Controversy Over CTO's Online Booking Tool

The president of the Outside Sales Support Network (OSSN) and the secretary general of the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) exchanged letters last week over the issue of whether the CTO's partnership with Travelocity to create a "super web site" will bypass traditional home-based agents.  The CTO's Vincent Vanderpool-Wallace

OSSN President Gary M. Fee claimed the partnership would hurt agents' business.

In a letter to CTO Secretary General Vincent Vanderpool-Wallace, Fee says, "Many of our agencies believe this new online booking engine may possibly bypass them unfairly—forcing them to compete with CTO member nations and Travelocity for future bookings from the very clients to whom they have recommended Caribbean vacations for many years."

Fee also questioned the timing of the move, claiming the CTO needs travel agents the most now, a reference to the role of agents in spreading the word of new passport restrictions to be put in place as of January 8.

Vanderpool-Wallace, shortly after being made aware of Fee's letter, responded with one of his own, claiming the booking engine is not new and the CTO has actually had it in place for several years. F.Y.I.

"Travel agents have been, are, and will continue to be very important to the Caribbean even while the unrelenting march of technology makes more information, more products and more pricing more accessible to consumers," Vanderpool-Wallace writes.

"As before, we are finding that because of technology, consumers are now much better informed and much better prepared before they approach their travel agent with multiple options. The same breadth of product that we offer in packaging on Travelocity is offered to the agent community via the TripTailor tool. Essentially, TripTailor enables us to function in the same capacity of a traditional wholesale model."

The partnership is not the only such collaboration online travel agency Travelocity has entered into lately and it may not be the last, says Alyson Briggs of Vollmer Public Relations, which represents Travelocity. This is, however, the first time it has powered a booking engine for an entire region, Briggs says.

Briggs told Travel Agent last week that the company has also reached similar agreements with tourism boards and convention and visitors bureaus in Louisiana, Maryland and Kentucky and may establish additional partnerships with more tourism boards.

"You can't change the course of evolution in this industry," says Paul Ruden, vice president of the American Society of Travel Agents. "Deals like this will continue to happen, but it shouldn't affect agents, so long as they continue to exploit their marketplace."