How Bots Impact Travel Distribution Systems

June 11, 2015 Courtney Brady

Earlier this month, Distil Networks’ CEO and co-founder Rami Essaid joined PhocusWright Senior Technology Analyst Bob Offutt and Managing Director Tony D’Astolfo on a webinar to discuss the research firm’s report on The Future of Travel Distribution: Innovation and Technology Trends 2015 and the evolving role of bots.

The report posits that marketing and IT executives in the travel business today should approach new technology as if they were venture capitalists. In doing so, executives need to consider dominant trends before making technology investments, including how to protect those investments from malicious bots and other nefarious actors.

Connectivity and the Customer Experience Underpin Key Trends in Travel Distribution Systems

The report highlights five trends plus one supertrend that are currently having the greatest impact on the travel distribution business – a business that generated $1.3 trillion in sales last year and is expected to grow 6% this year. Those trends are:

  • Trend 1: No Customer Experience Management, No Customers

  • Trend 2: A Market of One: The Brass Ring?

  • Trend 3: Artificial Intelligence and Cognitive Computing Open Opportunities 

  • Trend 4: Collaborative Consumption: Legitimized 

  • Trend 5: Digital Marketing – No Time (or Space) to Waste

  • Super Trend: Building the Seamless Travel Experience 

96% of the people on the planet have mobile phone accounts, and 40% of the global population have Internet access. That this connectivity is kept free of interference by bots and other bad actors is key to almost every aspect of the global economy. The webinar focused on Trends 3 and 4, plus the Super Trend.

Artificial Intelligence and Cognitive Computing

Mobile devices are an integral part of today’s travel landscape, and cognitive computing is what makes those devices - smartphones, GPS, wearable tech, and others - useful by enhancing the human thought process. Before long, we’ll see artificial intelligence technology embedded in these devices too. This is already evident in Nokia’s Desti app, which will note a cancelled flight and automatically deduce and act on needs such as booking a new flight, changing car rental arrangements, and making a hotel reservation - all using mobile connectivity.

However, as Rami noted, more than 40% of bots are also mimicking human behavior and could very easily turn those automation benefits on their head, so it’s important to be able to tell the difference between humans and bots. Thanks to cheap hosting and the widespread use of cloud computing, bad bots are able to spread rapidly both in the US and in tech hubs around the world, as we found in the Distil Networks 2015 Bad Bot Report.

Collaborative Consumption: Legitimized

Collaborative consumption, often called the sharing economy, is also largely enabled by the explosion of mobile connectivity, and it has transformed travel distribution systems. There’s no longer need for travel providers to accurately predict capacity to ensure profitability when excess capacity can be easily sold or resold via services like Uber and AirBnB. Underpinned by social networks, reputation rankings, and P2P payment systems, the sharing economy is generating new business and expanding existing ones.

Because the sharing economy is so heavily dependent on mobile connectivity, Rami pointed out that businesses and users alike are vulnerable to bad bots mimicking mobile end users, a category of bot that increased tenfold in 2014. Mobile sites themselves can also be more vulnerable, given that they provide easy access to data via simplified navigation paths or have less protections in place.

Super Trend: Building the Seamless Travel Experience

For all the innovation and entrepreneurial activity going on in the travel space, the market remains extremely fragmented. It’s hard for customers to shop effectively or efficiently when they’re acting as their own travel agent and concierge. Yes, there are thousands of apps, but very few of them talk to one another.

Rami noted that this fragmentation is also playing into the hands of bad actors. Travel site pages are often dynamically generated via third party API calls to booking engines, airlines and other suppliers. One of our customers, Red Label Vacations, the largest independent travel brand in Canada, had bots executing searches on their site, which was triggering third party API calls and incurring fees.

The two subtrends that emerged from this supertrend are worth highlighting briefly.

Content is King, Protect It

Bad bots mine fragmented pieces of content from your online operations for their own use. Bot-driven web scraping, third-party API hijacking, click fraud, and other nefarious activities damage site performance and SEO. Distil Networks is a powerful weapon to help travel companies defend their online presence against malicious bots. Distil uses inline fingerprinting to track the bot even if it attempts to connect from random IPs. Real-time updates from the world’s largest Known Violators Database are based on the collective intelligence of all Distil-protected sites. Additionally, Distil utilizes behavioral modeling and machine learning to pinpoint anomalies specific to individual sites’ unique traffic patterns.

Technology Makes Traveling Easier

Apps like Sabre’s TripCase on Apple Watch, devices like the Cicret Bracelet, intelligent wireless charging, location-based technology like iBeacon, and augmented reality are just a few of the technological advancements expected to fuel a $7 trillion industry by 2022 to make the traveler’s life easier. With each new creation or advancement, the industry opens itself up to additional exploitation possibilities.

Are You Protecting Your Travel Distribution Systems?

If you think you might not be doing enough to protect your online travel business, contact us and we’ll show you what’s going on under the surface with your web traffic – no strings attached.

About the Author

Courtney Brady

Courtney Brady is the Director of Marketing at Distil Networks. She comes to Distil Networks from a variety of start-up companies, routed in SaaS and DaaS solutions. Formerly the global communications manager at multiple companies, Courtney is responsible for developing the company’s marketing strategy and branding campaign.

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