Like most good inventions that survive the test of
time, it began as a solution to an aggravating problem.
Years and Counting for the TRUE System!
By Gary M. Fee, OSSN President
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Many home-based agents -- particularly those who wanted to start their own agencies, rather than work with a host agency -- found it extremely difficult to register for a booking identification number like the Airlines Reporting Corporation (ARC) system. The required fees and bonds were very expensive for individual agents working from home, and many of the rules governing ARC numbers (e.g., having a certain grade of safe installed to store blank airline ticket stock) didn't seem to apply to agents at home who were concentrating primarily on selling cruises, tours, and hotel packages. The Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) number worked better for home-based agents, but it wasn't always accepted at that time by many non-cruise suppliers.
As you know now, having a booking ID number that's accepted by most non-air suppliers is one of the most important stepping stones to selling travel from home without a host agency. Without that number, you literally can't "tell" your suppliers' computers that you were responsible for your clients' reservations -- and, therefore, those computers don't know that you should be credited for those sales (and paid commissions accordingly!).
In late 2000, my wife Melody and I began brainstorming with John Hawks and Pat Funk at the Association of Retail Travel Agents (ARTA) and with Al Anolik, the well-known travel attorney who serves as general counsel for both OSSN and ARTA. Our mission? Find a way to launch a new booking ID numbering system for home-based agents that fit their needs -- and, do it quickly, and inexpensively!
Right away, we hit a few roadblocks. First, we had to find blocks of eight-digit numbers to use in our own booking ID system, because that's the format accepted by most travel suppliers for tracking sales and commissions. (These suppliers simply picked up this format from ARC's eight-digit numbering system.) Then, we had to figure out a way to persuade all types of suppliers -- cruise lines, tour companies, hotel and resort operators, sightseeing companies, and others -- to accept this new system, sight unseen and unproven. And, we had to meet these goals in a way that made our new booking ID numbers easily affordable to home-based agents.
As you can see in this picture from January 2001, Melody and I met in Washington with John, Al, and Nancy Linares (ARTA's chairman) to negotiate with Mike Maino, the president of the International Airlines Travel Agent Network (IATAN) for our own separate block of eight-digit IATAN numbers to use as the foundation of our own booking ID system. We needed numbers from Mike because his IATA-based coding system is the dominant worldwide booking ID system around the world (much larger than ARC). Despite many obstacles along the way, we did persuade Mike to give us the numbers -- and the Travel Retailers Universal Enumeration (TRUE) System was born!
We've come a long way since the beginning of 2001. Because OSSN spent a great deal of time working one-on-one with key travel suppliers like cruise lines and tour operators, the TRUE codes are now widely accepted by almost every major non-air supplier that OSSN members use. (Every time an OSSN agent reported problems with a supplier's accepting the TRUE number, Melody and I personally contacted that supplier to fix the problems.) We're seen as the first step towards earning your Travel Services Intermediary (TSI) number from IATAN. CLIA now prints the TRUE code on their certificates (and, because you belong to OSSN, you can take advantage of every CLIA training benefit).
And, the numbers don't lie: TRUE is by far the largest travel booking ID system in the world that's designed and managed by working travel agents. We're very proud of that accomplishment. By the end of 2006, we believe we'll double our current count of TRUE codes to almost 4,000 participating agents!
The TRUE System really proves the point that, when home-based agents join forces and tackle a common problem, great things can happen.