Monthly Archives: May 2013

My Illinois

A summary Travel Blog following a wonderful FAM trip to Illinois – Courtesy of Travelmole: http://www.travelmole.com and Cellet Marketing: http://www.cellet.co.uk

http://windowsofmichigan.com/

Grand Rapids in the evening

Picture courtesy of http://windowsofmichigan.com

From the moment we stepped into the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse at Heathrow I knew this was going to be an experience of a lifetime.  Booked in for a quick trim, we made our way to the restaurant.  Scrambled Eggs and Brown Bread Toast was my order of the day followed by a relaxing Bloody Mary, or two!  A very chilled experience with comfortable surroundings and a great hairdressing team who prepared me for the flight ahead.

Called last minute to walk through to the flight there was no rush as we took our seats in Virgins re-invented Premium Economy.  Luxurious new leather seats and a fabulous new audio/video system which made the flight to Chicago a mere three movies, a cocktail in the upper class bar,  lunch and dinner!

Flying into Chicago was amazing, although the airport, like Heathrow, was some way from the city.  Greeted by the picture postcard hi-rise buildings we spent the first day and night just off the Main Strip (Michigan Avenue).  Walking down Michigan Avenue (Chicago’s main vista) and seeing the side roads with the overhead railway (Elevated Railway) and the red painted iron struts holding it up, I was reminded of such great Chicago-based movies as: Ferris Bueller, Home Alone, Breakfast Club, The Fugitive, Blues Brothers, Uncle Buck, National Lampoon’s Vacation and The Untouchables.  We topped it off with a great shopping spree diving in shops such as Sears and Macy’s, to name but a few.

So, day two we hot-footed it up to the Great Lakes and a City I had never heard of before: Grand Rapids.  Located on the Grand River in the state of Michigan, it is the second largest city in Michigan only losing out to Detroit.  Gerald Ford (38th US President) comes from here and he and his wife Betty are buried there.  Grand Rapids comes across as a City of Culture, with a large annual art festival  Festival of the Arts [http://www.festivalgr.org], and a major Beer Brewery with a wide range of excellent beers which we sampled at the brilliant “Founders Brewing Co [http://foundersbrewing.com]”.  There we sampled such exotic sounding beers as “Dirty Bastard” and “Bolt Cutter”.  We stayed at the luxurious Amway Grand Plaza Hotel [http://www.amwaygrand.com] which was excellent in every respect.  I have an extremely high expectation of any hotel I stay at and the Amway did not disappoint   From its sumptuous grand entrance lobby to the Starbucks within the Hotel, everything was perfect.  If they could just leave the bars open a little later that would be my only gripe!  The rooms were beautifully appointed and my room had plenty of space, a huge desk, a large King bed and a modern executive bathroom.  The goodies that were waiting my arrival went down well with Petit Fours, Champagne and Voss water!   Whilst wandering the streets on a balmy Sunday morning, I stumbled upon a superb little Vinyl record store [Gerry Dodds Record Shop, 20 Division Avenue, South] where I picked up some great classic vinyl at an affordable price!  Suffice to say I loved Grand Rapids and now I frequently wear the t-shirt – literally!

One other place that we visited that really deserves a mention was Holland!  Yes Michigan has it’s own little Holland with a clean and modern main street with a touch of the real Holland including Wind Mill and Dutch immigrants.  Whilst there you must pop to Lake Michigan and visit Holland Harbor Light also known as Big Red due to it’s bright red paintwork, followed by an equisite bed of bread-crumbed king prawns at the Piper Restaurant  with its panoramic views of Lake Macatawa and Eldean Marina [http://piperrestaurant.com].  Try either the pizza or the pan toasted salmon and crusty calamari washed down with a glass of Great Lakes Brewing, Edmund Fitzgerald Porter – a must!

To conclude, without a personal recommendation, I would have missed one of my new favourite cities in the world: Chicago!  I have only ever considered New York city before,  yet if I had not gone to the Great Lakes I would have missed one of the best cities I have ever visited.  Clean, fresh, interesting, brilliant, all spring to mind.  Thank you Cellet Marketing & Public Relations and the Grand Rapids!

P.S. Take the guided boat trip around Chicago – it’s the best experience ever and you learn why it’s called the Windy city (its not what you think as it’s not windy)!

Does the Travel Industry need standards?

Published in Travolution magazine Q1 2013 http://www.travolution.co.uk/
http://imgs.xkcd.com/comics/standards.png

How standards proliferate

In a world where technology is now being used more and more to drive sales and provide travel customers with as much content and flexibility as they demand how do we get that content quickly to market?  Most suppliers use proprietary XML interfaces (API’s) to enable sales systems and web developers to connect to their products.  Why should this connectivity be a black art and only available to the “chosen” few?

For Travel Technology suppliers such as Comtec we have to do many things.  We have to have a flexible sales product that facilitates a variety of holiday components: Packages, Dynamic Packages, Tailor-Made, flight only, Car hire, Accommodation.  You name it, we have to provide it!  We also have to adhere to payment card processing rules and regulations (PCI-DSS) and other legal requirements such as ATOL Flight+ Certification.
It takes us many days of development and testing to implement new 3rd party interfaces for accommodation, car hire, flights: Low cost and GDS, extras such as theatre tickets and excursions.  This is because each one of these suppliers we connect with has their own bespoke interface.  We know that an hotel bed requires a duration, a passenger configuration, a room type, extras like fruit or a bottle of champagne. So why do we have to write a specific interface to add a new bed bank or low cost flight API? Surely the requirements are the same for each?
The problem is that any standard has to be adopted to become a “standard”.  The Open Travel Alliance (open travel.org) has tried to set such a standard. The problem is that only a few suppliers have implemented it, and then, because it can often fall short of requirements, those who have implanted it have to add their own set of extensions to support their product.  This then makes the standard non standard, and so it goes on.
So, what do we have to do to become standard?  We have internally tried to write a standard interface and originally started to use the OTA format but quickly realised only some of the 3rd party suppliers product would be supported by it.  If there were an adopted standard we could implement integrations quickly and would probably only need to test the interface rather than analyse, write and test each bespoke integration.  What would happen to integrators who’s only role in the supply chain layer is to consolidate 3rd party suppliers?  Maybe that’s the answer, to adopt an integrator who has all of the product you need and integrate to their interface?  Therein lies another problem: finding a consolidator who has all of the product demanded by our customers: it doesn’t exist!
The mapping suppliers are providing standards such as KML, GPX and KMZ.  This enables a developer to integrate mapping quickly and easily.  Apple iPhone developers can use standard modules and tools to mashup maps, location and other services and use them in their apps using nothing more than “drag and drop” so why not supplier API’s.
Each week I get suppliers asking us to integrate their product – we look at their interfaces and realise it’s going to cost us to develop the integration.  We then have to workup the ROI to see whether any time spent on the integration is going to provide us with a good return on investment.  If not we might never integrate the supplier.  I have asked three suppliers in the last week if they are OTA compliant and one said: “whats the OTA” and the other two said no.  So, it is here that I have stumbled on the answer.  It’s the suppliers that need to get together and make sure their API is based on a standard.  Suppliers: then give us a call and we can get our customers to sell your product quickly and easily: which is what you want?  If you don’t have an appetite to do this then perhaps we can do this for you?
Now…let’s talk about web browsers standards!