The global distribution systems have often been described as cumbersome, archaic, if not incapable, of evolving to meet modern-day travel industry demands.
Whether it’s the airlines bemoaning the fees that they say are tantamount to highway robbery or travel agents fretting over access to content, the GDSs are no strangers to criticism.
There has certainly been cause for such public thrashings over the years, but equally the GDSs deserve a nod when they do something helpful. Amadeus and Sabre, which successfully sought European Commission approval to collaborate on a new payment system, Moneydirect, deserve plaudits for their efforts.
The EC approval, inked in September, means the Sabre-Amadeus pair can simplify the mind-bending complexity of the current payment trail for non-air segments. Moneydirect will provide secure, automated payment processing, clearing and reconciliation for travel suppliers such as hotels, cruiselines, operators, car-rental companies, ferries, railways, and travel intermediaries such as travel agencies and wholesalers.
In a statement, Sabre says the intent of the joint venture with Amadeus is to “establish an industry standard solution to improve and better meet the requirements of the industry”.
While it has good intentions (which will no doubt have the added bonus of boosting loyalty to the Sabre and Amadeus systems), the fact is you can’t have an ‘industry standard’ unless the entire industry is on board. In this instance, the missing industry link is Travelport, parent company of the Worldspan and Galileo GDS platforms.
When asked whether it would consider collaborating with Sabre and Amadeus on the Moneydirect project, a Travelport spokeswoman says: “We wouldn’t discount it if they wanted to work with us.”
However, a more likely scenario is that Travelport goes it alone to create a similar programme. “That’s something that we are actively reviewing at the moment.”
The Moneydirect initiative marks the second time in a year Amadeus and Sabre have got together in the ‘interest’ of the industry. The two paired up in March 2006 for a 12-month contract for a content back-up partnership between the pair.
Many industry observers said the landmark agreement paved a way for future ventures, as it indeed it has. But whether Sabre and Amadeus’s seemingly cosy relationship (both maintain they are fierce competitors) will extend to more substantial deals, such as an agreement over low-cost carrier or rail content, remains to be seen.
Speaking at a recent National Business Travel Association conference in London, Sabre vice-president of marketing, EMEA, Geoffrey Breeze, shrugged off such possibilities, saying a more likely scenario is that Sabre would partner with a third-party distributor in order to secure more content.
Amadeus UK managing director seemed more open-minded to the idea. “The official press line is no,” he said wryly.
For now, the biggest questions are whether Travelport will be welcomed into the Sabre-Amadeus Moneydirect circle, and if the GDSs are really capable of checking their legacy baggage and pioneering new industry-wide standards.