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Monday, 8 March 2010

The search for good hotel rates

Finding a good deal for a hotel room seems easy. You speak to a travel consultant on the phone and tell them when and where you want to go and seconds later they come back with a selection of properties and prices. Alternatively, you fire up your favourite travel search website, plug in your details and moments later you have a range to choose from.

Yet these two fast processes show little of the enormous amounts of technology that sit behind the consultant and the travel website.

There are hundreds of thousands of places to stay in the world, ranging from tiny bed and breakfasts to vast, modern hotels with thousands of rooms that are part of a global chain.

When you do a search, either using a travel agency or a website, the details of all of those hotels have to be searched in an instant and the rooms they have available and the rates they will charge returned to you to make your choice.

For a hotel chain, that is relatively easy. Each hotel in the chain has a property management system containing the availability and rates connected to one or more of the global distribution systems (GDSs).
For a small, individually owned hotel, things are tougher. They usually have a database showing available rooms while the rates change rarely, because they do not have the technical sophistication to adjust rates dynamically according to demand. Sometimes these databases are connected to the internet via a so-called switch company, enabling people around the world to peer inside that database of availability.
The secret of finding a good hotel rate is having access to the widest range of all these types of hotel. Conferma’s Hotel Booker, for example, has access to 150,000 hotel properties worldwide, covering all sizes and shapes of property.

But how can all of that data be crunched so quickly, to give you a rate within seconds? If the hotel is on a GDS, getting a rate quickly is not a problem. Yet that covers only a small proportion of available hotels and even then there may be problems accessing a hotel chain’s property management system fast enough.
The answer involves some clever technology similar to that used by Google when you search for something on the web. Google does not search the entire internet in real time when you enter a search term. Instead, it relies on a snapshot of the internet it has made itself prior to you doing your search.

In the same way, the hotel rate you are quoted on an internet site is not necessarily what you will end up paying because the rate is a snapshot.

As a result, the rates you see show a fine balance fast search and accuracy. Tools like Conferma’s Hotel Booker, however, go further than taking a single snapshot of rates. Instead, it creates a guide rate that is the average of recent booked rates. No guide rate is allowed to get more than 14 days old and as a result it is amazingly accurate. On average, the guide rate is 97% of the ultimate booked rate. What that means is that there is a much smaller trade-off between accuracy and speed. What you see really is (or very nearly is) what you get.

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