XML Marks the Spot

BOTH AMADEUS AND SABRE TRAVEL NETWORK ARE USING XML, or extensible markup language, to provide richer content to travel agents via their namesake global distribution systems. XML's primary function is to facilitate data sharing across different information systems over the Internet, allowing Amadeus to provide targeted search results from hoteliers and Sabre to feature content from airlines that don't participate in a GDS. XML upgrades give agents access to more specific hotel searches and more airlines' flights

Amadeus recently migrated 75,000 hotels onto its new distribution technology platform, which uses XML. These hotels now can be categorized by up to 100 different attributes, so agents' searches can be even more specific. They can narrow a search to such criteria as "hotels in France with swimming pools." Amadeus plans to further refine the platform's search capabilities, soon allowing agents to make a query like "hotels in Thailand rated highly by families."

Greater Differentiation

The purpose of upgrading the technology is to provide a more intuitive search, says Owen Wild, director of marketing for Amadeus in North America. "The traditional environment is very linear," he says. "Look at the way you search for air—it's very linear in that you can't look for flights from New York to 'someplace warm,' and that's how consumers want to book travel."

Amadeus' new platform stemmed from demand by both travel agents and hoteliers, Wild says. "Hotels are doing a significant amount of investment differentiating their products, and if a hotel is going to investment millions of dollars in fluffy beds and expensive amenities, they want that information communicated to the consumer," he explains. "This allows them to take advantage of their brand."

This announcement is just one of a number of products and enhancements Amadeus has planned for 2008. The company is piloting a new user interface, said to maximize the hotel selling process for agencies. "Agents will be able to select several properties for comparison and send it out via an e-mail to the customer," Wild says. "This gets the customer more interactive in the selection process."

Other programs slated for enhancements this year include Amadeus' Best Available Rate, which assures agencies that rates on the system are competitive with other distribution channels, and Amadeus Worldwide Commission Manager, a tool that tracks commissions due from participating hotels to travel agents.

Hotels are increasingly an important sector of the business for the technology company, which last month promoted Jean de Durfort to head of hotel distribution. In his new role, de Durfort will promote Amadeus distribution products and services to hotels around the world and work with travel agencies to boost hotel bookings through Amadeus. He also will drive Amadeus' continually growing hotel content; currently, agents can book more than 75,000 hotels through Amadeus.

Airline Expansion

While Amadeus is using XML to create targeted searches, Sabre is using it to pull content from airlines whose systems may have technical challenges in providing content to a GDS.

Specifically, Sabre is enhancing shopping capabilities for tickets on low-cost airlines through an XML connectivity being launched with AirTran Airways. In this instance, XML provides a platform for the distribution of content by carriers that haven't previously participated in such systems. Agencies using the Sabre GDS will be able to view such airline data as real-time seat maps and flight information from AirTran and other low-cost airlines.

"There aren't a great number of airlines with this problem, but there are many carriers that have difficulty with some things because their reservations system doesn't communicate well to the GDS," explains Kyle Moore, vice president of product marketing for Sabre.

At present, travel agents can only request flight information from such carriers; later this year, Sabre will enable them to sell the inventory via XML. "We will return the record locator from AirTran and agents also will have the ability to select seats from seat maps that can be booked right from MySabre," says Moore.

Sabre, which also uses XML with hotel and credit card transactions, is in talks with several airlines about how to use XML to enhance the experience for agents, whether it would surround branded fares or the sale of premium seats. "The XML structure that we have built will support our ability to support [airlines] as they move down the line of selling things differently or participating in things like UpSell," Moore says.

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