Sabre Travel Network so far this year has launched new products or product enhancements for mid-office quality control, agency fee management, traveler tracking and Web-fare searching. It also has taken a more assertive stance with third-party developers, saying that it is merely defending its model, but nonetheless eliciting claims about anticompetitive practices.
Whatever their intentions, these initiatives could serve to better assert Sabre as an all-in-one provider of corporate travel technology in a market that boasts many dozens of smaller automation developers. Perhaps such an effort is to be expected, given last year's changes to global distribution system company revenue and cost models.
"It's fair to say that, historically, the GDSs defined their role a certain way, and a lot of that was around the actual reservations process," said Sabre Travel Network North America senior vice president Chris Kroeger during a recent briefing. "To a certain degree, that's because that's where our economics were linked. As the model has changed and we look for different revenue streams other than supplier booking fees, that is another element of it ... but we're also listening to our customers, who have said what's important is end-to-end, not just a reservation."
STN, the global distribution system division of Sabre Holdings that also markets the GetThere corporate booking tool to travel management company users, is packaging this year's enhancements within a concept it calls the "corporate efficiency formula." Combined with support services by a dedicated consulting team, the offering includes point of sale reservations tools like GetThere and Sabre's MySabre agent interface, the newly enhanced Ticketing Assistant quality control application, the new Agency Fee Manager product for processing TMC service fees, Sabre's existing Virtually There itinerary and invoice delivery tool and (optionally) its Central Command and TRAMS back-office solutions.
While Sabre would continue supporting access by third-party products traditionally used by agencies for functions like quality control, Kroeger said subscribers using Sabre's whole suite--those that are "not in a position today to build their own formula"--would likely save money because of efficiencies generated by "more tightly intertwining" the Sabre components.
Ticketing Assistant automates such tasks as basic ticketing, checking on unused e-tickets and quality-checking reservations for adherence to negotiated rates, travel policies and reporting requirements. Agency Fee Manager enables differentiated service fees based on customer and depending on up to 33 passenger name record elements.
Competitors suggested that the market potential for such applications is limited to agencies that use only the Sabre GDS, which tends to be smaller providers. Sabre in 2003 told the federal government that all of its top ten agencies and 80 percent of its top 20 also used another GDS, while just 54 percent of its top 100 agency users also relied on other systems.
But one of the key reasons TMCs use multiple GDSs is because of differentiated corporate client preferences, and Sabre is not shying away from marketing its new formula to corporate accounts in an effort to "create stickiness between the corporation and their TMC," said Kroeger. Actually, two "well known" ARC-accredited Corporate Travel Departments are among the six clients "in the middle to end part of beta testing," said STN director of corporate segment marketing Shelly Terry.
Kroeger said Sabre has observed little growth in the number of both CTDs and corporations with their own GDS contracts, but Terry said the "CTDs we do have are all over this."
Asked whether Sabre would build roadblocks for third-party tools that compete with STN's solutions, Kroeger said, "Not at all. Contrary to some discussion, our desire is to have a good number of strong, robust developer relationships. This is not about us limiting choice. We want to make sure that the choices that are there are outstanding choices, ensuring that the relationships we do have are as strong as they can be."
According to articles published by The Beat, that "discussion" is a dispute between BookingBuilder Technologies and Sabre over Sabre's Authorized Developer program. BookingBuilder has refused to agree to terms of the program, which includes a participation fee but enables members to avoid possible GDS access challenges that Sabre may erect in order to stop third parties from trying to "get value out of the GDS channel (and Sabre specifically) without having to pay for that value."
Other third-party firms have begrudgingly agreed to participate, but BookingBuilder has balked partly because Sabre released a new product, AgentWare-enabled NetCheck, to compete with BookingBuilder's. BookingBuilder founder Seth Perelman claimed new Sabre participation fees would undermine his product's business model, and filed complaints to that effect with the attorneys general of Connecticut and New York. Sabre Travel Network has told its users that it would revoke GDS access privileges for BookingBuilder's fare search tool on May 10 unless the two companies resolve an authorization dispute.
STN developed the authorization program following new policies enacted in 2005 that were designed to stop certain tech firms (then known as GDS new entrants) from using passive segments in its system to piece together non-GDS passenger name records. More than 150 third-party developers have access to Sabre, the company said.