Our direct API integration to Expedia hotel content
What exactly is Spotnana?
January 11, 2024
By Shikhar Agarwal
As CTO and Co-Founder, the question of what Spotnana is comes up in many of the conversations I have with job candidates and people in the travel industry. People want to know if Spotnana fits in one of the standard industry categories:
Online booking tool (OBT) provider – a company that makes software for booking travel and managing trips online.
Travel Management Company (TMC) – a business with travel agents that helps travelers make bookings and manage trips as a service offering.
Travel content aggregator – a business that focuses on building direct integrations with airlines, hotels, and other travel suppliers, aggregating their inventory of travel content (prices, availability, descriptions, images, etc.) and then distributing that content to other businesses that sell travel.
Travel technology provider – a company with APIs for powering travel experiences embedded in another company’s products or digital experiences.
The truth is Spotnana is all of these things and more. We invented the term Travel-as-a-Service (TaaS) platform to describe ourselves because no existing term came close to describing the totality of our business.
If you don’t already have a background in the travel industry (like me, when I started Spotnana), and you read about us in the press or media, you might get confused by all the terminology and acronyms, like OBT, TMC, GDS, NDC, etc. Every industry has its acronyms and jargon.
At the end of the day, what people really want to know is “what does Spotnana do?” The simplest answer is that we are building new modern infrastructure for the trillion-dollar travel industry, which relies heavily on technology and data structures that were developed several decades ago.
Our cloud-based platform pulls together a massive amount of travel content in real time from a wide range of suppliers and aggregators, makes corporate and leisure travel options available through a modern shopping experience, enables travel agents to provide assistance in a highly efficient manner when needed, and gives corporate travel managers the ability to reduce travel costs through policies and negotiated discounts.
Our platform is also built with an API-first architecture and designed to be white labeled, embedded, and deeply integrated with other software products, websites, and mobile apps. This means we can sell our technology directly to corporations and also offer it through a wide range of channel partners, which dramatically accelerates our growth.
An illustrative analogy – AWS and Amazon
Before we dig deeper into what Spotnana specifically does, a quick analogy might be helpful.
We’re all pretty familiar with Amazon’s cloud computing platform, Amazon Web Services (AWS). AWS offers both Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS), where companies can access raw machines, and they offer Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) with a range of managed capabilities. But in a more general sense, AWS is a platform on which others can build.
AWS offers various components like databases, storage, compute power, AI/ML modules, and authentication services. Any company can mix-and-match these to build their own offerings. The first user of AWS was actually Amazon itself for its e-commerce offering. Over time, this cloud-based infrastructure was made available to others.
In a similar way, Spotnana has introduced a first-of-its-kind cloud-based technology stack for travel that we call a Travel-as-a-Service. We offer a wide range of components that can be sold as a complete out-of-the-box travel solution or embedded in a third-party offering.
Examples of our components include search APIs (for flights, hotels, cars, and rail bookings), a Content Engine for aggregating, deduping, and normalizing travel content, a System of Record for managing transaction data and analytics, a Booking Engine that uses microservices to automate complex workflows like self-service flight changes, an Agent Desktop for travel agents to provide assistance to travelers, and a series of embeddable UI components that can be assembled into an Online Booking Tool or a white labeled shopping experience.
Similar to Amazon, we are both the first user of our infrastructure – we’ve created an Online Booking Tool that we sell to corporations, and we support travelers as a TMC – and we enable our partners to mix and match any or all of the components of our platform to build their own travel offerings.
Explaining some travel industry jargon
Before we dive deeper into how Spotnana serves so many different travel roles (OBT, TMC, travel content aggregator, and travel technology provider), let’s define some key travel concepts and terminology.
Travel suppliers and content distribution
Suppliers are the entities that provide the travel inventory to be booked by travelers. Think of airlines, hotel chains, car rental companies, and railways, for example. There are over a million hotel properties and over 500 airlines. How is all of their inventory made available for booking by billions of travelers in real-time?
Similar to other industries, this is where distribution channels come in. Distribution channels for travel content can be direct or indirect. Direct channels are integrations built to supplier-specific APIs, and indirect channels are integrations built to various forms of content aggregators. All of these are briefly discussed below.
Direct Distribution Supply Channels
Direct APIs – some suppliers offer APIs that anyone can use to access their inventory.
New Distribution Capability (NDC) API – NDC is an initiative launched by the airline industry to create APIs that follow a standard data schema. This replaces an older data standard called EDIFACT, which was very limiting – for example, airlines could only create 26 different offers at any given time because EDIFACT was limited to the 26 letters in the alphabet. The change from EDIFACT to NDC is driving a massive disruption in the airline industry similar to when the music industry shifted from CDs to online streaming services. Spotnana is helping to accelerate this change.
Indirect Distribution Supply Channels
Aggregator – these companies build direct integrations to multiple suppliers of the same type, such as airlines or hotels. They then offer a single API or portal through which companies can book inventory. Examples of this are Travelfusion and the Skyscanner Flight APIs.
Online Travel Agency (OTA) – this is industry lingo for all the consumer travel companies that you are already familiar with and use for your personal and family vacation trips. Examples include Expedia, Booking.com, Priceline, Hopper, and MakeMyTrip. Many companies with a small travel budget often let their employees book business travel directly on the OTAs and just reimburse them. We call this kind of corporate travel program “unmanaged.”
Global Distribution System (GDS) – these are systems that aggregate content from many types of suppliers (airlines, hotels, car, and rail) as well as aggregators and OTAs in order to make it easier for TMCs and OBT providers to access a wide range of travel inventory through a single source. Examples of GDSs include Sabre, Amadeus, and Travelport.
Suppliers can choose to distribute their content through multiple approaches. For example, Southwest Airlines uses GDSs and a Direct API, and United Airlines uses GDSs and NDC.
In a parallel fashion, TMCs can choose to access content in multiple ways. Most focus on acquiring inventory from one or more GDSs and also use the GDS as their primary technology for managing bookings and passing data between systems in their tech stack. With this approach, data is managed in unstructured text in flat files, and automation is handled through scripting tools.
How Spotnana is modernizing travel infrastructure
Spotnana has taken a very different approach. We have built our own technology for managing bookings, we use databases and buses to move data between microservices in our platform, and we use APIs tied to our System of Record to pass data between systems. Our architecture treats GDSs as one source of content among many, and where beneficial we build direct integrations to suppliers and aggregators.
Here is a diagram that summarizes how our Travel-as-a-Service platform is architected:
As you can see, we provide a combination of self-service and assisted travel shopping experiences that are built on an API-first architecture that uses microservices to automate workflows, and we integrate a vast range of sources of travel inventory.
While this may seem simple and straightforward, in the travel industry it is revolutionary. The challenges we have had to navigate to pull content together from so many sources in real-time – with all inventory aggregated, deduped, normalized, sorted, filtered, and marked up with customer-specific business rules for what is considered in and out of policy – rival the complexity of the world’s largest e-commerce platforms.
On top of this, we’ve made our platform open, so others can white label it and build solutions on top of it. Here’s a version of the same diagram that highlights how Brex, a leading corporate card, expense, and spend management platform, has embedded Spotnana in their tech stack and white labeled us as Brex Travel, which they offer to their customers:
Our unique architecture gives us tremendous advantages in the travel industry. With Spotnana, customers and partners get access to more content, more flexibility to manage bookings on their own, better service experiences, and a greater ability to ensure travel programs save time and money. Our architecture also enables us to innovate much faster than providers of alternative solutions.
While we’ve made tremendous progress delivering on our mission to modernize the infrastructure of the travel industry, the truth is we are just getting started, and the most challenging and exciting problems from a technology perspective are still yet to be solved.