Booking methods: How advisors use a GDS

This year marks the first time Travel Weekly's Travel Industry Survey asked respondents about their preferred hotel-booking channels. The results suggest that roughly half of all hotel bookings are done through a GDS. With approximately half of all air bookings also made via a GDS, the platform continues to account for a significant portion of both hotel and air sales. Hotels editor Christina Jelski reached out to two travel advisors to compare and contrast their distinct approaches to GDS bookings.

Departure Lounge founder and director Keith Waldon

Q: Departures Lounge opts not use any GDS. Does this make the company a bit of an outlier, or do you view this non-GDS approach as the future of the industry?

Kieth Waldon
Kieth Waldon

A: I am sure there are several models for the future, but one of them is certainly more advanced technology that is logical and easy for new travel advisors to adopt and use. In the luxury, noncommoditized segment of travel, you will certainly see more non-GDS agencies.

What I've seen [with today's GDSs] in recent years is newer dashboards on old systems that should have been overhauled or scrapped for new solutions. Advisors who have been booking travel for decades may not realize how technology has truly advanced. New generations of travel advisors will not accept inconvenient, slow or illogical technology. 

Q: Are there challenges that come with being a non-GDS agency?

A: We have not encountered a lot of challenges due to not using the GDS. We have some great booking platforms available for all facets of travel, and our focus is to maximize the client experience first and our compensation second. This thinking process leads us to the best booking option for any travel product. Sometimes that means utilizing the Virtuoso network booking platforms or luxury-brand preferred agency portals. Other times it may mean booking via a wholesaler, destination marketing company or tour operator. 

Q: What are the biggest benefits to working without a GDS? How has this approach made things easier and allowed your advisors more flexibility?

A: Departure Lounge has 90 travel advisors, and the vast majority had never sold travel before joining us. As a non-GDS agency, we can attract top talent from other industries and not force them to use outdated technology. Our booking platforms and our CRM/operating system, Travel Contact, are current technology and are evolving quickly, just like the technology in other industries.

The travel agency industry has been driving a 1983 Buick on three wheels for too long. We decided not to accept that "just because that's the way it's always been done." That change-resistant thinking has allowed our industry to fall behind. New thinking will get us back in the driver's seat, in a more advanced vehicle, for success.

Christopherson Business Travel CEO Mike Cameron

Q: Which GDSs does Christopherson currently support, and why has the company chosen a multi-GDS approach?

A: We support Worldspan, Sabre, Apollo and Amadeus. Christopherson manages travel for well over 1,000 businesses and organizations, and clients often dictate the need for the GDS of their choice, because the travel advisors are their employees.

Mike Cameron
Mike Cameron

Similarly, our Andavo Travel business hosts more than 130 independent contractor agents, and they also determine the GDS of their choice. We have ICs who prefer each one of them.

Most of the GDS preferences are related to the primary market we operate in and the airline legacy ownership. Our travel advisors in Salt Lake City, Alabama and Detroit prefer Worldspan, previously owned by Delta, Northwest and Continental. Our travel advisors in Denver and San Francisco often prefer Apollo, previously owned by United, and those in Texas prefer Sabre, previously owned by American.

We use Amadeus because of an agency we acquired, CV Humanitarian Travel; the terms of the acquisition required the GDS continuity. I often hear that the GDS you "grow up on" is considered your native language and will always be your preferred GDS.

Q: Are there challenges that come with supporting so many different GDSs? And do any GDS platforms have mechanisms in place designed to discourage you to work with a competing GDS?

A: It is expensive to maintain four GDSs. It requires support teams that can provide support for all four, and we need to manage all four APIs to support our proprietary technology platform, AirPortal. We look at it as a cost of doing business.

I wouldn't say cross-usage is exactly "encouraged," because there is still lots of competition for our business, and they all would like a higher share of our GDS segments. Being a multi-GDS travel management company (TMC) does give us the ability to be more competitive. 

Q: How bullish are you on the future of GDSs in general? Do you think they're doing enough to evolve and keep pace with a changing landscape?

A: I'm optimistic. Even in the face of all of the NDC noise, Southwest Airlines has determined to go "all in" on the TMC/GDS ecosystem. They have been the longtime GDS holdout, and now that they want to go mainstream with business travel, they realized that they need to partner with TMCs and GDSs.

We've recently met with senior executives from all of our GDSs, and they are all focused on delivering rich content to us that is NDC or similar. We've also met with senior distribution executives from most of our major U.S.-based airline partners, and they, too, have made commitments to developing their NDC content through the GDSs.

That said, we are making IT investments to make sure that we will be viable in any landscape.

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