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Getting More Pie in the Turmoil of Flights, Hotels, Distribution and Mobile

Flights Hotels Distribution

Let’s talk about distribution technologies and how we get the business info we want to help drive decisions. Perhaps focusing mostly on Airlines and Hoteliers, but not excluding the wider travel product market, the supplier organisations in this complex world have multiple classes of channels that they need to manage with an effective way. I think of “classes” as disparate groups of similar technology based distribution mechanisms that include the direct website, the indirect push distributor, the indirect web and the direct mobile API. Direct means straight interaction with the customer and indirect means through one or more third party distributors.

Distribution Channels

The direct website is the brand.com and it probably drives nearly half of business volume directly to the consumer, especially in domestic or other specialised markets. . Tools like Google Analytics, Omniture (Adobe Marketing Cloud) and WebTrends to name a few are used to track who comes and goes. These technologies also allow monitoring of smart phone/tablet browser users that get nudged to the mobile friendly variant of www.brand.com aka m.brand.com. Websites respond with finished web pages (with analytical JavaScript tagging) containing product and service information neatly presented using HTML to end customers.

Distribution PieThe indirect push type distributors take once or maybe several times a day, an upload of all the product and service availability data to refresh their distribution inventory. This is product and service data only and although possibly in XML, it can equally be sent in some binary format. The airline or hotel group can only expect reporting of bookings and is entirely dependent on the distributor for any search derived business intelligence.

The indirect API is usually based on XML technology and allows wholesalers to connect in real-time directly to the booking platform to search availability and pricing and hopefully book directly too. This traffic is product and service data only in a human readable text. Again, no presentation instructions are included and consumer presentation is handled by the OTA website at the consumer end of the supply chain. A variant of this channel probably handles metasearch traffic.

The direct mobile API is similar to the direct API except it is more likely to be based on JSON (JavaScript Object Notation) technology and RESTful protocols. This combination provides a lightweight form of data transfer that, although similar to XML, requires less processing and network bandwidth to deliver product and service availability to mobile applications. JSON is product and service data in a less readable form while the mobile app already contains the presentation data.

Ok, so what about the Pie?

Everyone wants more pie. How about being able to analyse and report on all 360°of the distribution pie? Pretty much every airline and hotel group captures and analyses their website data. Existing analytics software can deliver a treasure trove of website page popularity and visitor traffic that the marketing teams pour over and use to drive product decisions and offers, as well as manage prices and other activities. Let’s assume that some 40% of bookings comes via this channel so it equates is 144°of our pie and the analytics covers searches and bookings. What about the other 216°of other channels?

The push distributor will most likely report on bookings but not on searches. This is unfortunate because searches represent probably 95% or more of the traffic and yet the airline or hotel group ends up knowing nothing about the market demand and trends that this traffic represents. They might be satisfied with the level of bookings via the channel but the “how many didn’t convert, why not and what can we do about it?” type questions sadly go unanswered.

The direct web API uses XML over HTTP but does not use HTML so it can’t be tracked using JavaScript tagging embedded in the HTML trick used by so many website analysis tools. That leaves three choices here. Firstly, the obvious do nothing approach and run blind – there are a surprisingly higher number of takers here. Second, use some in-house hard to maintain/use log file analysis designed by the guy who left last Christmas to get basic data about what happened yesterday or thirdly, adopt Triometric technology to deliver detailed, drillable real time analysis of search and booking transactions along with alerting and other important benefits.

So what about the mobile API? As the use of mobile technology has grown the larger enterprises have developed mobile apps. These not only offer the opportunity to search and book, they usually provide the opportunity to track and manage previous bookings e.g. a flight or room. This latter feature means that the user is more likely required to set up an account connection within the app which means they can be individually identified. This all sounds like a great opportunity and it is except, the same challenges exist with the mobile API that exist with the direct XML based API. In terms of technology, the underlying communications probably rely on either JSON or XML. Although JSON was originally designed to enable the transfer of structured data within an HTML environment, in this case it is being used outside of HTML/JavaScript and there is no opportunity to use tagging for monitoring. We are back to logging or using the Triometric platform for message decipher to get the wealth of intelligence embedded. (I mention our platform here, as we have just announced impending support for analysing JSON traffic streams as well as XML).

All the Pie including Mobile

The opportunity for the business is clearly to encourage their end customers to use their mobile app and benefit from a whole host of loyalty incentives delivered directly to their smartphone. Ironically this may be diverting traffic from brand.com which the marketing department is empowered to analyse in great detail so keeping sight of this traffic becomes a challenge.

The goal for online travel businesses is to be omni-channel – or put simply be able to address their customers’ requirements irrespective of the channel /medium the client has selected to engage with them on. To achieve this, the business needs detailed client information and analytics across all channels. The business will struggle to be effective if it is running blind on one or more significant distribution channel. Different markets are usually addressed through different channels (that’s why they exist) so it isn’t appropriate to assume that analytics from one channel can be simply applied to others.

In short the business needs to have a full 360° visibility of distribution – all of the pie – and it really should be the priority to use available technology and business intelligence reporting to plug the gaps that exist today.

Triometric can directly work with travel product suppliers to deliver detailed business analysis of their APIs and also with travel product distributors to provide similar levels of reporting.

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