It is with some fascination and more than a little apprehension
that we continue to track the headlong progress made by the Open
Travel Alliance, already conveniently referred to as OTA by those
conversant with the concept of universal Internet communications
Back in June, when we first commented on OTA, we decried the
decision by the newly formed entity, primarily representing
airlines, hotels and car rental chains, to exclude agents and their
associations from the initial efforts to develop a Web protocol or
language that would facilitate the sharing and transmission of
travel data by any number of travel vendors.
About a month later, we applauded the news that OTA, responding
to complaints from the trade, had restructured its organization to
welcome travel agent participation in its decision-making process.
At the same time, we reserved judgment on whether OTA's "new
inclusiveness truly heralds the advent of a meaningful vendor-agent
We still do.
But with the recent announcement by the alliance that it plans
to release the first version of its e-commerce protocol within a
few weeks, it seems clear that we will soon get our first inkling
of where this project is heading and what its impact on the trade
Certainly, if OTA's new digital design works as designed and
enables suppliers to tag-team the likes of a traveler's credit card
info, frequent flyer data, and hotel and rental-car preferences
into a so-called Super PNR, travel agents have ample cause to
wonder if they will end up the odd man out in an exclusive and
enhanced relationship between consumers and vendors.
It seems to us, after all, that anything that enhances the
direct communication of proprietary information through devices
such as cell phones, laptops and PDAs, regardless of their
operating systems -- a goal of the new protocol -- is sure to
enhance the prospects of supplier bypass.