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 capability.

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 relationship."

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 will be.

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.

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