The unintended consequences of airline direct connect adoption for the travel agency: improved productivity, reduced cost of operations and greater control of their destiny.
What? That can't be true. Direct connect is supposed to increase costs for all and cause massive loss of agency productivity. That's what we've been hearing, right?
But what if that isn't true? What if, with adoption of some of the direct connects, the travel agency is instead the biggest beneficiary? How can this be? [more]
Here is the hypothesis:
With travel agency adoption of direct connect the industry will, once and for all, be forced to efficiently and cost-effectively address the complex, redundant, closed and fragmented travel agency selling systems.
What complexity and fragmentation, you ask? Well for starters, out of the travel selling system box we have 3, 4 or 5 GDS companies offering basically the same set of fundamental products and services. Yet, as the standards advocates like to say, there is no interoperability or consistency. Each GDS travel agency system is generally closed and proprietary. And worse yet, the most critical of data sets required for efficient travel agency operations - the traveler profile, the PNR and the back-office interface record are all different, sitting in multiple locations (corporate booking tool, GDS, QC) and, for the most part, are proprietary data structures.
What does this mean? It means any travel agency or third party developer that wants to develop and integrate agency productivity systems or applications must first develop and maintain three or more unique GDS application interface protocols. Anyone who has done this, or is in the process of attempting this, knows it is extremely expensive, highly inefficient and a waste of precious development resources.
Up until now all this unnecessary cost and complexity has been addressed with one-off or sub-optimal bolt-on solutions developed by individual travel agencies or third party niche players. I have always found it very interesting that larger technology players such as IBM, HP and Microsoft have never really attempted to touch this space-- which presents so much optimization opportunity --with real technology solutions. I would argue that a big reason that large-scale technology companies avoid the travel-selling arena is the level of dysfunction and protectionist dynamic that our travel industry has fostered. But that's a lesson for another day...
Let's get back to our current point. What if there was an easier way? What if innovation within these closed systems really were allowed to happen? What if a travel agency could:
1. Easily manage their customer profiles in a single location, regardless of GDS, using readily available, off-the-shelf applications?
2. Easily connect to multiple content sources including all the GDSs, direct connects and web content with one standard schema and single integration effort? Then have all that content data normalized and aggregated to one travel agent selling interface...with full support for integrated traditional itinerary-based, bundled product and ancillary/optional selling algorithms on a single screen - fully transparent, no hidden fees and full comparison shopping.
3. Finally achieve full nirvana by having a single, normalized PNR database, holding and actually managing PNRs for all GDSs, direct connects and even mixed content source PNRs? Here I refer to the true SuperPNR that seamlessly manages update and change activity and, as importantly, allows all those agency and third-party developed systems to only have to integrate to a single PNR schema.
Think about how much cost and complexity could be taken out overnight! Isn't this what all agencies should be asking for? Wouldn't this force the GDS' to build similar competitive products? Wouldn't these "unintended consequences" of the airlines' direct connect strategy change the industry for the better?
Impossible? Real? Fact? Fiction? And could it ever work? Somebody should ask the question...or better yet, let's find out. Maybe one of the travel agency advocacy groups or corporate travel buyer groups like GBTA or ACTE could find and sponsor one or two travel agency "make-overs". We certainly would be willing to put our solution up to the test. Let's do this in a very public, transparent and open environment for all to see what truly is possible... and what is not.
We owe it to ourselves to at least try. We're up to the challenge. Anyone else?
In order to truly gauge the ability to simplify the desktop, the ideal test agency should have more than one GDS, work with a corporate booking tool(s), use some mid and back-office product(s), seek to use one or more direct connects, and of course, have permission from their GDSs to participate in this experiment.
Sure would be interesting to see what could be really done in 90 days!