Today’s traveler is increasingly shopping for an experience, not just a seat on a plane or bed in a hotel. In fact, the travel experience begins from the booking environment itself where consumers expect a single portal to connect across travel providers and travel retailers. People are looking for the convenience and value of the delivery and ride sharing apps that they use in their day-to-day lives and want that applied to the travel experience. The reason the travel industry as a whole has lagged behind modern expectations is because it has lagged behind the latest technological trends.
Easier Said Than Done
The process and protocols largely used today between providers have their base in travel standards agreed to in the 1960s and modified over time. Initially created to address airline interlining, allowing a single ticket to include flights on multiple air carriers, they have been pressed into service across the travel verticals. As time has gone on the once workable solution has begun to show its limitations. There are multiple efforts in the industry to break with the past and pursue an approach where a travel offer may be handled much like any other retail offering in the digital space. Travel however has some unique needs as products are transient (an empty seat is worthless after departure time) and in most cases specific to location (airplanes must land at an airport). Also, in most cases a travel product must be combined with another travel product to satisfy a request to create a trip. Creating an end-to-end journey implies a combined offer from multiple offers proposed and/or serviced by multiple providers. This adds a level of complexity, maintaining relationships between offers, other retail categories avoid. Focusing on the experience as a new approach to travel retail requires a new level of interoperability amongst participants in the travel market.
Addressing Interoperability to Open Up Opportunity
Solving the issues to support experience based, total trip, retail at scale could unlock massive economic opportunities for many of the current distribution channels operating today or create new ones. Mainstream distribution channels focus mainly on air which in the US had a total operating revenue of $120 billion. However, the total US travel revenue for 2019 was $1.1 trillion. Much of that figure is consumers figuring out for themselves how to make arrangements, a huge, missed opportunity to leverage automation. To build the experiences people are looking for, outside of immediate travel and lodging portals like Expedia, consumers are bouncing between websites and calendars to find restaurants, museum passes and jet ski rentals. The reason we aren’t seeing a wider variety of offerings is not hard to understand: For the mainline distributors it’s not worth the effort to connect, maintain and monitor small suppliers thru bespoke APIs. By unlocking interoperability, providers of travel products and services would have access to channels they are currently shut out of due to costs and complexity. The public is eager to get out of the house and experience the world again but would like to avoid the odious task of DIY travel orchestration and management. They want experience led retailing which industries like hospitality are investing in but only at the property level, not at the full trip level. The travel industry cannot afford to allow API chaos to continue to be a barrier to more effective retailing.
Getting Alignment on the Solution
In response the OpenTravel Alliance (OTA) and the OpenAPI Initiative (OAI) will work together to focus on API conventions and standards, not just messages. Within OAI, there is now a special interest group to focus on travel issues (#sig-travel). The travel SIG will be the conduit for the needs of the travel industry that pertain to the OpenAPI Specification (OAS). The OAS is a broad specification intended to help developers solve real world business issues with as much flexibility as possible. What is needed for interoperability and to reduce API chaos and hence distribution costs in travel is more consistency in API behaviors. OpenTravel will take the lead on providing open-source tooling and publishing reference architectures with refence implementations that adhere to the OAS. OTA 2.0 with its model driven approach will form the basis of this more comprehensive approach that supports all travel verticals. This will be in cooperation with existing travel standards bodies and trade associations. The overriding goal will be to lower the cost of connectivity to publish, acquire, distribute, and market digital travel products.
 Source: Phocuswright White Paper, Air Sales and the Travel Agency Distribution Channel April 2019
 Source: U.S. TRAVEL AND TOURISM OVERVIEW (2019), US Travel Association.
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