Continued from Page 58
The architecture started there did not go unnoticed by an expanding
post-war airline industry,
which sought out IBM for
expertise in automating its
reservations systems. In its
laboratories, IBM technologists plotted ways to do
that, and the results of their
handiwork became the first A travel agency’s automated reservations system in 1982.
global distribution system,
a new techno-format that informed and dictated travel reservations and booking processes
for the next 40 years.
Once the airlines spawned GDS companies, those new powerhouses built upon that
technology, piping it into the technology to the heart of the travel agent community. With
it, they brought unique sets of computer skills that travel agents embraced, as they added
transaction efficiency to their ability to advise clients on places to go, sights to see and
things to do.
As GDS providers expanded exponentially the access to airline reservations, they also
saw opportunities for linking agents to other travel necessities: hotels and transportation.
Agents were witness to technological advances that brought them a wider world of opportunity for them and their clients. With cathode ray tubes on their desks, codes in their heads
and remote mainframe computers supporting them, travel agents saw GDS technology as
a primary path to success.
Then along came the Internet.
While GDS operators battled each other for the travel agent market, the quiet rise of the
online world changed the playing field entirely.
In the past 10 years, Internet technology has reoriented how the world communicates.
But few businesses have been affected as dramatically as travel. Online bookings now exceed those handled by travel agencies. Well into the first decade of the 21st century, online
opportunities seem to have no end in sight.
The ability for travelers to peer into their computer screens and see the places they want
to travel, ways to shop for competitive air fares and even the opportunity to previsit destinations from their armchairs, has led to a fundamental shift in how travel knowledge is
acquired and shared.
At the same time, GDS companies colliding with the online travel world have diversified,
putting ever-more emphasis on new technologies to serve airline systems and other travel
providers in new ways. From handling reservations to plotting technological innovations
in airline operations and management, the GDS companies have continued to make themselves a vital part of travel’s technological revolution.
But the big story remains the Internet, and where it will lead in the next half-century is
beyond prediction. — Dan Luzadder
Before there were online travel agencies, there were wanna-bes.
From 1979 through the early 1980s, various businesses — technology developers, newspapers and banks — announced intentions or even tested “two-way
communications systems” to enable consumers to buy travel using PCs or TV
sets. The systems were the “wave of the future.”
Next, airlines rolled out consumer versions of their GDSs.
The first were TWA’s TravelShopper in 1984 and American’s Eaasy Sabre in
1985. They piggybacked on networks like CompuServe and America Online.
The first true online agencies, defined as ARC-approved, emerged in the mid-1990s.
Those with the big-buck funding or compelling gimmick blossomed.
Only two years after launch, Travelocity and Expedia appeared on Travel Weekly’s list of Top 50
agencies along with another online travel agency,
the 3-year-old Preview Travel. That was 1998.
The following year, Travelocity and Expedia
rose to the top 10, and Travelocity bought Preview. Orbitz appeared on the list in 2002 as No. 9;
Priceline joined the line-up in 2003 as No. 11. All
have remained on the list, always in the top 10.
These are multibillion-dollar businesses, but
there are no other online travel agencies on the list
today, even at the “small” $100 million level. Online travel agencies quickly became just another
business model — a big business model.
Before there were Web sites and GDSs, there were computers of all kinds. For years,
the development of a single industry system for handling agency reservations and back
office functions was a sort of technological Holy Grail.
Teleticketing is first installed in travel agencies for electronic ticket printing.
Telemax Reservation System announces plans for a phased introduction of agency
The Donnelly Official Airline Reservation System, or DOARS, is believed to have
the edge in winning the nod from the airlines to provide a common
automated reservations system.
The Automated Travel Agent Reservations System, or ATARS, wins the bid from
the ATC and says it could have a system in agency offices in 1969. Also in 1968,
American Airlines installs reservations terminals in a few agency offices on an
experimental basis; the units can be used only to book American.
Telemax begins installing terminals that include access to American’s mainframe.
In a kind of multiaccess system, it is linked to a number of overseas airlines, as well,
by early 1970.
For a second time, the Justice Department refuses to grant antitrust immunity for
ATARS, so 11 carriers and ATARS cancel all contracts, and ATARS bows out
by year’s end.
Telemax goes bankrupt.
TWA and United also install reservations terminals in a few agency offices on
an experimental basis; the units can be used only to book TWA and United,
respectively. In 1973, all three airlines end experimental installations of
ASTA asks Greenwich Data Systems, a subsidiary of Control Data Corp.,
to study the feasibility of building a single, industrywide reservations system.
In 1974, just as ASTA is set to sign contracts with Greenwich Data and unveil plans
at the ASTA World Congress in Montreal, American Airlines announces plans for a
feasibility study of its own. Greenwich Data pulls out of this arena in December.
Then in 1975, the American-led joint carrier study group concludes that an indus-
try-owned common reservations system is feasible and endorses the plan. However,
United withdraws from the talks. While American carriers are talking, Air Canada
begins installing its GDS in Canadian agencies.
The joint carrier study project falls apart. United Airlines announces it will install Apollo in agency offices. American announces one day later and installs its first
agency sets at Heritage Travel in Boston in May. The race between industry leaders
Sabre and Apollo to automate travel agencies is on.
Sources: “Complete Guide to Travel Agency Automation” by Nadine Godwin, 1982;