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The Leader in Open Standards in the Travel Industry

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March 01, 2006
Valyn Perini

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© 2006 Hospitality Upgrade. No reproduction without written permission.

The struggle to achieve interoperability between hospitality systems has been well documented. The high costs of proprietary interfaces and custom software development have been an obstacle many hospitality companies, both vendors and suppliers, have not yet been able to overcome. Other industries have addressed this issue through the creation and application of open standards.

Could the hospitality industry follow suit?
Where can companies in the hospitality industry find open standards? The OpenTravel™ Alliance (OTA) is a trade association whose members come from all segments of the travel industry – hotel companies, car rental companies, airlines, cruise lines, railways, tour operators, distributors, software developers and solutions providers – to develop specifications allowing for the efficient and effective electronic exchange of information between trading partners, with the ultimate goal of enhancing the traveler’s experience. The results of this cooperation are electronic message specifications created by its members to meet the pressing business needs of the travel industry, freely available to everyone.

The backbone of the OTA is its workgroup structure. Each industry vertical has its own workgroup, and members of the workgroup determine what messages are created or modified based on a documented process, evaluating business need, demand and resource availability. The OTA workgroups have been publishing specifications at least twice a year since 2000, and travel companies around the world have implemented hundreds of OTA messages. The hotel work group alone has 29 different message sets, including specifications covering rate, availability, inventory, hotel descriptive content, reservations, group requests-for-proposal and negotiated rate requests-for-proposal. Hotel companies that have implemented OTA messages include Marriott, Hilton Hotel Corporation, Best Western Hotels, Hyatt Hotels, Omni Hotels and InterContinental Hotels Group.

Currently, the OTA is partnering with APEX (the Accepted Practices Exchange initiative of the Convention Industry Council) to incorporate the APEX rooming list and housing form data elements into existing OTA messages. Another project underway is the creation of a booking rule message to allow viewing of rules and usage requirements for a specific hotel per room type or booking code. OTA’s other hospitality industry relationships include a reciprocal membership with HEDNA, and it has recently announced its sponsorship of HTNG’s newest workgroup, content management for distribution channels. OTA partners recognize the strength and viability of the OTA’s specification creation process and the value created by the resulting message sets.

OTA’s newest and most active workgroup is the cruise workgroup. Late to electronic distribution, the cruise industry is now very interested in using the OTA specification creation process to generate XML-based messages to solve its distribution business problems. The workgroup includes both suppliers and solutions providers, and has created messages addressing several components of the cruise booking cycle, including cabin availability, hold and unhold messages, category availability, fare availability and sail availability messages, and create booking and price booking messages. Currently the cruise workgroup is working on eight more messages covering pricing, dining, shore excursions and packages. OTA’s next initiative will focus on the wholesale and tour operator distributors of inventory, another segment in the travel industry which has historically exchanged traveler information in a disconnected environment.

Why join the OpenTravel™ Alliance?
Participation in the workgroups is one of OTA’s most valuable member benefits, allowing members the ability to take a leadership position in the industry and influence the structure of message standards. OTA’s architecture workgroup stays abreast of best practices in message structure so OTA members can benefit from the most up-to-date technology. Membership is open to all travel suppliers, non-supplier companies and incorporated industry associations that provide service to the travel industry and wish to participate in development of the OTA specification. The dues of its members fund OTA operations.

Where can you find the OTA? OTA will host its popular annual Advisory Forum on April 24-25, 2006 at the Hyatt Orange County in Garden Grove, California. The theme will be The Next Step – Orchestrating Total Travel Solutions, and keynote speakers, panelists and presenters will discuss how the implementation of open standards addresses the business needs of travel companies and provides better service and value to the traveler. In addition, OTA will be at Res-Expo 2006, Lodging Hospitality’s HOT Conference, HTNG’s 2006 Annual Conference, and at HITEC in June.

The OTA’s board of directors include Lisa Fues from Marriott, Anne Cole from Hilton Hotels Corporation, Mike Kistner from Pegasus, Alan Young from Hotel Booking Solutions, Corey Ladd from Sabre, Gianni Cataldo from Worldspan, Rahim Amlani from Orbitz for Business, Ron Anderson-Lehman from Continental Airlines, Daniel Henry from American Airlines, Ravi Gundimeda from United Airlines, Allison Danziger from US Airways and James White from Hertz. The OTA’s chair is John Turato from Cendant Car Rental Group.

Valyn Perini is the executive director of the OpenTravel™ Alliance, with more than 15 years in hospitality and travel, working for InterContinental, Westin, Swissôtel, PricewaterhouseCoopers, and Newmarket International. Valyn can be reached at valyn.perini@opentravel.org. For more information, visit www.opentravel.org.

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