The advent of GDS new entrants, dubbed GNEs, sparked an unusually acerbic response from the traditional vendors at ResExpo, who warned suppliers and agents that embracing new technology comes with risks.
G2 SwitchWorks and ITA Software say they are close to rolling out systems that will take travel reservations off TPF mainframes and onto open systems that are more agile and a lot cheaper.
"The new technology may create more problems than it solves," said Mitch Gross, Galileo's executive vice president and general manager for the Americas. "The efficiencies aren't quite there. I think this is a negotiation ploy to hold content hostage."
Mike Hulley, vice president and global leader, transportation industry, at EDS said, "Banks have spent millions trying to get off TPF, only to come back."
Sue Powers, Worldspan's chief information officer and senior vice president of worldwide product solutions, added that "the right technology platform depends on what you want to do, and in some cases that's TPF."
The two targets of the comments, G2's Alex Zoghlin and ITA's Jeremy Wertheimer, fired back.
"TPF are really big machines, but as processors they are really tiny," Wertheimer said. "GDSs aren't that magical."
The GDS representatives noted that many of their processes have been or are moving to open architecture, but Zoghlin replied that "it's still a single GDS using the same business logic that we believe is flawed."
In addition, some suppliers have decided that "GDS is not for them," and G2's product will give them access to that sector.
But Powers countered that "technology is not the exclusive purview of Jeremy and Alex."
Rather, she said, the real debate is over cost shifting. Airlines have long complained that GDS companies hike the segment fees paid by airlines, only to hand much of that money over to travel agencies as an inducement to use their systems for the bulk of their booking activity.
G2 and ITA are "hiding behind a technology veil, but what they really are is an inducement terminator."
An audience member noted that GDSs are well-established in the marketplace, offer worldwide support and will be difficult to dislodge. Wertheimer responded that "any technologist knows it doesn't count if people don't use it. There is a stampede of early adopters. We have more than we can accommodate."
And, he said, "to say you have to suffer bad technology in order to have good support is nonsense."
Among the GDS executives, only Peter von Moltke, senior vice president of Amadeus North America's Airline Group, acknowledged that G2 and ITA are the harbingers of a "revolution."
"It gives airlines a big stick to hit us with, and we deserve it," he said. "For too long, we treated airlines like suppliers instead of customers."