Tom Tulloch On APIs: What They Are And What They Mean For Travel Management

From The FieldApplication programming interfaces are not brand new tech. They’ve been part of travel industry parlance for several years. But many don’t understand exactly what they do or how they’ll help corporate travel programs and their providers. We’ll let PredictX North America EVP and managing director Tom Tulloch take it from here.


Last fall I discussed how systems and technology help curate data, transform it into information and automatically deliver it to the right end user at the right time. This process is often called event-driven intelligence or data socialization.

Another technology allowing for greater communication of data across an organization is the application programming interface. Simply put, APIs let one product or service talk to another. 

They are becoming a primary enabler for innovators looking to help improve the velocity and veracity of data for businesses and their travelers. They connect disparate systems, allowing easy use of data sets and events from multiple sources. 

The impact of APIs is already apparent. Online booking tools looking for the lowest fares often adopt them. Integrating content from multiple global distribution systems and supplier-direct sources in one tool leads to a greater variety of shopping options. 

Sabre recently announced API integration with United Airlines, opening an NDC channel with new merchandising capabilities. According to Sabre, its shopping API “integrates and normalizes air content from all sources including traditional, low-cost carrier and NDC offers.” 

In the consumer travel market, TripAdvisor and Expedia market APIs to developers. An application can use an Expedia API, for example, to add hotel, flight and car rental booking capabilities. 

PredictX North America EVP and managing director Tom Tulloch
PredictX North America EVP and managing director Tom Tulloch

The emergence of APIs is driven by a number of factors. A big one is the ever-growing popularity of cloud computing and SaaS (Software-as-a-Service) products. APIs are one of the enabling technologies that help SaaS product companies transform into PaaS (Platform-as-a-Service) companies. A product company typically has limited revenue streams whereas platform companies achieve scale by diversifying products and unbundling service components.

Cue the rise of business models helping companies monetize the connection of data. These business models include: 

1. API as a subscription. Businesses and individuals pay for access to an API using a metered approach. Employment screening company GoodHire, for example, provides a number of products, including background checks, to companies like Ziprecruiter. GoodHire unbundles and productizes APIs discretely, thus extending its reach and scaling its business.

2. API as an upsell. A company may already have purchased a product and wants access to data on that product for other purposes. Concur uses this model to provide pre-built integration options where subscribers can use their expense data for such purposes as app integration and back-office accounting processes.

3. API as a product. The API is the product itself and therefore can be what delivers the highest value. This often is the most complex business model since it requires some form of revenue share or service fee.

4. API as an OEM (original equipment manufacturer). Companies rapidly scale and grow the reach of their products by integrating with strategic partners. Intuit, for example, works with thousands of value-added resellers consisting of mostly banks and tax-preparing organizations to grow its business.

Historically, when data passed from one company or platform to another, the complexities made it messy and time-consuming. Both parties needed a lot of development. The hand-off processes needed testing and then developers needed a good understanding of field layouts, formats and definitions of the senders’ data for it to be usable at all. 

Now, with their software development kits, APIs lessened the need for time-consuming development work. This has allowed them to be used more widely than ever. SDKs are blueprints or user manuals for the publisher’s API. There is still a level of technical integration required for consuming the data from most private APIs, but the better the SDK, the easier the integration. 

This is good news because often as we finish integrating data and content from one system or source, we find another already popping up. Those that encourage and adopt integration with more data and more systems often are those that stay competitive. 

How do I use APIs in my program?

As technology becomes more integrated, so does the role of the travel manager. More of them have been asked to bring meetings management into travel programs. This calls for integrating meetings systems’ data into existing travel management data. Luckily, conference management software providers — like Cvent, for example — come with their own APIs to easily handle this integration. 

In essence, APIs take the search function away from us and give it to the machines. If you ever wanted a system that can automatically look through more than one source to fulfill any type of function — notifying you about flight delays, looking for the lowest rates across multiple distribution channels and integrating meetings data, to name just a few — APIs can connect the dots for you and deliver the data you need. 

Author: Thomas Tulloch

Tom Tulloch is executive vice president and managing director of PredictX North America. Tom's career includes over two decades of leadership and expertise in the data business. His passion is helping companies manage global travel and expense programs using a data-driven approach. Tom is widely recognized as a data expert in the travel industry. Prior to joining PredictX in 2015, he ran the data business at TRX Inc., before divesting the company to Concur/SAP in 2013. Find more information about Tom on LinkedIn.

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