Worldspan takes steps to transform into online travel company

Worldspan LP took a major step in transforming itself from an Old Economy computer reservations system (CRS) firm into a New Economy Internet distributor.

Last Monday, the Atlanta travel giant unveiled a new Web offering for travel agencies that will bypass the proprietary connections that have been a hallmark in the CRS market. Also last week, Worldspan announced an agreement with Dublin-based Datalex Ltd. in which Worldspan took an undisclosed equity stake in Datalex while agreeing to use the company's XML-based booking engine and data-mining software in conjunction with future Internet plays.

Worldspan also struck a deal with ITA Software Inc. in Cambridge, Mass., which has developed a search engine to rival the established reservations systems, to create high-bandwidth connections that will enable a wider variety of companies to use the ITA product.

Philip Wolf, president of PhoCusWright Inc., an online travel research firm in Sherman, Conn., said Worldspan's moves provide a snapshot of a greater trend by the four entrenched reservations providers. ln a nutshell, the old single-connection travel-technology companies are getting Web-savvy, he said.

"Everyone says they're afraid of the Internet, but they're coming around," Wolf said.

He added that Worldspan, Sabre Inc., Galileo International Inc. and Amadeus Global Travel Distribution LLC are showing signs that they'd rather have agencies, corporations and individual travelers bypass their legacy systems than bypass their businesses altogether.

"They're all doing what they have to do to redefine what a travel distribution company looks like," Wolf said. "And those guys aren't done -- not by a long shot."

Jeremy Wertheimer, president of ITA Software, said the competitive landscape is changing in the travel industry and his company is happy to partner with its rivals at times when the deal is in the best interest of both parties.

"We're trying to add value to our customers, and if we get that value through Worldspan or Amadeus, that's fine with us," he said.

PhoCusWright released a report last week proclaiming Sabre the leader in CRS conversion to the Internet, estimating that almost half of all Web travel bookings are processed by the Fort Worth, Texas-based company. Wolf's company is predicting that Sabre, realizing how lucrative the Internet has become, will try to try to reacquire the 30% stake in online travel agency LP that it sold off in March, in order to regain full ownership of that company.

The latest activity by Worldspan follows through on a promise that Sue Power, its senior vice president for worldwide e-commerce, made at a conference in Orlando last week.

"The Internet will not happen without us," she said. "We will be there."

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