Standard Lets Travel Companies Branch Out

XML spec promises improved connectivity and lower distribution costs
A standard XML messaging specification is picking up speed in the travel industry, promising improved connectivity among business partners, better online packaging of travel products, and lower distribution costs.

At a forum in Dallas last week, leaders of the Open Travel Alliance said that a growing number of travel companies are migrating from proprietary XML interfaces to the alliance's XML messaging standard. Companies that use the messaging format won't have to establish separate proprietary connections with partners who also use the spec, speeding the delivery of services that let customers book all aspects of a trip during one online transaction. The alliance plans to put together a repository of usage profiles this year.

"You don't wait until things are perfect" before doing an implementation, Continental CIO Anderson-Lehman says.

"You don't wait until things are perfect" before doing an implementation, Continental CIO Anderson-Lehman says.
Some 18 companies from across the travel industry have published implementations of the specification for others to see. But other members of the alliance, which includes major airlines, hoteliers, car-rental companies, travel agencies, and travel-technology vendors, have been reticent to share details of their implementations.

Leisure travel specialist LibGo Travel Inc. has published its specs, and CIO Danny Hudson urged others to follow. "Competitive advantage isn't gained by linking two pieces of technology," he said during a panel discussion at the conference. "Competitive advantage is gained by how you use that technology."

The ability to perform one transaction that includes services from multiple companies, all linked by Web services, will be a key feature of future E-commerce, says Umang Gupta, CEO of the Web-performance-monitoring company Keynote Systems Inc. "Most businesses are becoming composite organizations," Gupta says. "Gone will be the day when we just do simple transactions."

Continental Airlines Inc. and America West Airlines Inc. have emerged as aggressive adopters among airlines. Continental established its first alliance-compliant interface last year, providing a direct connection into its reservations system to Trisept Solutions, which operates Continental's vacation-packaging unit. It has been migrating a proprietary XML connection to the alliance spec with partner Patheo Inc. that lets Patheo deliver data from Continental's reservations systems to travel agencies and other resellers. Continental also has built alliance-compliant interfaces for searching car rentals with Hertz Corp. and Budget Rent A Car System Inc. The alliance spec is something companies should jump into as soon as possible, Continental CIO Ron Anderson-Lehman said. "You don't wait until things are perfect before you do an implementation," he told members. "That's how you learn."

America West is on a similar path, having completed connections with its leisure-trip-packaging unit, America West Vacations. It's hoping to deploy such connections into the reservations systems at Budget and Avis Rent A Car System Inc. by year's end, says Chris Stanley, senior director of electronic distribution.

The spec also could help the airline fend off the resource drain that travel-search sites present with their relentless scraping of airline sites to respond to airfare queries. The airline's "look-to-book" ratio--the number of times it has to load its Web site for every booking it completes--is about 1,000-to-1 for travel-search sites, Stanley estimates. An alliance-compliant connection would allow only fare and schedule data to be delivered, greatly reducing the strain on America West's servers.

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