The news broke earlier this month that Pegasus Solutions had 'evolved' its Utell services into something called Pegasus Connect, an unlovely corporate euphemism to describe the death and interment of a once-illustrious travel industry name. I'm sure for the new regime at Pegasus the realignment of its products and brands makes perfect sense, but for me as a member of the Utell alumni it was a bit like hearing that a much loved elderly relative had been quietly offed and buried in an unmarked grave.
To be fair, this elderly relative had been on life support for many years. As head of the Americas for Utell back in 2000 when Pegasus bought the REZsolutions (Anasazi/Utell) organization, I remember being handed a set of newly designed Utell logos that shrieked Pegasus; the traditional blues replaced with the Pegs red and black, the 'by Pegasus' tag dwarfing the Utell name. A backlash initially brought some moderation to these changes but resistance was ultimately futile. Over the next few years, apart from a brief flourish under Peter Fitzgerald, Utell diminished in status from company to product offering to legacy name.
Back in the last century it was all so different. Utell gave me my first chance in the hotel industry in what proved to be the company's heyday of the '80s and '90s. It was an incredibly dynamic environment and I owe everything I know about the principles of hotel & travel distribution to the likes of Webley, Franks, Perry, Ball, Blaseby, Hope, Holdsworth, Gorga and Misunas. I started in the Reservations department booking hotels on freesale from availability charts printed on microfiche, but it was the automation of the industry that was the making of Utell. Exponential growth came from some very astute moves to place 6500 hotels on systems such as Travicom, START and SMART, the forerunners of the GDS. At the time no other company could offer so many hotels worldwide and travel agents were quick to take advantage.
Where and when did it all go wrong? Theories abound and some border on the libellous. My own theory is that the very factors that created the platform for Utell's meteoric growth also sowed the seeds of its demise. 6500 hotels in one system began to look paltry in the face of 40 or 50 thousand in a GDS or OTA. Barriers to entry for hotel connectivity services plummeted and suddenly the distribution marketplace was awash with reps offering cheap online access. Utell held fast for a long time, but it wasn't to be.
It is widely assumed that Utell is an acronym but it isn't. Henry Utell was an Austrian travel writer who emigrated to the US in 1927. Whenever his new countrymen were travelling to Europe they would ask for Henry's advice on where they should stay. Recognising a business opportunity, Henry founded his eponymous representation company 3 years later.
Henry died in 1990 and according to his obituary in the New York Times he had no immediate survivors. I might take issue with that last point. Old Henry has hundreds of survivors like me and the many others whom I was privileged to work alongside. You will find them everywhere, liberally scattered across the worldwide map of hotel distribution, sales and marketing; many of them in positions of authority and influence, guiding the development of the next generation of hotel technology services. Here's to all of you - you know who you are. And thanks. It was good while it lasted.