Forget your troubles, come on get API!

Technology likes a good acronym. It makes the mundane seem special, mysterious, a little more trendy. From a sales point of view, they’re great. You can bandy them around, make your product sound awesome even if no-one knows what you’re talking about (sometimes not even yourself) and wait for the calls to roll in.

I hate acronyms as you may have gathered. Especially when you get two which often come together, like XML API. It’s like all the programmers in the world are conspiring to confuse you and possibly trick you into purchasing something you don’t really need.

This time however, API is something you’re going to want even if the full name is pretty dull. Most software and websites are going to use them and they can open the door to a world of opportunities. First though, we need to understand them. So let’s do that.

API stands for Application Programming Interface. This still sounds like techno-waffle, so programmers often try to explain it in terms of a favourite metaphor — a doorway, a window, sometimes a lever. Our technical director prefers to think of it as a gateway so let’s go with that.

The API is a gateway between two applications which gives one system access to another systems data or functions. On some websites they have interactive maps powered by Google Maps. ‘Share’ buttons for social media again harness API to make this possible. In travel, API is most often your booking system and your flight or hotel GDS (Global Distribution System). If you have to come out of your reservation system and log in to a different system to book flights you don’t have an API for this.

Generally, the exchange is limited or only one-way so let’s extend that metaphor to a gateway with a bouncer who will only allow some information or function to leave. In my mind this is a troll wearing a bow-tie but you can choose your own.

Now for the XML. This stands for Extensible Markup Language, so really it should be EML but that doesn’t look as cool. XML let’s two applications share information in a mutually understandable format. To de-waffle, let’s go back to our troll-guarded gateway. You have arrived as an English speaker but the application you want to use speaks Mandarin. So to get the information across in a way you both understand, you both use XML.

So that’s XML API. A troll-guarded gateway between two applications sharing data in a language they both understand.

From this simple(ish) concept though, great things can be mined, especially for small to mid-sized companies. According to The Institute of Customer Service’s Customer Satisfaction Index (here), people would consistently rather pay more on price in order to achieve higher customer service. So while they may not be able to compete on price, they can look to distinguish themselves through excellent customer service.

Here are just a few ideas:

If you have a very basic booking engine, then a CRM (Customer Relationships Management) system linked by API is a must. There are some very good free versions out there, including Hubspot CRM which includes some limited Hubspot Sales tools and will also link with Gmail or Outlook email accounts. There’s that API at work again!

Google maps is used on almost every website, restaurant-finding, taxi-hiring or house buying app which requires a map interface. Integration into itineraries and your own website can be a nice touch and give consumers some grounding before they land at an airport.

Indeed, the small touches are what bring customers back to book again and again. Using data fed via API can give the impression of a caring company rather than one which waves a customer off while counting their cash. A flurry of applications such as Flightscan or Rome2Rio can provide consumers with the feeling of complete end-to-end care. This can include leveraging data to communicate flight status, airport delays, or alternative available transportation if their booked train or flight is cancelled.

Finally, we touched on social media API already but connecting tools such as Hootsuite to your social media platforms is a great idea to free up time for other things. It will track, schedule and analyse social media posts across several platforms, invaluable in smaller companies where every second is precious and your social media maestro may also be your sales consultant and accounts manager.

At the end of the day, that special sounding acronym for a fairly mundane thing can create an awesome kind of travel company that consumers will return to.

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