ARC’s introduction of its Helix program, to be officially launched tomorrow, came under immediate fire from the Association of Retail Travel Agents (ARTA), which raised concerns today regarding the launch of the new program. The program is reportedly a consortium run by ARC that would offer preferred supplier arrangements.
"We have some real antitrust concerns here," said Bruce Bishins, ARTA's managing director. "It's one thing for ARC to accredit, regulate, and provide settlement services to travel agencies in an arena where such controls are imposed on all travel agencies; it's quite another matter when the very same regulator also runs a commercial operation in which it replicates and competes with the entities with which some agencies are affiliated and are members. ARC also has extensive data about travel agencies including airline sales, service charge amounts processed, non-air sales via MarketPlace, and a treasure trove of business information which will allow ARC to unfairly compete against established agency groups in the acquisition of members."
The company explained that it thought the Helix program appeared to conflict with ARC's mandate of reporting and accreditation. ARTA said it was uneasy about ARC's move into commission-based programs, and that it felt suppliers should not be influenced by an airline-owned association to offer commissionable travel services.
ARTA has asked its general counsel, Alexander Anolik, to file a complaint and objection with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to review ARC's Helix plans. ARTA said it will request that the DOJ investigate an attempted percipient monopoly with the relevant market where no one else controls the distribution system of the Area Settlement Plan, and, which combined with favoritism preferences that by their nature exclude others, interfere with agents' relationships with long-standing preferred suppliers and other consortia. ARTA said it will also ask the DOJ to determine if ARC has improperly changed the nature of its business with respect to the caveats imposed by the DOJ in its original 1984 review and conditional approval of ARC's incorporation.
"The information we have about Helix is only preliminary and not very detailed," said Nancy Linares, ARTA chairwoman. "We are doing our due diligence to determine precisely what is being offered in the Helix program and to what degree ARC's involvement is really a proper extension of ARC's role as claimed."