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Getting systems to talk to each other is priority for many travel brands and a big part of this is XML interoperability, as we find out in this exclusive article.

The travel industry is continuously looking at avenues to increase transparency of what travellers are buying, no matter where a travel shopper completes a transaction. This is reflected in continued interest in new distribution capabilities like for example, the New Distribution Capability (NDC), a common, open XML-based standard. One of the main objectives behind this move is to enable passengers to compare airline offerings across many parameters – and this includes offline agents, too.

Today travel entities acknowledge that XML interoperability is a crucial component of their travel systems, says Farelogix’s Lead Schema Architect Bonnie Lowell. Lowell believes she is fortunate enough to be on the frontline of travel industry innovation where she plays both a strategic and tactical role.

EyeforTravel’s Ritesh Gupta caught up with Lowell to know more about her role and how airlines are gaining a better understanding of how to package ancillary services for their passengers.

EFT: Can you share what your role - Lead Schema Architect – is all about?

BL: In today’s marketplace, forward-thinking companies recognise that XML interoperability is a crucial component of their travel systems as it provides the ‘information exchange plumbing’ among disparate channels, which requires specialised oversight and governance—that’s where my role comes in.

Back in its infancy, the travel industry embraced XML as a data transport mechanism due to the flexibility in the manner in which it provides a common language that different computer systems can use to exchange data with one another. As XML was commonly believed to be a simple collection of data exchanged between systems, the XML implementation was primarily done by the same technologists that were implementing the web services that consumed the XML.

Although this method provided an XML solution on an individual system basis, it did not provide the big picture perspective required to design common, reusable and extensible XML solutions that reduced ongoing IT expenses from each production system change.

I work closely with internal development teams, clients and industry standard bodies to ensure that the Farelogix XML schema consistently supports the emerging data exchange requirements for travel applications with the least possible impact on production systems that are already using the schema.

EFT: As an air passenger, what do you consider to the most annoying aspect of booking a seat?

BL: I think the travel industry has done a great job assisting me with finding a seat that meets my discerning requirements. The biggest issue I have with booking a seat is related to premium seats. As the airlines are working out ancillary premium seating in their travel systems, there may be disconnects with the characteristics, terms, and conditions information displayed in an online seat map. For example, sometimes (often in the indirect channel) it’s hard to tell what the advantage is of the premium seat. Meaning, if I’m going to pay for it, I’d like to know what I’m getting, maybe even see a photo.

Additionally, when it comes to flight changes, the premium seat payment may be non-refundable even if you need to change your flight to the same flight the next day. A premium seat payment reimbursement—in the case where an airline controlled flight change cannot accommodate a premium seat re-accommodation—may require a phone call.

Addressing all this is part of the work we’re doing with IATA, as we want to make sure that airlines can display and inform passengers of all the characteristics, terms, and conditions in whichever channel they book in.

EFT: What major trends are you witnessing in the creation, packaging, and sale of airline products?

BL: As we are a few years into the airline ancillary ‘boom’, airlines are gaining a better understanding of how to package ancillary services for their passengers. For example, in the past year, I have seen flight-based ancillary services being bundled—eg. Your premium seat includes early boarding—and then unbundled—eg. a premium seat and early boarding are a la carte options that need to be purchased separately.

I think airlines will continue to give customers various options so they can customise their trip experience. And by making various types of offers, airlines will also be able to determine what kinds of product offers work and which do not.

Also, in addition to better-targeted offers, I’m seeing a subset of airline ancillary services being offered on airline third-party distribution channel partner sites such as Priceline. Based on the market share of these distribution partners, this a significant achievement for both the airlines in terms of revenue and the customers in terms of being able to book all products and services in one place.

EFT: You have also been associated with the hotel industry. What do you make of the way selling products like air travel and room accommodation is evolving?  

BL: From a travel services provider perspective, I see both the hotel and airline industry generally classified as ‘fruit’ per se, but one is an apple and the other is an orange. The key differences are inventoried amenities versus non-inventoried ancillary services; rate plans versus fares; and non-inventoried premium services.

Generally, in the hotel industry, your amenities—such as bed type and quantity—are fixed inventoried amenities that are associated with the room type you reserve. So, during a typical shopping/booking experience you are looking for and selecting the room type that has the amenities that suit your needs.

Hotel industry rate plans tend to be different from flight fares as well. When booking a hotel room, you are not typically presented with rate options like you are when selecting a fare. For example, when selecting a fare, you may be offered a choice of lowest fare or premium (pay for) fare options such as flexible or unrestricted fares.

Non-inventoried (premium pay for) ancillary services offers are prevalent when shopping for a flight—such as early boarding—but you do not experience this when shopping for a hotel room, eg. a pay for ancillary service offer for early or late check-in does not appear.

But most importantly, airlines and hotels have realised customers are unique and like unique experiences, so I see both air and hotel moving towards giving their customers and many options as possible to customise their trips. 

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