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The Booking Fog

A couple of airlines have decided that it is better to hit agents with a large, blunt instrument to encourage them to change to direct connect systems (aka "anything but a GDS") rather than to encourage agents to do so, by allowing them to discover for themselves the pros and cons of alternative distribution methods.

Communication is very important; both in terms of transfer of information but more importantly, the "how" information is communicated.

The (apparent) virtues of NDC or in the case of Lufthansa and now British Airways, the "direct connect" channel have been forcibly suggested as being a way forward to cheaper distribution. The issue, here, is how information about those new channels is communicated and the chance to experiment with these new channels, before a commitment is made to using them. Personally, I could not give a fig how I make bookings - as long as I can be 110% sure that whatever I book, happens.

With the advent of more and more convoluted fares, the importance of having clarity of what one is actually booking (or in the case of a website, buying) becomes critical in the booking process; the GDS allows any agent to get an overall picture, it allows factual presentation of fare rules, it allows an agent to test bookings and test changes; but above all, the GDS has the magic "I" (Ignore) button, which allows all potential changes on a live booking (even to the extent of testing change fees and fare uplifts) to go away and so, restore the original. The website does not have this function.

Back in the mists of travel techy time, the GDS came along. Over the years, many have tried various graphical interface systems - the slow and cumbersome "point and click" way of doing things, which has proved to be a trifle less than universally popular. Even though they have 30 years' plus worth of evidence to the contrary, modern day travel tech types believe that using a mouse, having drop down selector boxes and presenting information in a sort of determined, piecemeal fashion is a good idea.

Airlines think that the best way to book their flights is via a direct connect system. It is, as long as you want to book their flights but at the first stage, you do not know whose flights you wish to book. Airlines having their own direct connect systems may be better for them, but for an agent, going back to the old viewdata type approach of each airline (or operator) having their own system is a retrograde step.

So, someone is going to have to aggregate all this information from various airlines, hotels, car rental firms, railway firms and for all I know, AirBnB and Uber to boot. In other words, a GDS.

Step forward the airline "partners". In the case of Atlatos and Atriis, both of whom have wonderfully expressive websites, which tell you absolutely nothing about what they actually do and without any attempt to provide something an agent can play with, to see if it suits their needs, let alone giving an indication of whatever they do, will cost $500 or $50,000. I am sure what these firms do, is very good - the trouble is ... what is it that they do?

Any new system needs to retain presentation of facts in the way that an agent needs to see them - not in the way that an airline thinks an agent may want to see facts presented or worse, in the way that a travel tech person thinks an agent may want to see information presented. Agents are very suspicious of any new technology and with good reason. When we make a booking, we have to get it right. If a tech person messes up a bit of code, then they simply go back and correct it. Hopefully, the recent British Airways Bank Holiday fiasco may have taught tech types a lesson as to why agents are very cautious - if we make a mistake the ramifications can be horrendous. In travel, it is not "okay to fail".

Which brings me back to communication. If IATA or an airline wishes to change the system used for booking, fine. BUT what they do produce must be explained in terms that a travel agent can understand and not in a language which can only be understood by fellow travel tech types of those that understand the banal expressions used by many in marketing and support.

And whatever is eventually suggested, must work for agents and above all, allow clear and unfettered access to the information we, the agents, need in the order that we agents need.

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