Keep An Eye On APIs, Travel Buyers Advised

By | September 9, 2015

CIO Magazine announced Aug. 1 that Marriott International earned a “CIO100” award for its application programming interface platform, created in 2014. Marriott senior director for B2B e-commerce Geoff Heuchling earlier that week gave corporate travel professionals an idea of why APIs matter to them. He made them sound pretty huge.

APIsEnabling new ways to integrate internal applications, distribute data externally, service customers and interact with partners, the API program is all about flexibility and speed to market. It uses modern systems communication protocols to pull data out of Marriott’s reservations, pricing and rewards systems. Heuchling called those “inflexible and hard to work with.” In the traditional environment, which includes the venerable Marsha reservations system, he said it can take up to a year to release new services. Speaking at the Global Business Travel Association convention in Orlando, Heuchling continued …

What if some developer wanted to develop a new product to replace the airport shuttle experience? They are expensive and the service is not great. What if someone came to us for guest reservations data to pair that with up-to-date information from the airport on arrivals and departures, then maybe Uber and our hotel could arrange a driver, and send a message to the customer: “Peter is at Door 3 in a Honda Accord, etc.” Would this lead a hotel to get rid of the 24/7 service? Would the service be less expensive? I don’t know, maybe.

But in the past, “maybe” would probably stop us from finding out. We would have had to spend a lot of time and money investigating the business case. That prevents a lot of good ideas from happening.

With APIs, the change from meticulous planning to experimentation is a major cultural shift, and one we have to make to keep pace with what’s going on in the digital world.

This example was hypothetical, but Heuchling gave a real-world one too. This spring the company unveiled an app for Apple’s Watch after just eight weeks of development thanks to its APIs.

A Hilton press official indicated that the company considers its API program “the unifying link between our guest-facing and back-end systems – ensuring the streamlined flow of data no matter the device.” The platform enabled Hilton’s release of digital check-in with room selection and its digital key program.

The InterContinental Hotels Group API is helping the company cut down on time needed to spool up a new affiliate. Whereas in the past it could onboard such a partner once per quarter, its API program cut the required time to less than one day. That’s according to Ryan Hudgins, IHG manager for performance marketing in affiliate and digital media, speaking last fall during a Tnooz webinar.

An IHG media official declined to provide more details. The company uses Intel’s Mashery to manage its APIs, as does Choice Hotels. On its website, Mashery also lists Lufthansa as a client. Separately, British Airways announced its API program in July.

Hyatt and Starwood did not respond to requests for comment.

Also leveraging APIs, CheckMate has signed a number of smaller hotel chains and large travel management companies for its mobile service enabling text, email or app-based messaging about the lodging experience. Available services include room status updates, express check-in and service requests. Participating TMCs include Adelman, BCD Travel, Corporate Travel Management, Travel Incorporated and Travel and Transport. Concur, TripCase and TripIt are among CheckMate’s other partners.

Marriott last month announced it had processed more than 2.7 million mobile check-ins, for which it credited its API-based mobile developments. IHG’s Hudgins said what the company had accomplished as of last fall was just “scratching the surface.” Marriott’s Heuchling in July suggested the same.

The platform released last year also is facilitating Marriott’s connectivity to Concur’s TripLink program. “Many” more interfaces are coming, Heuchling said. The ease with which APIs enable connectivity to new distributors is something travel managers should watch.

For travel management, Heuchling said, “I don’t think the impact will be really big at first.” But the possibilities are enticing.

“We’ll see some fantastic new stuff,” he said. “I don’t think anyone in this room really likes the annual [RFP] process except the people who make money on it. Imagine some kid in a garage figures out how to get our API for business travel pricing, and for Hilton and Starwood. This kid comes to you and says I have this new tool without you paying an arm and a leg. No complex code. The industry could really rally around this.”

He warned that buyers need to consider the kid’s intentions.

“One area where travel managers need to be vigilant is privacy,” said Heuchling. “A lot of these new products will try to make money off the data they collect. But they forget or don’t know how important data security is at the corporate level. The standards are so much higher than they are for individuals.”

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