Worldspan LP has taken a major step in transforming itself from an Old Economy computer reservations system (CRS) firm into a New Economy Internet distributor.
The Atlanta travel giant recently unveiled a Web offering for travel agencies that will bypass the proprietary connections that have been a hallmark in the CRS market. Worldspan announced an agreement with Dublin-based Datalex Ltd. under which Worldspan took an undisclosed equity stake in Datalex and agreed to use its XML-based booking engine and data mining software for future Internet plays.
Worldspan also struck a deal with ITA Software Inc. in Cambridge, Mass., which has developed a search engine that rivals established reservations systems, to create high-bandwidth connections that will enable a wider variety of companies to use the ITA product.
Providers "Coming Around"
Philip Wolf, president of PhoCusWright Inc., an online travel research firm in Sherman, Conn., said Worldspan's moves displays a trend by the four entrenched reservations providers. "Everyone says they're afraid of the Internet, but they're coming around," he said.
Wolf added that Worldspan, Sabre Inc., Galileo International Inc. and Amadeus Global Travel Distribution LLC are showing signs that they would rather have agencies, corporations and individual travelers bypass their legacy systems than bypass their businesses altogether.
"They're all doing what they have to do to redefine what a travel distribution company looks like," Wolf said.
Jeremy Wertheimer, president of ITA, said the competitive landscape is changing in the travel industry, and his company is happy to partner with its rivals when the deal is in the best interest of all parties. "We're trying to add value to our customers, and if we get that value through Worldspan or Amadeus, that's fine with us," he said.
PhoCusWright released a report two weeks ago proclaiming Sabre the leader in CRS conversion to the Internet, estimating that almost half of all Web travel bookings are processed by the Fort Worth, Texas-based company. Wolf's company is predicting that Sabre, realizing how lucrative the Internet has become, will try to re-acquire the 30% stake in online travel agency Travelocity.com LP that it sold off in March to regain full ownership of that company.
The latest activity by Worldspan follows through on a promise that Sue Powers, its senior vice president for worldwide e-commerce, made at a conference in Orlando two weeks ago.
"The Internet will not happen without us," Powers said. "We will be there."