17 May

Telling the customer where to go

Do you remember the story from 2009 of the flying Dutchman?  He was looking forward to visiting his family in Wollongong and Tallong, just South of Sydney.  Accompanied by his 15 year old grandson, they departed Amsterdam and after a change of planes at Halifax, finally touched down in Sydney.  I guess they might have been surprised at how short the journey was as they had arrived in Sydney, Nova Scotia, not Australia.  They had booked flights to the wrong place.

Clare MacDougall, who works for Air Canada, was at Sydney Airport (Nova Scotia) to meet the aircraft.  "When the door opened, the flight attendant said: "You're not going to believe it but we have two people who thought they were en route to Sydney, Australia.""  The airline was very good about the predicament and flew the pair back to Amsterdam.

According to a recent survey, apparently one of the most common complaints made by holidaymakers is that the hotel is not where they expected it to be.  This displacement is not usually as drastic as the two Sydneys but nevertheless can cause inconvenience and disappointment.

So, for example, if you search for Disneyland Paris on booking.com you get a fine selection of 134 hotels ranged far and wide.  Clicking on the map doesn’t help much as Disneyland Paris is not shown so you have no idea whether a hotel is closely to the theme park or not.  Expedia is better.  Its map flags Disneyland Paris and shows you the locations of 92 hotels (eight are nearby).

If you are interested in holidaying in places such as the Costa del Sol or Cote d’Azur, the location of these places will vary from website to website.  My favourite is Google maps that places the Cote d’Azur pin in the middle of the Ocean about 20 miles offshore.  Clearly catering for the yacht-set!

There seems to be a need for standardisation of location definitions, both names and geographic boundaries.  This would greatly help holidaymakers who, when shopping around for a hotel, could rely on the fact that a location’s name and position are the same whatever website they are visiting.

One of my favourite mapping apps is what3words .  It has done a great job in providing a global system to pinpoint locations.  It has divided the whole globe into a grid of 57 trillion three metre squares.  Each square has a three word address that can be communicated quickly, easily and with no ambiguity.  Take a look at the website and see what three words defines your front door. 

I don’t think that this is the solution, though, for the travel and tourism industry that needs to define touristic areas such as the Cote d’Azur as well as pinpoint precise locations; nor does Travel Technology Initiative.  TTI is a not-for-profit organisation that promotes data standards in the travel industry.  It is now widely known for its unique hotel identifiers, TTIcodes, which allow travel companies to positively identify hotels across multiple bedbanks, even when the same hotel has been given different names by different vendors.

TTI is holding a workshop on 19 May to explore how the travel industry might be able to help itself and its customers by creating standards for locations and location services.  The workshop will look at today’s best practice and attendees will discuss how this initiative might be moved forward. 

I would like to think that the travel industry can work together on this for mutual benefit.  If you are interested in joining this initiative let me know and I will put you in touch with TTI.