a new product that promises to connect to the other GDSs.

Amadeus One
Sabre Red
Travelport Universal Desktop

(I am not showing favoritism - this is purely in alphabetical order by vendor and by product name).

The promise of multi access content by a GDS based tool complete with access to third party content INCLUDING other GDSs is quite interesting. Surely it is not a technical restriction. Even going back to the good old days of ALC this has been possible with ALC boards from companies like Lanyon, IBM, Emulex etc etc. So it's a commercial issue or is just bloody mindedness? Perhaps something even more sinister?

So far I have yet to see a single announcement of these new tools actually coming to a commercial agreement where the user is free to access third party content on these new agency desktop tools.

GDS contracts now (frequently) contain specific exclusion clauses that expressly forbid the use of a GDS provided tool from accessing third party content of any sort without the specific permission of said legacy GDS.

For those of us old enough to remember when GDSs used to provide agency automation. There was the ludicrous situation of the provider trying to prevent a user from not accessing the web via the terminal to access another GDSs content. Being the sort of person I am - I used to sneak onto stands at Tradeshows and call up a web screen and have a different GDS screens displayed. It would drive people nuts. A Sabre Screen on an Amadeus Stand, A Worldspan screen on a Galileo PC (before the shotgun marriage). I almost felt like a graffiti artist!

Many of my clients have been actually accessing multiple systems for years. it was to enable them to be commercially competitive. If you take Europe where the largest (by passenger) international airline is Ryanair - there is no possible way to prevent a good travel agency from accessing non-GDS content. But there are GDS specific contract clauses which either expressly forbid it or place punitive terms for engaging in that behavior. In the view of what my clients provide as solutions on the technical side - they provide open access tools that enable access to any content through common interfaces for B2C or B2B applications.

So let's cut the rhetoric shall we and call a spade a spade. GDS open access is a marketing ploy and a nonstarter in any form of reality.

But let's see if anyone tries to do it. I have actually seen demos of all 3 tools with access to other GDS content. Too bad the commercial nature of the legacy GDSs which is to restrict the access to having them be the gatekeepers (complete with ever rising toll charges).

But let me make a prediction.

This is going to be swept away. The control of the access to content by anyone - will make that player go the way of - well let's say AOL.

Predicting when it will happen is somewhat hard - but happen it will.

Just as the Fool on the Hill.



Mark Lenahan said...

I think the exclusion clause is the first thing to disappear once the agency has sufficient size or leverage. Would it not becomes a preference clause - maybe the language has ratios or minimums to protect the primary GDS - but no longer total exclusion?

I admit to being biased, because most of my agency history is on the TMC side. So what I'm saying doesn't count for smaller agents. 10 years ago I was working in the offices of GDS A converting their desktop GUI/scripts to work with GDS B, because a particular TMC had to use GDS B for a particular account. Anecdotally that situation still persists today.

Oh course high end TMCs will snub the GDS desktops in favour of their own technology. So my question is - exactly what market are the GDSs going for with this?

Andrew said...

I have some unnamed clients who mashup GDSs a lot, they just don't tell.

John S said...

Dearest Professor,

"Who is fooling WHOM" is the correct usage. I am sure your error is simply a momentary lapse in what is otherwise impeccable judgment and enticing commentary.

Your fellow colleague and friend,

Professor John

Professor Sabena said...

Thanks for your comments...

I will note that the mistake in the grammar was actually intentional. It seems that it is an acceptable form. And a thank you to the many people who sent me a note on this subject.

But if I may be serious on this topic. Both Mark and Andrew make good points. Things are far more negotiable than they were. In 1984 when I negotiated my first Agency Subscriber Agreement - I was told the men in the white coats would come and remove me for even contemplating changing the T&Cs of a GDS contract. At the time I worked for a top 20 agency in the USA.

Today's incentive payments have become a significant drug to the point that even large agencies who should know better are signing these draconian clauses.

The emergence of true tools do indeed make GDS tools largely redundant. But even companies like CWT that have been trying to develop an own workstation for years - they have decided to partner with specialist Rearden Commerce for their Corp Booking Tool. Concur with it's cliq book is seeing good adoption with partners.

So apologies for offending anyone's sensibility with my poor English.