If there is a segment that is ripe for integration it is travel. APIs in the travel segment has been around for a very long time. Despite a long history of interconnectedness, much of the travel space still remains behind closed doors. In spite of the limitations the travel industry has effectively self-imposed, there still exist many opportunities to monetize sites using travel APIs. There are several types of APIs available in the travel space. Most are transactional and some are content driven. Let’s take a look a broad categorization of available travel APIs.
The major global distribution systems, represented by Travelport, Sabre, and Amadeus all offer powerful APIs of their own, but their commercial requirements tend to be out of the league of most application developers.
The most popular branded affiliate programs are through leading online travel agencies (OTAs) like Expedia, Hotwire, Travelocity, and Orbitz. There are also other affiliate programs available through second-tier online travel agencies (not as big as the big ones, but still pretty big) like Booking.com, Onetravel.com, BookIt.com, and others. Although some of the tier one OTAs may have direct APIs for affiliates, most tier two OTAs will use a third party affiliate management system like Commission Junction to manage affiliate links.
These co-branded partner programs, primarily offered by Expedia and Travelocity are powerful full-featured APIs that support everything from product search and display right through to the booking process. This essentially means that you are able to provide a complete end to end travel booking experience for your visitors without the need to develop the back-end management and product feeds. Both the Expedia and Travelocity Partner Programs, for example, have popular XML APIs and provide separate queries for flight, hotel, and car bookings.
Other partnership opportunities include car and hotel specific websites like Cartrawler.com, a car rental booking engine which offers either an XML API (based on the Open Travel Alliance car rental messaging schemas) or an AJAX booking engine.
The two best-known brands for Metasearch are Hotelscombined and Kayak. Meta-search engines like these aggregate feed together into a single stream and then provide comparison data for price shopping purposes. Think of these as the PriceGrabber.com of the travel industry. The APIs tend to be for search only since these sites don’t provide direct booking capabilities, so expect that the final stage in the search will link off to one of the popular online travel agencies or directly to the airline or hotel website. Just a word of caution though, both these companies are quite choosy about who they have as partners, so be prepared to get rejected if your site isn’t “high traffic” enough.
The first success story is Nileguide, a trip planning website that allows users to create custom downloadable travel guides for their upcoming trips. The guides can also be downloaded to an iPhone app that does not require bandwidth on the road. The resulting content is returned as an RSS feed that can be integrated using any standard RSS reader or parsing code. Note that you only get access to the summary data, so your site visitors will link off to NileGuide if they want to read more.
The second success story in the trip planning space is TripIt, an itinerary management tool that helps travelers keep all their flight, hotel, and other travel information organized.
Just like any vertical, there are many segments of the travel industry. The most prominent segments are air, hotel, and car rental. In addition to these segments, there are vacation rentals, adventure travel, golf, hostels, and many others.
As you move down the list, the APIs tend to become less accessible. The tour and activity segment, for example, can be accessed with APIs from TourCMS, Rezgo, Kijubi, and Viator. Viator and Kijubi are both online activity specialists (OAS) that partner with specific operators and resell their tours and activities to the public. TourCMS and Rezgo are reservation platforms designed for businesses who offer tours and activities directly to travelers.