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ARC Under Fire: TRUE Pledges No Consortia, Host Agency CompetitionFebruary 14, 2011 By: George Dooley
The Travel Retailers Universal Enumeration (TRUE) booking code system for independent travel agents pledged to continue its longstanding support for host agencies and consortia. In a statement issued in the wake of the new Helix program — announced by the Airlines Reporting Corporation (ARC) — TRUE said the program "threatens to lure agents from these groups."
Gary Fee, TRUE's founder and the president of the Outside Sales Support Network (OSSN), said TRUE will maintain its focus on a single mission: Providing trackable booking codes for independent travel agents.
"TRUE has no plans to offer preferred supplier commissions, ID cards, accreditation, or 'everything an agency needs under one roof,' as ARC's Helix apparently plans to do," Fee said. "We work very closely with travel agent consortia and host agencies, and we do not want to compete against them or move their agencies away from their current relationships. Also, we have no intention of forcing agencies to choose between their booking code and their consortia or host agency. We will not follow ARC's example by forbidding TRUE agents from belonging to any other organization that has preferred-supplier relationships."
Fee pointed out that TRUE can adopt these pro-consortia and pro-host agency stances because its system is managed and operated by working travel agents, not by suppliers.
"TRUE is not owned by, and does not report to, airlines or other travel suppliers, so we can afford to stay focused on serving agents only," he said. "Surely, the last thing many host agencies and consortia need in a tough economy is yet another competitor, especially one that's bankrolled by airlines and other suppliers.
"ARC appears to have lost its focus and has become fragmented. We understand that ARC has lost significant market share due to so many air-appointed agency closures. Moving into the consortium business is a mistake. This move steps firmly on the toes of host agencies and other major industry consortiums and re-confirms ARC's misguided new business model."
Alexander Anolik, OSSN's travel law counsel, also raised strong concerns about ARC's Helix program: "The airlines have gone overboard in recent years with debit memos and additional fees for consumers, in the belief that no one will stop them.
"This new Helix initiative raises serious antitrust questions, because no other agent consortium is also operating as an area settlement plan collecting proprietary sales data from thousands of travel agents all across the country. That fact gives ARC an enormously unfair advantage competing with the consortia, and the U.S. Justice Department may need to be asked to remind ARC about the antitrust guidelines it must follow - the same ones that agents sued over years ago when ARC was first formed."
Founded in 2001, the Travel Retailers Universal Enumeration (TRUE) coding system provides independent travel agents assigned, unique travel industry numeric codes that are recognized by the global travel supplier community, from cruise lines and tour companies to hoteliers and car rental firms.