Open AXIS Group plans to convene a working group focusing on the alleged inadequacies of the travel agency desktop -- but the identities of at least some of the attendees may remain a secret.
In the high-stakes world of travel agency point of sales tools, some travel management company and online travel agency attendees of the Desktop 2.0 conclave may not be ready to publicize their participation in an Open AXIS Group event, says executive director Jim Young.
"It gets you into a little bit of trouble with the GDSs (global distribution systems)," Young contends.
Young says the working group meeting will take place within 30 days, although the date and the names of all the invitees have not been established.
Full-fledged members of the airline standards body and allied members will be invited to the desktop pow-wow and the list of nonmember invitees has yet to be determined, although Travelport, Sabre and Amadeus certainly would be welcome participants, Young says.
The working group will take on "understanding the distribution, content display and selling needs of airlines and their agency partners," the organization says. "With the rapid deployment of new airline products and services through airline websites, Open AXIS members have expressed concern ovder the inability of travel agency desktop platforms to meet the display and selling requirements of both the airlines and travel agencies."
Of course, this critique of the capabilities of travel agency desktops comes despite the recent launches of the Sabre Red Workspace andTravelport Agencia, both of which purport to have graphical and traditional green-screen features as part of their Web-based shopping and booking tools. And, the Amadeus desktop likewise is called the Amadeus Selling Platform [pdf].
There are plenty of other desktops on the market, including SPRK from Farelogix and Pass Consulting's Virtual Traveler Organizer 2G.
The airlines' beef with the GDS agency desktops in particular seems largely to be commercial rather than technical in nature.
Young says these existing GDS desktops for travel agents would "fit the bill" if the GDSs were willing to take XML feeds and agree to accept both a standardization of how airlines want their products to be displayed and modified airline business rules allowing for some merchandising differentiation.
The idea of the working group would be to formulate some standards and provide guidance for desktop developers about these issues.
Young points to the Farelogix desktop SPRK as a model, although he adds that Open AXIS wants to see a proliferation of desktops that can handle airline ancillary services in the manner the airlines desire. Farelogix is an allied member of Open AXIS and licensed its XML schema to the group.
The SPRK desktop is multisource, taking availability information via XML directly from airline systems instead of from the GDSs.
That is evident from the multiple airline sources on display in this SPRK screenshot, as depicted in an Open AXIS presentation:
Note that although there is some standardization in this display, AirTran chooses to present its fares somewhat differently.
This next display from the Farelogix SPRK desktop shows American Airlines bundling its offerings into FLX Saver, FLX Select and FLX Business fares:
Notice how an agent could mouse over FLX Select to see that the American Airlines fare includes elements such as priority boarding and Admiral's Club lounge access.
And, in this next SPRK screenshot, consider how this AirTran display shows the base fare and also offers a merchandsing opportunity for the airline as it tries to upsell a premium seat to an individual traveler:
American and apparently AirTran, too, seek to usurp longtime GDS control of airline merchandising, as limited as it is, and plan to begin marketing different offers to individual travelers based on what the airline knows about them -- i.e. frequent flyer status and travel habits etc.
This jockeying for control of airline merchandising is at the heart of the current battle between some airlines and GDSs over direct-connect technology and XML standards.
It wouldn't be surprising if the GDSs, which unsuccessfully sought a slot on the Open AXIS board, boycotted the Desktop 2.0 working group meeting.
Kurt Ekert, chief commercial officer of Travelport GDS, says Travelport is well-equipped to handle airline merchandising and he takes a shot at the way Open AXIS operates.
“We are well positioned and have the technology and desire to enable airlines to sell and merchandise all of their products and services to and through travel agencies, to include providing airlines the significant financial upside available in selling ancillary products through third parties," Ekert says. "Open Axis in its member exclusivity does not seem to account for the needs and abilities of travel agencies and key agency partners.”
Sabre, too, isn't enamored with Open AXIS's perspective on travel agency desktops.
"The implication that current desktops don’t meet the needs of agents and airlines means they clearly haven’t seen the significant innovations Sabre has made over the years, including being first in the industry to provide airlines the ability to market and sell their ancillary fares through the global distribution system and travel agents," says Sabre spokeswoman Nancy St. Pierre. "The Sabre Red Workspace absolutely meets the needs of travel agents and airlines as it currently displays ancillary fare content that is made publicly available and will be prepared to book and fulfill ancillary fares in the coming weeks."
"We look forward to more airlines making these ancillary fares available so we can help them increase revenue and allow agents to efficiently sell on the airlines’ behalf," St. Pierre adds.
In other news, Open AXIS Group is expected to announce next week the additions of new allied and full members, including airlines outside of North America.
The founding members of Open AXIS are Air Canada, American Airlines, Continental Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines and US Airways. The Airline Tariff Publishing Co. is a founding allied member.