hotel map plenty
1075 days ago
 

Can the latest dip into the global hotel ID swamp work?

The Travel Technology Initiative recently announced the launch of TTIcodes, an initiative to create “the definitive listing of properties” core information.

Such details would include name, address, postcode or zip code, contact number plus the primary brand/chain ID to which each property belongs, according to the TTI.

TTIcodes, chairman Peter Dennis says, will solve the “de-duplication nightmare faced by every travel company that takes several bedbank feeds,” saving travel companies, generally tour operators, time and effort.

What a swamp the TTI has waded into!

hotel map plenty

A unique identification number for every hotel worldwide has gone from being a nice-to-have idea when there were less than a dozen distributors worldwide in the 1980s, to a must-have 25 years later, with the explosion of distribution channels and points-of-sale, and the increasing sophistication of search.

But it’s not easy. As a past director of data for a worldwide hotel company, I can tell you from experience that each of our hotels had the following:

  • Multiple “unique” ID numbers in their property management/reservations systems
  • One for every GDS
  • One for every OTA/bedbank/wholesaler
  • One for every switch
  • One for every major tour operator
  • One for every representation company
  • … plus a few others I’m sure I’ve deliberately forgotten.

In today’s environment, add commission payment processors and gateways, direct connect partners, channel management tools, local booking services and DMOs, not to mention Facebook and TripAdvisor, and you’ve got a massive identification data headache.

Managing these multiple identification numbers was hard enough on hotels, but it has been even harder on distributors because of the multiple points of sale a distributor might serve – GDS, OTA, TMC, switch, etc. – so distributors had, and still have, the unenviable task of creating endless mappings from hotels to points of sale and back for both booking and commission reconciliation.

The search for a unique hotel identification number is an old one.  A written proposal was floated in 2002 by Hsyndicate outlining the commercial case for such an initiative, and was championed by Worldwide Payment Systems, a Spain-based commission and payment processor serving the hotel industry and travel agencies.

The business pain was to better track, assess and distribute agency commission payments through the establishment of a “unique global identifier”, a hotel equivalent to the IATA travel agency number.

The Hotel Electronic Distribution Networking Association (HEDNA) agreed to support the initiative and committee work began in 2006.

In the interest of full disclosure, OpenTravel Alliance was originally approached to host this work but as it didn’t fit into our charter, we demurred. We have, however, had a seat on the HEDNA committee since its inception.

By 2010, the UGI committee in HEDNA had not made substantial progress, so HEDNA brought the initiative to the Hospitality Technology Strategic Initiatives Council (HTSIC), an informal affiliation of hospitality organizations whose work includes technology (including HTNG, AH&LA, HFTP, HSMAI and OpenTravel amongst others).

HEDNA wanted to enlist the other organizations’ support to leverage their abilities and members to move this project forward.

HTSIC believes that for a true global identification number program to work, hotels must be able to control the data.

The data does, after all, reflect the property information from flag to owner to operator to address to website to proper name, and can extend to history of the property (previous names, flags, etc.), and who better to own the data than, well, the owner?

And with the quickening sophistication of search algorithms and the aggressive move of search companies into the travel industry (see Google acquisition of ITA Software), it’s becoming imperative that a single “master” identification code exist.

But this isn’t some boring B2B problem. This directly affects consumers.

I recently had to go to Brussels for a meeting, and I found a hotel with a great location and decent reviews.

But I found it listed by three different but very similar names, with three pins at the same address on the Google map. Why?

Because Google was pulling information about the hotel from three different sources. This is confusing for the consumer and endlessly aggravating for the hotel operator.

TTIcodes is a white label of a product that already exists from GIATA, a Germany-based content provider for travel agencies, tour operators and hotels, and was created to provide a valuable solution for tour operators who struggle with access to updated hotel information.

According to GIATA CEO Andreas Posmeck, GIATA will be “responsible for the management, update and distribution of the codes. GIATA is continually researching and updating property information & more importantly cross referencing property information between its master property catalogue and the operators’ systems”.

While this initiative may serve a clear commercial and simple need for tour operators, it’s less clear that TTIcodes will address the larger problem faced by hoteliers – the ability to fully control information about a given property across multiple distribution channels and points of sale.

Nibbling at the edges will work in the short term, but kudos is due to TTI and GIATA for broaching a solution that appeals to at least part of the travel industry, and putting it into the market.

But for hotels and distributors, the TTIcode is just another number to add to the list.

 
 
Valyn Perini

About the Writer :: Valyn Perini

Valyn Perini is a contributing Node to Tnooz and a travel industry lifer with experience in operations, sales and marketing, systems, consulting, and software development in the hospitality and travel industry.

Her was most recently the CEO of the OpenTravel Alliance, where she oversaw the operations of the organization, including developing and executing strategies to reach the goal of standardized electronic distribution of travel and traveler information.

Her travel career includes stints with InterContinental, Westin and Swissôtel, with PricewaterhouseCoopers as a travel technology consultant, and as the director of product strategy for Newmarket International.

Valyn speaks on industry topics at events around the world, and writes about travel when she can find the time.

Originally from Atlanta, Valyn now lives in Boston.

 

Comments

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

  1. What are the three big technology issues for the hotel industry? | China Hotel E-Marketing Strategies

    [...] the changing nature of the travel business has provided those compelling reasons. Search is one (I wrote about this more in depth recently); it has become critical for hotels to appear correctly and accurately in search results, as search [...]

     
  2. John Pope

    To one and all,

    Here’s my reasoning for why it makes most sense, to me anyway, that a private for profit company will ultimately create the solution to the problem that we’re all discussing here.

    Most of us are looking at this problem from a distributor’s perspective. The problem really only exists for distributors, as they are the main beneficiary in the equation of any solution discussed thus far and suggested by @Valyn, @Timothy and @Robert.

    Relatively speaking accommodation providers really don’t benefit all that much and they have very little real incentive to join the party or allocate any resources to help solve the problem.

    If I was an hotelier, I’d struggle to find a reason for me or any of my staff to lift a finger – “this is your (distributors) problem, you sort it out.” In fact, the hotelier might look at it and think, “I don’t want to change cause that’s just going to cost me time and money.”

    Very few hoteliers have a macro view of the industry and really couldn’t care less about the well-being of the industry as a whole. They care about how to make the best return on their investment, turning a profit and looking after their guests – all in a very difficult, high risk, low margin environment.

    However, if you give them an incentive to participate and change their behavior, they are far more likely to listen. To me, the only solution that will have any legs is the one that can demonstrate it will make the hospitality venue more profitable. Unless that happens, it’s a none starter.

    The winning solution will have to focus on the needs of the hotelier first, with distributors benefiting as a positive externality, or a side-effect that coincidentally happens to help the distribution element of the value chain.

    Some of you may say that more efficient distribution will ultimately help the accommodation venue but, I believe, they will look at that explanation as a marginal benefit at best.

    In conclusion, the entity that is most likely to realise a solution to this absolutely monumental and very expensive problem is a private company that creates a win-win-win-win scenario for all stakeholders involved (suppliers, distributors, consumers and themselves).

    There are a load of really smart, really experienced industry veterans included in this conversation who understand the travel distribution plumbing better than most of us will understand in our lifetime, however, in this case I believe their vast experience actually serves as an obstacle to seeing the most logical and obvious answer. Build a better mousetrap… or to say it another way, What Would Google Do?

    Solving big problems and taking big financial risks deserves big rewards.

    Think I just spent my three cents left over from my previous comment.

     
  3. Valyn Perini

    I do like all these comments – it shows this is a topic that has caused commercial pain and needs a solution.

    A few points on all these good points:

    First, yes, some do call this utopian, but mostly by those who have a commercial interest in creating a narrower solution. My point here is that the TTIcodes have focused on a narrow interest – tour operators – and haven’t addressed the broader problem.

    Granted, IATA took on travel agency identification decades ago to solve a narrow problem – creating a single identifier for travel agencies for ticketing and commission fulfillment. But they also set up a working registry to create, manage and police the identification data that allowed the ID number to serve multiple purposes. Plus IATA funded it, so everyone was pretty happy and it’s worked well.

    @Patrick – yes, this is a pain for distributors. I talked to a large distributor and a large CRS/PMS provider and both would be more than willing to support such an initiative. And Pegasus, Amadeus and Hotelicopter were all involved in the HEDNA version of this initiative.

    @Nikolai, no offense taken on the gender misunderstanding – my name is unique and confusion comes with the territory. And no, I have no stake in TTIcodes – they were generated by an organization with which I am not in any way officially affiliated.

    I should point out that the unique identifier would be for each building, not each room, including hotels, B&Bs or as Robert referenced, individual individual holiday cottages or apartments.

    As to your pragmatic solution at Carsolize, I would say it’s a solution to a narrowly defined problem for you and your customers, like TTIcodes, and it generally benefits you and your customers only. Standards can be time consuming (not always – I invite you to attend an OpenTravel project team at some point to see how we operate before labeling us as such) but are free of bias and more credible than a single-company solution advertised as an industry solution.

    @Timothy and Robert – I agree with all points you make. This would require a neutral organization to act as registry and registrar with transparent governance. GIATA and TTI make money from TTIcodes, and GIATA, as a private company, only answers to its stakeholders, not to the hotel industry.

    Finally, @John, thank you for your kind words. Timothy and I are busy working on achieving world peace in travel industry standards. Once we’re done with that, we’ll think about ending world hunger and curing cancer.

     
    • Andrey Spektor

      @Valyn
      Valyn, I believe my colleague Nikolai can get very excited when subjects close to our heart arise on Tnooz, as we are all eager to participate and speak our mind – offering a young-startup perspective.

      I am confident that Nikolai did not mean to diminish the importance of OpenTravel or suggest your biased involvement in the matter. Moreover, as a team we believe that utilizing single standard schemas would help all the industry to concentrate on more important (and exciting) stuff than figuring out cross content cross supplier cross resources classes and references. If we did not have to invest such a large portion of our limited resources on dealing with this issue – we would have been light years ahead with our vision – one year into development. The current environment prompts us to incorporate superb data mapping as one of our competitive advantages with our immediate competition. You guys are Mt. Everest for us.

      That being said, I do feel that for the fairness of the situation, several points should be made: as a small startup, with a team of 5 developers and only one year into development, self-funded, the vision for our travel software relies on mapping, standardization and rapid aggregation as fundamental parts of participating in travel technology sector, these are the foundations of the system that we’re building.

      One might say that our approach is pragmatic and client oriented, but while a solution from publishers and market movers is yet to come, we have to find ways to address the end user side until a significant change occurs. While we concentrate on delivering added value to our clients, perhaps with the right direction we can play a small part in making the travel world a better place.

       
  4. RobertKCole

    Ah yes, I have numerable opinions on this topic – having been involved in discussions regarding potential solutions since 1990 – yes, it’s been a long time.

    Unfortunately, I don’t have time for one of my patented 2,000 word comments or 9,000 word blog posts on the topic 8^)

    My two bits worth – The only way for it to work is as follows:

    1) It needs to be structured to cover all forms of lodging – even individual units for periodic sale (yup – Airbnb too…) although this does not need to be phase 1.

    2) It must be managed by a neutral non-profit group. Appropriate governance that can adequately support the industry needs while eliminating the risk of favoring preferred business partners against competitors will be essential.

    3) Establishing a unique identifying number is not the principal challenge (that’s the easy part – sorry TTI/GIATA.) The key is to provide robust cross-referencing across all the various existing systems.

    4) From a technical perspective, something along the lines of the Foursquare Venue Harmonization project or Factual’s Crosswalk API that considers OpenGraph, hcard & microformaating should be a move in the right direction.

    5) Finally, it must be efficient. For broad adoption, the overheads required to manage the process – especially working out conflicts between groups fighting for control of a specific location ID – must be managed under a model where the cost is minimal for all to participate.

     
  5. Chicke Fitzgerald

    Timothy, now searching for “code users anonymous” for you, although you are no longer anonymous….

    Valyn – as always – thoughtful treatment of a pressing industry issue.

     
  6. John Pope

    Not as new industry equation recognized.

    Timothy O’Neil-Dunne = Travel distribution Jedi Master

    Shouldn’t you two be focusing on a cure for cancer or eliminating world hunger?

    Solving the relatively insignificant problems of the travel industry appears to be beneath you both. Impressive.

     
  7. John Pope

    New industry equation recognized.

    Valyn Perini = Encyclopedic knowledge of travel distribution.

     
  8. Greg Abbott

    Valyn, nice post and illustration of the data problem. Thanks.

    What somewhat irks me is that this move seems to be boasted by TTI “an initiative to create “the definitive listing of properties” core information”. I accept this is probably how TTI is ‘spinning’ for press what appears to me as just reselling Giata’s multicode product (http://www.giata.de/en/products/for-travel-agencies-portals-and-affiliates/giata-multicodes.html) that has been around for a long time. I’ve used it and it’s helpful but “imperfect” (sorry guys)…

    Is TTI really doing anything to add value to the data or helping hoteliers/industry solve the data issue you so clearly demonstrate? or are they just putting some lipstick on the pig?

     
  9. Timothy O'Neil-Dunne

    One of the benefits of the airline sector vs others in the Travel Industry has been the consistency of data elements and standards around that. For example Airport and Airline codes. However there are at least two versions of each. Airport codes don’t work well with city codes. They don’t cover things like railways etc etc.

    In the early days of Expedia a database project to provide a consistency of codes was created utilizing sources from the GDS and several other data providers.

    This is a definitive need for consistency. Big Data needs to be washed and certified in some form or other to be valuable. Just think for example how many ways the name of the City of Love – Paris can be spelt. What about Muenchen? What about a city in a country that does not use latin character sets?

    Yes we need this and we need it BADLY AND URGENTLY. It deserves the support of all of us.

    Here are some “suggestions” from my side as a long time user of codes:

    1. Make them simple
    2. Make it work for ALL hotels – no matter where or what type they are. I would be concerned that Germany is a special case and that hotels for German users are not always consistent in other markets where the sellers and consumers are largely not German
    3. Provide an open and easy way for new hotels to be added to the database.
    4. Ensure independent oversight – this can be by peer review such as the Wikipedia model
    5. Evangelize its use to all stakeholders in travel
    6. Don’t stop at just the regular hotels. Move to non-traditional legal accommodation
    7. Make it Open Source in use – use the common Open Source licensing model – for example the Debian Project model.
    8. Allow for swift updating and branding. (Hotels change names and marquees more times than many people have hot dinners!)
    9. Ensure there is no possibility for duplication but allow for dual branding in same building. (For example Hilton and Hilton Garden Inn at FRA).
    10. Don’t try to make it “THE” number. It is just a common reference. Over time if the job is done right – then it will become the common reference number. But this takes time. Just get people to ADD it to the database and then the reformation can take place. Think how long it took to get the airline codes right.

    Finally a word of caution. Creating an expectation of solving everything in one go – will be foolhardy. Take the baby steps first.

    Best of luck to TTI in this effort and those supporting organizations. However do us all a favour and make sure that you make it simple and easy for us to use. Don’t try to be even European specific – this is a global problem and needs broad scale thinking. Oh yes and one more thing – don’t try and charge for it.

    Cheers

     
    • hotelmarketing@facebook.com

      excellent points

      one issue that i see is that even when looking at projects such as geonames – a project that would be capable of providing that unique identifier if it would allow for individual submission – they already are trying hard to keep the data consistent even though they only allow a closed user base.

      how would you see the validation done mediawiki style? i would love to take this discussion further.

       
  10. Patrick Landman

    Patrick Landman

    Sounds like a great initiative.

    But do you really see all distribution and management systems adapt to include this code?

    Who would oversee this initiative? Would need to be a non-profit? Or IATA?

    How will you manage to have all hotels in the world to abide / subscribe? Will they have to pay membership fees?

    What out B&B’s? Apartment buildings?

    Is this complex world waiting for a fix? Or are we looking at a utopical business idea?

    Just some thoughts that come to mind …

     
    • Nikolai Avrutov

      Patrick,
      We agree with you on your comment that this may be somewhat a utopical business idea.

      This matter is extremely close to our heart, and we even wrote a whole blog post in response to Valyn’s article:

      http://www.carsolize.com/?p=2698

      Quoting:
      “While in a perfect world, single standard code enforcement on all travel service providers may be ideal – we find it hard to view as a realistic course of action, but rather as a utopian perspective on the highly fragmented and decentralized global travel industry. Look at the Accris usage across providers…”

       
      • John Pope

        @Nikolai

        “The problems that exist in the world today cannot be solved at the level of thinking that created them.” Einstein

        I disagree with your conclusions and commentary for a number of reasons.

        First of all, your blog post reads as follows: “As Valyn Perini mentioned in HIS most recent post on Tnooz” Just to clarify, Valyn Perini is a woman (I hope that isn’t an indication of your research in general). She’s a veteran of the industry with unique insight and a true insider’s perspective; the organization she runs, Open Travel Alliance, is in it purely for the betterment of the industry and therefore has no commercial agenda or financial bias. I think you could safely argue that she’s as clean as it gets when it comes to objectivity in the travel game. (wish I could say the same thing for myself)

        The fact that you (and Patrick) don’t envision a solution to the problem Valyn highlights as being possible certainly does not mean that it’s not. Nobody recognised Einstein’s Theory of Relativity either; in fact, the intelligentsia of his day wouldn’t, or couldn’t acknowledge the legitimacy of Einstein’s discovery until several years had passed.

        There’s a saying in metaphysics that I think is relevant to this topic – “We are all limited by the sum of our own experience. Conversely, the more experience we have, the greater our limitations.” You will see this to be true when considering a child’s openness to investigate and try most everything, until they touch fire and their fingers get burned.

        I believe that there’s a solution that goes two steps further than what even Valyn proposes; a universal ID code system at the individual room level, not room category, individual room. Hotel level IDs should in comparison be a breeze. That might make your travel platform blow up altogether.

        The commentary in your blog post, I believe, comes from a myopic perspective a.k.a. what you and your team believe is possible and commercially convenient. I appreciate that it comes from a pragmatic position, based on the structure of the data that you receive from the many suppliers (sources) you’re trying to aggregate for your customers. I too have been through the same process that you guys are going through now. I can also assure you that there are many other travel technology companies in the market who have faced similar problems and have already come up with comparable solutions. What you’re doing, unfortunately, is not new.

        Hotel distribution suppliers (wholesalers, switches, GDS’) change (screw with) the data on purpose in order to differentiate themselves from competing suppliers; wholesalers being the worst culprits, as you may have recognised. They do this in order to show up in the results, or else the supplier with the lowest rates at X property would only get visibility in any given set of search results. For example, suppliers are infamously known for changing the name of the hotel, for instance from “The Berkeley” to “The Berkeley Hotel” or “The Berkeley London” or “The Berkley” or “Berkeley Hotel” and just about any other misnomer they can think of in order to satisfy their objective to differentiate themselves from other sources (i.e. competitor with lower rates). They’re all the same bloody hotel.

        This creates a situation of “garbage in, garbage out” and makes it necessary for companies like yours to have to re-map the data to achieve consistency and a decent user experience for the consumer.

        What Valyn is proposing in her piece, and understandably so, is that the data going into the system should be of consistent quality, standards and thereby eliminate any issues relating to a highly fragmented industry, as all distribution channels experience and you pointed out in your blog.

        Quoting the conclusion from your blog post:

        “While in a perfect world, single standard code enforcement on all travel service providers may be ideal – we find it hard to view as a realistic course of action, but rather as a utopian perspective on the highly fragmented and decentralized global travel industry. Look at the Accris usage across providers…”

        Again, this fits your narrative and is a commercially convenient conclusion because it satisfies what you believe to be a “realistic course of action” however, you must accept that some people have different boundaries and beliefs to what is possible and realistic.

        Evolution sucks to those with a vested interest to maintain the status quo.

        Finally, I will, however, disagree with one of the conventional assumptions from both Valyn and some of the commentators. I believe the solution to the problem will ultimately come from a private company with a financial incentive to do so, rather than a public / open source entity or initiative. Few things focus the mind better than a company or the market’s ability to make a profit. And as we’ve witnessed recently in governments around the world, bureaucracies aren’t always the most efficient vehicles to get things done, at least on time and budget.

        That’s my two cents, got change for a nickel?

         
        • Nikolai Avrutov

          @John

          First allow me to deeply apologize in front of Valyn – multicultural as this industry is, it is all too easy to overlook such rather important details – and I shall make an extra effort to avoid such mistakes in the future!

          With all the respect to Valyn, I am not 100% sure about the objectivity of her post – as it concludes with a strong reference to TTI codes, which if I am not mistaken cost money – ultimately promoting the financial agenda of a select group. This is not to say that it is wrong – capitalism has proven as powerful driving force.

          It is a bit hard to compare the theory of relativity with commercial industry standards… Not to say that the concept is impossible, just prohibitively expensive and complex – leaving the option for either one large organization monopolizing the industry, or a multitude of governments heavily regulating a vibrant global industry to such an extent, that today’s situation would seem like child play.

          The companies you indicated as successful at having mapping tools developed are very few – and most serving themselves alone, rather than the global travel professional community. We have an idea of how much some of these organizations have spent (and some other are spending as we speak) and let me tell you – it is no small change. Moreover, our comprehension of mapping does not stop at the standardization of hotel names – most of your bespoke companies will fail to give you a mapped result should you search simultaneously for complex room combinations.

          I cannot fathom the magnitude and scale of your idea of actually assigning a universal ID code to each individual room in the 500,000 or so hotels worldwide. Moreover, even if you do: what about other services?
          Our approach is indeed pragmatic. Rather than daring to tell the entire industry how it is to manipulate the multiple systems currently in use – we propose a solution for an existing problem, to professionals who are compelled to work in this fragmented reality, focusing on their needs.

          Standardization infrastructure was the first thing we have developed at Carsolize, but we have moved along way since. We are by no means saying that mapping is new. What new is how you do it, how scalable you make it, and what you do with it. What Valyn is proposing is great, and indeed it would have been ideal if all industry players would use open travel / open axis schema standards and codes, it would have solved a major headache for travel professionals, and potentially could even take the big guys down. But how really feasible is it?

          By engaging a technological platform, where the standardization is a fundamental aspect of the system right from its inception, and which allows rapid (few days per XML) integration and mapping of countless travel product suppliers, we seek to achieve that very standard – serving a growing number of travel professionals worldwide – with many already onboard at pre-release stage.

           
 
 

Newsletter Subscription

Please subscribe now to Tnooz’s FREE daily newsletter.

This lively package of news and information from Tnooz’s web site provides a convenient digest of what’s happening in technology that drives the global travel, tourism and hospitality market.

  • Cancel