Travel Weekly's Technology E-letter: Nov. 29, 2006

META PRICER: Amadeus recently unveiled Meta Pricer, a new IT solution designed to help resolve ongoing screen-scraping issues among travel search engines and suppliers. Instead of providing inventory via screen-scraping or establishing XML feeds, Meta Pricer would enable airlines and other suppliers to signal to Amadeus the specific fares and availabilities they want to offer, and the metasearch companies would retrieve the data from Amadeus. Screen-scraping, or HTML-scraping, as it is also known, still is the dominant way that supplier Web sites and metasearch engines interface both in the U.S. and Europe. Although the travel search engines, unlike several years ago, often have suppliers' permission to scrape their Web sites for inventory, the process still can be inefficient and costly, and this is what Meta Pricer is geared to address.

MEANWHILE, the CEOs of two travel search engines, Mobissimo and Cheapflights, offered varying views on the value proposition of Meta Pricer, which may have better prospects in Europe than the U.S. because of Amadeus' closer airline relationships across the Atlantic. Beatrice Tarka, a founder and CEO of Mobissimo, noted that Meta Pricer is unlikely to be a comprehensive solution for consumers. That's because suppliers may offer only certain fares, and availability issues would come into play when Meta Pricer serves as an intermediary between search engines and suppliers, Tarka said. In that regard, Kayak in the U,S. has dodged much of the screen-scraping problem in many supplier relationships by accessing data through ITA Software, which has direct-connects with major airlines and access to GDS data. "Like ITA in the U.S., though, Meta Pricer is not a panacea," said David Soskin, the CEO of U.K.-headquartered Cheapflights. "It is likely to be expensive, but it will help suppliers mitigate their costs. I believe it will be a crucial factor in the success of the metasearch business model."

TRAVELPORT is piling up red ink on paper while its Orbitz and Cheaptickets consumer businesses in the U.S. steal market share from Expedia and Travelocity. In the third quarter, Travelport's domestic gross bookings rose 31%, compared with 2% at Expedia Inc. and 13% at Travelocity. Orbitz and Cheaptickets have been on a similar run all year in relation to their chief competitors. Part of the surge can be attributed to marketing expenditures. Travelport stated that its consumer businesses experienced increased operating expenses of $29 million related to "increases in cost of revenue and marketing expenses." Travelport, meanwhile, took a $1.2 billion goodwill impairment charge in the third quarter, doubling the total impairment charge tied to its Aug. 23 acquisition by a Blackstone Group affiliate to $2.4 billion. For the entire third quarter, including the July 1 to Aug. 22 period when Cendant still owned it, Travelport recorded a net loss of around $1.2 billion.

 

EXPEDIA INC. CEO DARA KHOSROWSHAHI said the company is pondering rolling out branded credit cards for Expedia.com and Hotels.com, where cardholders would be able to earn points for booking travel. The statement came as Expedia.com rolled out a rewards program for consumers that effectively is an expansion of Citigroup's existing ThankYou Network. Expedia, as the ThankYou Network's exclusive travel partner, launched a component that enables customers to earn ThankYou rewards for booking travel at Expedia. In addition, Expedia is powering the redemption of travel rewards at ThankYouNetwork.com. ThankYou members earn points by using eligible Citigroup credit cards and by maintaining an eligible checking account. They also can earn points for shopping at ThankYouNetwork.com. In the enhanced version, members of the free rewards program will earn points when booking air-hotel packages, hotels, cruises and activities on Expedia, regardless of which credit card or debit card they use. They will earn additional points if they buy travel with an eligible Citibank credit card or debit card. Members can redeem points for a variety of goods and services, including travel.

CORRECTION: An item about SideStep in the Oct. 18 Technology E-letter incorrectly stated that NLG ceased selling vacation packages through SideStep because NLG discontinued selling travel inventory directly to consumers. Instead, NLG, under owner World Travel Holdings, temporarily exited the vacation package wholesale business, according to an NLG official.

Technology Editor:

Dennis Schaal

Phone: (201) 902-1904

[email protected]

For promotional opportunities in the E-letters, contact [email protected].

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