Can GDS survive?

Global Distribution Systems are in a position a bit like the music industry – they sit awkwardly between providers of the service, ‘Airlines’, and consumers of the service, ‘Customers’.

And while the woes of the music industry haven’t quite caught up to the GDS industry, they will. Here’s why, and what GDS systems will need to do to stay relevant.

Back in the good old days, there was a real problem for customers to book a flight on an airline. How would they access the airline’s systems? Short of going to the airport, this was an issue. But then GDS stepped in, and provided a centralised computer network that airlines could plug into, and more importantly, travel agents could plug into. Now customers could walk to their local travel agent, and book a flight. Fantastic.

But then the Internet came. And first it wasn’t a big deal, but these days it’s a game changer. I can’t imagine any credible airline these days that doesn’t offer online purchasing of tickets. It wouldn’t make sense. It would be one of the lowest cost channels for a customer to directly purchase the lowest possible fare.

And so what should a GDS do? Well let’s examine who needs a GDS.

Airlines somewhat need a GDS. Sometimes a passenger wants to fly to a destination that isn’t offered by an airline. A GDS could make the first leg of the journey with a particular airline, and then use another non-competing airline as the second leg of the journey. That’s a value add for the airline, as they’re getting a booking they normally couldn’t fulfil by themselves. If you check out Air New Zealand’s website @ http://www.airnewzealand.co.nz, you cannot book a flight from Auckland to Manila. That’s not to say there are no possible routes, just no possible all Air New Zealand routes. A GDS can deliver this.

In addition to this, a GDS provides a marketing service to airlines. An airline may only have the web infrastructure to suit a particular country or market segment, i.e. being translated into the appropriate language, and meet the appropriate cultural norms. A GDS can do this, and deliver a consistent experience for the customer regardless of the airline being offered. This means Air New Zealand doesn’t need to code a website in Korean, and doesn’t have to understand what would be appropriate and inappropriate ways to present information.

Having said this, airlines can change. What’s to stop Air New Zealand creating a web service to their booking system that Air Philippines couldn’t take advantage of, and start offering Air New Zealand routes to complement their existing Air Philippines routes? This ensures the customer stays on the Air Philippines webpage, and is offered a service that meets their requirements. Everyone wins.

And airlines are starting to offer sites in other languages and cultures as demand increases. Check out http://www.airnewzealand.com for the Air New Zealand American home page. The cost of them offering multiple languages may be cheaper than going through a GDS.

Do customers currently need a GDS? I don’t think they care to be honest. Sure, they can use Expedia to book a flight from multiple airlines, and it would meet their criteria, but often you find it cheaper to book directly through the airline. And if an airline is holding its best fares for their own website, this puts GDS sites at a distinct disadvantage.

So what’s a GDS to do? Here are my two ideas.

Focus on providing brokering services for companies that cannot afford their own booking site. Small hotels, small airlines, small tourist businesses may not be able to justify creating their own booking site. Why can’t they leverage your infrastructure and experience in providing services directly to the customer?

And secondly, provide an experience to the customer. Think about the experience as the journey, not the destination. The destination is the customer has purchased a reservation. The journey is that they went through a personalised experience that treated them like a friend, and recommended tours, packages, and hotels that would meet the requirements of the customer. GDS companies must really go beyond the basic reservation experience a single airline can offer, and really think about offering a seamless end to end experience for the customer.

It’s a bit like the difference between using a Windows mobile phone and an Apple iPhone. The Windows mobile phone can run any applications you like, and multiple applications, but the experience of finding those applications, paying for them, installing them, and using them is variable, and sometimes horrible. An iPhone offers a consistent world-class experience for all applications regardless. Be the Apple of the GDS industry, and you will succeed where your competitors will fail.

Culture Day at Asakusa, and Ueno Zoo

Yesterday, the 3rd of November, is Culture Day in Japan and is a Japanese holiday. And so, we decided to head to Asakusa, to go to the Sensoji Shrine, and check out the White Heron Parade.

Asakusa is three stops on the Asakusa line funnily enough from Asakusabashi. Just go from A16 to A19, and you’ll be alright. When you’re in the subway station, you’ll see A1 and A2 and stuff like that, which refers to subway exits, i.e. how to get out of the subway building, so don’t be too concerned that you’re at A3 at the A16 station.

160 yen and about 5 minutes later, we were in Asakusa. Right by the subway exit is the first gate of the Sensoji, a big giant Tori (gate) with a lantern. You’ll see the reverse swastika everywhere, but in this instance it’s a buddist symbol. Continue to walk past the Tori, and you’ll go down a lane selling gifts to foreigners, so if you get a gift from me, this is probably where I bought it.

Past the lane, is the Sensoji Temple. Alas, it’s being renovated at the moment, so it’s all wrapped in white sheeting, but the inside is still simply amazing. Just past the area where you throw your coins and pray (and I thought a good way to get rid of those 1 yen coins), is the most decorative, fancy, opulent, worship place I have ever seen, easily exceeding the Destiny’s Church. Gold is literally everywhere.

From the masses of people heading to Sensoji, just to the left of the building is the temple grounds and garden. I can understand why Japanese people really enjoy parks and greenery – it’s because they don’t personally have any, so any they see, they really relish. I mean in New Zealand, we’re lucky to see so much greenery, it’s coming out of our eyes, and hence we don’t really care about it, and are more excited about going to The Base. But here in Tokyo where everywhere is The Base, to see a stream or a waterfall, or some Koi Carp in a pond is truely relaxing and peaceful and a welcome respite from everything else going on all around.

We found out from the Tourist place the the parade didn’t happen until 1.30pm, so from here we headed to Ueno. Ueno is about three stops away from Asakusa on the Ginza line, but do note that the Asakusa Lines and Ginza Lines are run by two different companies, so it’s not as easy as just transferring.

Ueno is a wonderful part of Tokyo, with wide open spaces, and of course, Ueno Park. Probably smaller in size than Hamilton Gardens (including the zoo part), Ueno Park once again is that sliver of green you miss in a sea of concrete and neon. A quick stroll through the natural though perfectly manicured gardens, and you’ll be at the Ueno Zoo entrance. 600 yen later and you’re in. There’s really enough to see and do for a whole day at Ueno Zoo, which is pretty good considering how small the grounds physically are. We saw sun bears, brown bears, and polar bears, which were hanging out in a pretty sad exhibit, but at least they’re not cages anymore.

Then we waited in line for about 10 minutes and 150 yen to catch to Tokyo Zoo Hanging Monorail! This monorail goes 350 meters, and takes 1.30 minutes for the trip. 350 meters for a monorail! It hardly seemed worth it to build it – but they did, and we rode it.

One great thing about the Zoo is the food places. I don’t know why, but there is another food place within 300 meters from any other food place in the whole zoo. From one end of the zoo to the other, we must have hit at least five, and the zoo size is less than Lake Rotoroa, in the middle of Hamilton. 800 yen was a bit expensive for a Chicken box, and 230 yen for a Sizzler on a stick seemed a little pricy, but overall, the zoo is excellent value for money, especially compared to Tokyo Disneyland. The Australian guys I was with last night headed to Disneyland and was stuck for two hours a pop waiting for rides, meaning a whole day would only get 4 rides.

Anyways, by this time it was time to head back to Asakusa and check out the White Heron Parade. Pretty much the same as the Taumarunui Christmas Parade, but with more fancier costumes, and instead of taking about 20 minutes, takes about two hours. After about 4 of the guys walking past, we’d had enough. If we had had good seats, it would have been different, but since you’ve been walking for pretty much three days straight now, it turns out your feet start to hate you, and make it well known.

So instead we caught the Subway back to Asakusabashi, had a rest, and then headed to Akihabara.

Akihabara really is a Otaku, or Geek’s paradise. Imagine the complete opposite of Ueno Park, and that’s Akihabara. It’s no surprise that it’s called Electric Town.

We weren’t really feeling great, more tired and sore, so we didn’t spend much time in Akihabara, but some of the stuff we saw was delightful, and others not so much.

We ended up stumbling into a book shop, that had thousands and thousands of Hentai, or Japanese Drawn Pornography. Turns out that in Hentai, anything can be drawn, including girls and boys younger than 18, in fact, I’m sure some were younger than 10. This would obviously be considered to be Child Pornography back home, and would be frowned upon quite seriously. I think here there’s just an understanding that a drawing is a drawing, and so perhaps isn’t harmful. I don’t know if this is reflected in the amount of sexual abuse on small children here, but it’s certainly not something that you’d be expecting to see. Kathryn dutifully noted that she was the only woman on the floor, and so decided to wait outside. I noticed that all the woman on the covers (since most of the books were sealed) all had some sort of fluid depicted on them.

And so we went to another floor, and this time it was full of figurines. This is serious business over here, and it shows. No longer just limited to the Toy Section of the Warehouse, figurines cost hundreds of dollars, and are very intricate. From maids who have fallen over in awkward sexual poses, to beasts of the underworld, and futuristic overlords, everything plastic and shaped roughly human-like can be found here.

Even the model cars were fantastic, including a hyper-detailed bus. It wouldn’t surprise me if a little button would make the bus lower itself so wheelchair people could enter. And of course, these things would exceed 10,000 yen pretty regularly.

But what I was really interested in was consumer electronics. I did see quite a bit of them actually, but the prices weren’t that sharp, such as an Iphone 3Gs for 109,000 yen. To convert into dollars, remove two zeros, and add half. So 1090 + 545 = 1635 dollars roughly. That seems a little expensive really. On the plus side, you can be certain that what you’re buying is original and not fake, but if you’re expecting prices cheaper than back home, you might be surprised.

After a quick look around, our feet were killing us, and we had no energy left, so we headed back to Asakusabashi for an early night, and ready to head to Odaiba tomorrow.