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Fri 29 Feb 2008 04:00 AM

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A GDS for all seasons

ATN Asked Gordon Wilson, CEO and president of newly-created entity Travelport GDS to outline the implications of the Galileo/Worldspan merger for agents using these systems.

ATN Asked Gordon Wilson, CEO and president of newly-created entity Travelport GDS to outline the implications of the Galileo/Worldspan merger for agents using these systems.

What were the first steps taken after the Galileo/Worldspan merger deal was signed and sealed in August?

We now have 74 LCCs that are fully bookable on Galileo and have just signed a deal with Southwest Airlines.

The first thing we needed to do when we completed the transaction was to get the new organisation in place. We now have a new company - Travelport GDS - offering two different products, Galileo and Worldspan, each with their own distributors.

We re-organised the company, making several changes to the structure, so now Europe, the Middle East and Africa is one region and we also have someone responsible for heading up our online travel agents, for example, because that's one aspect of our business that is growing quickly. We also have a new division - business development - to run research and incubate developments until they are ready to be integrated into the mainstream business.

Can you give examples of such cutting edge developments?

We are very conscious that a number of airlines around the world are unbundling their products. Air Canada is a leader in this area, offering four different product types, each with a number of attributes.

Historically, no GDS has been able to show these a la carte choices on the screen at one time, not both fares and availability simultaneously, but we are working with Air Canada on a system that can do that and will soon have a product for travel agencies that will go live in Canada.

You will be able to book any Air Canada content on the GDS.

This kind of ‘unbundling' is a low-cost carrier (LCC) strategy. Does this mean LCCs are finally embracing the GDS?

Yes, low-cost airlines are now starting to participate in the GDS. They are interested in [distributing to] corporate and international markets. You can now book easyJet (UK-based LCC) content on the Galileo screen. LCCs realise that they might be strong in their home markets but they need the GDS for international exposure. We now have 74 LCCs that are fully bookable on Galileo and have just signed a deal with Southwest Airlines - the original LCC. We plan to extend distribution to Worldspan.

What have been the benefits of buying Worldspan?

Worldspan has a more significant history building business for airlines.

We do the internal systems for Delta for example, which handle two million passengers per year. We also provide the internal systems for some smaller carriers, including Virgin America.

Buying Worldspan has also given us a deeper geographical penetration, because we now have one-third of the market share of Europe, Middle East and Africa; Asia Pacific, and North America. Worldspan has also brought new capabilities in terms of IT services.

For example, we have just implemented e-ticketing for our 200th carrier, China Southern and have created an electrical interchange hub to allow for interline e-ticketing. To date we have done 3900 interlines that are built into our GDS.

What changes will agents notice as a result of the Galileo/Worldspan merger?

We have started aligning some of the product, but we want to make it clear to our users that we will continue to use both systems in the Middle East and worldwide - it doesn't make sense to shift all our users to one system.

We will continue to work with the same distributors and customers will continue to have a choice of which system they want to adopt.

Our plan is to move towards having one hotel platform and one car rental platform for both Galileo and Worldspan by the end of 2008. It means we will take the best of both systems.

We also plan to align the fares and shopping capabilities early this year.The shopping capabilities of Worldspan are very good indeed, so we plan to implement that for all Galileo users.
This means that when agents shop for fares and availability they can see both plus and minus three days either side of the requested date on one screen. But this doesn't mean Galileo users will have to change anything - it will happen automatically. Over time, Galileo and Worldspan will effectively offer the same tools and functions, but they will retain their brand names.

What additional capabilities are you devising for both systems?

Over time, Galileo and Worldspan will effectively offer the same tools and functions, but they will retain their brand names.

We have developed the ability to take all the flight availability information available and store or cash this knowledge, so when a travel agent makes a flight request, if the system recognises that availability is wide open, it does not need to link into the airline's real time system. This ultimately saves airlines cash and travel agents time.

With the corporate travel market growing significantly, are you working on solutions for this market?

Yes, we have a corporate booking tool and the first company using that is IBM. It interlinks with Galileo but it doesn't cut out the travel agent. It's managed by the agent and even takes into account travel policies etc. It's a fantastic piece of technology and we are working closely with IBM to develop it.

What booking trends are you noting?

We are seeing fantastic growth in our hotel bookings, for a couple of reasons. We now have 114 hotel chains that give us access to their best available rates and 212 chains that connect seamlessly to both GDS systems. And, just as we've started to unbundle airline product, we are doing the same for the hotels.

What do you say to claims that the GDS is old technology?

That's complete rubbish. What other system can store 4.3 billion searches at one time and complete one billion transactions globally each day? You cannot do this with old technology.

We have 3900 servers that make this happen. We have invested US $50 million in refreshing our equipment and we will continue to make the necessary investments.

Why is the Travelport GDS product superior to that of its two main rivals, Sabre and Amadeus?

We now lead the industry in terms of our capabilities with hotels in terms of best available rate and seamless connectivity.

Our fares and pricing product are becoming second to none and we are also the supplier of choice because we can distribute more broadly. A case in point is with easyJet - it has selected Galileo and Amadeus, but not Sabre.

What travel and tourism trends do you predict for 2008?

Talking globally I think we will see more choice for customers because there are more airlines and they are changing the way they sell their product to give more choice by unbundling.

There will be more flight frequencies and more aeroplanes, particularly with A380s being delivered.

I think travellers are also becoming more concerned about global warming and carbon emissions and that will affect how they make their travel choices. People will start to opt for carriers that are making the effort to reduce their carbon emissions.

Did you know?Each day, Travelport GDS processes 46 million searches, 19 million hotel and car rental transactions and one billion transactions globally.

The GDS has 4.3 billion searches stored at one time. 212 hotel chains now connect seamlessly to both Sabre and Galileo.

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