An internet booking engine (short for ‘IBE’) is a software component that enables the distribution of travel products online. This software is necessary to sell and buy hotel reservations or airline tickets via the web.
Online travel booking engine software of various kinds are used by travel-related businesses to automate core processes instead of relying on human staff. Let’s dig deeper and examine what they can actually do and what specific tasks and functions they perform for travel companies.
The essence of the Internet Booking Engine
An IBE is one of the most important facilitators for uninterrupted online distribution of travel products in the modern travel industry. It acts as an intermediary between the consumer and the travel provider. It establishes connection to client interface on one side to receive search requests. On the other hand, it connects to different warehouse systems travel api providers — for example hotels, airlines, car rental, etc. — to manage and distribute their inventory.
Customer Interfaces may represent the website, chatbot or mobile application of a travel provider that links to IBE via appropriate API interfaces. This allows the end customer to book travel products such as flights, hotel rooms, holiday packages, insurances and more.
There can be different types of supplier systems. The most common among them are:
- Global Distribution Systems (GDS),
- sofa beds,
- airline consolidation databases,
- property management system (PMS) for hotels/hotel chains,
- airline reservation system.
The booking engine connects to these solutions via APIs to find products that match the specified customer query. It then checks their availability, retrieves prices and proceeds to complete a booking. This means that the system is informed that a specific product is reserved for a specific date by a specific customer. The booking is complete when the system confirms the booking. IBE then creates a confirmation containing the relevant booking information and sends it to the customer via e-mail.
In addition to their main function, the booking engines used today usually have the following functions that help increase sales.
Mapping travel content. Booking engines often receive information from various channels (for example bed banks, GDS, hotels, travel consolidators and so on). This can lead to duplicate search results due to data inconsistency between different providers. For example, the same room can be named differently in different inventories. To effectively differentiate between them, booking engines must use mapping tools (either built-in or external) to process inventory lists.
Dynamic packaging. It allows a customer to mix different travel products – rooms, flights, attractions, excursions and so on – as part of the same booking workflow.
Payment gateway connection. Booking engines do not normally handle the payments in connection with bookings. Instead, they connect to multiple payment gateways to enable secure online transactions during the booking process. When a customer selects a travel item from the search results, IBE then redirects them to a payment gateway.
Multilingual support. Many travel companies offer services globally or at least in several countries. So they need to receive and handle questions in many different languages.
Booking management. It includes the ability to change bookings such as changing dates, adding extra products after booking and canceling bookings.
All booking engines seem to work the same way. But their workflow can change drastically based on a variety of factors.
Custom business rules. They specify where a booking engine looks and how it orders the results presented to a consumer.
Pricing rules. They are established and modified by a revenue manager or other expert who selects the service charges applied to net pricing.
Suppliers linked to the given booking engine. Each of them is equipped with its unique business logic and specific characteristics that affect the internal work process.
Extra features and custom features. There is always a chance for improvement, so on average a booking engine needs to be customized to suit a specific company’s requirements. Since booking tools are not identical, we will examine below how IBEs can vary depending on the business model (B2C, B2B and B2E).
Booking engine types by business model: B2C, B2B and B2E
Depending on their applied business model, booking engines can be business-to-customer (B2C), business-to-business (B2B) or business-to-enterprise (B2E).
B2C booking engines for individual leisure travelers or OTAs’ B2C booking engines facilitate direct bookings for the end user. They are used by hotel websites and airline online portals, hotel booking facilities, online travel agencies (OTAs) and many other retailers in the travel industry. In addition to the common functionality, most IBEs have a number of features that are of utmost importance for B2C sales. These include the following features that are essential for the B2C segment:
- mobile friendly UI/UX,
- built-in shopping cart,
- marketing of travel products based on search and booking history, as well as
- customer notification system that confirms different stages in the booking process.
B2B booking tool for OTAs and wholesalers
B2B booking systems enable travel wholesalers (eg consolidators, bedbanks), destination management companies (DMCs) or established OTAs such as Expedia to sell products and services in bulk to other travel industry players – smaller travel agencies or corporate customers. As part of this process, villages receive special prices not provided on B2C, along with additional functionality such as:
- flexible mark-ups and commissions,
- bookings without immediate payment, and
- PDF document generation for booking confirmations along with a retailer’s logo.
B2B customers (smaller agents) can access the large GDSs via login credentials belonging to IBE’s owner (host agency). In this way, they avoid the need to make large installments required by GDS contract terms. They also do not have to give away money on ARC (Airline Reporting Corporation) or IATA certifications that allow the issuance of airline tickets. The host agency gets this covered.
Business to employee booking tool for TMCs and corporate travelers
B2E booking engines cater to the needs of TMCs and their customers – usually large and established companies. A platform supported by a B2E booking system allows employees to book business travel at negotiated rates on behalf of their business unit. Business rules in this case are aligned with the organization’s travel policy and may provide spending limits or other restrictions depending on the actual staff category.
Booking engine settings for multiple models
Many travel companies can use two or even business models at the same time as part of a common booking engine. Upon registration, end users, travel agencies and corporate customers are given access to specific interfaces, prices and options. For example, a hotel website can offer different prices for the same room to different companies or even individuals.
Regardless of the actual business model applied, direct travel suppliers belonging to airlines and hotels will have many differences compared to travel agents – brokers, DMCs, online travel agencies or third party sellers.
IBE for Newbies: How to Move Online Effectively
Travel companies that decide to launch an online presence for the first time have several paths to take. The final choice depends on resources, requirements and the expected level of control over the booking process.
Before proceeding, it is important to give due consideration to all applicable factors. A rational option would be to consult an experienced travel software company for detailed and reliable implementation guidelines.
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