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Dynamic packaging - what on earth is it?

June 2004

Some of the biggest improvements to a web site come not from changing the way it looks but by refining the software that makes it work, the invisible stuff under the bonnet.  The more sophisticated sites are a front for some astonishingly highly developed software systems, and the better they work the less we should be aware of them.

One of the most far reaching changes of this kind in recent months has been the introduction of what is called, in typically impenetrable software lingo, “dynamic packaging”.  Why this matters to us is that it is transforming the travel buying market at a terrific rate of knots.

What it amounts to is a return to what travel agents used to do, but cheaper.  In the old days, before they became little more than brochure delivery points, travel agents would really work for you.  We would tell them that we wanted to go to New York, stay at a three star hotel, hire a car and have tickets to the Opera.  The kindly travel agent fixed all this up, took your money, gave you the various tickets and vouchers, and off you went.

Then came package tours, which broke the mould somewhat, and then the Internet, which showed us how to plough around eight or nine different web sites to book the different elements of our expedition at good prices.  We can do it from home, it saves us money, and we feel in control, even it is our fault if it goes wrong.

Now, enter “dynamic packaging”, software which moves web sites closer to providing the old fashioned service.  It makes it possible to put together the various parts of your trip on one web site (they are known as “consolidation” sites), and book them all with one click.  This has the added comfort of meaning that you are booking through one industry bonded operator; only one place to go to complain if you are let down.

That’s all well and good, but it gets better.  By combining the various elements, this new system allows us to buy them at the very low, wholesale rates that were previously only available to tour operators.  The savings can be huge.

For example, I looked at booking a four day trip to New York at the end of June (something I’ve always rather hankered after); through the best flight price was £345, and the best hotel price £275, totalling £620.  But book them at the same time and the total price was only £400, a 35% reduction.  I tried the same jaunt through and it came to £439, through it was £471 and wanted £497 (including car hire).

You are, of course, limited to the range of suppliers that deal with the particular site you are using, but as it is in their interest to offer the widest possible range you can be certain that they are doing their darndest to make sure that they have a big choice sitting there waiting for you.

Also, for the moment, the very cheap airlines (Easyjet, Ryanair and the rest) have fought shy of linking up with these consolidation sites, or offering the service themselves.  However, given the savings that can be achieved on the other airlines this may not be too much of a problem, especially to destinations the cheapies don’t serve.  I bet they soon fall into line, anyway.

As I keep on saying, the Internet has not changed anything fundamental, but it has made some markets open to many more people.  Dynamic packaging is a great example.  See you in New York.