Sabre to 'Simplify' Developer Relationships

Sabre Travel Network is considering restricting the number of third parties authorized to develop technology that interacts with the global distribution system.

Apparently sparked by policies Sabre enacted in 2005 to stop certain tech firms from using its system in ways that did not generate revenue for Sabre, the new program is worrying some travel distribution sources, who fear it could stall innovation and hamper their companies or partners.

A Sabre spokesperson offered the following statements by email: "Since we are in the midst of discussions right now, all we really want to comment on about this is that there are over 150 third party developers who have access to Sabre. We want to simplify the number and types of relationships we have with those developers, and we are in the midst of having those conversations."

Multiple sources said they were aware of the initiative.

BookingBuilder president Seth Perelman said he could not confirm "where we are" on Sabre's list. "We have talked to them a lot," he said. In a voicemail left for The Beat, AgentWare CEO Ivan Bekkers said he was "aware" of the program, but added that he could not elaborate. Carmine Carpanzano, president and CEO of booking tool vendor nuTravel, said he could not comment because of ongoing negotiations with Sabre. Cornerstone Information Systems president Mat Orrego acknowledged that his company is working on a new agreement with Sabre.

"There are a lot of developers out there, and the balance is that you want to be open and allow people to enhance the platform, but you have to make sure they are doing so," said BookingBuilder's Perelman. Sabre is "taking a long time to figure out how to protect their investment. I don't know to what extent they have made decisions or let people know. Our travel agency customers have made their opinions known."

One such customer is Atlas Travel, where chief technology officer Rock Blanco is not particularly pleased with the program. "My response is one word: Galileo," said Blanco, concerned that such partners as BookingBuilder could be shut out of authorized development on the Sabre platform. "The root of the problem is that the GDSs don't have all the content. If they did, this would be a moot point and there would be no AgentWares or BookingBuilders."

Some third parties have used what are known as a passive segments to help build passenger name records which also contain bookings not made in the GDS. It's not clear whether Sabre's authorization initiative is designed only to address that issue, or whether it also aims to curb excessive GDS searching and/or address new measures implemented in key airline contracts signed last year. Sabre in 2005 took steps to stop outside firms from using passive segments, saying they could only do so for content that was not available in Sabre. It was then that the company first mentioned the nascent authorization program. Aside from companies named as temporarily exempt from the policy, Sabre at the time said the only authorized application developer was its own GetThere subsidiary.

"It's realistic to think they would try to crack down on the storage and use," said Travel Tech Consulting president Norm Rose. "It shouldn't be a surprise. If the system is used in a way that does not generate revenue, that would be a concern."

Blanco suggested that in that case, Sabre should assess a fee for passive segments. "If they come up with a reasonable price, I have never said I wouldn't pay it," he said.

The Sabre system hasn't always been open to third-party development. "I remember when we first opened it up," said Essential Ideas consultant Terry Jones, a former Sabre executive. "There had been a lot of complaints when Sabre was totally closed, but when we first put out personal computers, we couldn't ensure things would remain stable. It sounds like the issue today is not much different. They want to run the system in a way that's good for the agent, but also returns revenue to Sabre. There are lots of tech companies that have certified developer programs and that's just because they want to make sure that, in the end, the applications running on top of their systems are robust, work well and add value."

Jones contrasted Sabre's position with the likes of Microsoft or Oracle, since Sabre's system generates recurring revenue.