European CRS rules set for overhaul

The long-running attempt to change the rules about travel-oriented computer reservation systems (CRSs) in Europe appears to be approaching the final straight, with the latest debate and vote scheduled for the first week in September.

European regulators have been looking at the issue since 2003. In the US, the market has been completely deregulated since 2004.

It is thought that Europe is shying away from total deregulation and is positioning its stance as a revised code of conduct. CRSs in Europe currently operate under laws which are twenty years old.

The topic has led to some lively debates on the conference circuit over the years, with US giants Sabre, Galileo and Worldspan squaring  up to Amadeus. A  major bone of contention is Amadeus’ ownership.

It is argued that as Air France, Iberia and Lufthansa effectively own 47% of Amadeus, total deregulation could, theoretically, mean that travel agents using Amadeus could have preferential access to fares from the three airlines.

To avoid this, Amadeus’ opponents are insisting that ‘mandatory participation’ remains part of the code in Europe. This ensures that all CRSs have equal access to all fares from all airlines.

Business travel agents in Europe are most exposed to any change in the rules, although leisure agents would also be impacted. It is not known to what extent the rules would change the relationship between the CRSs and their online travel agent clients.

The debate is scheduled to take place in the European Parliament on Wednesday 3 September, with a vote the next day.

If passed, the change would then have to be ratified by the European Commission, with the new rules coming into force towards the end of Q1 09.

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