Talk to anybody who has tried to clean up corporate hotel data, and you’ll know they hate doing it. It’s a pain in the butt to take a company’s hotel booking data from its TMC, and merge it with the company’s paid hotel data from its corporate card.
The first and arguably hardest step is to normalize the hotel identities. Somehow, you have to recognize that a credit card transaction at the “Marriott Courtyard in Salt Lake” should be tied to the reservation made at the “Courtyard by Marriott in Saltlake City”.
The variation in hotel names, as captured by the travel agencies, GDSs and credit card providers, is nothing short of maddening. And we’re not yet even talking about the problems caused when a property changes its flag, e.g. changes from a Hampton Inn to a Holiday Inn Express.
The solution is barcoding, figuratively speaking. Somebody needs to establish a database of hotel properties, each with its own barcode – a unique identifying number. The barcode stays with the physical location of the property, as defined in three dimensions – latitude, longitude and altitude. (Altitude solves the problem of having two or more hotel properties in the same skyscraper.)
The rest of the database captures the data attributes about the hotel – its name, address, phone number, room count, etc. These attributes are what database jockeys call slowly-changing data. They are quite different from fast-changing data, such as room rates and inventory levels.
Once a three-dimensional property has its own unique identity, then it can be linked to any number of aliases – names by which the property is known in GDSs, TMCs, and credit card providers’ databases. From there, the whole process of mapping a card transaction and a TMC booking to the right property becomes a whole lot easier. Not entirely hands-free, but a huge improvement over what we face today.
No question, the accuracy of this slowly-changing database needs to be maintained, which means ongoing costs to the database provider. But wouldn’t the industry be better off by having one really well-maintained database, rather than the countless hotel databases that exist across TMCs, card providers, data reporting tools, consultancies and RFP platforms?
Maybe the solution is for one of the data reporting firms (TRX, Cornerstone, Travel GPA?) to partner with someone like Smith Travel Research, with the goal of creating subscriber-based access to the most accurate hotel database available. Or, perhaps such a database exists, and it just needs better marketing.
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