One of the big news stories from the
business world in recent weeks was the disclosure that Toys R Us,
the big toy retailer, is falling so far below expectations that it
might get out of the toy business altogether and focus on other kid
stuff like baby clothes and baby furniture, where the margins and
growth prospects are a little higher and the competition a little
Not so long ago,
Toys R Us was king of the hill, the biggest toy retailer in the
world. The company name said it all.
Then came low-cost
competition in the form of Wal-Mart, which has displaced it as the
biggest toy retailer in the world. A playful Wall Street Journal
headline the other day put it this way: Toys were us?
There are probably
several lessons here for people in the travel business, and one of
them has to do with the general idea of making progress by letting
It cant be easy for a
company with toys in its name to get out of the toy business. Its a
hard choice to make and the company deserves credit for having the
courage to consider it, just as many travel agents deserve credit
for turning away from nonremunerative airline sales.
But the recent
unpleasantness over Northwests shared GDS fee reminds us that there
are still a lot of hard choices to be made across the spectrum of
airline distribution, a lot of progress to be made and a lot of
letting go to do. Up and down the distribution chain, too many
people and institutions are clinging to too many legacy ideas and
concepts that could all too easily drag them down.
Air travel is too
important to be reliant on so many components that have legacy as
part of their names. We shouldnt have legacy airlines with legacy
labor contracts, legacy reservations systems based on legacy
mainframes, legacy appointment systems for travel agents -- or
legacy anything. Travel is a growth industry, but the engine that
drives so much of it, aviation, is clinging to too many vestiges of
travel agents have hitched their wagons to the GDS star, and for
the most part, that business tool has served them well. But if
youre a travel agent and your primary business tool is known in the
data-processing industry as a legacy system, what does that say
about the future?
If youre an airline
like Northwest and you are so dependent upon a legacy system that
you cant afford to be in it, and cant afford to do without it, how
do you move forward?
At some awful and
wrenching point in the history of tires, the factories making bias
ply tires had to shut down, retool and start making radials. And
the factories that made radios had to stop, shut down, retool, and
start using transistors instead of tubes.
They did so because
consumers didnt want to ride on legacy tires or listen to legacy
not that simple in the airline distribution system, where some
participants are trying to move on without letting go.