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E-commerce and Online Distribution in the Hotel Industry

Uploaded 9th May 2011

Alex K

on 11 January 2013

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Transcript of E-commerce and Online Distribution in the Hotel Industry

E-Commerce and Online Distribution
in the Hotel Industry by Alexander Klein PMS PMS PMS CRS What makes it easier for online shoppers to book my hotel? What is the best way to get
more bookings via travel agents? Presentation Objectives Agenda explain the main concepts of hotel online distribution

explain the characteristics of a selection of online marketing tools

understand why e-commerce is not child’s play and that sophisticated tools alone do not create competitive advantage By the end of the presentation you should be able to Introduction Hotel Distribution Network Selection of Online Marketing Tools Online Marketing Best Practices Hotel Marketing and Rep Firms Metasearch Engines Fax, E-mail Walk-Ins Mobile Website and Booking Engine Booking Engine and Website Pegasus ODD OTAs GDSs E-Commerce in the Global Hotel Industry Sell-Side (Online Distribution) Buy-Side E-Business Voice I N T E R F A C E ... “the transformation of key business processes through the use of Internet technologies.” Research and Development Manufacturing Human Resources Marketing Logistics The conduct of financial transactions by electronic means All electronically mediated transactions R ooms
R ates
R estrictions Several hundred distribution partners Extranets OTAs Merchant Model

Package Model

Opaque Model http://www.kurhaus.nl/ http://www.kurhaus.nl/ Content Distributors Channel Management Preferred Placements Marketing Messages Consortia Programmes TripAdvisor Business Listing SEO SMO PPC Best Practices Google Analytics E-Commerce Hotel Search Placement Basics first... Ensure a high quality product
Effective picture management
Do not create too many room types
Load meaningful room descriptions
Price premium room types to sell
Price room types logically
Clear rate structure and discounting
Load inventory for at least 365 days

Careful management and measurement of channels
Practice rate parity to ensure customer confidence
Focus on most profitable channels, especially your own booking engine
Overbook while carefully measuring no-shows
Know what the competition is doing
Employ business intelligence
Exploit CRS marketing tool functionalities
Identify high- and low-demand period
Let rates fluctuate according to demand, occupancy and competition
Identify marketing tools that fit best and exploit
Manage social media ...and more advanced Corporate RFP Imagine that you are the owner and manager of three hotels... Each of your hotels is equipped with a Property Management System... Generally speaking my presentation is about... So what is electronic business? Today, there are many differently formulated definitions of the term e-business. Nevertheless, all definition formulations are similar in their essence: E-business is a very general term that comprises all business processes, IT hardware as well as software. IBM coined the term in 1996 and defined it as... The scope of today's presentation will be limited since I will focus on a specific aspect of e-business as well as on a specific industry... So what is electronic commerce? Primarily, e-commerce is the conduct of financial transactions by electronic means via the Internet. To this count, for example, online stores, auction sites and Internet banking. E-commerce can take the form of B2B, B2C or C2C.
However, some commentators refer to e-commerce as all electronically mediated transactions between parties. By this definition, non-financial transactions such as customer requests for further information would also be considered to be part of e-commerce. Considering a hotel organization, it might be involved in e-commerce when buying from its suppliers. For example when ordering online from a food supplier.
This side of e-commerce is called the... However, during my presentation I will solely consider the other side of e-commerce, called the... The sell-side of e-commerce for a hotel organization is the distribution of the hotel's services and products to its guests.
Generally, the goal is to distribute the hotel's services and products to the widest possible audience in the most profitable manner.
However, the hotel industry is made up of many distribution partners and opportunities come in many shapes and sizes. There is no such thing as one perfect distribution channel for any property. Striking the most effective balance between the distribution opportunities is the key to driving profitability. Until today room reservations for each of your hotels individually were solely made via old fashioned ways: by phone, fax, e-mail or walk-in. Today everyone knows that the Internet revolution changed the world, including the hotel industry. Everybody talks about e-commerce, social media, booking online, review sites such as TripAdvisor and so forth. For consumers online shopping might have become easier, because nowadays it is simpler and more transparent to compare offers and, hence, to make better choices.
Nevertheless, did it become easier for hoteliers, too? Let’s take a look... It becomes evident that online marketing is a complex matter and not child’s play or a video game. Some of the straight forward questions that were asked to the children cannot be easily answered, for example: With this presentation I aim at tackling these types of question and the complex topic of e-commerce and online distribution in the hotel industry. Now you have heard of "online distribution" and that it opens up so many new opportunities and ways to reach potential guests. So you decide to dig into it. Nevertheless, you are not sure where to start and you, unlike some large chains, do not have the expertise and capabilities in-house so that you decide to “call the experts”.
On a seminar you have heard the names of hotel representation and marketing firms that offer support and solutions regarding online marketing aspects.
The firms you got to know are Trust, Utell (part of Pegasus) TravelClick and Sabre Hospitality Services that are all very similar in regard to their product and service offering.
Finally, however, you decide to contact TravelClick... First of all the implementation of a Central Reservation System is necessary in order to better manage business processes. For example, Sabre Hospitality Services' CRS is named... and TravelClick's is called... At the bottom line a hotelier can manage three aspects (three "Rs") with a CRS... However, modern CRSs have many more functionalities... Nowadays, CRS solutions are available on-demand basis, or as "software-as-a-service". In other words, the CRS is a web-based application.
For example, a hotel client subscribes for iHotelier, receives login credentials, and then can control the three "Rs" across various channels. Only Internet connection is required.
However, the CRS needs to be interconnected.
First of all each PMS of your hotel can be seamlessly connected to the CRS via an interface... Moreover, further interconnections are possible and necessary to distribute your hotels more effectively to a wider audience.
For example, the CRS can be connected to Global Distribution Systems... GDSs were originally created by the airline industry several decades ago. By now, not only flights but also accommodation and rental cars can be booked via GDSs. The four GDSs with most market share are Amadeus, Sabre, Worldspan and Galieleo - the latter two are owned by Travelport.
With GDS connectivity the rooms of your hotels are made available for Travel Agents around the world: To brick and mortar TAs around the corner, TAs of big corporations but also online TAs.
Each TA is identifiable by a Pseudo City Code that serves as a login credential to each GDS and can also be referred to as a subscriber ID. PCCs are especially necessary when adding negotiated rates (also called qualified or non public rates), as these rates can be "defined" or secured to an agency by using their PCC. For example a TA of IBM tells a hotel that he will book 5,000 room nights per year and negotiates a deal with you. You make a proposal to the TA, you agree on a rate and conditions. To avoid that nobody else can book that special rate, it will be linked to the TAs PCC so that only he or she can access it.
When the TA logs into one of the GDSs he or she finds a relatively old fashioned black and white user interface. For example, the following screenshot is taken from Sabre... "Find a room in the market of Waterford (IATA code WAT)/on 1st October/for 1 night and 1 person" Imagine now the TA would like to book a hotel for a client: The TA needs to use commands to find hotels in a certain destination. Each airport has an uniquely assigned IATA code and hotels are linked to such an airport code. So a TA cannot search for properties in a destination but searches for airports and the hotels that are linked to that airport code. Then a list of hotels is displayed (similar to Google search results). Around 10 hotels are listed on one page. On the next slide the market of The Hague is illustrated... Imagine that the TA would like to have further information regarding the Steigenberger Kurhaus Hotel. By inserting another command, more detailed pieces of information about the desired hotel are displayed... By the use of further commands the TA can also look at the Hotel Online Description which describes room types, facilities, terms and conditions etc. Whereas via the CRS all information regarding rates, rooms and a few more aspects can be updated, descriptions in the HOD are "static", meaning that usually the hotel needs to request changes via its representation firm that implements them.
Nevertheless, you as hotelier can also note down the commission that you want to grant (usually 10%). So when a TA then books your hotel, it will receive a bill from the TA. So the GDSs are the main source for all the brick and mortar TAs around the globe. For the little TA around the corner but also for TAs that solely work for large firms and need to book flights, cars and accommodation for the firm's employees.
Whereas the GDSs also fuel Online Travel Agents another main source for the OTAs and metasearch engines (discussed later) is Pegasus’ Online Distribution Database. The ODD basically fuels the so called Internet Distribution System (IDS), also called Alternative Distribution System (ADS) that is in direct competition to the GDSs.
Apart from interconnectivity to GDSs, your CRS can be also seamlessly connected to the ODD. So your properties' information including rates and inventory are now loaded into both, the GDS and ODD networks. There are hundreds of OTAs and travel portals connected to the ODD from where they can retrieve information from your hotels to list them on their websites.
However, OTAs do not have to retrieve your hotels and display them. Whether an OTA decides to list a hotel on its site depends on various factors which will be discussed later.
There also can be a direct connection from CRS to OTA (e.g. TravelClick's Expedia Quick Connect). Now we had a look at the ODD. Let’s take a look at the parties that actually use this database - the OTAs.
As already mentioned, OTAs are all the travel agents that are presented online, such as Expedia (which is world’s largest and to which belong Hotwire, TripAdvisor or Venere), Orbitz (to which belong Cheaptickets, RatesToGo or HotelClub), Travelocity (which is owned by GDS provider Sabre and to which Lastminute belongs) and Priceline (to which belong Priceline.com or booking.com). Similar to the GDS market there are a few main players that are dominating the scene. The ODD is a main source for OTAs but, as mentioned before, some also pull rooms from other sources, such as GDSs (e.g. Expedia from Worldspan).
As previously outlined, having a hotel uploaded in the ODD does not guarantee visibility on OTA sites.
Visibility and search ranking depend on factors such as:
Long-term rate competitiveness
Participation in OTA's programmes
Distance from a user’s desired location
User reviews
So a hotel can negotiate with an OTA, e.g. grant a higher commission and then get the guarantee to be displayed in the search results for a certain destination.
OTAs offer these programmes in 3 types of ways... The merchant model is the most common one: The online shopper can book a hotel room via the OTAs’ virtual storefront. With the package model the hotel room is bundled with other products and/or services (e.g. flight, rental car, event ticket). In this case the consumer does not know the price of each single component. For these deals the hotel usually needs to grant a higher discount (e.g. 27%). With the auction/opaque model the shopper does not know before payment which exact, for example hotel, he or she books. Especially Hotwire and Priceline  are famous for the application of this model.
In case of Priceline the online shopper has to place a bid and provide credit card details. If the bid is accepted the credit card is charged and the booking is not refundable. If the bid is not accepted, the online shopper cannot place another bid within 24 hours. The underlying process is illustrated in the next slide. As mentioned hotels can negotiate with each OTA for special conditions or often the representation firm has special programme agreements with OTAs. In case a hotel would like to participate at a programme the negotiated rate can be uploaded in the ODD or the relevant GDS.
Hotels can also use the OTAs’ extranets because, for example hotels do not have a CRS at all and no ODD or GDS connectivity. In this case the hotelier needs to separately log into each OTA's extranet (Expedia, Booking.com etc) to manipulate information. Finally, apart from being distributed via OTAs, TAs and receiving reservations the old-fashioned way (telephone, fax, e-mail, walk-in) your hotels can also offer their services and products via an own website and booking engine. For example, Sabre Hospitality's booking engine is called Guest Connect and TravelClick's is called iHotelier... Functionalities of a booking engine can best illustrated via the website displayed below.
When landing on the website of the Steigenberger Kurhaus Hotel the online visitor can already specify details in the booking mask that is located in the bottom right corner. When clicking on the mask the booking engine iStay opens up. The same is applicable to mobile devices. In this case applications and websites are more compact. TravelClick's mobile booking engine is called MobiBook. A hotel organization can decide whether and how it wants to be interconnected. For example, you as a hotelier may only choose GDS connectivity with a representation firm or only utilize the booking engine of a hotel marketing firm and have the website built by another provider and contract another firm for GDS and/or ODD representation.
Let’s have a look at another important player in the distribution network... The most known metasearch site is Kayak. The online visitor can search for flights, hotels, rental cars, event tickets and more. Other metasearch sites are for example Trivago and Wego. The latter is based in Singapore and has more market share in Asia.
Metasearch engines are search engines that search other search engines. For example, one inserts a search request and the metasearch engine compares offers from several other sources - OTA sites or sites of hotel organizations. Often hotel marketing firms also offer voice services. Although the voice channel is decreasing in importance there are still many guests who call to make a reservation.
So in case you as an hotelier want to save costs by, for example, reducing your workforce by a telephone operator, you might consider to outsource the work. You might consult TravelClick, who in turn passes on the job to a call centre company. The agents of the call centre firm will then have access to the CRS and enter reservations for your hotel organization. In the subsequent section, I am going to introduce a selection of marketing tools that are available to hoteliers and yield opportunities to boost hotels' revenues and profits as well as to enhance business processes. As discussed previously, a hotel organization can participate at various OTA programmes and manage its offering via the OTA's extranet. In case a hotel organization participates at programmes of many different OTAs and has to manage each extranet separately, this activity is very time consuming and prone to mistakes. This is especially the case if the hotel organization utilizes very complex and dynamic rate structures.
In order to eliminate the above mentioned difficulties the hotel manager can make use of a channel management solution, such as ChannelDirect or ChannelRUSH. This type of solution provides the manager with a platform from which he or she is able to control all OTA extranets simultaneously.
Finally, it is also possible to integrate the channel management solution into the CRS solution. Now, we will have a look at the options that are available to increase revenues via GDSs... As studies discovered, the higher the ranking of a hotel in the list, the higher the probability of it being booked. Particularly important is a listing on the first page. The probability of a hotel being booked decreases significantly with each higher page number (this phenomenon is very similar to Internet search engine result rankings, e.g. via Google).
However, GDS hotel search result rankings change every few minutes to ensure a higher degree of fairness.
Moreover, hotel organizations can purchase so called preferred placements from GDS providers, e.g. from Sabre (Hotel Spotlight) or Amadeus (Instant Preference) to be consistently listed on the top places. Nevertheless, the GDS providers cannot sell preferred placements to all hotels since only a limited number of properties can be displayed on the first page. So once the number of "slots" for a certain airport code (destination) is sold, preferred placements cannot be purchased anymore for the specific market. As mentioned before, when a TA searches for hotels in a destination with help of the airport code, a list of properties is compiled. As opposed to preferred placements, GDS marketing messages can be purchased anytime. Marketing messages are similar to, e.g. Google advertisements. For example when the TA searches properties in a certain destination an advertising message is displayed. Furthermore, hotel organizations can contact consortium organizations and participate at consortia programmes. Consortia are umbrella organizations that are often formed by multiple independent travel agencies in order to have more negotiation power. To the largest ones belong Carlson Wagonlit Travel, American Express, ABC Corporate Services, BCD Travel, HRG and Radius. Consortia negotiate with hotels for preferred rates to enhance their position with their clients. Viewership of these rates in the GDS is then restricted to the TAs that are part of the relevant consortium.
A hotel organization may also contact its hotel marketing or representation firm who might have negotiated preferred conditions with hotel consortia. Corporations, their travel management companies and hoteliers are often involved in soliciting, bidding and negotiating rates.
To manage these Request For Proposal processes better, web based RFP solutions (e.g. provided from Lanyon or Sabre) are available that serve as a platform for all involved parties. Next I introduce tools that are available to hoteliers to boost bookings via their most profitable channel - the hotel's own website and booking engine... Metasearch engine site Kayak offers hotel organizations so called "Hotel Search Placements". Usually, only OTA sites are listed in the search results and, thus, the Kayak visitor tends to make the booking via one of the OTAs. However, because of high OTA comissions, the hotelier would like to disintermediate the expensive OTAs and aims at steering more traffic via their own more profitable website and booking engine. The hotelier has this opportunity when subscribing for a Kayak Hotel Search Placement that also lists the hotel's website in the search results. Furthermore, the own booking engine is not only less costly but also guest intelligence, that is kept by the OTAs in case the guest books with them, can be gathered more effectively since the online shopper needs to input all details in the hotel website's online form. However, also Kayak requires a commission when the hotel decides to subscribe for a Hotel Search Placement. In the following an example of a Kayak Hotel Search Placement is depicted. As shown the website of the Steigenberger Kurhaus Hotel is listed on first position... The same aim of disintermediation as a Kayak Hotel Search Placement has a TripAdvisor Business Listing. Here a hotel organization has the possibility to place a link on the TripAdvisor representation page as illustrated in the following two screen shots: on the first picture there is no link visible, on the second there is (see top left corner). To direct more traffic to the hotel's website the hotelier may also utilize Pay-Per-Click campaigns. For a Google PPC campaign certain key terms are chosen. Should an online shopper search for these terms the PCC add will be displayed. As implied in the name the hotel needs to pay each click that redirects the online guest. The costs heavily depend on the, e.g. Google AdWords that are chosen. The PPC manager then decides on a balance (e.g. €200) that is reduced per click (e.g. €0.05). When an online guest inserts a query in an Internet search engine such as Google, the query is processed with a secretly kept and frequently changing algorithm which determines the relevance and thus the order of organic (also called natural) result listings. Surely, hoteliers are interested that their hotels' own websites achieve a high rank listing for certain search words or terms since this increases the probability that more traffic is directed over the website and that more bookings are made via the most profitable booking engine channel. As outlined before, the hotel could run a PPC campaign - so buy itself high rankings. Nevertheless, in order to appear as high as possible in organic search results, Search Engine Optimization is necessary. The activity of SEO includes for example, analysing how search engines work, what people search for, the actual search terms typed into search engines and which search engines are preferred by the target audience. Social media revolutionize how marketing is done and how customers are reached. For example, 96% of Americans under 50 are on Facebook. Hence, the effective management of these platforms becomes more and more important. Hence, hoteliers should engage in Social Media Optimization. SMO includes for example, the identification of the most appropriate social media sites to engage with and the content and marketing activities that the target audience is attracted to.
In addition, it is also possible to sell hotel rooms via Facebook. For an illustration see https://www.facebook.com/omnihotels. https://www.facebook.com/omnihotels?sk=app_107748489311189 Finally, the hotelier may utilize the free of charge Google Analytics tool to measure and analyze website traffic. For example, the hotelier might want to know where visitors come from geographically, what types of site redirect visitors to the website (e.g. Google, review sites) or whether a TripAdvisor business listing really pays off. Surely, all tools presented also apply to mobile website and booking engine. Nonetheless, almost all marketing tools that were presented are not free of charge. In the following we are going to have a look at the potential fees of a selecion of marketing tools and solutions that a hotel organization must settle when utilizing them... Example cost calculation when participating at a programme of the OTA Orbitz (all figures are fictive): Pricing TripAdvisor Business Listing:

TripAdvisor Business Listing annual subscription fees depend on the hotel's number of rooms. For example, a hotel with less than 10 rooms is charged €400 and a hotel with more than 500 rooms is charged €10,000.
However, a marketing firm such as TravelClick often can provide its clients with special negotiated prices. Finally, I am going to introduce a selection of online marketing best practices... Ensure a high quality product:

It is crucial that the hotel's product and service live up to the guests' expectations and that the hotel delivers its value for money promise. Sometimes an investment in the hotel's refurbishment is more effective than investing in an elaborated online marketing strategy. Effective picture management:

Pictures say more than a 1,000 words. Research has shown that visual content is one of the most influential aspects for shoppers when booking a hotel. Hence, it is important that only attractive, up to date pictures, videos and virtual tours can be found on the web. Important visual content distributors for the travel industry are VFM Leonardo, ICE Portal or GIATA. Since not all channels and websites accept visual content directly from hotels, content distributors act as intermediaries and distribute rich media and pictures. The distributors have networks consisting of thousands of partners to which the pictures are distributed in the required format. Do not create too many room types:

Too many room types are likely to confuse potential guests. Thus, not more than around six room types should be offered and differences among them should be indicated clearly. Load meaningful room descriptions:

Ensure that you provide a clear and attractive description of your room types. Use appealing and positive adjectives and verbs and name all benefits that the room type offers. Price premium room types to sell:

In case your hotel offers premium room types ensure that they are sold: selling a premium room very frequently at a lower price might be better than rarely selling it at a very high rate. Price room types logically:

The potential guest clearly needs to know for which surcharge he or she receives extra benefits. For example, for €30 more the room boasts a mountain view and, in addition, free wireless Internet connection is available. Clear rate structure and discounting:

Once more clarity and simplicity are important. A limited number of rates should be available and it must be clear which conditions apply for which type of discount. Load inventory for at least 365 days:

To make sure that your hotel is also available for early bookers, ensure that inventory is bookable at least one year in advance. To conclude: You as a successful hotelier must be aware of all network interrelationships and consequences of your decisions.
Furthermore, it is crucial to develop a suitable strategy for YOUR hotel organization. It is not easy, it not a video game, it is not child’s play but very hard work.
However, when you succeed you will become a happy and wealthy hotelier. Happy and wealthy hotelier with all in mind Pricing CRS

Often fees for hotels depend on the hotels’ estimated annual revenue generation via the CRS. The higher the expected revenue via the CRS the lower the fees for a single booking will be.
First, initial set up fees are charged which can range from around $1,000 to around $50,000, depending on what options and add-ons are chosen. Further charges apply in case a mobile booking engine, a PMS or a channel management tool is integrated.
Secondly, standing charges that apply for each booking are defined. Usually hotels can choose between a flat fee (e.g. $10) or a percentage of the booking revenue (around 3% - 5%). Charges vary between rate types (e.g. corporate, group, standard) and distribution channels (web, ODD, GDS, voice). An additional flat pass through fee applies for each ODD and GDS booking (around $5). Pricing Creation of Websites

The charges for designing a website depend on the number of website pages and additional services (e.g. SEO). Depending on the before mentioned aspects, costs range from around $5,000 to around $50,000. Pricing Consortia Programmes

Generally, participation fees for Consortia Programmes depend on the consortium. Often hotel representation and marketing firms have negotiated agreements with consortia so that the firms are able to offer more attractive conditions to their client hotels. In addition, participation in consortia is often bundled to package offerings. For example, participation at American Express, Carlson Wagonlit Travel and HRG is offered for a unique price.
Hence, annual programme participation costs range from around $2,000 to around $8,000.
A hotel needs to choose its participation wisely and consider the number of bookings and revenue that the relevant consortia generate in the hotel’s market. Furthermore, to give a higher incentive to consortia TAs it might be necessary to offer a commission that is higher than the usual 10%. Pricing Preferred Placements

Charges for Sabre Spotlight, Amadeus Instant Preference and the like depend on the GDS revenue of the hotel as well as on the market. The higher the GDS revenue via the particular GDS and the fiercer market competitiveness, the higher the fees will be. Hence, annual subscription fees can vary between around $2,000 and $15,000. Pricing Social Media Optimization

SMO services offered by marketing firms include activities such as the analysis of the most appropriate sites to engage with, the creation of profiles on these sites, the submission of content and reviews, the development and execution of a linking strategy and the consultancy regarding SMO best practices. Annual charges vary from $4,000 to $6,000. Pricing Search Engine Optimization

SEO services offered by marketing firms include activities such as keyword researching, SEO strategy development, analysis of the competitive set, monitoring and reporting and the setup of a Google Analytics tracking capability. Annual charges vary from $4,000 to $6,000. Example reporting capabilities of modern CRSs.

The CRS user can specify for a certain time frame:
The number of room nights and the amount of revenue that was produced by a certain rate type
Which language setting was used when online shoppers booked the hotel
The number of booking engine landings and how many of these landings generated sales
What gender guests have and whether they are adults or children
On which day of the week online shoppers booked, checked-in or checked-out
What lead times specific rates have
… Other example functionalities of modern CRSs:
Steering e-mail campaigns
Creating pre- and post-stay e-mails
Control pieces of information regarding for example the property, room types, pictures, rates, terms and conditions that is displayed on the booking engine
Control pieces of information that are displayed on GDSs (an exception is the Hotel Online Description)
Create theme packages
Apply very specific restrictions and conditions on rate and on property level, such as minimum and maximum length of stay, closed to arrival and departure or both, discounts when potential guests book at a certain time, yielding, interconnect certain rates with other rates etc.
… Following this brief introduction I am going to provide you with an overview of the online hotel distribution network and its main players as well as its interconnections. Example of Priceline programme conditions (figures are estimations):

Participation at...
23% margin: Merchant
21% margin: Merchant and Non-Exclusive Opaque
21% margin: Merchant and Package
19% margin: Merchant and Exclusive* Opaque
19% margin: Merchant and Package and Exclusive* Opaque

* In case the hotelier agrees to "Exclusive" the hotel is contractually not allowed to participate at any other opaque programes (e.g. Hotwire).

Subsequently, depending on the programme, the rates are loaded into Pegasus ODD or Worldspan. Copyright with A. Klein June 2011 TravelClick Visual Content
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