Travelport is poised to begin migrating corporate and leisure agents to a brand new GDS it has created in Japan as part of an agreement with the JAL-run AXESS system.
Moving AXESS-connected agents to the new platform with a phased migration will begin in October and is expected to take until March 2014, with a number of customers already beta testing the service and training also under way.
The switch has come about after Travelport and the Japanese flag carrier signed an agreement in April 2012 to replace the existing AXESS back-end with an entirely new system to be hosted at Travelport's Atlanta data centre in the US.
Although agents (a combination of TMCs and leisure, both online and offline retail) will continue to use an AXESS-themed interface (known as CREA), everything behind the scenes to power the system will be new.
Travelport has built what it calls a "partition" of its existing Worldspan GDS solely for use by AXESS-connected agents, having spent the 16 months since the agreement was signed establishing the "unique requirements" for the Japanese market (a 200-page document), integrating teams and developing the system.
Such nuances to the Japanese market include a complicated ticketing process between airlines and agents, localised content and language considerations.
A number of existing CREA agency desktop services will remain in the new system, but it will also include some of Travelport's other tools for agents (mobile-enabled, for example) and, over time, elements from the Universal Desktop and Sharepoint platforms could be introduced within the CREA interface.
Low cost carrier, ancillary products, hotel and car rental content from the wider Travelport empire are also expected to be added to the new AXESS system, says chief commercial officer Kurt Ekert.
Ekert says the project has required "a very large technical effort" through its various phases, including integrating a number of platforms behind the scenes, such as its e-Pricing system, as well as ensuring the uniquely Japanese search, booking and transaction elements work within its existing GDS processes.
AXESS executives have recognised that the existing system needed overhauling, with CEO Hoshiko Nakano admitting "the airline and travel industry businesses are changing, and, as the bridge of these industries, this requires the GDS to also transform".
For Travelport the chance for a "commitment to working together [with AXESS]" in the long term (contract length not disclosed) in an important market is a major part of its ongoing strategy.
The AXESS project brings revenue to Travelport via the hosting services it will provide and an ongoing fee on agency transactions, but perhaps of equal importance is capitalising on what Ekert calls "non-traditional opportunities" in the world of GDSs, by partnering with organisations in markets with the "size and potential" of Japan.
It is a model that Ekert remains "very open-minded" about with regards to replicating it elsewhere around the world in the future.
It wouldn't be a GDS partnership, of course, without some kind of back-story.
The agreement between Travelport and AXESS signed in April 2012 also coincided with JAL ending a relationship and buying back shares in its subsidiary that were previously held by Sabre.
Sabre previously owned 25% of AXESS, a relationship which started in 1995 when Sabre was part of American Airlines and it was brought in to provide additional technology and distribution services to the JAL-owned system.
AXESS was originally launched in 1964 by JAL as JALCOM, a reservation and ticketing system which was eventually spun off as an independent company in 1991.
Other players working on BSP-issued fares in Japan include Infini, a joint venture between All Nippon Airways and regional GDS and IT player, Abacus (based on Sabre technology).
There will be no changes to Travelport's existing local National Distribution Company arrangement run under the brand name Galileo Japan.
NB:Rising sun image via Shutterstock.