CEO AND COFOUNDER
EXECU TIVE VICE PRESIDEN T
Every cloud has a silver lining. In the case of the ash cloud created in April 2010 by the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull, the big winner was con Tgo, a United
Kingdom-based mobile services integrator that specializes in
traveler tracking and assistance.
The ash crisis convinced such key corporate customers
as Microsoft and travel industry companies like American
Express that conventional global distribution system-based
tracking systems are not enough. Con Tgo relies on what is
in many ways a simpler technology—SMS mobile texting. Its
Mobile Travel Assistant product enables a company to send
automated text messages to all its travelers’ mobile devices
and ask them to respond to basic questions, such as whether
they require emergency assistance.
“Con Tgo was the first to offer the concept of bidirectional
intelligent communication, and that is very important in a
crisis,” said Michel LaBianca, American Express vice presi-
dent of global IT strategy for business travel. “SMS is the low-
est common denominator, and you don’t have to install any
software on travelers’ mobile devices. This is the way crisis
management will be handled in future.”
That was not the only reason SMS carried the day during the ash crisis. One major shortcoming of GDS-based
systems, which became evident after 48 hours, is that they are only effective if travelers are where they are supposed
to be. When they started to find their own ways home—some by such alternative means as ferries and buses—they
dropped off the radar.
“If someone makes a change to their itinerary, that change is not reflected,” said, Microsoft director of global secu-
rity operations Mike Foynes. “We found one of our security partners providing incomplete, inaccurate data because
travelers had moved out of the GDS environment.”
At the time of the ash crisis, Microsoft under the aegis of its travel department was trialing con Tgo in four coun-
tries. Following the crisis, the security department took over and has now rolled out con Tgo in 60 countries. Mi-
crosoft has also helped con Tgo to develop a new tool, launched in January 2011, which color-codes travelers’ SMS
responses on a map so that security managers can see, for example, clusters of where travelers have or have not
Con Tgo head man Johnny Thorsen, based in Denmark, started work on the idea in 2003 and launched it in 2007,
but he has a lengthy track record in travel technology. After working for travel management company partnership
Business Travel International, he switched in the late 1990s to Get There and later jumped ship for Travelport, where
he served as director of corporate solutions for both Asia-Pacific and Europe, Middle East and Africa.
Con Tgo during the last couple of years expanded from five staffers to 17 and will recruit further for an anticipated
quadrupling of transactions in 2011, although Thorsen hopes to keep con Tgo small by working mainly through
reseller agreements with TMCs.
Although no one doubts Amadeus’ global clout, the phrase “Amadeus Americas” traditionally solicits laugh- ter from travel distribution observers. “Pfft,” they say. “What’s their U.S. market share? Ha!” It’s still true that Amadeus is by far the small-est global distribution system in the U.S. market, but
who would have predicted that it would sign deals with
BCD Travel and Travel Leaders Corporate, two of the
nation’s biggest travel management companies, to replace the traditional GDS interface that large groups of
their agents use? Vic Pynn is who.
Revamping the agent desktop has been a dream of
Pynn’s since his days at TRX, which nearly 10 years
ago launched, evidently ahead of its time, a product
called Selex to get between the agent and the GDS,
take in booking and inventory data from multiple
sources and reduce the training costs and limited capabilities of cryptic GDS formats and codes.
Pynn is particularly keen on changing “the concept
of requiring talent with specific GDS format knowledge. We have told agencies that with technology today, you should have the freedom to not have to worry
about that and instead run your business accordingly.
That has been a big eye-opener.” He’s also interested in
moving away from PNR-centric data management.
“I do believe that he who owns the desktop wins the
war,” said Pynn, although he is careful to avoid suggesting that Amadeus One, the product in question, will
change the core GDS model. For example, he said, the
product was not specifically built to interact with direct
connections, although it is capable of doing so. This
could come in handy if, say, American Airlines can’t be
found in Sabre come September. A bit of protection for
TMCs amidst so much airline-GDS conflict and posturing can only be a good thing.
During a year in which govern- ment regulations
and initiatives grabbed
headlines, the U.S. Department of Transportation under the guidance of Secretary
Ray LaHood challenged airlines to display their fees
more transparently, created an airline task force joining
public and private industries, and allocated millions in
funding to begin building high-speed rail lines.
According to a DOT official, LaHood also “has been
involved in a number of significant negotiations” to-
ward Open Skies deals with other countries “and has
signed some of these agreements.”
LaHood has “brought an energy to DOT and has
focused on addressing the issues that travelers are fac-
ing,” said Shane Downey, director of public policy for
the National Business Travel Association. “He has really
stepped it up on the consumer side.”
In 2010, concern about airline fees swept through
the corporate and leisure travel worlds, creating intense
media coverage and industry discussions that placed
airlines practices under the microscope. As such, DOT
and LaHood proposed a rule that would require airlines
to disclose ancillary fees and provide global distribu-
tion systems with information about those fees. In Sep-
U. S. DEPARTMENT OF
tember DOT finished collecting public comments.
Spearheaded by LaHood, the proposed rulemaking
also included an initiative to expand a DOT rule prohibiting U.S. airlines from keeping enplaned passengers
on airport tarmacs for more than three hours. DOT formulated clauses that would increase compensation to
passengers involuntarily bumped from flights, allow passengers to make and cancel reservations within 24 hours
without penalty, prohibit price increases after a ticket is
purchased and mandate timely notice of flight status.
LaHood rejected requests by American Airlines,
Continental Airlines, Delta Air Lines and US Airways
for exemptions to DOT’s tarmac rule. “This is an im-
portant consumer protection, and we believe it should
take effect as planned,” according to a LaHood state-
ment. He also challenged an agreement between Delta
and US Airways to swap slots at New York LaGuardia
and Washington National airports, requiring them to
surrender to competitors 14 National slot pairs and a 20
LaGuardia slot pairs before approval. Delta and US Air-
ways agreed to transfer to four airlines some slots at the
two airports, but said they “do not intend to go forward
with the transaction on the conditions stated [by DOT]
if the original transaction is not approved.”
LaHood in April commissioned a task force of public
and private industry experts to compile aviation industry
recommendations. The panel reiterated the importance
of implementing NextGen technology, asked officials to
investigate taxes that it claimed choked the aviation in-
dustry’s profitability and sought additional transparency
for ancillary fees and codeshare agreements.