The Leisure Travel Alliance (LTA), a travel agency marketing organization based in Austin, Texas, with 275 affiliated agencies, reported it has been closely monitoring the industry's reaction to ARC’s Helix project.
LTA president Stuart Godwin told Travel Agent that that the decision to launch Helix changes the relationship between ARC – formerly the Airlines Reporting Corporation – and travel agents.
"Going back decades, travel agents viewed ARC and its predecessor organization as airline-owned institutions that filled a specific role as a licensing authority, settlement bank and enforcer of collective airline ticketing and payment policies," Godwin said.
"Travel agents that still sell airline tickets are given little or no choice but to do business with ARC and do it ARC’s way or not at all," LTA said. "It is also worth noting that travel agents who want to sell airline tickets are required to provide various financial instruments, bonds, certificates of deposit or similar security guarantees to ARC."
Based on its airline ownership and legacy, LTA said it believes that there should be a "cause for concern in the agency community in that ARC now wants to interject itself into agent relationships with cruise lines, tour operators and other non-air suppliers."
"LTA’s competitive reaction is much the same as that of other agency organizations," said Godwin, an industry veteran. "We now view ARC as a competitor to LTA and other agency organizations. Under normal circumstances, we would not give much thought to another competitor. However, in this case, we have concerns in that ARC is an airline-owned entity that has access to a wealth of agency information and data which was acquired by way of its purported primary role as the airlines’ exclusive settlement house.
"With all due respect to any statements to the contrary, we do not believe that ARC can separate Helix from ARC’s legacy. The very fact that ARC is publicizing Helix as an ARC business unit, that ARC’s president is speaking on behalf of Helix and that ARC is promoting Helix on their web site brings into question any suggestion that Helix is somehow an independent business entity."
Godwin also questioned how ARC "intends to now position itself as an advocate of travel agency interests given the history of ARC and its airline principals."
"If Helix is supposed to be autonomous, where is Helix’s CEO and why isn’t he or she speaking on its behalf?" Godwin asked.
Godwin said that as an ASTA Premium Member, LTA has brought its concerns to the attention of ASTA. According to Godwin, ASTA confirmed its earlier statement that it will be closely observing ARC's conduct with respect to the Helix matter.