Hotel network moves to XML, will log off ASCII

Hotel distribution network Pegasus Solutions Inc. is nearing completion of an XML-based network designed to replace the technology that has formed the core of its business: ASCII.

The Dallas-based company currently provides links to more than 38,000 hotels using an 11-year-old system.

The benefits of the XML-based network include easier connections for hotels and travel agencies, the removal of a significant barrier for Web sites that wish to join the network, and the ability to provide much richer data about individual hotel properties, according to the company.

Steve Reynolds, Pegasus' senior vice president for IT, said the company's ASCII format created a lot of busywork for his department.

"Every time we interfaced with a new third-party distribution, they had to go write code to match the format," he said.

In many cases, travel distribution channels spent months building connections to Pegasus' hub. Using an XML standard, such connections require little or no coding and can be completed within days.

According to Reynolds, part of the impetus for the switch is the influx of Web sites that sell travel products. All of them need hotel content, and Pegasus stands to miss out on a lucrative and growing market if it doesn't reduce its barriers to entry.

"This is the prevailing technology," Reynolds said. "So that's where we aim to be."

Orbitz LLC, a Chicago-based airline-owned travel Web site due to launch in June, will be using Pegasus for hotel reservations. Roger Liew, Orbitz's director of software engineering, said XML will be a welcome addition.

Liew said Orbitz must tinker with its internal applications whenever Pegasus adds attributes in its current format.

"Accessing it through XML should make it easier for us to use new content as they give it to us," he said.

Orbitz's rival travel Web site, Expedia Inc. in Bellevue, Washington, also praised Pegasus for its XML conversion.

"In general, the hotel industry is ripe for standardization," said Bob Hohman, Expedia's business unit manager for lodging. He added that hotels have long suffered from having a lot of information to give while lacking the tools to present that information.

Andrew Hastings, a hotel analyst at Gomez Advisors Inc. in Waltham, Massachusetts, said the hotel industry is, by nature, spread out geographically and technologically. He said he believes XML "is becoming the default standard of the industry that's going to allow [hotels] to become much more nimble and reach much wider audiences."

He praised Pegasus for taking the initiative to convert its core technology, adding that XML will soon be a "must-have" for distribution networks like Pegasus'.

Reynolds said he expects the XML system to enter the beta-testing phase before June.

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