s the B-word coming back to the travel industry's GDS display screens?

Our lead news story in the July 26 issue may prompt some travel retailers, and others, to claim that Sabre is trying to "sell bias" or reintroduce bias into the GDS. We think that claim would be premature at best and wrong at worst.

In fact, given that the Transportation Dept.'s GDS rules expire on July 31, we think it's time to retire the B-word and look at this phenomenon from a fresh perspective.

Today's GDSs are nothing like the GDSs that gave the B-word a bad name. In the bad old days when bias began, the GDSs were owned and operated by airlines. They were considered in-house marketing tools.

The government stepped in to outlaw overt bias on GDS displays of airline data because an airline that happened to own a GDS was thought to have an unfair competitive advantage: the ability to skew the display in its own favor, to the detriment of the GDS' airline and travel agency customers.

That paradigm is gone, and that kind of bias is gone. No GDS today is managed to line the pockets of one airline owner in the way that Sabre or Apollo once were.

Far from it. The GDSs of today are scrambling to keep their costs and services competitive with direct and Internet distribution in the face of market trends that are reducing the size of the subscriber base as well as the universe of interested suppliers.

In an unregulated market, which is what the information industry ought to be, if a GDS can make a buck by selling screen positions to travel suppliers, we say, "Fine, let them try." As we see it, a paid listing is not the same thing as the "bias" of old. That kind of bias was evidence of a dysfunctional market. In today's environment, a paid listing in a GDS should be seen as evidence of a functioning marketplace because the market will decide whether or not it works.

Our only concern -- and it is a deeply held concern because of the business we are in -- is that any GDS going down this road should respect the difference between the delivery of information and the sale of advertising. As we have said before, we believe advertising to be an honorable endeavor. Neither buyers nor sellers should try to disguise what he is doing. A paid listing should look like one.

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A code of conduct

here are some no-brainers in life and a few no-brainers in business. In the travel business, signing on to a code of conduct condemning the sexual exploitation of children should be a no-brainer.

In another story we report in the July 26 issue, a handful of travel industry organizations have signed on to a code of conduct developed by Ecpat International (End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes).

Shouldn't it be the other way around, where everybody has signed on except a handful?

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