Travel Suppliers have the most perishable commodities on sale. In the Distribution System of Travel Inventory, timely and standardized access often defines a profitable business. As the Suppliers graduated from making their inventory available on a single platform such as GDS and new Suppliers emerged who used non-GDS channels, we now have a multitude of mechanisms for Supplier Connectivity. This whitepaper reviews the challenges of staying well connected with Travel Suppliers and the business and technology landscape for Solutions in the Travel domain.
Challenges of Supplier Connectivity:
Getting the products out to consumers in the most effective and economic manner has been a key goal in any vertical and travel is not an exception. The emergence of various supplier options is a phenomenon that the travel distribution business is dealing with today. A key challenge to be addressed is to have the right ingredients to take advantage of various supplier inventory sources and the connectivity challenges they present.
From the traditional model which had ticketing agents at its centre, the Travel industry has seen the evolution of a number of channels in both the brick and mortar space and the Internet space. This phenomenon has taken place alongside the emergence of other developments in the travel industry such as the low-cost carrier and budget hotel boom, increasing corporate travel spend and the increasing demand for tourism in the developing nations of the world. The evolution of travel supplier connectivity and onward distribution worldwide has been dictated by the above trends.
Traditionally, GDS systems have played the role of Supply sources for availability of travel inventory. The role of the GDS over the years progressed quickly from checking seat/room availability to checking fares/rates and then booking. Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) within a supply chain was the first commercial real-time application. As the supply sources proliferated, the distribution channel sought to access them in alternate ways; on the other hand, these alternate suppliers wanted to go through the GDS Systems to reach out to the distribution network. Either ways, the challenges of supplier connectivity for the distribution channel quickly multiplied.
The Supplier Universe tends to be very large and diverse. Starting with Airlines and Hotel Chains, there are varied Inventory and package content providers in business today, offering everything from plain-vanilla business/leisure travel to luxury vacations and Adventure Sports and Specialty Events. With the demand for travel and related services ever expanding, Suppliers are continuously innovating to meet the growing needs of customers. In addition to the GDSs (Amadeus, Galileo, Sabre and Worldspan) and the alternate GDSs (ITA, G2) there are numerous other Suppliers such as Tourico, TravelGuard, Viator, etc.
The Distribution channel has changed from a linear to a highly non-linear one. With inventory available from multiple sources, it is critical for the various players in the distribution channel such as Travel Agents and online travel booking systems to have a latest list of the cheapest inventory available for every travel product to offer to their customers. The travel suppliers have built ecommerce transaction driven web applications, implemented partner links to market their inventory alongside distributing to wholesalers and Travel Agents. Suppliers have the challenge of achieving distribution of 100% of their inventory at the lowest costs. Whereas the Travel inventory sellers have the challenge of reaching out to every possible source of inventory to consolidate, compare and offer the best price to the customer.
Supplier Connectivity Situation today:
XML message based connectivity to supplier inventory sources has proliferated widely. Booking Technology providers have access to a wide variety of message standards to access availability and price data and integrate the same into the business applications they build. The main advantages of using XML based supplier connectivity are the following:
• Automating time consuming tasks to increase productivity.
• Adding custom features into transactions.
• Adding flexibility of display with customized marketing.
Over the years, a wide variety of XML message formats proliferated causing problems in interconnectivity. Open Travel Alliance (OTA) provided a community where companies in the electronic distribution supply chain work together to create an accepted structure for electronic messages, enabling suppliers and distributors to speak the same interoperability language, trading partner to trading partner. This resulted in introduction of reusable, standard messages so that the System Architects and Software developers don’t have to start from the beginning when a new distribution partner is brought in.
Possibilities with Supplier Connectivity Enhancements:
XML/Web Services based Supplier Connectivity links can be added very quickly to enable Travel Distribution businesses to stay focused on servicing their customers instead of being bogged down with Systems development.
Travel suppliers often aggregate the most price competitive rates and fares and make them available to the Distribution Channel using Standardized Connectivity tools. This is done using a mechanism called net rates. Net rates (also called private rates) are so called because they are not published in the GDS/CRS systems. They are generally 25% lower than published rates. These rates will allow Suppliers and intermediaries to effectively compete against renowned On-line travel agencies such as Expedia and Travelocity. Such Connectivity choices are very useful for providing business-specific features such as individual markup capabilities (by percentage, by a flat amount, by supplier, by booking class, etc.)
Universal Adapters for Supplier Connectivity:
In the universe of diverse connectors between Suppliers and the Distribution space, the concept of universal adapters addresses the need of simplifying the landscape. Application interfaces can be written to standard adapters and bringing in additional partners is just a matter of adding a few more pieces in the software architecture. This cuts down the expensive and time-consuming cycle times involved in creating connectivity software for each specific situation.
Such Adapters mirror the functionality of Supplier Systems via Internet connectivity, allowing clients the flexibility to build fully customized applications that better support and integrate their businesses with the Suppliers.
These universal adapters act as a library of bundled commands designed to cut development and maintenance costs.
What was once the tedious and complex process of accessing the supplier inventory via database integration has moved to EDI to API to Web services, XML and SOA. Though all these mechanisms exist to cohesively manage the travel inventory in the supplier ecosystem, the seller can pick the choice of supplier connectivity option to the best advantage of the business situation and as per their business growth plan. The variety of supplier inventory exposure has helped the seller to leverage the best technology tools and framework; thus implementing the travel applications to provide better service and optimize the choices for their customers.
Opportunities exist today to build varied Supplier Connectivity to your Operational Systems to promote and sell your offerings in the most flexible manner. With open standards and a unified approach to bridging the supplier universe, there are choices today in how one can enhance supplier connectivity in the Travel Distribution business rather than being tied down to one product/ licensing scheme or the other.
Blue Star Infotech, a leading Travel Technology Solution Provider, with its core focus on solving travel distribution issues using technology, has successfully implemented the following business integration requirements in supplier connectivity.
1. Vendor direct connect via website integration and screen scraping technique for some of the most dominant players in the travel wholesale business to provide access to the holiday packages of the supplier for selling via the Travel agent and online portals.
2. Direct connect to hotel supplier inventory via web services.
3. Travel portal integration with car suppliers via web services.
4. Developed switch to connect to ground transportation and Airport parking suppliers. Utilized web services for accessing inventory. The switch system also provides an interface for lean business model suppliers to manage their inventory within the switch system. The switch in the partner site allows the supplier to define rates, ‘Terms and Conditions’, etc. besides updating the inventory. Implements multiple work-flow mechanism to alert and update the vendor inventory source.