Up to the mid-90s, to choose a hotel for your vacation you had to a call or go to a travel agent’s office to flip through a colorfully printed brochure. 20 years later, there’s Booking.com, or Airbnb, or Expedia, or… well, you have choices. Cheap hotels, luxury suites,
rooms for families with children, hotels with tactile signs for visually-impaired guests, accommodations with electric vehicle charging on parking lots – all available from one, single interface. How do digital travel providers gather
so many options for travelers to choose from? If you were to describe modern travel booking in one word, that word would be – connectivity. Are you flying from Boston to New York?
Hey, don’t open another tab in your browser! Just book your hotel right from the airline website. The technology that enables this kind of connectivity is known as an application programming interface
or API for short. It’s nothing new or special in the tech world, but in travel, building, distributing,
and selling APIs have become a niche industry. To understand how an API works think of buying coffee at a vending machine. To brew your favorite latte, the mechanism has to place a paper cup, grind a just-right measure of coffee beans, add powdered milk, pour all ingredients in the cup, in the perfect proportions and the right order. You don’t have to tell the machine exactly what to do; just push a button labeled latte. The panel with different coffee buttons that initiate different operations in the machine is similar to an API. It’s a set of commands that allows a system to communicate with another system, sharing information over the Internet,
never messing with each other’s inner parts. Imagine that you’ve just booked a room in Sydney for a weekend in December through Booking.com. The website records all needed information
in its database: your name, your credit card number and payment system, hotel and room IDs, dates, and so on. How does the hotel in Sydney find out that you’ve just booked one of their rooms? Most hotel chains now use what are known
as channel managers. A channel manager is software responsible for retrieving information from online travel agencies
(or OTAs) like Booking.com Every minute or so a channel manager uses the Booking.com Connectivity API
to ask whether there have been bookings recently. If there have been some, using the same API channel, Booking.com will push all reservation info
to a channel manager. The channel manager will then notify other travel agencies that list the hotel that the room isn’t available for reservations for these two December nights; and it will also send the reservation info to a hotel property management system using its own API. This way all systems out there are notified,
while both you and the hotel are sure that
your reservation is secured. Direct connection to online travel agencies isn’t the only way hotels distribute their rooms. To keep a property filled to capacity, a hotelier can sell some rooms in bulk to wholesalers or bed banks
for a lower cost. For example, Hotelbeds, one of the largest bed banks, provides its HotelConnect APIs for hotels, including their property managers,
and APItude APIs for travel agencies. Large online travel agencies, such as Expedia or Booking.com, build their own APIs
to run affiliate programs. Smaller travel agencies or related businesses like airlines can use these APIs to sell hotel rooms from OTA’s inventory right on their sites and earn affiliate commissions. If you purchase flights at JetBlue and decide to book your room from JetBlue’s website, know that their hotel booking is powered by Expedia. But what about apartments?
How are they distributed? Such platforms as Airbnb – that market rooms from individual owners and small businesses – offer a unique inventory. In most cases, home owners directly manage their rooms using the Airbnb interface,
which doesn’t require any third-party API. However, if a homeowner or a hotel uses a channel manager, it can be connected to the apartment provider via an API the way OTAs do it. Connectivity in the travel industry
is in full-on growth mode. There are about 29 million accommodation options on Booking.com alone. There are boundless leisure and business travel options with APIs for nearly every service restaurant reservations, tours and attractions, events, and public transport. It’s a matter of your preference. Only your imagination limits the services you can combine to make the travel experience holistic and available from a single source of your choosing.