Tech Co. Builds Bridges: BookingBuilder Aligns With Amadeus, Worldspan; SWA

BTN Online, July 23, 2007 — Amadeus and Worldspan this month aligned with BookingBuilder Technologies, which supplements global distribution system content with Web-only fares, in separate partnerships to offer preferred pricing to subscribers as well as opportunities for tighter integration between systems. Meanwhile, Southwest Airlines and BookingBuilder next month intend to launch a bridge between the airline’s Swabiz booking portal and online corporate booking tools.

The partnerships come amid a feud between Sabre and some software developers, sparked this year when Sabre began charging the likes of BookingBuilder to tap into its system. Sabre said it recently cut off BookingBuilder’s GDS access. As another blow to BookingBuilder, Sabre in March released NetCheck, designed to perform similar functions.

“It looks like Worldspan has gone the opposite route as Sabre, acknowledging that they don’t have everything, that the BookingBuilders of the world are filling a void and that this is going to be a killer app for the travel agent when it’s integrated,” said Chris Lopinto, partner for Expert Travel Services, a software developer that leverages the GDSs. “It’s a good move on Worldspan’s part.”

BookingBuilder is priced at $17.95 per desktop, per month, but the Worldspan agreement brings pricing to about $3 per transaction with no monthly fees, undercutting Sabre NetCheck’s $3.75 per-transaction cost and $7.50 monthly fee. However, a Sabre spokesperson said the GDS is waiving transaction fees for NetCheck users until later this year, and will not begin charging monthly fees until next spring.

BookingBuilder CEO Seth Perelman said, “At this point, it’s three bucks a transaction. We’re not really anticipating having discounts, but clearly if someone is going to be a tremendously heavy user, we can go to Worldspan and work out and figure out what’s best for the customer.”

Perelman said customers already using BookingBuilder in conjunction with the GDSs would be able to choose which pricing model they preferred.

Amadeus wouldn’t disclose exact pricing terms, as it still was finalizing the deal at press time, but noted that it is a similar arrangement to the Worldspan agreement.

Amadeus North America director of marketing Owen Wild said, “We already have BookingBuilder in our portfolio of third-party providers we interface with, and many subscribers do use the application. We’re just enhancing the partnerships with the preferred distribution and that will give the agencies some better commercial terms to access the product.”

Kathy Fitzpatrick, Worldspan vice president of North America sales and worldwide travel supplier solutions, said the agreement was an “opportunity to get the pricing right. I wondered why everyone wasn’t using the product and it turns out it was the price point, which was a fixed monthly fee—that’s the way they market their product. I knew we could get a bigger reach if it integrated with our desktop, which it does, and also if we could make it at a price point that’s more variable versus fixed. That’s in essence what we’ve done.”

BookingBuilder has won favor among many travel management companies that use the application to grab content from the likes of Southwest Airlines and other carriers with little or no GDS participation, here and abroad, its new GDS partners said.

BookingBuilder and Southwest last week said they renewed an agreement to “continue to provide travel agents with virtually seamless access to Southwest Airlines’ online fares and Swabiz corporate booking site, via the BookingBuilder Desktop application,” while also launching an interface for corporate booking tool users.

Perelman last week said the companies, along with beta customer nuTravel, plan to demo the interface this week at the National Business Travel Association conference in Boston.

nuTravel president and CEO Carmine Carpanzano last week said the company in August plans to launch its BookingBuilder-enabled Swabiz link through its booking tool with two launch customers, including Fujifilm Medical. “If there’s content that you can’t get through the GDS, this will allow us 100 percent of Swabiz content,” Carpanzano said. “For anyone using the booking tool that can’t get the content through the GDS, this obviously plugs the hole.”

“While they have Swabiz, there are lots of companies that want to be booking through their self-booking tool,” Perelman said. “It was a great extension of our partnership to now be able to provide the additional service. Just like BookingBuilder Desktop acts as a bridge between the GDS and the Southwest Web site, this product acts as a bridge between the corporate booking tools and Swabiz.”

Perelman said it would charge $2.50 per booking, which would take place on the Swabiz site, but “all the data from the corporate booking tool gets passed over to Swabiz, and the reservation is passed back to the online tool.”

Perelman said once the bridge is launched “by the end of August” the company will integrate with corporate booking tools on a case-by-case basis. “We’re just going to do custom integration work with each booking tool—and there’s only a handful of them,” he said. “It’s not a standard interface, since each booking tool is different. It makes the most sense to work with each one on a custom basis.”

Southwest in 2004 for the first time authorized an outside entity—BookingBuilder—to interface with its Web site in an automated fashion, thereby opening unprecedented opportunity for corporate travel agents to book the low-cost carrier (BTN, Oct. 18, 2004). The carrier since has broadened its corporate distribution presence. In May, it announced an agreement to offer its published fares and inventory—not including exclusive Web fares—to subscribers of the Galileo GDS (BTN, May 21). The carrier also has a long-standing agreement with Sabre, giving the GDS limited access to its fare content.

Worldspan’s Fitzpatrick said, “All of our top customers use BookingBuilder. There are other competitive products in the marketplace. In terms of Worldspan marketshare of agencies, BookingBuilder is the primary solution of choice.”

As Worldspan and Amadeus embrace BookingBuilder, Sabre has distanced itself from the technology supplier and began charging such third-party developers for access to the GDS. “For third-party folks to feel like they should get access to things that other people pay for is an interesting point of view,” a Sabre spokesperson said last week.

Sabre said after attempts at renegotiating with BookingBuilder, it recently cut off the provider’s access. “More of an impact will be felt if you’re not an authorized developer,” a spokesperson said. “They’ll have all types of technical problems and their products won’t be supported.”

BookingBuilder’s Perelman has been a vocal critic of Sabre’s policy, and even filed an antitrust complaint with the New York State Attorney General.

Perelman in a letter to clients in late March—days after the launch of Sabre’s NetCheck—said, “Competition is what has driven our product to be the market leader. By forcing us to make our product ‘consistent’ with their product and to charge you more than they do or else lose our access to Sabre, our ability to compete is eliminated.” Perelman said BookingBuilder developed a version for Sabre subscribers “that is not as efficient as it would be on another GDS, so it puts Sabre agents at a disadvantage. As we come up with new products, it makes you wonder whether or not we want to develop those products for Sabre. That puts their agents at a disadvantage versus those with other GDSs.”

Sabre said BookingBuilder opted not to work with the GDS on its revised terms. “We’ve had a very positive relationship with those folks in the past and we really feel that we’ve worked in a fair and reasonable way to make them an authorized Sabre dealer,” a Sabre spokesperson said last week. “We certainly continue to welcome the opportunity to work with them. They’ve chosen not to do that at this point, which is their decision.”

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