Colleagues remember Bruce Bishins

By Kate Rice

BRUCEBISHINSBruce Bishins, who died Jan. 16 in Toronto at age 62 following complications from a stroke he suffered at the end of 2011, used his deep industry knowledge and attention to detail to fight for small and midsize agencies.

Bishins was managing director of ARTA in the U.S. and president and CEO of ARTA Canada.

“He was always fighting for the small storefront,” said John Hawks, who worked with Bishins on several projects when Hawks was president of ARTA from the mid-1990s until 2005.

Nancy Linares, chairwoman of the ARTA board in the U.S., who first met Bishins when she took one of his airfare classes in the 1980s, called him “brilliant” and said he was “always willing to help everybody.”

He was “courageous” in tackling industry giants whose financial resources and manpower made them too daunting for others to even think about opposing, said Simon Parry, president and owner of Helen Thompson Travel in Toronto.

As vice president of government affairs for Helen Thompson Travel, Bishins won a 2007 dispute with IATA over what would have been onerous new financial and payment rules for Canadian agencies that violated Canadian regulations and IATA’s own rules, Parry said.

Bishins believed that to truly control its own destiny, the agency community had to be in control of its own distribution system rather than one created by the airlines.

That led him to create Genesis, an agent-centric GDS that never gained any real market traction, in part because “Bruce was just 10 years ahead of his time,” according to John Faulds, vice chairman and treasurer of the ARTA board in the U.S.

Bishins’ ventures also included Fare Spider and the Airline Training Council.

Bishins was an early supporter of Open Axis, direct connect and new distribution models. A GDS opponent to the last, he testified passionately in favor of direct connect at a Transportation Department Advisory Committee for Aviation Consumer Protection in August, despite the debilitating effects of his stroke.

He spoke at an IATA conference late last year about its New Distribution Capability.

Bishins’ support of alternative methods of distribution put him at odds with much of the agency community. But his opponents expressed respect.

“While we did not always see eye to eye with Bruce on various industry topics, we did respect his passion for the travel industry and his commitment to travel agencies,” said Chris Kroeger, senior vice president of the Sabre Travel Network, who also testified at the August DOT hearing. “He will be missed.”

Perry Flint, head of corporate communications for IATA in the Americas, called Bishins “a true original.”

“A strong advocate for small and mid-size travel agencies … he was willing to look beyond the rhetoric to appreciate the needs of the agent community and the consumers they represent,” Flint said.

Follow Kate Rice on Twitter @krtravelweekly. 

Corrections:  Bruce Bishins was a naturalized U.S. citizen, not American-born, as was incorrectly reported in an earlier story. Also, he started his travel career as a flight attendant for Pan Am World Airways, and held other management positions with other carriers, including manager of travel industry training for Trans World Airlines.

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