Peter Waters, Director of Hotel Distribution at Amadeus, gives us an overview of the technology behind global travel booking, an integral part of our human transportation ecosystem and one that back-end infrastructure, is rarely in the limelight.
Is tech even important for booking systems?
Let me start with a story to explain this. Imagine that last week, a man named Henry Trask called his travel booker with a request. "I need to go to Brazil," he said, naming a little-known town near a large biomass plant. "The trip is for business, so I'll need to be within a 10 minute drive from the plant. Also, my wife is planning to join me for the weekend, so can you get a hotel with fun things to do? And can you get me a pre-paid room?"
Many agents would not be thrilled to get such a call. Henry, like Goldilocks and her search for the perfect bowl of porridge, wants something extremely specific. Hotels next to large industrial sites rarely cater for tourists. Henry's request for a pre-paid option adds another layer of complexity. Finding the right property normally will involve a long manual search. Here's where the right tech tools come in.
So where does technology fit in?
Technology can help the travel industry meet Henry's needs. For instance, there's a growing 'bleisure' trend, where travellers are mixing business and leisure. Our example, Henry, may also be working for a large corporation and booking his travel via a Travel Management Company, meaning that this TMC will undoubtedly need to meet both Henry's personal requirements and their Service Level Agreement (SLA) terms.
The TMC can do this by using technology to figure out how to quickly and effectively search for the right room at the right rate. Doing so will unlock profitability for the booker in multiple ways. Not only will they save time and better meet their clients' needs, they will also find it easier to comply with any SLAs they have with corporate clients.
You mentioned technology can help, but what does it mean for bookers?
Bookers can't meet such complex needs as demonstrated by Henry all by themselves – they need access to a multitude of content that can be searched in multiple ways, plugging in independent hotels so they can be compared alongside the big chains. When booking a hotel for someone like Henry, an agent needs to be able to search several different options, not just one: searching by rate, star rating, amenities, payment methods, and so on.
Booking systems, when done correctly, can help meet the needs of these 'Goldilocks' travellers. End-users want personalisation and contextualisation. For example, the growing trend of 'bleisure' means travellers want to choose amenable hotels from within the corporate compliant catalogue that's suited to both leisure and work.
Does search matter? And how?
It definitely does. As we've said, bookers need access to a multitude of content and that content needs to be searchable and comparable. Similarly, hotels must ensure that their content appears in as many channels as possible, and in as many ways as possible (maps, images, B2C descriptions, etc). Partnering with a provider like Amadeus can solve this problem, giving every property access to the Global Distribution System and then making it available globally. This is the reservation tool travel agents use when making an air, hotel, car, or other travel service booking. It draws heavily on new technology.
The right technology can standardise content from different sources to make it searchable, which is hugely important. Technology can also support different rate types and payment models. This is key given the fragmentation in the hotel industry. To do this, the search engine harmonises data from disparate sources, delivering a like-for-like comparison shopping. For instance, the search could show a pre-paid 'use it or lose it' half board rate from one provider alongside a post-paid flexible rate for room and breakfast from another provider, all for the same hotel.
So it sounds like hoteliers, travel agents, and travel management companies are going to use more technology in the future. What's the bottom line?
It's exactly that: that technology will be increasingly integrated into the hotel world. It's clear that travellers will not change their needs to make bookers' lives easier – so bookers need to stay one step ahead of the game.