In the future, maybe the near future, you could walk into a shoe store and some futuristic things could happen.
Maybe a camera will take your picture and facial recognition software will query a database of past customers. The computer could then deliver your profile and purchasing history to the handheld device of the next available sales clerk.
As you sit down at a video screen, the display will be customized to show styles in stock that match your size and purchasing history. You tap the picture of an interesting sandal, and before the sales clerk can cross the room and greet you by name, a robotic arm is pulling it off the shelf in the back room.
That's the general idea, anyway. Maybe the camera will actually do a retina scan or take a picture of your ensemble. Maybe the stock clerk is actually a high school kid, and the sales clerk is a robot. Maybe they're both robots. But you get the idea: Before you sit down, the merchant knows who you are.
If you shop at Amazon.com or a similar online merchant, you know that the digital equivalent of this scenario is already happening all over the Web.
A low-tech version of this chain of events can also happen in brick-and-mortar travel agencies. If regular clients call or walk into a travel agency today, the staff will recognize them, or perhaps they will identify themselves. Eventually, their travel counselor will have their profiles, even if they're new customers.
One way or the other, before things get serious, the travel agent will know who they are.
But will suppliers know?
As the agent queries the GDS for availability, the airlines won't know whether the query is for a retired boomer or a 40-ish middle manager who has 50,000 miles in Airline A's mileage plan.
In the traditional agency/GDS channel, there's no way for the agent to input that information prior to the initial display and no way for the system to respond to it.
Some airlines want to change that, so that they can individualize the GDS display in the same way that Amazon can customize its Web displays.
This could be a good thing, though it could also make a mockery of the term "travel counselor" unless the travel agent can override it. Understanding the client, understanding the product and then matching them up correctly is what retailers do.
Amazon does it because Amazon is a retailer. Airline.com does it when it's dealing direct with consumers, but the GDS screen is not a consumer-facing window.
We believe suppliers and GDSs should give retailers all the help they need, but they also need to let retailers do the retailing.