In a small cupboard at the top of my house lies a hidden treasure trove of extraordinary worth. Before anyone decides to look me up for a quick break-in, the worth is not monetary but personal. And the treasure is not pirate gold (though some is definitely pirated) but plastic. Vinyl LPs. About 500 hundred of them, lovingly kept, filed in alphabetical order. Over the past few years I've observed with wry satisfaction as this ancient but wonderful format has started appearing once again on the shelves of music stores, the medium of choice for young musicians seeking a warm authentic sound.
I mention this only because if old farts like me wait long enough, everything comes round again - fashion, music, travel systems....yes, I did write 'travel systems'. The ongoing dispute between American Airlines and Sabre (and Expedia and Orbitz, and...and...) may be new news but the underlying arguments are as old as my LPs. The latest falling-out is based on the first principles of distribution: 1)control your channels and 2)drive down cost. American wants to sell its seats and services 'direct to market' in its own unique, revenue-enhancing way; optimal presentation of the product and packaged ancillary services, all without the inconvenience of paying Sabre and its (in their minds) greedy GDS & OTA brothers a hefty fee for a decidedly sub-optimal presentation. On the other hand, GDSs & OTAs argue that not having the ability to present a full range of options to the consumer in a standard format will only lead to frustration and lost business.
So what to do? Well, I have an idea. Let's develop a technology that enables users to book travel by using a single portal into multiple supplier systems. I even have a name for it - a multi-access system. We could call it...errr... Travicom. Or SMART or START or DMars. If those names mean nothing to you then you'll just have to imagine that there really was a world before GDSs. A world where the travel community used dumb terminals to access the databases of airlines, hotel groups and car rental companies.
Are we returning to a new form of the old world? Much will depend on whether the GDSs get their act together and provide a platform that meets the changing demands of suppliers...at an acceptable cost. If they don't...well, you know what they say, 'what goes around comes around'... and that's on the record.