t's refreshing to see some CRS operators coming up with innovations for travel agents that promise new efficiencies without being compulsory or expensive.

We're thinking specifically of a new gimmick from Amadeus that makes the products of a half-dozen consolidators available for booking on the Web, even for agents who don't use the Amadeus CRS.

Even better for agents is that the consolidators pay to have their wares displayed; agents pay nothing to log on and shop for net-rate deals for their clients.

We're also thinking of a new service offered by Sabre for Sabre-connected agencies with credit card merchant accounts. Sabre Merchant Pay allows such agents to get instant authorization and processing for client credit card payments for service fees, directly through the CRS. And agents can put the supplier and agency charges on the same invoice.

In recent years, we've become accustomed to CRS enhancements like these from all four of the major vendors. We're talking about enhancements that are designed to make agencies more productive and efficient businesses, and that bring no direct benefit to air carriers.

Even if the technology had been available, you wouldn't have expected these kinds of bells and whistles 15 years ago, when the operation of a CRS was not a stand-alone business.

In those bad old days, the CRSs existed to maximize the revenue of their airline owners.

Some CRSs still have some airline owners, but the days of the CRS as a blunt instrument of airline market power seem to be over for good.

The perfect and perfectly friendly CRS is still evolving, but the competition between airlines is no longer the driving force behind that evolution.

Because the Internet is here to stay, the CRSs have to prove their worth to the airlines and to agents, every day.

Now that's an enhancement.

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