here are three entities administering
the magic eight-digit numbers that bestow legitimacy upon sellers
of travel: IATA, ARC and CLIA. For IATA and ARC, assigning numbers
has evolved into something of a side business.
The travel agent identification card issued by Iatan, IATA's
U.S. division, brings in approximately $3.1 million of revenue
annually, and Iatan's lists of basic agency data -- names,
addresses, identifying numbers -- also are rented to suppliers for
licenses that range from $1,224 to $16,599 each per year.
In addition to IATA-endorsed agencies, its rental list includes
an alphabet soup of travel-seller categories for which IATA creates
special eight-digit numbers: TIDS (for non-U.S. agencies), TRUE
(distributed by OSSN and ARTA), Travelsellers (distributed by ASTA)
and TSI (for agents who don't hold air ticket stock).
Then there's ARC. ARC used to allow IATA to include data from
ARC-accredited agencies in its rental lists but recently pulled the
information out. As a result, suppliers compiling a database of
U.S. agencies must now rent lists from both organizations. And
because there is significant overlap on the lists, suppliers are
"When I subtracted the satellite ticket printers and overlapping
IATA agencies from ARC's list, I found I'm paying a $900 initiation
fee and about $3,600 a year for only 4,800 nonduplicated
locations," one supplier told me. To describe how deep his
disappointment was, he used a version of language heard recently
from the vice president on the Senate floor.
An ARC spokesman said that while "revenue is one concern," data
decisions are driven by "our interactions with agencies." He also
said ARC has an initiative under way called ARC-RSP, which, from
the description, will compete with IATA's nonair categories.
It's interesting that two airline-owned entities, ARC and IATA,
have become the primary arbiters of numbers that bestow legitimacy
to sellers of travel during a time when air sales are decreasing in
importance to agents. They are the primary arbiters, but they are
not sole arbiters. There is CLIA.
Cruise lines and tour operators have more than a passing
interest in agent ID numbers. They not only help sort out who
qualifies for fams and discounts but who is entitled to
CLIA's Executive Director, Bob Sharak, notes that, at the same
time the number of IATA and ARC locations is shrinking, CLIA
locations have stabilized and are even expected to grow slightly
It could certainly be argued that the commission-paying members
of CLIA, the USTOA and the NTA represent the future for travel
sellers. So I asked Sharak if he would consider using CLIA's 16,000
agency locations as a springboard for a database that might better
serve the interests of the cruise and tour segments.
After commenting that data maintenance can be a "holy
nightmare," he said, "Do I want to be in the ID-card business? No.
But are we in it? Yes. Our first priorities are promotion, training
and support for cruise lines. In the end, we'll do what's best for
our members and the industry."
This is a classic nondenial denial. If IATA and ARC want to
protect their turf, they'll want to tread forward carefully -- or,
at the very least, be careful not to tread too hard on other