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Momentum Builds Behind Travel-Industry XML Spec

During a Dallas forum for its members on Tuesday, leaders of the Open Travel Alliance said that growing numbers of travel companies are migrating from proprietary XML interfaces to the alliance's standard.

A standard XML messaging specification is picking up momentum in the travel industry, promising improved connectivity between business partners, better packaging of travel products and services, and lower distribution costs.

During a Dallas forum for its members on Tuesday, leaders of the group pushing the spec, the Open Travel Alliance, said that growing numbers of travel companies are migrating from proprietary XML interfaces to the alliance's travel-specific XML messaging standard--even though a plan to roll out a certification program has been delayed. "We have created a culture around cooperation and coopetition," former OTA chairman Jim Young, senior VP of global distribution for Intercontinental Hotels Group, told an audience of more than 200 of the 6-year-old alliance's travel-industry members. The forum was being held in conjunction with research firm PhoCusWright's Travdex travel technology conference.

Still, the cooperation isn't without kinks. The delay is due not only to unexpected liability and administrative costs, but also because of reticence among some members to publish profiles detailing their use of the spec.

The alliance's XML spec is designed to facilitate the exchange of information between travel companies as the industry works to improve the ability of its customers to research and book all aspects of a trip in a single online transaction. After years of building industrywide interest, developing the specs, and, more recently, attempting to synch those specs with those offered being developed by similar organizations representing specific sectors such as airlines, hotels, and car-rental companies, tales of adoption abounded at the forum.

Companies such as Marriott International, Sabre Holdings, Cendant, and Hertz Rent-A-Car have published their implementations of the OTA spec for others to learn from. Expedia Inc.'s Newtrade travel commerce unit has adopted the spec to ease communication with partners. And leisure-travel specialist LibGo Travel Inc. has adopted the OTA spec and is attempting to get as many of its partners to adopt it, too. For those partners who haven't done so, LibGo has built translators that convert incoming messages into the OTA XML schema as a temporary stopgap, CIO Danny Hudson said during a panel discussion.

Hudson also stressed that companies hesitating to adopt the spec out of concern that it will erode their competitive advantage of a proprietary XML schema are misguided. "Competitive advantage is not gained by linking two pieces of technology," he said. "Competitive advantage is gained by how you use that technology."

All of the companies that spoke about their work with the OTA spec cited early business benefits--from improved integration of services to added flexibility and speed to market. "It's more effective than any other solution I could have found on the market," said Alain Leveille, VP of Newtrade product development for Expedia.

While the efforts to establish a certification program have been delayed, OTA vice chairman Jim Peters, chief technology officer of Swiss travel IT vendor Sita Inc., said the organization this year will continue to push members to post their usage profiles on the OTA Web site. Peters said he hopes to establish a repository of those profiles that members can access as a best-practices library.

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