International reservations systems : their strategic and operational implications for the UK hotel industry
Nature and scope of work: This work presents details of the method and results of an investigation of the role and influence of international reservations systems within the UK hotel industry. The research comprised three questionnaire surveys of the use of computer reservations systems and distribution services by UK hotels. These are analysed and to produce an indication of general use of systems and the contribution which these currently make to hotel groups and consortia. The work also included a study of developments in access methods and changes in buyer behaviour as observed by representatives of computer reservation and distribution system, travel agency, hotel representation and intermediary companies. The impact of information technology developments on the travel agency industry, distribution systems operators and intermediaries is considered. The work then indicates the potential implications of these developments for the strategic planning and operational management of hotels in light of prevailing attitudes to technology, preferred sales methods and buyer behaviour. A computer based information and selection facility is developed. This provides a means of identifying the functions required of a distribution system in order to achieve specific business aims. It identifies the channels which meet the requirements while also providing details of the implications associated with use of each. Contribution to knowledge: This research provides the first published account of the current and potential influence of information technology on the way in which the UK hotel sector deals with its market and on the structure of the industry itself. The work results from a comprehensive study of the role of a significant emerging technology within an important sector of the tourism, travel and leisure industry. It is seen as being complete in its own right but also forms a starting point for longitudinal research since no previous work of this nature or scale has been undertaken in the area of interest. The guide developed as part of this work also lends itself to extensive future development as both the technology with which it is concerned and the technology upon which it is based continue to mature. The results of primary research indicate that there is scope for potential change in hotel sector sales and marketing practices as new methods of conducting business are adopted by hospitality industry service providers, agencies and the buying public. The work also suggests that global distribution systems are not the most suitable channel for all hotels but that alternatives must be considered in the context of the particular requirements of each hotel business. The use of formal research methods provides those involved in this sector with an objective assessment of the implications of widespread adoption of computer based reservation and distribution systems for individual businesses and for the industry as a whole. This addresses a requirement which was identified by the author and contributors in the course of the research. The subject area is complicated by the number of available channels through which businesses may distribute and receive information. This complexity is acknowledged throughout the work generates a distribution channel evaluation guide based on the research findings. The purpose of this device is to direct readers through the process of selecting the most appropriate channel to meet their specific business aims. The guide is based on results from the various stages of primary research which indicated the aspects of distribution system use about which hoteliers were unclear and also provided material about possible strategic uses and the operational implications experienced by users. This information was used to develop a staged method of identifying the type of system which would meet specific requirements and to indicate the implications associated with the use of a particular type of distribution system. This decision process is described and is then presented in the form of a hypertext document. The current version provides an elementary guide which can be used to assist qualitative evaluation in a complex subject area and indicates how this technology can be applied in its most basic form. Planned future work aims to develop the scope and function of the static reference document to produce a means of access to product provider information and to create a forum through which users can communicate with each other through e-mail. System suppliers can provide links to their own product information pages which can be accessed by users seeking information and advice. These developments will result in a guide which is interactive and can be kept up to date by system suppliers. This extension of the guide's role should enable it to provide material to be used in the decision support process by users wishing to conduct quantitative evaluation or comparison of distribution systems. This stage of development would require the use of a facility such as the World Wide Web (WWVV) to enable users and suppliers to communicate with each other. The WWW offers ready support for hypertext, the use of which is considered to be important for this application because of its ease of use for inexperienced computer users, the wide availability of the WWW and the suitability of an on-line system as means of publishing material which is subject to continual change. However, it is considered likely that a static version of the guide could be made available for users who do wish to avoid the cost and complication of obtaining access to the WWW. Although the use of hypertext is becoming more common, it is believed that this is the first use of this technology as a means of publishing research in this field.