|Panelists discuss connecting hotel technologies with open standards during HITEC this week. From left to right: John Bell, Marriott International; Doug Rice, HTNG; and Valyn Perini, OpenTravel Alliance.
BALTIMORE—As more and more technologies are introduced for hoteliers to both maximize operating efficiencies and wow guests, connecting those technologies to one another presents more of a challenge.
Getting technology tools to interact with each other—whether it be for distributing inventory, collecting guest data or offering the guest a seamless check-in experience—is a must for hoteliers. Today, however, many technologies operate on different platforms and don’t “speak the same language.” Different brands require varying languages and different vendors offer their own unique connectivity plugs.
For that reason, a number of organizations are working toward uniformed connectivity standards. The goal is to have all hotel technologies operating on the same platform so hoteliers can “plug and play” technology tools and have seamless connectivity. Technology providers are encouraged to build their software with “open standards.”
Open standards “allow trading partners to swap out modules,” said Valyn Perini, CEO of the OpenTravel Alliance, an organization with the mission of solving problems inherent with connecting multiple systems within travel distribution. For example, one vendor might accept PayPal for credit-card payments while a partner technology vendor might not.
“It helps developers see a faster time to market,” she said. “Maybe something has changed or you’ve got a new product you want to launch with your partner. It makes developers’ lives easier.”
Leading a session during the Hotel Investment Technology Expo and Conference, Perini said the hotel industry is behind the curve in terms of operating under open standards.
Doug Rice, CEO of Hotel Technology Next Generation, has been championing a movement toward vendors in the hotel technologies space that would make integrating products easier. HTNG regularly compiles workgroups made of hotel IT leaders and vendor representatives to tackle complex hotel technology challenges.
“We use and adapt OpenTravel standards,” Rice said, “in attempts to simplify it down to where it’s as close as you can get to plug and play.”
In the past year, HTNG-led workgroups have used connectivity standards to solve challenges surrounding cellular coverage in hotel rooms, gathering customer profiles, simplifying travel-agency commissions, exchanging folio details and reducing the amount of video head-ends needed in a hotel’s back-of-house. Next up on their plate is protecting guests’ credit-card information, simplifying the request-for-proposal process and more efficiently connecting property-management systems to point-of-sale systems.
Talking to OTAs
While hotel room suppliers and online-travel agencies bicker often about discounts, commissions and price parity, the two groups are working together to better communicate data between one another. Having the technologies push and pull data on rates and information in the same language would offer the end user a much quicker and more reliable experience, said Sebastien Leitner, director of lodging connectivity with Expedia.
“We need to exchange information in a matter that is efficient, fast and everyone can understand it,” he said. “Right now we are horrible. We suck at it. We are the worst ever.
“We are relying on a semiautomated process,” Leitner continued. “We have spreadsheets, we have file dumps. It requires human people to transfer information.”
Peter Tyrell, director of revenue systems development for InterContinental Hotels Group, said adopting a common language is not something that will happen overnight.
“But we’ve got to start somewhere and move forward,” he said. “How can I get the data to you in a faster manner?”
In the short term, Tyrell said IHG plans to take a look at simplifying rate plans and room types. The goal is to have those changes in place by the end of July and then move on to the heavy hitter: assuring IHG and its partners share information in the same code.
“We want to be talking the same language so the consumer has a better experience,” he said.
Tyrell said that in a perfect world central reservation systems will cache much more information so partners looking to pull that data can access it easier and quicker. He said the speed of a transaction should go from five seconds to 50 milliseconds.
For Marriott International, the goal is to be able to bring aboard new partners without increasing IT costs by having to develop new communication plugs for each partner.
John Bell, enterprise architect with Marriott International, said Marriott’s system wasn’t initially designed to plug into other systems. Booking data was only to be shared internally. Now, with the proliferation of alternative distribution channels, Marriott needs to communicate with outside systems.
Instead of overhauling its entire system, Marriott addresses this concern by building what Bell called an “adapter.” That way, if a technology partner comes in and can only speak in a certain language, Marriott can install that adapter to deliver data in their native language.
“The adapter helps us meet the standards and go where the standards haven’t gone yet,” he said. “Now it’s almost no cost to us to plug into our partner.”
Expedia is spending a great deal of time helping the industry adopt a single standard, Leitner said. The goal is to increase speed, accuracy and depth.
“We need connectivity that is agnostic of the suppliers’ individual yield and revenue management systems,” he said. “Whether it’s rates and availability, cancellation policies or hotel attributes, we need an automation of content exchange.”