At Southwest, no tombstone for the GDS

Not forgotten, not dead. _popup_tombstone_2.jpgThe obituary of the old GDS, the computer-based Global Distribution System, was premature a long time ago, and if any further proof were needed, it comes from an once-unlikely source: the discount airlines that were born into agnosticism if not downright denial about the GDS. Southwest, for instance, was raised on a gospel that preached wariness of the GDS, and instead taught selling direct. But Southwest, like every other airline, faces a looming revenue crunch, and both have returned to the GDSs. With good results. Now, the GDSs are becoming instruments of transformation, rather than just revenue-enhancers.
Nowhere is this more the case than at Southwest, where a big drive to boost revenues has reversed its 4506VV3072.jpg
traditional minimal reliance on the GDSs. The discount king is expanding its relations to add the Galileo GDS soon and to the Worldspan system later. Chief executive officer Gary Kelly said the shift in emphasis is part of Southwest’s larger transformation into a carrier that can attract the button-down crowd as well the backpackers and grandmas. Kelly vowed “a very focused sales campaign to win more large corporate accounts.” He told analysts during a conference call, “It’s simply easier to attract leisure travellers because, by and large, they’re focused on the schedule and the price.” Road warriors, Kelly says, “are more difficult (to attract), especially [from] big corporations.”

The GDS is central to the Southwest metamorphosis because corporate travel departments and the large travel-management companies rely on Sabre, Amadeus and the Cendant stable for the complex needs of their clients. The GDSs have demonstrated that they have the multiple itineraries, control over the differentiated levels of service, and the depth of fares data that big companies have to have for their travellers. All in all, they’re a long way from the old blue screens of yore.

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