5 years ago

Change is coming to travel technology, driven by access to data and eager developers

Lest we forget, travel technology – for all its complexities and inherent challenges – is actually a vibrant sector and well mined by the independent developer community.

However it suffers at the hands of the incumbent players who tend to be somewhat stodgy in their approach to promoting innovation.

The key stakeholders here are arguably the GDSs, but they find themselves under attack from a number of places.

The airlines in the form of IATA are starting an initiative to create more standards in airline distribution. The share of GDS segments continues to decline and developers are frustrated with the level of access to data, which is far below that of other industries.

But, now, enter SITA (arguably the glue that links the airline community, so there is no denying its importance and role in the industry)and the Developer.Aero website.

The company’s chief technology officer, Jim Peters, is infectious in his unabashed enthusiasm for opening up the world of airlines based technology. And the timing is right.

BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) is sweeping through all sectors of the commercial world and the formerly closed ecosystem of travel is no exception.

Already we have app stores from many players, including the GDSs with both Sabre and Travelport starting their own.

As the various THack events have demonstrated, there are many parties willing to open their APIs to the independent developer and startup community.

This eager world of developers is hungry to build solutions that meet the need – both perceived and actual – of the traveling public. The day of the omnibus solution is over.

Standards, however, are essential to this process. OpenTravel has been developing its OpenTravel 2.0 next-generation set that not only updates the data elements but streamlines and transforms the processes and interconnectivity of the users.

Hoping to sweep away the legacy of heavy overhead infrastructure that first generation XML standards brought with them from ALC and EDIFACT, these new messages are lighter and more efficient.

Change however does not come without cost nor is it painless. The embedded base of messages and standards will take time to evolve.

But the time for placid evolution is no longer here. High speed change and perhaps an innovation revolution in travel technology is happening now with and without the traditional players.

There are many willing parties who are eager to become participants and they are finding will investors. Anyone who wishes to remain any kind of gatekeeper in this work will, as in so many other industry sectors, find themselves swept away.

The wealth of available talent and tools to aid the developer of travel technology solutions is growing daily.

Those of us who have been in this world for a long time must embrace this change and help drive the necessary advances in both technology and commercial models.

NB: Developers image via Shutterstock.

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Timothy O'Neil-Dunne

About the Writer :: Timothy O'Neil-Dunne

Timothy O'Neil-Dunne is the managing partner for venture firm VaultPAD Ventures– an accelerator devoted exclusively to Aviation Travel and Tourism.

VaultPAD also is the parent company for consulting firm, T2Impact. Timothy has been with tnooz since the beginning, writing in particular aviation, technology, startups and innovation.

One of the first companies to emerge from the accelerator is Air Black Box. a cloud-based software company providing airline connectivity solutions and in production with airlines in Asia Pacific.

Timothy was a founding management team member of the Expedia team, where he headed the international and ground transportation portfolios. He also spent time with Worldspan as the international head of technology, where he managed technology services from infrastructure to product.

He is also a permanent advisor to the World Economic Forum and writes as Professor Sabena. He sits on a number of advisory and executive boards



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  1. IATA distribution initiative: The GDS view | Tnooz

    […] As Timothy O’Neil-Dunne has noted in a Tnooz post before, “change is coming to travel technology, driven by access to data and eager developers.” […]

  2. Timothy O'Neil-Dunne

    Thanks all for the great debates here.

    I think that some of the discussion masked the points I wanted to make sure people understood. IE that innovation will happen. Its like water – it will find its way.

    One of the key question sis to whether to resist it, go with it or encourage it. Innovative companies and organizations are now starting to see the advantages of harnessing innovation and the attachment that comes from being open. The Luddites will be swept away. They always are.

    Ultimately the consumer rules and we cannot nor should we EVER try to contain that.


  3. Sam Daams

    The problem really is management, not developers or users (though isn’t everyone a user?). They’re the ones that can drive smart developments that both help their business and the users. They’re also the ones that make the calls on opening up api’s of course. Unfortunately, management who both know what’s best for their business and what tech is available to get there at a fair price, is a rare breed..

  4. Robert Gilmour

    All this technology stuff is a blogger’s dream and a user’s nightmare

    • Kevin May

      Kevin May

      @robert – in my world, broad brush statements such as consumers and hoteliers are getting fed up with technology is explosive, but has to be backed up research beyond anecdotal.

      Just poking and prodding here 😉


      if consumers and hoteliers are sick of tech then why is smartphone ownership growing, use of travel websites increasing yr-on-yr, rapid raise of Facebook (err, almost 1 billion users now – they must be sick of it!! 🙂 )?

      • Robert Gilmour

        Kevin, i don’t understand. What broad brush statements? i don’t think you are listening to me, i said empirical evidence, what’s broad brush about that? What is ‘your world’ telling you?

        There’s nothing more broad brush in my world than saying because (inferred) because there’s 1 billion users of something then ‘technology’ should drive change, that’s what’s known in my world as a ‘non sequitur’

        Look at the Facebook share price, what does it tell you about the market’s commercial viability of Facebook, rather than the blogger or the evangelist? Why has Facebook user growth stalled? Why are many companies saying Facebook ads don’t work? Why are my clients telling me they have far bigger business and marketing spend priorities than Facebook?

        Enough said by me, i need to get on now, my world is totally based on commercial client deliverables and results, and bottom line profit, sometimes i wish i could just write articles and blog (heaven help us all!!)

        In the bigger picture, lets see what where all this obsession with technology takes us people? i’m watching with interest. Soon the average hotel guest will experience a process delivered and managed by technology, not a hospitality experience. So this is progress?

        By the way, the Facebook share price is tumbling again. Put a price on something and commercial reality sets in.

        Sorry we’re at odds on this one, and always will be I’m afraid!

        • Kevin May

          Kevin May


          “Joe punter and joe hotelier is already moaning and groaning about the sea of technology that’s out there” – that’s a broad brush statement ;)…

          I’d like to see research that shows any percentage of the 650K-odd (no-one has a true figure) accommodation owners around the world are moaning and groaning about the “sea of technology”.

          What else?

          1) Do users care about Facebook’s share price? No…

          2) When did its growth stall?

          3) “Soon the average hotel guest will experience a process delivered and managed by technology, not a hospitality experience. So this is progress?” Maybe, maybe not. But consistently it is users that adopt new technologies when such things are offered to them. Don’t like it, don’t use it.

          Happy to be at odds with you on this one – I’m not afraid.

      • Guillaume

        We all know the reason why consumers have moved to smartphone: Angrybirds! You just have to see what people are doing on the Tube or on the bus.

  5. Robert Gilmour

    I am almost sick of repeating myself on this, but (technology) change should be driven by users not developers. its [plain ridiculous the amount of useless and redundant technology that’s out there.

    Joe punter and joe hotelier is already moaning and groaning about the sea of technology that’s out there, mostly developed by geeks and not user focused people. It’s plain mad, and certainly not clever..

    • Kevin May

      Kevin May

      @robert – thx as always for the comment…

      “Joe punter and joe hotelier is already moaning and groaning about the sea of technology that’s out there” – wondered if you had a source for that?

      would be an interesting follow-up article.

      • Robert Gilmour

        Kevin- sure thing! how many names, and brands even, would you like?

        There are many dangerous obsessions and addictions growing daily out there, one is technology, one is devices, the other is social media.

        My 16 y/o son and many of his friends are truing into robots and morons with zero persona!! have you a quick cure for this?

        • Kevin May

          Kevin May

          @robert – aah, thought your statement was based on some research, my apologies.

          sounds like your 16yr old rather likes technology rather than groaning about it 😉

          • Robert Gilmour


            What do you mean by research? i don’t need to research, i just open my ears and listen. its called empirical evidence!

            Liking technology is the best escape route to life and reality a 16 year old can ever wish for!

    • Kevin O'Sullivan

      @Robert – The average user cannot drive technology change – the user just demands things to be simpler/cheaper/faster/shinier. Its hard for developers to provide this without the right access to the right data, and that’s what this article addresses. There are multiple initiatives addressing this need from developer.aero (that I’m involved in), to the TravelPort API to the THack events showcasing the capabilities of this data.

      My favourite example of the value of open data is the FlightStats API – before FlightStats collected and made data available in a simple API, we had to use ceefax or scroll through leaden airport websites to check flight status. Opening the API (coinciding with the iOS App Store) gave us a raft of simpler/faster/shinier ways to get flight status. Not cheaper – but it shows that people are prepared to pay for the simpler/faster/shinier tools we can build on open data.

      • Robert Gilmour

        Well I don’t agree.

        Then who, not just what, should drive technology change – Technologists? Geeks? Who? What? The average user is far more important ion the marketplace than the technician.

        Who should do it?

        What should trigger it?

        Give me the answer and i’ll understand this better/

        If this is all immune from the user, has ‘utilitarian’ adopted a new meaning?

        I want my electrician to fix a light bulb, not tell me about the next light bulb which only he can invent.

        There are many who share my view. Technologists almost think they are bigger than the travel industry and its needs and wants.

        Kevin says i need to ‘research’ this – empirical evidence isn’t good enough. What nonsense., (sorry Kevin)

        You’re all seeing it the way you want to see it, not the way it is. Where’s your evidence for your hypotheses?

        I represent the hotel and travel industry by the way, not the technology industry. So i don’t have a biased view of technology.

  6. murray harrold

    Believe it or not,. I am all for innovation. That said, on any developer, one lays this injunction: Whatever you produce, has to a) work b) work globally and c) Have everything on it (or as much on your new system as makes little difference) – and this *before* the thing is launched.

    This may be why the GDS is still the main means of moving people about. It works. It can move someone from point A on the planet to point B securely and with the confidence that whatever is booked, is booked and stays booked.

    Thing is, it is no good having something which works just in the US or just in Europe or really “just” anywhere. There is this “all or nothing” need with travel. The mash-up type sites are okay with this, as they are are sourcing information from a large range of input in other words, farming the booking out. There are plenty of this type of site around.

    The direct interface between the supplier and end user is an issue. With simple point to point bookings it is an easy task for the end user to assimilate the information offered and notwithstanding the foibles of airlines to blur the lines twixt offer and final price, to arrive at a valued decision. As soon as things get beyond the simple point to point stuff, (certainly from a global, rather than simply US perspective) then there is still a need for (I should insert “travel agent” here but won’t) – let’s just say: for someone who can interpret information and more importantly, manipulate it.

    So there are two distinct elements to this. The back end – how information is collated and accepted (which is the greater part of what is spoken about, here) and the front end – how that information is presented to the end user. The complexity of the front end is not to be ignored. The UK rail system is a good analogy. Here, technology attempts to play it’s part but the end user (apart from the technology having some challenging aspects) has difficulty phrasing the travel request the right way to get a sensible answer from the plethora of ticket types available.

    This leads me to suggest the area most in need of examination by the developer: Not to find the best way to answer a question, but to find the best way of testing if the end user has asked the right question in the first place.

    • Timothy O'Neil-Dunne

      Murray – I have always admired your staunch defense of the status quo – not because you are the traditionalist but because you approach things from the perspective of the practicalities of the user community.

      However I am going to agree with you but then you might not like my reasons for agreement. And then I am going to disagree with you. In neither case I suspect will you be a happy individual over the results.

      In this case the end user has to be the customer – the traveller – the passenger.

      The current population of users is fast seeing a turnover from the Boomers to Gen Y/Millenials. Why does this matter? Is a user a user no matter what? The behaviour of the consumer is changing rapidly driven by a generational change. What is clear that the user is not happy with the current generation of products and tools at his disposal. Why else would he visit so many sites before making his decision? (22 up from 20 last year). He is frustrated and has little trust. All of this is self evident. And surveys are being misused to illustrate the various point. But observed behaviour is clear. The old ways are not sustainable.

      The airline product market is built on a principle of obfuscation. And don’t get me started on the screwed up nature of the economics of airline product distribution. Perhaps the airlines in truth deserve the mess they are in with regard to their battle with the GDSs – but that is not the point of this discussion. What is important is that anything that exposes all the capabilities of the airline pricing information to the consumer will be resisted by the owner of that information. Voila a conflict!

      The user frequently answers surveys and then behaves differently. To make matters worse if we should actually ask the user – he is incapable of being able to express himself. It takes a good travel agent to coax the input out of the consumer in order to obtain enough to craft the appropriate answer. There are just so many possible answers with no qualitative measures that each interaction takes a long time. Hardly scalable.

      Steve Jobs is famous for ignoring what customers told him and launching products that conventional wisdom said would make no sense. iPods and iPads are classic examples.

      Sadly we never get to the point of being able to deliver great products and innovation into the market because there is a great difficulty in getting access to the information. For example – what is the best way to get from London to Paris?

      I could wax lyrically on this subject for hours because there are truly many different ways not all of which are available at the same time. So anyone asking for arguably one of the most heavily traveled routes in the world cannot get that consolidated information available anywhere.

      It is time for the world to change. But I am not saying that just for effect. It is that the new user community wont wait for the incumbent data sources to do things for them. They will find their own way. The independent developer community clearly understands that. They are hungry for change. What is happening is that the level of technology is superior to the capabilities of the data stores currently available.

      That is the battle that is going on now. I say “tear down this wall” and open the gates to innovation. We can then all benefit. End users, agents etc. Even the suppliers will benefit as the marketplace will become more vibrant. In almost every industry where “open” has occurred, two things have happened.

      1. the consumer got a better deal
      2. the market expanded.

      Think about that.


      • murray harrold

        I cannot accept that the simple provision of accurate, all-encompassing API feeds or other data provision to developers is a panacea.

        As far as airline products are concerned the issue is twofold. Firstly, the inherent arcane thinking, in part due to a legacy of old fashioned outdated practice but (in a banal sense) the feeling that airlines are somehow “special” – with the failure to accept that they are in fact, glorified buses and secondly, the failure to accept the simple principle that, if you cannot make money flying from A to B – don’t fly from A to B. Some do grasp both these principles, but they are few and far between – RyanAir is one that does – the clients are not wholly enamored by the results of accepting these principles, but the continued progress and profitability of RyanAir speaks for itself. (There is a side issue, here about people needing more than point to point travel but we will not dilate on this at this time)

        Now, a mon avis, the driver for technology change from the supplier end comes, not from a desire to produce the most effective way of distributing their product, but from the more brutal premise that airlines need to take costs out and instead of addressing the major issues, it is easier to tackle the simple (rather, less able to react issues – eg commission) and then to look at other distribution costs and throw down gauntlets, irrespective. The irony is that distribution has to be paid for, one way or the other – and the alternatives to the way things are done at present (which works) is to replace these systems with something which may work. with a cost base which, instead of being (at least) known, is one which could be, well, anything. So, perhaps, it is simply the fear of the unknown (and a fairly hefty dose of prima-donna-ism)

        Interestingly, Steve Jobs never applied his (excellent) mind to travel. Many use the Apple products. The difference twixt an ipad and travel is that you can produce thousands of the things as ipads. If the same analogy was taken into the travel arena, you would have: Ipad for Mr H – green, 1cms wider, this function not that and the button 2.76 cms up on the left side, Ipad for Mr G – 2 .5 cms smaller … etc etc… Apple produce products that fulfill a functional need, travel produces a product that fulfills an aspirational need.

        Yes, we have a new generation. That generation will, however, grow old as well. Then there will be a new generation who will probably decide that unless you can simply “think” an order for a product or service, (“What? You still use a smartphone!!) then you are probably a coffin-dodger. That said, what never ceases to amaze, here, is that all this effort and industry goes into selling a product/ service which has a minimal return for the airline/ hotel and/ or tour operator. The cheapest.

        True, many websites have opened up a global market for many, say, hotels, B&B’s and the like. That said, the reason many were not represented globally before, was simply because they could not service the resultant demand. I can present Hotel Chez Mois in many great and varied ways to Jo Punter, but if I only have 3 rooms… Likewise, I only need, even for a big hotel the ability to sell off the dross – not to sell off the good stuff or when busy – for example, if I owned a hotel near London 2012 for the Olympic period, distribution becomes totally irrelevant.

        Mentioned below is something about presenting stuff shinier, faster, simpler for the end user. But you allude in your piece to the 64million dollar question – what data? what information? It is the “coaxing out” of what the end user wants… and yes, they can rarely express themselves. There is no answer to this. There is a short cut to disaster, though. That is, to analyse the end-users need incorrectly and to provide the incorrect solution. I am not too sure that a whole series of “Perhaps this or perhaps that” is the right way forward. It is not a question of presenting a list of possible solutions to the London to Paris problem all in one place, it is a question of saying “Ah! Of all the London Paris solutions – this one, given the parameters you have specified, fits your need…exactly”

  7. Andrew Tipton

    What a joke, to view anything on the developer.aero site you have to sign up for an account, and this requires some sort of manual approval process. When is the industry going to wake up and stop getting in the way of developers?

    • Jim Peters

      Yes, there is an approval process, as we need to verify that the data and services we are making available are going to be used for legitimate purposes. Also, this is just in an initial trial phase, so we want to work closely with the initial developers to get feedback on how we can improve the service.

    • Kevin

      Also – from a quick read of the terms, it looks like there’s a 5-year NDA for the material on the site. While the NDA isn’t a shock, it’s still a pity.

      The problem with this is really that there’s no information on the site to tell you what you’re signing up for. Every click takes you to a registration page. Hopefully SITA will improve this in time to prove the value of a partnership with them.

  8. Chris

    Couldn’t agree more – as the number of API’s shoot up in all industries and tools like Cake make mashups super easy to make, the speed of development keeps increasing. Events like THack are great for showing just how much can be done in a short space of time.
    It’s really the lean start up way – share some ideas, pull in some data, create a very quick prototype and see if people like it.


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