Online Travel Wireless War Escalates

FRAMINGHAM (07/24/2000) - The stakes in the wireless business travel game got higher last week as Sabre Holdings Corp. launched a wireless booking tool and its chief competitor, GetThere Inc., struck an alliance with Verizon Corp., the nation's largest wireless provider.

Sabre, based in Fort Worth, Texas, and GetThere, based in Menlo Park, Calif., have been battling for the top spot in the business-to-business travel arena and both see wireless invention as a key to winning that spot.

GetThere launched its wireless initiative in 1999, offering flight status alerts, itinerary tracking and the ability to change flight plans.

Sabre Business Travel Solutions has some additional features in its release. It has support personal digital assistants and allows travelers to book flights, hotel rooms and cars over their wireless devices.

Cindy Groner, Sabre's director of wireless services, said the company will be adding push technology -- incoming messages such as flight status changes or weather updates -- during the winter months.

Groner said the bookings will use mostly pull-down windows, needing only the departure and arrival cities to be keyed in by the user.

The Sabre release will support Wireless Markup Language, XML, Handheld Device Markup Language and Wireless Application Protocol technologies.

While Sabre looks to gain traction with its release, GetThere's agreement with Verizon helped solidify its foothold in the wireless world.

GetThere co-founder and Chief Technology Officer Dan Whaley said his company plans to add the full booking capability in coming months, but he called such upgrades "a feature war."

He argued that companies looking to leverage wireless technology to further their business will need to partner with wireless providers that control the content of what users see on their wireless menus.

"This is why all of our agreements guarantee (prominent) placement," Whaley said.

GetThere has already struck deals with Sprint PCS Group in Kansas City, Mo., and Bell Canada International Inc. subsidiary Bell Mobility Inc. He added that GetThere is negotiating with European wireless providers to enter the European market.

Whaley and Groner acknowledged that the current wireless releases are just the early stages of where the technology is headed. Bigger screens and more bandwidth will enable travel providers to deliver more robust services over the devices in the coming years.

Both companies stressed the importance of taking these baby steps now.

"I think people understand intuitively that it is going to be a big thing," Whaley said. "They look at Europe. They look at Japan. They see how popular these devices are and they can sort of see the future."

"This is where the transactions are heading," Groner said. "It's something you've got to do."

Earlier this month, Northwest Airlines Inc. announced the launch of a wireless service that allows its passengers to check gate information and flight status.

In June, computer reservations giant Galileo International launched its wireless flight status and rebooking offering.

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