A proper vacation can restore motivation and enthusiasm, soothe the soul, and stir the spirit. Europeans have the right idea, taking off the entire month of August. Those of us who don’t have quite as generous a vacation benefit try to squeeze the most out of our days off. Conference calls with travel agents, stacks of travel guides, relentless quizzing of friends and relatives . . . it’s all done in the name of planning the perfect getaway.
Travelocity (www.travelocity.com) gives do-it-yourself vacation planners a new way to explore the world and get the information they need to plan the trip of a lifetime or a relaxing weekend in the country. A joint project of SABRE Interactive, a leading provider of online travel reservation services, and Worldview Systems Corporation, a leading publisher of interactive and online destination information, Travelocity is a powerful, one-stop travel center on the World Wide Web for intrepid explorers and vacation dreamers alike. Travelocity puts everything you need for planing the perfect trip in one place, from in-depth information on places to go and things to do to mapping functions and an online airline-reservation and booking system. Travelocity relies on the Oracle7 RDBMS to deliver speed and functionality online.
Travel information and booking have been available for several years on commercial online services. But the functionality available was limited. Several content providers have offered destination information but not reservation information. SABRE Interactive has provided easySABRE online for more than ten years, but it offered no window on the world for exploring destinations. There was no connection between learning about a particular destination and booking a flight to get there.
“We’d been in the travel business for a long time,” says Terry Jones, president of SABRE Interactive. “Over time, we were able to see how people plan a vacation. Some people start with a destination, for example, San Francisco or Paris, or they want to visit a relative in Ann Arbor, Michigan. They know where they want to go; they just need to make arrangements to get there. Other people start with what they like to do—for instance, they may like skiing or going to Scottish Folk Festivals. They need a way to get their information and then make their reservations.
“We knew strategically that we wanted to add a destinations guide,” he continues. “Worldview, which has been in the destination information business for a long time, had the analog to that view. Our strategic plans were the inverse of each other, which made for a nice fit.”
“Like SABRE, Worldview was a pioneer in the travel industry,” says Neal Checkoway, president and CEO of Worldview Systems. “Worldview carved out a niche by making customized, time-sensitive destination information available to travelers for planning their trips.” Primarily, Worldview’s and SABRE’s databases were available to the customers of subscribing travel agencies and other travel arrangers and suppliers, but the World Wide Web opened the door to the do-it-yourself traveler.
Unlike some travel-destination Web sites that have been cobbled together from printed information, Travelocity was designed specifically to take advantage of the power and interactivity afforded by the World Wide Web. Travelocity is content and feature rich, offering text, graphics, video, and multimedia throughout the Destinations & Interests section of the site, as well as a Chats & Forums section and an online store where browsers can buy the accouterments of travel.
The Travel Reservations section of the site offers schedules for more than 700 airlines, with ticketing and reservations for more than 400 of those airlines. SABRE’s FlightFinder automatically searches more than 900 itinerary combinations for the lowest fare available between multiple cities. And before the end of the year, travelers will be able to book reservations at more than 31,000 hotels and 50 car-rental companies around the world.
Oracle7 lies at the core of the two systems. “Our information is very well organized,” says B.D. Goel, vice president of product development at Worldview Systems. “It lends itself very well to a relational model. All the content items in our database are segmented into fields—information such as hours, address, a brief description, credit cards accepted, and so on. The data is sorted into about 120 categories and 22,000 cities. You can’t really manage this as a set of documents.”
Worldview had depended on Oracle technology for several years to deliver its “private label” destination information service to travel agents. The decision to continue to use Oracle as the enabling technology for the Web-based offering was prompted by several practical considerations. “Originally, our editorial system was running on DOS running on Novell servers,” Goel says. “We knew we were going to go to a UNIX platform, but we didn’t know which one. Oracle was the best choice because it supports almost all the platforms. The stability of the system and the popularity of the system made it a clear answer.
“Additionally, some of the information in our system comes from third-party content providers, and to our pleasant surprise, when we asked what database they used, most of them said they used Oracle. It makes it very easy for us to get their data and merge it into ours,” Goel says.
Currently, the Oracle7 database provides online transaction processing for the purchase of travel accessories and the delivery of information to clients via the Internet. The database manages more than 200,000 electronic pages and abstracts.
By happy coincidence, SABRE Interactive had also relied on Oracle7 for several years, explains Jones. “Travelocity is a front end to our SABRE mainframe system. Oracle sits on top of the mainframe, providing database services for customer service, customer database, customer profiles, and local caching. Oracle is the preferred database here in the midrange systems. We saw no reason to change. Oracle was giving us good service and good performance.”
Truth be told, Travelocity is two sites in one, but rigorous attention to look and feel give it a unified interface. The destination database resides at Worldview headquarters in San Francisco, California, on a network of Sun SPARC servers from Sun Microsystems, while the travel-reservations system resides on SABRE Interactive’s network of Silicon Graphics Challenge servers, in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The systems share information about registered members, including travel preferences, passwords, and user IDs. But to end users, it’s all transparent.
Plans are underway to integrate the information between the systems so, for example, someone browsing destination information on Madrid, Spain, would have flight information a mouse-click away. Additional plans call for increased personalization of information using intelligent agents, automatic notification of travel specials to preferred destinations, and a recommendations feature. End users will be able to enter their favorite home-town restaurants, and the database will generate a list of suggestions at their destination.
In the meantime, Travelocity is proving to be a successful venture and a popular site. Since the site launch in March 1996, more than 200,000 people have become registered members and there have been more than 1.6 million individual site visits. And ticket bookings have far exceeded the original expectation. “Bookings are about twice what we planned on,” Jones says. “We’ve got a lot of experience with these things. Having been up on 24 online services, we know how things ramp up, or rather, we thought we did.”
The air-fare wars in July proved the value of the system, says Checkoway. “People were booking their flights on the Web because they couldn’t get through on the telephone.”
The Web is changing the way the travel business works, making information more accessible and transactions more immediate. “The Web is the holy grail,” Goel says. “It’s a piece of technology that everyone was looking for. The potential is unlimited. This has been a great experience as a technologist. It’s very gratifying to see that you can use technology so effectively to make a difference in terms of people’s information use.
“We wouldn’t be able to be as effective as we are today if we didn’t have an RDBMS like Oracle7,” Goel concludes. “We feel comfortable that, as we grow and our technology needs become more sophisticated, Oracle will be able to provide us with what we need.”