Destination Dubai

Finding an hotel bed in Dubai is a time consuming battle. An Emirates company is looking to change all this with what it tells Colin Edwards is an IT first.

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By  Colin Edwards Published  October 31, 2006

With hotel occupancy in Dubai frequently hitting 99%, there should be little need for another online hotel booking service. But finding that 1% vacancy is critical for travel operators. And as more hotels come on stream, being able to match travellers' specific accommodation needs and have a simple and immediate booking process is going to make all the difference to Dubai Inc.'s future as a tourist destination.

A web-based solution now emerging from the Emirates stable is aiming to do just that. Called Destination Accommodation Exchange (Daex), it can give the travel industry a single view of bed availability in the emirate and provide access to hotel information management systems for marketing collateral such as hotel location, room views, amenities and closeness to specific areas such as exhibition centre, beach or airport.

Travel operators around the world are said to have welcomed the concept. Now, it is up to Dubai's hotels to buy into what is being hailed as a home-grown IT solution that could revolutionise the local tourism industry. Daex is the world's first real-time, internet hotel inventory consolidator for multiple and independent hotels.

Daex came out of the Emirates Group's business development think-tank, eVentures, whose role is to see how individual group operations can work smarter.

"For the last two years we have been researching the marketplace and in that process we found that there was no single view of the availability of rooms - and as you know there is a shortage of rooms," says Simon Lewis, manager, eVentures Group.

What followed was Daex, designed to give designated global travel agents and operators a single view of room availability at Dubai hotel, as well as access to participating hotels' reservation networks.

Before realising that it had a potential world-beating solution on its hands, eVentures' goal was to try to make the group's travel and tour operators, Emirates Holiday and Arabian Ventures, more efficient as they were spending too much time handling bookings. "When making a booking, they email or fax the hotel which checks against its property management system before confirming with a booking number - often different to the one the operator is using," he says.

Bookings need a confirmation number from the hotel. This often entails a manual input - something that can take 48 hours to complete.

"You can be told you have a room, but you don't know what sort of room for maybe 48 hours. Behind the scenes someone is organising all this. Put this scenario into the height of the season with hotels receiving up to 1,000 queries a day - there are going to be errors.

"We said: 'Hang on, there is an opportunity here to automate all this' and this is what Daex grew out of. For two years we worked with hotels, travel and tour operators to understand how automation could be achieved," adds Lewis.

While the research and planning took more than two years, the IT development - a web-based facility whereby hotels open up their property management systems to travel operators for direct booking - was completed within a few months.

The web site was developed using the .NET framework and comprised the classic three tiered architecture of an MS SQL database; a business logic layer, which does most of the work, sorting through the results; and the presentation layer, which is made up of the website and web services developed using DHTML, Java script and AJAX.

"We only use Microsoft technology, but the web service and web site is standards based so should a travel agent not run on a Microsoft platform they can either consume our web service or use our web site," says Hassnain Chagani, eVentures R&D manager.

The built-in Hotel Management Information system is a marketing collateral platform. It is web services based and built to the Open Travel Alliance standard so any web site using that standard can consume the service. For operators, they no longer need to get soft copy collateral to build up their brochure. Instead, they can use it from the web.

Keeping it standards based will also enable the systems' functionality and facilities to be expanded quickly and easily.

"Because we have developed the whole thing in an open and modular way we can plug in the different new items as we please. The Daex core remains the same. All it does is the bookings. On top of this you can put on a payment gateway, put it onto a kiosk or even a mobile phone, if we developed an interface for it. It's modular so you can do anything you need to," he adds.

Currently eVentures is trying to get Dubai hotels to buy into the system. The Fairmont is scheduled to be the first to implement.

The benefits accrue to both sides, says Lewis. The operator is able to offer a more personal service because they can respond quicker to enquiries, access hotel information online and confirm bookings instantaneously. "It will be the same in hotels.Workloads in reservations are going to reduce dramatically. Instead of reservation officers having to deal with trade telephone calls, faxes and email, which account for 70% of all those thousands of calls going on in a day, they can reallocate those people to provide a proactive customer service.

"As an hotel, I can also manage my allocations better. It will be much easier and more efficient to add new accounts and also monitor and manage operator status based on performance. It gives hotels the ability to block room allocations in peak demand periods for example," says Lewis.

The operator can also open up sub-accounts so that partners in, for example, Japan or America, such as Emirates Holidays might have, can book directly via Daex using a common account number rather than use a 24 x 7 call centre.

Daex has been developed jointly with MICROS-Fidelio, the hospitality IT solutions vendor. Its hotel property management system is used by 99.7% of all five star hotels in Dubai. More than 60% of all four star hotel rooms also use it.

However, Daex interfaces easily with other hotel systems.

While tour operators can use the service for free, hotels will be charged a flat transaction fee of US$1.50 on each completed booking whether it is a one room or a multiroom booking - a big saving on the $4+ typically charged by group central reservation systems. But Daex is about numbers and could be a major revenue generator bearing in mind that currently there are about 30,000 hotel rooms in Dubai - a total that is set to double by 2008.

Ultimately, the development is all part of the remit of the Emirates group - and that is all about making it easier to do business in Dubai and bringing tourists to the emirate - by the planeload.

“We had three different IT organisations, three different networks and three different Oracle ERP applications running.”

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