The European association of global distribution systems has hit back over a dismissal of the GDSs as “clunky” by the head of airline association IATA.

IATA director-general Tony Tyler told the Air Transport IT Summit in Brussels last week: “The GDS model is holding us back. It is too clunky to adapt to fare unbundling and merchandising.”

European Technology and Travel Services Association (Ettsa) secretary-general Christoph Klenner described Tyler’s comments as “baseless”.

Klenner told Travel Weekly: “The GDS companies power the direct distribution channels of a large number of airlines, enabling tailored merchandising and sales of ancillary services.

“The latter are also available through the GDS channel, on the premise that the airlines play ball and provide adequate data on ancillary services and fees so that they can be displayed and sold on the GDS.”

Klenner added: “The GDSs invest hundreds of millions of dollars in technology research and development every year.

“Yet IATA seems to believe the GDSs are somehow the bottleneck of innovation in distribution, which for the reasons above is baseless.”

Tyler said IATA is working on a global standard for a “new distribution capability” to be presented at IATA’s World Passenger Symposium in October.

He argued this would “revolutionise” sales, but insisted the aim was not to bypass GDSs, saying: “The GDSs have an important role to play in working with us to optimise this. . . The intention is to enable product differentiation through all distribution channels.”

Klenner said: “We have indicated we are keen to work with IATA on the development of new distribution standards, but have had a lukewarm response so far.

“Tony Tyler has indicated he is confident we’ll work with IATA on the new standards and we are delighted at his enthusiasm. We’ll come to the party, that’s a certainty.”

Ettsa represents GDSs Amadeus, Sabre and Travelport as well as online travel agents including Expedia, Ebookers and Opodo.