Tech giant IBM handily describes APIs as "the building blocks of transformation" and "the digital glue that links services, applications and systems”.
NB: This is an article written by Tnooz in conjunction with Sabre. It follows on from a special report “Mobile in Travel – The End-to-End Impact”.
IBM estimates the API economy will be worth $2.2 trillion in 2018.
In the same way that digital commerce has moved beyond ecommerce and is increasingly about mcommerce (mobile commerce), APIs have adapted as well and are pivotal to the continuing development of mcommerce.
A critical part of mobile's role in travel is its role in last minute bookings, in turn boosting mobile's conversion rate. A Phocuswright report revealed that conversion via mobile for OTAs has often been double that of desktop (5% vs. 2.2%).
And while more than half of all mobile flight bookings are made within seven days of travel, only 18% of searches occur within that timeframe.
Developing the connection
The joy of the API economy is the connectivity it facilitates. In 2015, IBM issued a free beginners’ guide to APIs under the Wiley's "For Dummies..." brand, which used a travel example to highlight how they should be part of your end-to-end business design.
"Consider a traveler who shares her experiences on social channels. One day, she tweets about a really bad experience with Airline A. Ten minutes later, she receives an email from the airline that says: “We’re sorry about your bad experience. Here is what we can do for you.
"The next week, she has a great travel experience with Airline B, and as usual, she tweets about it. Five minutes later, that airline retweets her tweet with this added text: “Happy you had a good experience. See you next time.”
"Both these airlines considered in advance how to weave social channels, through the use of APIs, into their overall business operating models."
This bundling of sector-specific APIs with other travel suppliers will drive future innovations. There is also a wealth of generic public APIs such as Twitter and Facebook, mapping, EventBrite, all of which can be positioned in a travel context.
Connecting the developers
The proliferation of hackathons taking place around the world is as clear a sign as any that the API economy has become mainstream. It’s proven to be a great way to show what APIs can do and for a state-of-the-nation summary of APIs in travel.
Julian Macagno is director of the developer experience at Sabre Travel Network, giving him a dual insight into the world of APIs - the APIs themselves and the developers who work with the APIs.
Last month Sabre ran its Destination Hack in Singapore. "We had nearly thirty teams with developers from fifteen countries, and more than half of them worked on chatbots, so it's clearly a space that developers want to be in," says Macagno.
Linking up a chatbot API with a travel API is made possible by tech giants opening up their APIs to the developer community.
"Apple has opened up its iMessage API, as Google has done with Allo. This along with Facebook Messenger, SnapChat and WeChat, enables developers to connect APIs, such as ours, with new mediums to create new travel experiences. This is the next wave of travel tech."
For example, Chat Planner, one of the Destination Hack challenge winners, linked up Sabre APIs with Expedia APIs to create a chatbot engine that identifies travel conversations and turns them into actionable plans.
While developers get excited about chatbots, there is still enough room for innovation across the entire mobile travel space. APIs are driving that innovation. "We're seeing a lot of ideas coming through based around geo-location and mapping. Lots of projects link Sabre APIs with the public APIs released by Google and Facebook and we're seeing some clever ideas in the works."
The development of REST APIs - easy to consume and optimized for modern development technologies - has brought a new level of functionality to mobile. Sabre has introduced a number of APIs recently, which address and answer some of the most complex situations specific to travel and serve as an example of how APIs are changing the travel game.
The shift towards mobile-optimized APIs is driven by the need to filter the content based on implicit or implied preferences - on any mobile platform. It is about the quality of what is delivered, not the quantity. "This means that the results returned to the device can be personalized more easily to what the user wants at the same time as speeding up the response times, another demand from users." Macagno explained.
"When people are looking for travel options on mobile, what happens behind the scenes needs to be fast and powerful and this is where mobile APIs come in. Google talks about impatience, the idea that people are flicking between apps on their phones and aren't prepared to wait for data to load."
Over the past few years, that front-end innovation in terms of the products mobile users see has been supercharged by back-end innovation. "So what Sabre has done is aggregate and orchestrate multiple APIs into one, which improves performance on the mobile device," he said.
"For example, our Create Passenger Name Record API bundles several functions and operations to create an air reservation through a single call. This optimizes development efforts and operational efficiencies while providing the faster response times needed for mobile."
"Less is more" is a recurring phrase in conversations around mobile, and mobile-optimized APIs are helping that happen. The ultimate goal of Sabre APIs, Macagno said, "is to remove the complexities of travel. We handle that so the developers can build a better experience for the end-user, the traveler, which is what the GDSs have always been about."
NB1: This is an article written by Tnooz in conjunction with Sabre as part of Tnooz's sponsored content initiative. It is the second of three articles and follows on from a special report “Mobile in Travel – The End-to-End Impact" and a webinar featuring Expedia titled “Mobility in Travel: Trends and Industry Insights.” The first article in the series was titled "Mobile in Travel - Startups Moving the Needle."
NB2: Image by pinkypills/BigStock.