Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Fatal Flaw

Anyone who uses the Internet to search for hotels has run into a fatal flaw. Not with the Web itself but with old-school Global Distribution Systems (GDS). I say old school because Travelocity, which owns Sabre, updated theirs. But Priceline appears stuck with one that can be very inconvenient for travelers.
When these old databases were first organized, they were for travel agents. They were built on the very strange premise that there would be one airport in each city, and the airport would be in the center of that city. So a search of hotels would give you results in a certain radius from the airport. Not very useful unless your destination is the airport.

Of course, rarely is the airport in the center, and many airports, like Raleigh-Durham International Airport, are located not in but midway between distinct and separate cities. So if a traveler is coming through RDU and isn’t geographically savvy about this area, her reservation has equal odds of being right on target… or a 60-mile round trip from where she is visiting.

The easy solution is always to book on the destination’s website, if like Durham, they’ve eliminated this confusion. Another solution is that airlines and these GDS systems need to move into the real world. Airports aren’t synonymous with cities. Even in a centric area, airports are rarely in the center. People visit communities, towns and cities, not airports; they have a destination in mind, and convenient facilities are very important.

But beyond airlines, it is the intermediary, like Priceline, that really needs to put pressure on the GDS they use to move into the real world. Or, like Travelocity, buy one and bring it up to date.

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