Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Let technology take the pressure

Gillian Gibson from Amadeus, one of our new Star Bloggers, writes:

Airlines like selling flights. Right? Right. Online travel agencies like selling airlines’ flights. Right? Right. But the two aren’t exactly love-birds, so what’s going on?

Online travel agencies put a heavy load on an airline’s reservation system because consumers are less efficient searchers than travel agents. Consumers like to browse and try out different alternatives; travel agents tend to go straight to the best flight option.

Each time a website is searched for flight availability, the airline’s system has to respond. To give you a sense of scale, I can share some figures from Amadeus’ own system.

In 1996 each booking took an average of 26 transactions (operations the system is required to make). So far this year, the average is 150 transactions per booking. This, indirectly, costs the airline money.

The issue can be mollified by better aligning the needs of airlines and online travel agencies. Airlines want high bookings and low transactions. Online travel agents need availability information fast.

Smart caching technology reconciles these two positions by adding an extra layer between the online travel agent and the airline: the online travel agent queries an intermediate server instead of the airline’s system.

The intermediate server in turn gets periodic updates from the airline’s system. The trick lies in developing technology which can infer when these updates should be made: accurate and up-to-date availability information must be balanced with minimal load on the airline’s system.

No-one is going to reverse the trend towards more transactions per booking. It is a side-effect of giving consumers the choice to make their own bookings which, in itself, has countless benefits for the travel industry.

But there are certainly ways to smooth the process. All it takes is a little understanding, a lot of late nights and some smart technology.

Gillian Gibson, vice president, Multinational Customer Group, Amadeus

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