Travel Industry Data Flows and API Management
As part of Mashery’s Travel Industry Spotlight our Strategy Services team has authored a series of four blogs that describe how the adoption of APIs and API Management will transform virtually every corner of this important industry. The central theme argues that improved data flow via APIs will allow each player to better control their own destiny while at the same time dramatically improving customer satisfaction.
When you are looking to book your next vacation, stop and think for a second about where the data that is powering your booking experience is coming from. Most of us would assume that flight information, room availability, price, etc. all comes directly from the suppliers (the hotels, airlines, car rental companies) themselves.
Often, that’s not really how it works. As with any industry that is large and been around for a long time, data management and data sharing can be a very convoluted process. If all data stemmed from airlines or hotels directly, then all the different online travel agencies (OTAs, like Expedia & Orbitz), would have the same price on the same room or flight, and consumers would only need to visit one site to book a trip.
In terms of its data distribution the industry, is stuck in the past. The majority of flight information, and a good portion of hotel information, passes through a GDS (Global Distribution System) before it makes it to an OTA’s site. These GDS’ aggregate and standardize data from across the industry to provide a unified feed to travel re-sellers.
When the GDS’ started, travel agents relied on them for all their flight information from across the industry. But with the advent of the Internet, suppliers have tried to re-insert themselves as data providers, now accounting for over 30% of all flight sales (The Role & Value of the Global Distribution Systems in Travel Distribution; PhoCusWright, November 2009). As a result, rates provided through GDS’ could be different from the rates that suppliers are providing directly, since suppliers are trying to get more direct bookings. This is why you often see different prices for the same flight or hotel room on different travel sites.
All this leads to a confusing consumer experience. It’s no wonder that there is an ever-growing stream of new entrants (GetGoing, Mygola, etc.) into the travel planning space that are trying to simplify the planning and purchasing process. But it’s not just pricing on hotels and flights that can be confusing – it’s also location information, reviews, and more. Bits and pieces of relevant information are scattered around the web on different sites. As it stands, users are visiting as many as 38 sites before making a decision.
Data needs to be opened up for new entrants like Mygola to actually enable the consumer experience that they are striving for. Suppliers, review sites, OTAs and GDS’ all rely on each other for data – they should all be making it easier to work together by creating APIs that would allow easier access to their information.
Many players in this space have already started doing this (Expedia, IHG, British Airways), but many more can start enabling their partners with a better-managed data transfer. Well-managed API programs would allow new travel planning & booking experience players to get all the data and services (such as booking APIs, that would allow for an integrated planning/booking consumer experiences) they need. Consumers will be happier, suppliers will be happier, aggregators will have access to more accurate information and data will flow more logically in and around the travel industry. With more well-managed API programs in travel, the whole industry can flourish and see ever increasing pace of innovation.