One common theme when technical discussions turn to Person-to-Person (P2P) marketplaces is the concept of availability control.
For example, the recently loadedAirBnB has individuals with a room or property which it then promotes and sells to individual travellers.
One accusation aimed at these P2P sites is that individuals (on the supply side), generally, are not so great at keeping availability calendars correct.
The challenge is magnified when the same property is on multiple listing sites. When one booking is received, this requires the individual to log in to multiple websites and block the corresponding dates. Too much work!
A few years back a similar process was common in hotel distribution - that model failed as hoteliers did not log in to multiple extranets sufficiently regularly to keep data correct.
So, if it tends not to work with hotels with full time staff, then relying on the same approach when working with individuals is bound to be model-busting, or so was perceived as conventional wisdom.
Turns out conventional wisdom was wrong.
Step forward KeepMeBooked, a UK-based cloud hosted B&B/guesthouse booking platform. The company noticed that AirBnB use the iCal event format to import simple availability calendars.
Although iCal is designed to show events/calendar entries, Airbnb assume that any date not booked remains available. A neat hack.
Now an individual property owner can use a system like KeepMeBooked as their central booking diary and multiple listing sites can be automatically updated when any booking comes in. No more manual extranet updating work!
Is this groundbreaking? No. Innovative? No. But it is another piece of the jigsaw falling into place.
The important learning from this isn't actually about calendar integrations at all (although that is rather neat) but about the nature of launching a large scale travel startup.
Airbnb has built a brand and consumer traction. It has built a supplier listing (with a few raised eyebrows as to quite how they did that). However, they never built any obvious foundations.
Conventional wisdom was to build system infrastructure/foundations first and go consumer-facing later. Airbnb has turned that on its head - it has gone with traction first, deal with problems of scale later.
Certainly worth reflecting next time you see a travel startup and you ask the dreaded question:
"How will you make that work at scale"?
NB: TLabs Showcase - KeepMeBooked and TLabs Reprise – KeepMeBooked 12 months on
NB2:Technical details of the functionality.