The OpenTravel™ Alliance: Creating Open Universal Data Specifications for the Travel Industry

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March 01, 2004
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Mike Kistner

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© 2004 Hospitality Upgrade. No reproduction without written permission.

The OpenTravel™ Alliance (OTA) develops communications specifications to allow for the efficient and effective exchange of travel industry information via the Internet. With over 130 company members representing influential companies in all sectors of the travel industry, OTA is comprised of representatives from the airlines, car rental firms, hotels, leisure suppliers, service providers, tour operators, travel agencies and trade associations. OTA working groups, together with an OTA interoperability committee to coordinate their efforts, develop open Internet-compatible messages using XML.

The Alliance’s mission is the creation, expansion and adoption of open universal data specifications, including but not limited to the use of XML, for the electronic exchange of business information among all sectors of the travel industry.

Building on an excellent second half of 2003, the Alliance experienced success on several levels: the annual Advisory Forum; the 2004 B Publication of the OTA Specification; and its first program to result from the Adoption and Certification initiative, OTA Registration.

The annual Advisory Forum, held Sept. 16-17, 2003, was a great success for the OTA. The attendance of over 130 was greater than expected and facilitated getting the word out to a diverse travel e-business industry audience. One of the highlights of the Forum occurred on the first day at a meeting with the board of directors and the OTA’s Interoperability Committee (IO). OTA approved a plan to launch the OTA Registration program, whereby members and nonmembers of the OTA could register their OTA message usage for business partners and the public to see. It is important to note that much work in our architecture and adoption committees went into this program and helped in its launch. The registration program is in its initial stage with enhancements being made as needed and scheduled updates from the participants. The goal is to gauge the level of specification usage, as well as aid members and nonmembers alike in finding business partners that use the common OTA messages. In addition, while it is in an exploratory stage, OTA plans to develop an organizational certification program from the self-certification that presently exists. This program was launched on Nov. 7, 2003, and to date there are 25 requests to participate (seven of those have registered their messages and capabilities with the OTA).

Also during the board and IO meeting, international attendees were invited to discuss OTA’s viability and expansion as a global organization. We came away with two conclusions: OTA can serve a need globally and OTA needs to make itself better known in the travel technology industry. There needs to be more production and more outreach.

Another highlight of the Advisory Forum was the announcement that the following members have implemented OTA XML messages: Agentware, Best Western International, Cendant Car Rental Group, Expedia, Hertz Corporation, Hyatt Hotels and Resorts, Hilton Corporation, InterContinental Hotels, Marriott International, OpenJaw Technologies, Sabre Holdings, Sidestep, SkyTECH Solutions and Worldspan.

As mentioned earlier, OTA came away from the Forum with a renewed sense of the importance of carrying out its mission. The best way to do that is expand the membership base. OTA is in a period of constant change in membership, facing mergers and acquisitions and the economic epidemic that currently plagues the ability to join or continue involvement in the OTA. In the last six months of 2003 the following companies joined the OpenTravel Alliance:

  • American Tours International
  • ATA Airlines
  • Friend Communications
  • GHRS
  • Hotel Concepts, LLC
  • Hotel Information Systems
  • IDeaS, Inc.
  • Interface Technologies
  • Realtime Enterprises
  • SNCF
  • Star Alliance GmbH
  • Strategic Systems Technologies
  • Tourism Holdings Ltd.
  • Travel Technology Group
  • Unisys Global Transportation

In addition to the expansion of the membership base, there is the need for outreach. OTA forges strong alliances and continues to pursue working with the Liberty Alliance. The OTA has also turned to other industry organizations such as IATA, HEDNA, APEX Initiative and NBTA. OTA hopes that any overlap of projects or efforts can be consolidated furthering OTA message adoption.

Mike Kistner is the CIO of Best Western International and the chair of the OTA board of directors. For more information about OTA visit www.opentravel.org.

OTA and BEST WESTERN
The basic premise and pro-mise of the OTA is that it will provide a cross-industry specification, allowing a uniform approach for the exchange of information between willing business partners. At Best Western we have approximately 45 such willing partners. When I arrived at Best Western approximately three years ago, we were working with our 45-plus property management system vendors toward achieving an interface with our central reservation system. All of our resources were consumed with trying to get a single interface up, and that interface wasn’t one of the OpenTravel Alliance’s. Having been a strong advocate and participant in the OpenTravel Alliance prior to joining Best Western, I had a particular bias or hope of a simplified, unified, more efficient and effective approach.

Over the course of the last three years, the OTA has made tremendous progress as it relates to the creation, implementation and adoption of the specification for this type of transaction or exchange of information. At Best Western we have firmly embraced the OTA approach to interfaces of this type. We completed our proprietary interface but have quickly moved forward to the implementation of an interface based on the OTA specification. Our first vendor to be certified, MSI, is now available. We are also working with a number of other vendors who are in various stages of development and certification. This has allowed our development team to focus on a single interface, features and functionality in that interface, and also has standardized the Q&A and implementation process. I can’t imagine having to develop, test, implement, maintain and support 45 different interfaces to deal with the myriad of different property management systems out there. This has not only been good for Best Western but also it has been very beneficial for the vendors. As they move forward and adopt an OTA-based interface, it makes it very portable when they deal with other major central reservation systems or hotel companies. It is clearly a win-win for all parties.



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