What is an Open API and Why Do Hotels Need Them?
By Clay Bassford, founder of Bespoke Sound
If you're a decision-maker at a hotel, you may not know what an API is or why it matters. But you should. While APIs are important to the work of people like hospitality tech managers and decision makers at any modern-day hotel, they affect the entire organization. Think about it: Technology is a major part of the modern hospitality industry and the organizations that are transforming entire swaths of the industry are all digitally-based: OTAs, Airbnb, even payment processing.
Unfortunately, there's still a protectionist attitude held by some traditionalists (yes, even in the hospitality industry) that keep APIs, and therefore valuable data, trapped behind exorbitantly expensive pay walls or need-to-know-basis-style information hoarding.
The good news is that APIs are trending towards being open, meaning developers can freely access them in order to link systems, gather more information, and create a streamlined experience for users and customers. In fact, many of the most powerful tech companies in the world have open, readily-accessible APIs.
So let's take a look at what APIs are, how they work for hotels, what you can do to make sure you have the right setup.
What is an API?
First off, let's look at what an API actually is. Short version: it's a means for communicating between systems. It could be your internet browser calling up the news from your favorite news outlet. It could be the weather app on your phone pulling weather data from a 3rd party weather monitor. Or it could be booking.com pushing updates to your CRS or channel manager.
"API" stands for "Application Program Interface." If we carefully break that down, we find the meaning: it is a way for applications or programs to interface, or connect and communicate with each other. There are many different methods to enable applications to talk to each other. In hospitality tech especially, there are tons of methods used. But that's a bit beyond our level of interest at the moment, so let's stick with the basic concept: An API is how two systems communicate. To learn more about what an API is, check out this great primer by Zapier.
How do APIs Work for Hotels?
Let's take look at a hypothetical example to get a better idea of how an API might work in a hotel. Let's say that you run an independent city hotel in historical center of Prague, Czech Republic. What would you use from a technological standpoint? First, you need to have a PMS as your core system. Then, you probably have a few other internal systems: an accounting system, a housekeeping system, and an entertainment system, and so on. Yet another layer of complexity is introduced when you belong to a hotel chain and things like a central reservation system come into play.
Take a look at this hotel tech distribution chart to get an idea of how many different applications may need to be connected over an API layer.
Having all of these systems presents several challenges. On a technical level, probably the biggest challenge is to make those systems talk to each other and share information. For example, many of those systems must be able to share and synchronize information such as hotel rates, reservations, guest information, and so on. You also have many different interfaces for human-system interaction: computers, kiosks, smart TVs, and cell phones to name a few. Most likely, all of these systems come from different vendors and providers. Yet these systems must all be able to communicate with each other and share information.
But that doesn't mean you can just automatically sync programs with the click of a button. Programs are coded using different complex languages, and have their own internal methodologies and rules for processing data and doing what we need them to do. So developers must build externally-facing functionalities in their programs so that you can, for instance, publish a photo from your camera roll on Instagram without either app crashing.
Why an open API?
An Open API means that the externally-facing part of the application is more or less public. It is designed in a standard manner that allows very easy integration with other programs. In such a complex environment as the one given above, all these systems need to have a clear and seamless API layer like this so that the communication and synchronization between them happens efficiently. The better and "cleaner" this API layer is, the less time and money is needed to connect systems and maintain them.
And more importantly, it will help you provide better experiences for your guests and will make your staff's jobs easier. A system with a great API can even be leveraged for building your own reports or entire applications on top of it. The final, and most crucial advantage, administratively speaking, of an open or at least well-built API is you can change hardware or software as needed, because your old data is easily accessible. Meaning, as you grow, the API can grow with you.
As you can see from these last examples, having a good API allows for powerful integration, connectivity, and maximum value out of the programs you're using, and data you have. Open APIs represent a philosophy of integration in the truest sense of the word. It acknowledges the fact that many of the apps, programs, and systems we use are interlinked, and that there is huge possibilities in further linking these systems. Instead of walling off program from program, and, importantly, users from data that they own, we should be encouraging users to use the data available to them and maximize their toolset by using their digital tools in tandem with each other, and this should be allowed, free-of-charge.
As citizenM COO Lennert De Jong told us recently, "Hotels need to be more open. They should reduce the amount of friction that they're applying to new types of technologies. You are in charge of how you want to do your things, so don't let anyone take you hostage, in a technology contract or in your commercial distribution contracts."
In fact, there are highly-reputable associations like OpenTravel and HTNG who set standards for industry players, and encourage those in hospitality to foster the sharing of travel data and designing of systems and technology that work well together.
Clay Bassford is the founder of Bespoke Sound. He's also a music producer and DJ, with a background in the Berlin and NYC startup scenes and in hospitality. He lives in Copenhagen and enjoys cycling around the city hunting for records and ramen. Feel free to write him here: [email protected]More from Clay Bassford
Founded in 2012 with the vision to build hospitality's premier data platform independent of any brand or software provider, SnapShot is now one of the largest hospitality data processors in the world, managing transactional data of over 6,000 independent and branded hotels worldwide, with over 45 different connected PMS systems, and growing. With the release of the Hospitality Data Platform, SnapShot enters its third phase, which brings forward its founding vision: a secure data platform, visualization capabilities, and marketplace.
To find out more, please visit snapshot.travel.