When it comes to the trade's disquiet about an inchoate group of suppliers touting the development of a universal Internet communications capability, the headline on page 1 of this newspaper the other day says it best: "Feeling left out, agents blast Travel Alliance."

And who can blame retailers when they complain that they are on the outside looking in now that many of the most influential players among the airlines, hotel chains and car rental companies have joined forces in trying to shape the brave new world of Net commerce to their collective interest.

Called the Open Travel Alliance, the group is characterized by a board of directors and members no more "open" than a summer resort in the dead of winter. Take its board, for example. Of its five members, three represent airlines (United, American and Continental), and the other two carry Avis and Swissotel business cards. Among the other companies participating in the alliance are Delta, Northwest, United, Bass Hotels and Resorts, Hilton Hotels, the Hyatt Corp. and Alamo. Get the picture?

You might wonder why we have not mentioned the names of any travel agencies or agents involved in the OTA, as either directors or just members. The reason is there aren't any, and that's not reassuring.

Were the alliance merely a clubby bunch of socially compatible vendors, agents could dismiss their exclusion as an oversight at best and a deliberate snub at worst. But the group aims to develop a common protocol for the transmission of travel data that would attach to consumers for all their travel purchases. This could potentiate direct sales by expanding supplier access to what heretofore has been proprietary information, such as that in a PNR.

We can only conclude that by leaving agents out of the mix now, the alliance may be creating a future in which bypass is more the rule than the exception.

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