Love them or hate them, GDS are part of the juggling act
IN-DEPTH: Meta-search has been a bit of a theme this week. We looked at traffic trading with Momondo on Monday and at iXiGo’s trip planning tool on Tuesday. In this article Ritesh Gupta takes a look at the role of global distribution system (GDS) firms in helping meta-search players to meet consumers’ complex travel shopping needs and finds there is work to be done.
If juggling several balls at once is your thing, get involved in the flight search business. Flight search engines gather content from airline and online travel agent’s websites, allowing users to search many different sources of travel information. That might look straightforward on the surface but choosing the correct data source that allows meta-search companies to access airlines fare data is very important. And there is no one single data source that can handle such a requirement.
It requires dealing with several players, keeping several balls in the air. Flight search engines have to deal with different types of airlines including full service carriers (FSCs), low cost carriers (LCCs) and regional airlines. All of these have different hosting and distribution platforms so it can be an arduous task to offer the best range of content and accurate search results to users.
In the month of January, Kayak processed over 100 million user requests for travel information. That is 100 million flight, hotel, car and other travel searches performed on its site and mobile apps. So a travel search engine has to make the most of the available sources and technologies.
For flights, they have to work out the best possible way to source inventory from airlines. Meta-search players typically use their own techniques. The could be APIs that airlines are already using or they might sign direct connection agreements or go for third party solutions like ITA Software and GDS offerings.
Meeting basic expectations
For many users, comprehensive coverage is a basic expectation of a meta-search site. In this context, GDS is really an attractive option as a data source for travel meta-search engines, says Chris Kroeger, senior vice- president for marketing at Sabre Travel Network. There are billions of fares and itinerary options available at any given moment, he says.
The power required to continuously generate options in real-time, from hundreds of thousands of requests across the globe, is massive. “GDSs combine these flight options with real-time availability to provide the most accurate shopping experience of any provider,” says Kroeger.
According to Kroeger most meta-search engines today have found that providing comprehensive shopping capabilities, on a global scale, are very difficult to achieve through individual relationships with online travel suppliers. As such, they also include OTAs in their search results, taking advantage of their extensive comparison shopping capabilities. Those OTAs utilise GDS services, so the meta is in fact indirectly using GDS services, he says
Some advantages said to be gained by using GDS include:
Maintaining global coverage of information, while simultaneously maintaining quality and speed has proved difficult. GDS shopping engines can make a difference.
GDS companies can meet comprehensive or complex travel shopping needs, including interline itineraries and broad geographic market coverage of fares and itineraries.
Comparison shopping is most efficient and effective when schedule, fare, and availability information is integrated in one place. GDSs claim they provide the best integrated environment for airline content and more content is being provided by traditional and new airlines through GDSs than ever before.
Room for improvement
Most traditional global FSCs are hosted on GDS platforms which places these firms in a fairly strong position. Not only can they provide a solution for a meta-search query, but can also handle the load on airline infrastructure. It is simpler for the airlines that use GDS as their hosting platforms to distribute their fare to meta-search players via GDS, but meta-search players need to do separate API integrations to access LCC content.
Judging by recent interactions with the travel meta-search players, there are a couple of areas where GDS companies can make improvements. In addition to enhancing their LCC content, they could also do with working on the availability of seats and accuracy of fares to strengthen their position as a data source. Today the accuracy of fares depends on the cache maturity for a specific market to populate web fares by the GDSs. This depends on how quickly these cache servers are updated. But GDS players have strong ongoing relationships with FSCs and it has to be considered that they also offer airline technology solutions too. So GDSs are reasonably placed owing to their overall contribution and association with airlines.
According to Kroeger another important area to consider is consumer expectations for lightning-fast response times. “We are continuously innovating to return results in less than a second while maintaining the highest quality results,” says Kroeger. “In order to provide the most comprehensive view of itinerary options, including all possible interline combinations, using a GDS shopping engine is the preferred and in some cases only method for achieving this.”
Additionally, new ways to shop for travel continue to emerge, whether it is map-based, theme-based, budget-led and so on. But Sabre says it is continually developing new ways to shop for travel that will benefit meta-search engines as well as online and offline travel agencies, consumers and suppliers.
Meeting needs for expansion
Travel meta-search engines are expanding into new markets. Those based in Asia are moving into Europe and some European players have recently entered the Asian market.
It is very challenging to acquire and store price-related information based on a proprietary technology as these companies move into new markets, says Kroeger.
Global scale and quality of information are paramount to any site’s success. And Sabre says it invests hundreds of millions of dollars in its systems to ensure it always finds the best fares, provides the best itinerary options and ensure the highest quality in availability in every corner of the world. “That is no small feat,” says Kroeger, adding that those who attempt to recreate this complex system are finding it makes little sense, financially or technically.”
According to Kroeger, direct connections between travel meta-search and airlines are not enough. This, he says, is because comparison shopping is most efficient and effective when schedule, fare, and availability information is integrated in one place. So-called ‘direct connections’ fragment that process and introduce inefficiencies which consumers do not want.
In the light of recent marketplace activities, many meta-search engines are coming to the conclusion that diversification of their technology providers – to meet the need for quality fare information, diversity, and real-time availability - is in their best interests. Like it or not, as more consumers demand access to flexible options, GDS are likely to remain a reliable source for this information.