7 years ago

Multiple technology standards in travel – an oxymoron to overcome

An industry with multiple standards bodies using the same type of technology addressing the same business functions could be seen as an indication of an industry in some disarray.


I think it’s fair to say that the airline industry, while not actually in disarray, could be said to be in a period of violent evolution.

At an ATPCO meeting last week, the airline industry started talking about the impact of several organizations – ATPCO, IATA, Open Axis and OpenTravel – each working mostly in silos to create standards to solve the various issues in the electronic distribution of airline inventory.

There are some relationships between these organizations – Open Axis and OpenTravel have executed a memo of understanding, ATPCO sits on the board of Open Axis and is a member of OpenTravel, IATA and ATPCO have joint working groups – but nothing formal or consistent.

So there was a fair amount of confusion, and a bit of frustration, in the roomful of airlines, distributors and technology providers over which organization did what under whose governance to meet which business needs.

To be fair, this was the first time the four organizations have been in the same room together with the audience all four serve so it’s not like we as organizations have been ducking the issue.

And we’re all going to be together again at an IATA meeting in March, so the face-to-face conversation will continue.

But the confusion and frustration is understandable, especially when companies in the airline industry are forced to choose how to allocate resources, financial and human, amongst four organizations that have not clearly delineated, to the industry’s satisfaction, their respective roles with regard to standards creation.

So in the interest of clarification, or at least the beginning of clarification, here’s a brief statement of purpose of each organization.

ATPCO (from Tom Gregorson, Senior Director Product Strategy and Development):

  • ATPCO’s mission has three components, to lead the airline industry in defining standards and implementing industry solutions, to collect and distribute fare and fare related date efficiently, and to provide products and services that help the airlines protect their revenues or grow incremental revenues.   As we currently provide products and services for over 450 airlines we have established a robust set of standards for airline fare and fare related data as well as the airline revenue accounting supporting processes.  To achieve our mission there is a need to have a set of aligned standards across all disciplines and technologies within the airline industry, we actively participate in industry forums to try and achieve this.


  • IATA is the international airline’s trade association which specializes in developing industry standards to transform the total air travel chain.  A recent example is electronic ticketing (ET), whereas currently much work is focused on e-services regarding the electronic miscellaneous document (EMD) to support ancillary services.  Since 2005 IATA has been working with airlines, airports and industry suppliers to develop XML schemas.

Open Axis (from Jim Young, executive director):

  • Open AXIS Group’s primary goal is the advocacy for and promotion of XML as the optimal electronic messaging structure for airline system connectivity used in traveler authenticated content distribution. In support of this purpose, Open AXIS Group maintains a standardized traveler authenticated based set of XML schema and distribution practices, known as Distribution 2.0, tailored to the airline industry and is capable of delivering comprehensive content and functionality for use by the third party distribution channel worldwide.

OpenTravel (by me):

  • OpenTravel creates XML schema and other artifacts to support passenger/guest-facing distribution functionality in all segments of the travel industry, including airlines and their technology and distribution partners.  With the direct support of the industry, OpenTravel staff creates and modifies schema, and then freely distributes the schema to anyone interested.  With thousands of implementations around the world and across the travel industry, OpenTravel has created a true industry standard.

What’s next?

More conversation leading to more clarification. Open Axis, ATPCO and IATA are all participating in OpenTravel’s airline merchandising project that just kicked off so we’ll treat that as a prototype for future collaboration and see how it works.

While all four organizations have comprehensive governance policies in place, I believe there is room for more formal structure between the organizations.

Stay tuned.

NB: Author is executive director of OpenTravel Alliance.

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Valyn Perini

About the Writer :: Valyn Perini

Valyn Perini is a contributor to tnooz and the Vice President of Strategic Relationships for Nor1.

She 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.



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  2. John

    Hi Vayln

    Good to hear that you’re working on a new version of the specification, I think you really need to focus on simplicity where no transactions are taking place, ie. when a simple information/availability query is sent. I’ll suggest that you take a look at a couple of APIs that really do this well.

    1/ http://www.webcams.travel/developers/ – they’ve discarded everything unnecessary, provide three response formats, simple documentation, and the API is a pleasure to use.

    2/ http://developer.yahoo.com/ – great examples here of when to require secure authentication, and when to just return the information as fast and simply as possible, also a beautifully laid out site with great documentation and testing tools.

  3. Valyn Perini

    Hi John,

    Thanks very much for your comment.

    There could be many answers to your question, but from an OpenTravel perspective, our use of XML has been “member needs” driven and we have created a persistent strategy and solution to match those needs.

    One of the advantages of OpenTravel’s diverse membership base is that we receive feedback from large suppliers, OTAs, technology providers, and emerging long tail sectors. Collectively, we weigh the benefits and trade-offs between development speed, system performance, memory and resource overhead, scalability and flexibility (to name a few.) The majority (if not all) of our members have adopted XML as a distribution standard due to the availability of tool sets, documentation… and of course standards 😉

    Serialized PHP might be a little faster but the tradeoff is that it is not as robust as an XML parser. XML tends to be much more portable, and backwards-compatible and provides a more stable framework than PHP serialization, which can change from version to version, possibly making old data incompatible. XML also tends to be an easier human reading format in cases where you need to dive into your data files to debug.

    You do bring up a great point about schema simplification. In response to emerging IT trends in the travel industry and its adoption of modern messaging frameworks, OpenTravel is working on a “2.0” version of our specification that is focused on advancing schema standards from a message-centric view to a common set of components from which all messages are constructed. This will not only provide tool friendliness through a reusable “Type Library” that facilitates a greater level of interoperability between trading partners—it may also create a bridge for future OpenTravel specifications that support JSON or even serialised PHP.

  4. John

    I don’t know about the others but I’ve had a look at the Open Travel solution for XML authentication and found that it’s way too complex for simple data queries. If I just want information about available rooms/flights/etc a simple REST query with a username/password should be enough. Obviously when making a booking a lot more is required. Also why are you still only using XML, how about the much lighter and faster JSON, or even serialised PHP as provided by APIs from Yahoo and Google?

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  6. Chicke Fitzgerald

    Valyn – It is great that the dialogue is now finally “OPEN”. Kudos to you for hanging in there and sticking to the mantra established when OTA was first conceived well over a decade ago. My oldest is nearly 13 and I remember being very pregnant at an early OTA meeting in Atlanta.

    To keep from fragmenting the standards development process further, I’d like to extend an invitation to OTA to participate in the Project85 Think Tank in Las Vegas at the end of March (the day before TravelCom).

    Amongst other things, we will be looking at the 850 million overnight trips that are taken by car annually and what new standards that we may need to handle the unique elements that would have to be housed in an overall “super PNR” [do we even use that phrase anymore???].

    I’ll send you details privately.

  7. John

    “The wonderful thing about standards is that there are so many of them to choose from.” – Grace Hopper


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