You have heard the term bounded around recently by PMS, Booking engine, CRM and all sorts of other software providers for the hospitality and travel industry. It does however get a little confusing so here I am going to try and debunk what it means in layman’s terms and also explore why APIs are essential for hotel and travel and conclude with how we might be able to make best use of them as Hotel Marketeers.
What is an API?
As much as it sounds like a new type of craft beer, an API stands for Application Programming Interface. In English? Ok. It is a very specific component within a wider piece software that is
responsible for communicating. This can be within one system (internal) or between completely different systems (external). We will be focusing on the external one today as that has a lot more relevance for a hotelier’s use case for APIs. Examples of where APIs might be used could involve the following:
- Create a calendar event in a guests calendar for the time of the reservation
- Collecting prices from your property management system and displaying them next to the room type on the website
- Sending an email address and booking information into a CRM or marketing tool
The API in all of these cases is acting as a communication layer between the two systems which can take in and send out requests. If we want to pull availability of pricing into our website from a PMS or booking engine, we will need some “translation” or instructions to be sent between two systems that are built by different people, sitting on different servers and written in different languages. With me so far? Good good.
Why is it important in hotels and travel?
As I’m sure you are all too aware, the sheer number of different systems in play in a hotel is eye-watering. We have booking engines, channel managers, payment gateways, CRM systems, OTAs, reporting tools, revenue management systems etc. It is arguably the number of different systems in play that has restricted the technical development of the hospitality industry compared to the likes of retail which in many areas are around 3-5 years ahead. The only thing that makes this entire hospitality tech stack tolerable is the ability of some (certainly not all) to talk to each other but sending data to and from the respective systems automatically.
It’s almost untenable to think of a booking engine that has to be populated manually with available rooms, or a CRM system that has to be manually set up every time a guest leaves their data with us for marketing purposes. When we think wider than the hotel part of the travel and leisure market, the requirement for intersystem communication becomes even more essential. Imagine Skyscanner that couldn’t fetch prices from different airlines?
Authentication and Access
If a PMS needs to pull data into a CRM system, that’s all well and good but in the world of GDPR and strong privacy requirements, this needs to be done very carefully. Enter “Authentication”. This is, simply put, the process of ensuring only the right people are able to allow systems to communicate. We wouldn’t want everyone to access our PMS data, only authorised people or applications that we know and trust. There are many different methods of authentication (just as there are in the real world with passwords, fingerprints, iris scanning, signatures etc) but you may have heard the term API Key? This is exactly what it says on the tin – rather than a physical key, it is a unique set of numbers and letters that only you have and only the other system will know to make sure everything is happening securely.
The future of APIs in the hotel industry?
Should hotels and travel not be more connected? It is through a clever use of APIs that we might be able to have flight booking as part of a hotel booking engine. After all, the popular site SkyScanner now have an API with all the flight information readily available.
Should data from external sources affect our pricing and marketing? Through the use of APIs, we can pull in any data we like from third party sources such as weather, currency, tweets etc. and we can use that in clever ways for our hotel. Remember that hotels are only one vertical in the wider travel and leisure industry.
How to future proof my hotel?
While there are no hard and fast answers to exactly how the use of APIs will role out across the hotel industries, there are ways that we can ready ourselves as hotels to be receptive and responsive to these changes. Questions that we should be asking ourselves now are:
- Can I access my PMS data through third party systems? Likes of Hotel Time have an open API which allows this.
- Can I pull availability and pricing through to my marketing material dynamically? Tools like the GlobRes booking engine use the Sabre/SynXis API to pull rates and availability right into the website.
- Is my CRM approach a static database or is it changing based on how users interact with my hotel, digitally or physically? Tools like Hubspot can learn from your guests over time to make personalised marketing possible
- Can I access the content on my website from third-party tools like mobile apps or content aggregators? CMS tools like WordPress and Contentful have content APIs built in, so you can always interact with your content away from the CMS itself.
Even if these are not implemented now, using systems that promote the open (but secure) access to the data within stand you in much better stead for increasing direct bookings.