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A New Generation of Central Reservation Technology

H & A Report, Volume III, Issue 3 May/June 1995

Computerized Central Reservation Systems (CRS) are now mission-critical components in hotel central reservation programs. Whether owned and operated by their user hotel company, or by accessed in a service arrangement with a third party reservation processing provider, they perform an essential service in a volume intensive, cost sensitive environment.

Recent major announcements of new system selection by two major hotel companies -Best Western International and Holiday Inn Worldwide - have signaled the emergence of the newest generation of CRS technology. A look back at the two preceding generations gives us an appreciation of the major advances this latest one offers.

Westron, the first widely used central reservation system in the hotel industry was developed for Western International Hotels (now Westin Hotel & Resorts) by its then parent, United Airlines. Activated in December 1974, Westron was a mainframe-based system which used ACP-TPF software to provide fast, reliable reservation entry, organization and retrieval.

These significant positives were balanced by steep purchase and operation costs, programming complexity and limitations in database and display capabilities. Despite those shortcomings, Westron represented such a large advance in central reservation technology that it was ultimately licensed by 7 hotel companies - Best Western, Days, Hilton, Holiday, Marriott, Quality and Ramada - to serve, after customization, as their reservation systems. Westron represents CRS Generation 1.

Generation 2 was a dozen years in coming. Anasazi Inc., led by hotel reservation pioneer Tom Castleberry, combined the UNIX operating system, the ease and flexibility of the "C" application programming language, an SQL-based Relational database and a distributed processing architecture, all centered around the powerful AT&T Pyramid Tech series, to revolutionize hotel central reservation processing.

Anasazi developed its CRS in a joint venture with Choice Hotels. Subsequent to that system’s activation for Choice, Anasazi’s sales program enjoyed considerable success as the CRS was licensed to EuroDisney, Forte, HFS, Promus and Red Lion.

Parallel CRS development utilizing 4GL software technology was underway at Hyatt Hotels Technical Center. There, under the direction of John Biggs and Gordon Kerr, a dozen person team wrote the SPIRIT system in nine months. SPIRIT too began with a UNIX base. Applications were written in INFORMIX 4GL and the system used an INFORMIX relational database.

Reflecting the globally increasing speed of technological development, the "time to market" between the second and third CRS generations was half that between Generations 1 and 2.

In 1992 Executive Technologies of Naples, Florida, led by Aaron Shepherd and Michael Burrock, introduced its Gold One System, whose first user was Sandals Resorts and whose most recent customer is Best Western International.

In the same timeframe Intelligent Networks (INI) of Herndon, Virginia (recently acquired by Holiday Inn Worldwide) unveiled its CRS. Of the many common features of these two systems, the one which most clearly defines Generation 3 is the repositioning of the relational database to the heart of the CRS.

Generation 3 systems typically employ the Oracle database to make themselves equally data managers and transaction processors. Reflecting the industry determination to understand the guest, and match the product offering to their needs and preferences, Generation 3 systems, really for the first time, harness the power of the information hotels have collected, and neglected, for centuries.

Potentially as significant as their data base marketing role is these systems’ capability to house a broad product range. As packaging becomes more and more common, systems which contain and confirm not only accommodation but air flights, rental cars, golf tee times and sunset cruises, to name just few examples, will take on a new importance.

To Generation 3’s database orientation are added sophisticated user screens - displays which reflect the information presentation expertise which has evolved in the past several years in consumers computer products. Present too are integration with property management, GDS and allied systems (including yield management/revenue management systems), and unparalleled ease of enhancement. The result is the most owner-friendly, user-friendly product generation the hotel industry has yet seen.

And today’s systems already hold the seeds of their successors. Today, in the INI system, ET’s Gold One and peer systems such as the CRS front end developed by Eric Orkin and Chuck Clack of Opus One for Outrigger Hotels, we see the move toward truly seamless hotel system integration, from the consumer’s PC to the front desk and back office. The integrated CRS/PMS system now under development by Fidelio for release in mid-1996 may well be the forerunner, if not the first representative, of Generation 4.

Use of successive generations of CRS, as the economics become practical for individual hotel companies, allows the increasingly informed interpretation and effective product presentation required as each hotel group strives to achieve and retain their respective competitive positions.