Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Making online hotel reservations can be impossible

Airline ticket searches can suck, too, but let's stick to hotels for a second.

I'm trying to find my bro a hotel in or around Boston tonight. Can't do it.

Expedia and Orbitz and others give several hundred listings in return to my search, but they all say "click this to find out more", at which point they say "nothing availalbe", or they all say some combination of "nothing available" or "you must book this room for at least 'x' number of nights", etc.

WTF is the point of returning invalid results?

It's pretty unbelievable. All the interfaces are perfectly confusing - Expedia, etc. They're all basically terrible. Which is why any small improvement in travel/leisure-related search bets bought by one of the big players - to stifle innovation.

To me, it's pretty clear that the travel and leisure industry, as much as internet warriors would like to believe otherwise, are still severely locked down by old monied interests.

The reservations systems (or, 'Global Distribution Systems', GDSs) are largely controlled by Sabre (44%) and Worldspan (25%), and a couple of other smaller players. That's our deadlock right there -- a simple oligopoly of very large and powerful corporations who see no reason to compete with one another. Why bother?

So, how do we pry power out of their hands?

I'm sure this has been something that Google has been working on for some time. I wouldn't doubt, that within five years, Google gets big enough and strong enough to get one of the little guys to bite, and that sets off a chain reaction where Google and others start actually making travel reservation information more freely available - providing either an open repository for such information, like Google Base, or just indexing the reservation information directly themselves. They already provide a simple onebox for some flight information, like if you search for 'austin to boston'. I don't know if that was done with the cooperation of the crooks at the GDSs or not.

I'm thinking there have to be some ongoing efforts right now, at startups around the U.S. and possibly elsewhere, to go around the entire existing GDS infrastructure. Fuck it. Start will small carriers and work your way up the food chain.

Possible? I dunno, but it seems worth a try, given the current state of affairs.


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