This week BTE reports on continuing concern over the future of booking channels and in particular slow progress towards Global Distribution Systems (GDS) deregulation in Europe.
In the jungle of claims and counter claims, two clear messages emerge. One is that the welter of new technology claiming to offer significantly cheaper distribution than the GDS companies is mostly in its infancy. As Bernard Harrop, American Express head of industry affairs, emphasised at the Business Travel Show in London this week, the overriding concern of corporate travel buyers is that they should have comprehensive access to fares, other inventory and management data.
The key question is: can the upstarts provide this â€“ and if not now, when?
The most comprehensive source remains the four major Global Distribution Systems. But will they remain comprehensive if Brussels removes all the shackles from their operation?
Current restrictions grew out of a desire to avoid bias when those systems were owned by airlines. What has been delaying deregulation in Europe is the problem that three flag carriers, Lufthansa, Iberia and Air France, still own a significant chunk of Amadeus and are unlikely to relinquish much of it, even when the recently agreed sale of shares to private investment funds is completed.
While sharpened competition is to be encouraged - whether between the GDS companies themselves or with the newcomers - it must not be at the expense of providing travel managers and staff with all their needs. The EU should at least act to ensure that the individual airline owners of Amadeus do not dominate its screens in their home countries.
It may turn out that airlines currently selling via GDS continue to distribute through all four even after deregulation. It would be a pity if they did not. The point of sophisticated on line technology should be to simplify and speed up bookings and expand the acquisition of data, not to make it more complex, slower and more expensive.