The Coalition for Fair Access to Reservations in Europe have applauded a growing consensus for the need for consumer safeguards as the European Commission prepares to reform the rules that govern the computer reservations systems (CRS) industry.
Ludolf Van Hasselt, head of the economic regulations unit in the Commission’s transportation directorate, told a CRS conference organised by the Business Travel Coalition and co-sponsored by C-FARE this week that the market in Europe is “ripe for reform” but “consumers are first and foremost in our mind.” The conference drew Members of the European Parliament, the European Commission, travel managers, airlines, travel agents and members of the press.
Brandon Mitchener, executive director of C-FARE, said the most important guarantee is a basic requirement that all airlines with an ownership stake in a CRS make fare and routing information available in a fair and non-discriminatory way. “This simple rule protects travel agents, corporate travel managers and leisure travelers alike from abuse,” he said.
David Schwarte, general counsel of Sabre Holdings, a leading CRS and member of C-FARE, said not having access to the price and routing information of major airlines in Europe would be like “operating an automatic teller machine in Brussels that can’t dispense euros.”
Kevin Mitchell, chairman of the Business Travel Coalition, noted that airline divestiture of CRSs “was the prerequisite for full deregulation in the United States.” “Full deregulation”, he said, “could turn CRSs and the travel agencies they automate into mere dealerships for dominant airlines.”
British Airways and the European Travel Agents’ and Tour Operator’s Associations (ECTAA), among others, argued that Europe needed better regulation of its CRS industry, not total deregulation, in order to prevent a return to the kind of rampant market abuses that inspired the regulation of the CRS industry in Europe and the United States in the first place.
Indeed, the only stakeholder in the conference calling for total deregulation was Amadeus Global Travel Distribution, whose owners include Lufthansa, Air France-KLM and Iberia.
Dorothy Robyn, senior consultant at the Brattle Group, a consultancy that prepared an expert report for the European Commission on the CRS industry in 2003, said that the main difference between the travel markets in the United States and Europe today was “the airline ownership of Amadeus—and you’ll have to find a way to deal with that.” The other three leading CRSs have been independent of airline ownership since 2003.
Robert Evans, a member of the Transport Committee of the European Parliament, meanwhile, said the European Union assembly would be extremely vigilant when it receives the Commission’s reform proposal as soon as this autumn. The Transport Committee would ensure “that consumers have access to unbiased and complete travel information” as a result of “carefully calibrated rules,” Mr. Evans promised.
Mr. Mitchener welcomed the industry consensus around the maintenance of limited but essential rules governing the operation of computer reservation systems, which provide consumers and business travelers with rapid access to route and price information in an era of mass travel. “This is not a black-and-white choice between the status quo and complete deregulation,” Mr. Mitchener said. “C-FARE’s goal is to seek sensible and responsible revisions to the CRS Code of Conduct for the benefit of all stakeholders.”