Gillespie On BTC's Ancillary Crusade - Socialistic Travel, Anyone?

Just for a moment, set your clock back about twenty years. Imagine a wild-eyed socialist screaming at Michael Dell and Steve Jobs about the the pain and suffering they were causing consumers by--gasp--their choices of product standards and distribution channels.

"You, Dell, need to make your computers available to the masses! In every store! Through every channel! Wherever the working man wishes to find it!"

"And you, Jobs, you need to build products that are open! That play nice with Windows! That fit the established order of things!"

The guy is trying to impose a socialistic structure on the production and distribution of goods in a highly competitive market. What an asinine position to take, don't you think?

And yet that's exactly what the Business Travel Coalition seems to be crying for in the travel industry. As reported elsewhere, Kevin Mitchell, BTC's chairman, has drafted an open letter to the CEOs of the major US airlines. Excerpts follow:

"To that end, we ask you to ensure the full scope of your products is made accessible and transparent to all travelers, regardless of channel choice.

"The only path to near-term, broad availability of your airline's ancillary products is to develop and deploy merchandising capabilities within the existing technology framework of your distribution system partners and corporate customers.

"...we have developed principles and standards which we ask you to review and commit to through a public statement of support."

Mr. Mitchell seems to think that the airlines are incapable of making good decisions about how, where and to whom they distribute their products. Perhaps he would do well to read "Capitalism and Freedom," Milton Friedman's book on the benefits of free markets.

The BTC's solution would have all airline content go through every current channel, accessible to one and all, with no alternative channel monkey business. In short, full commoditization of each airline's channel strategy. I'm guessing that sound you just heard is the collective puking of every airline distribution VP.

Commoditization of most any kind is the last thing the airline industry needs. Airlines shouldn't have to wait for the GDSs to catch up with the market. If they want to innovate with new distribution technology and new channel strategies, good luck and God bless 'em.

Innovation is messy and unpredictable, but it has a pretty good track record for delivering value--something corporate buyers can absolutely be trusted to recognize.

Free markets don't make everybody happy, but they work better than their socialistic alternatives. Trying to shoehorn every airline into the same distribution box is bad business.

Scott Gillespie is the author of Gillespie's Guide to Travel + Procurement. These comments were published as a guest column in The Beat.