Any GDS Can Be Just Another Connection

In response to Monday's announcement about Expedia and American Airlines coming to terms on a Direct Connect solution to be powered by a GDS aggregation technology, at least one commentator seems certain that GDS is not Travelport. But just because AA and Travelport are battling in court, and Travelport continues enticing Orbitz away from the AA direct connection, does not mean Travelport is unable to support other distributors who want the AA pipe. In some ways, Travelport has been the GDS which is most open to cobbling together non-GDS content using unorthodox models. (See deals with Air Canada, easyJet and Southwest.)
I have no insider information on which GDS Expedia will use. But it must be said that Travelport isn't shy about fulfilling such a role as it hypes its Universal Application Programming Interface, which is exactly the sort of thing one would describe as a GDS "aggregating technology."

Hogg Robinson last month announced a global agreement to use this aggregating solution. Amadeus and Sabre certainly also have the technology, though they are not marketing it as much.

HRG group distribution and technology director Bill Brindle characterized the company's use of the uAPI as "simply another form of connection," which is a fate GDSs may have feared but a category in which they are the leading competitors, by a wide margin. Consultants including Norm Rose have posited this outcome for years. The Expedia decision, following the Priceline decision, confirms that this era has dawned.

The question for travel management companies is what platform do they run, and can it accept such connections? Some large agencies have been building those blocks for some time. At HRG, for example, the Universal Super Platform will remain the company's paramount content nexus, Brindle said. HRG will continue to build its own APIs to content suppliers, such as U.K. rail booking provider Thetrainline and airport car parking vendor Purple Parking.

"We have always said we will seek the easiest way to connect to content," he said. The Universal API from Travelport "saves us the labor-intensity of having to connect 35 or 40 times to different suppliers. The Universal Super Platform strategy is still very much on track, and enables us to add content and processes that may not be in a GDS."

The USP also allows HRG to control presentation of supplier content on its reservations agents' desktops in a uniform manner. Brindle added that uAPI enriches the content HRG takes from Travelport beyond what is in its Galileo and Apollo global distribution systems. Brindle cited the low-cost carrier easyJet as an example. EasyJet is available in Travelport's Galileo GDS, but only for booking the seat, not ancillary charges. With the uAPI connection, HRG can now book checked bags for customers as well. "It gives the content carrier a richer data feed in many respects," said Brindle.

Agencies that have not built their own platforms may turn to the likes of Amadeus, Sabre or Travelport, or Datalex, or Farelogix, or Pass Consulting, and maybe others, for that same setup.

Travelport product manager for e-commerce services Phil Donathy said large agencies with their own desktops are one of three types of customers at which uAPI is aimed. "It is the job of a GDS to get content in a way [users] don't have to do it themselves," he said. "Every additional connection costs them time and money."

The other two target markets for uAPI are online travel agencies and third-party developers. The first customer for uAPI, announced in November 2010, was a small Dutch travel software developer called BookInn. The uAPI is based on technology Travelport inherited when it acquired G2 SwitchWorks in 2008.

As for Travelport's agent desktop product, Universal Desktop, CEO Jeff Clarke last week claimed the company has a "solid pipeline" of customers and test client Flight Centre is "implementing this in multiple countries."

~ Amon Cohen contributed to this report