A news release late last month announced a new relationship between Farelogix and ITA Software. First a bit of disclosure, Farelogix has been a Travel Tech Consulting Inc. (TTCI) client and I have known the founder of ITA Software since 1997 when I participated in a presentation at Sun Microsystems (another TTCI client) where Jeremy Wertheimer first presented the ITA faring solution as part of a visit by a major TMC. Many in the corporate travel world may falsely believe that the concept of a GNE (GDS New Entrant a term coined by a former UA executive back in 2005) is old news and is no longer relevant based on the 5 year agreements signed last year between the major airlines and GDS. How are the GNEs continuing to survive and why have the three original GNEs embraced each other? It is important to note that G2Swithworks the other major GNE who received lots of press in 2005 already has a relationship with ITA Software as well as sharing a funding relationship with Texas Pacific Group who now also owns Sabre). In 2006, ITA shifted their focus away from GDS bypass to building a next generation CRS (Central Reservation System) for their "beachhead client" Air Canada. Farelogix has successfully continued to sign direct connection agreements with major airlines and was selected to provide the plumbing for BCD Travel's Renaissance Project. There are four major trends that continue to provide opportunity for these so-called GNEs
- Unbundling of Air Pricing- The move by the airlines to provide a menu approach to pricing that charges different fares for different levels of services (e.g. a different price if you don't check bags or change your ticket) is being implemented or considered by all the major airlines. Whether the traditional mainframe-based platform of the GDS can accommodate this new pricing strategy is still an open question.
- Leverage to Negotiate lower GDS Fees - Another key issue keeping the GNE activity alive is whether GDS fees can be further reduced beyond current agreements. The fixed costs in operating a GDS may limit how low their fees can go in the next round of negotiations. Even though we are about 3-4 years away from the renegotiation, airlines continue to support alternative distribution as a way to provide leverage for future negotiations.
- Flexibility to Control Distribution - In 2006, Farelogix released its Distribution Manager software which enables " TMCs to effectively control the sourcing for each supplier's inventory through preferred booking sources, while maintaining contractual commitments to the various Global Distribution Systems (GDS) and direct supplier relationships." This control over distribution may be used by the TMC or corporation to gain further leverage in airline negotiations
- Shifting the Aggregation point to the TMC - The reality of travel distribution is that content continues to remain fragmented. For example, corporate buyers continue to push hotel reservations through the GDS (either through self-booking or call center activity) but a good portion of hotels are still booked via the telephone. In Europe, where travel inventory has always been fragmented, a need to integrate boutique hotels, rail, ferry and other components into a super PNR is still required. BTN highlighted this in a recent article regarding HRG and BCD super PNR efforts.
Please don't misinterpret my comments here as I am NOT voicing the old hackney message that "The GDS are dinosaurs and are history" These companies still are at the heart of travel distribution both online and off. The ongoing viability of GNEs due to the factors above will continue to push the market to provide a more flexible distribution solution that ultimately allows suppliers to better segment their clients and target their best customers with special offers (a basic tenant of CRM). As the ultimate purchases of business travel, the corporate buying community needs to pay attention to this trends to insure that total supply is offered and that the corporation in conjunction with their TMC controls the distribution choices allowing additional leverage in supplier negotiations.