Airlines push new booking platform, IT firms wary

CAPE TOWN (REUTERS) - The airline industry is set to allow consumers to see more details of what they are booking using a new online reservation platform, a project that poses a threat to many travel technology firms working with older systems.

Almost two thirds of global tickets sales are made via travel agents, online travel agencies and travel management companies rather than the airlines themselves.

While many airline websites can show customers content such as no-frills or bundled offers, travel agents cannot access the same information and services in most cases because of outdated software that uses a computer language developed 40 years ago.

In many cases, passengers have no way of comparing different packages, meal prices or the size of seats.

An enhanced web platform could be widely available within two years if the world's airlines prevail, with a pilot demonstration with real transactions planned for October 2013 in Dublin at the World Passenger Summit.

The New Distribution Capability (NDC) standard aims to give consumers the same online experience regardless of how or where they do their travel shopping.

Members of International Air Transport Association (IATA), the world airline industry organisation, met in Cape Town this week, viewed a demonstration of the new standard and passed a resolution approving it.

"Airlines offer a rich customer-centric shopping experience on their own websites and we want travel agents to have similar capabilities," said Mr Eric Leopold, a senior IATA official.

But not everyone was happy.

Travel information technology companies such as Amadeus IT Group make their money from contracts linking airlines and agents via global distribution systems heavily reliant on the old technology.

They stand to lose business if the NDC standard, which bypasses those older systems, eventually prevails.

"To be completely clear, we have said that we cannot fully support resolution 787, which is effectively NDC in its current form," said Mr Ben Hunt, a spokesman for Amadeus.

Fellow travel technology firms Sabre Holdings and Travelport were also unhappy with IATA's proposals.

Mr Hunt said Amadeus had submitted concerns about NDC to United States transport authorities regarding privacy and data ownership and was "cautiously optimistic" about reaching an accord with IATA.