Sep 212015

The kulula family expands with the merger of Holiday Tours and kulula holidays

RWA has been working with to consolidate Holiday Tours – the Comair-owned package holiday business – with the kulula brand under the kulula holidays banner. Through the consolidation of brands and resources, the business can now focus on marketing one brand, to strengthen its existing market share and increase the kulula footprint to include travel agents accessing the site’s awesome deals. The new Kulula holidays website now includes:

  • A new holiday live availability search facility throughout the site to allow customers to search for holiday packages, tours or hotels and browse for specific hotels using predictive search for a city or hotel.
  • Browse for a destination in a specific country using the live availability destination widget.
  • Browse for specific holidays by category e.g Family holidays, beach holidays using the holiday category widget.
  • View special offers or promotions using the tabbed offers widget
  • Travel agent login functionality (available from 8th july)

Kulula Holidays

What started out somewhere in October last year and went live on Wednesday 16th September, 45 minutes later – extremely proud that we did not miss one single deadline that we had set.

I think it just shows how incredibly well we worked together.

Thanks to the RWA team, calm and collected always there to answer any questions, making sure we are on track and all done to spec

The feedback so far has been incredibly positive.

Jeroen De Boer, Travel Portal Manager, Comair

The RWA and Comair teams have worked closely together on the implementation project. This has ranged from managing the initial project requirements, through delivery of the system for initial data loading, design and delivery of the kulula holidays web site and support through final preparations for go-live.

Take a look at new website

Please Contact RWA or call RWA on (+44) 29 2081 5050 to find out more about the additional functionality above and we would be happy to chat to you about how we can help you determine the business benefits of implementing a new system.

Find out more about Sell-It Suite

Sep 242014

Complete Incoming System for


RWA has delivered a complete reservation system to TourHERO. The system is based on our industry leading Sell-It Suite system, with RWA providing a full Facilities Managed (FM) offering. It includes connectivity to HBSi’s Demand Gateway which, in turn, provides access to a wide variety of supply partners.

TourHERO Website

The RWA and TourHero teams have worked closely together on the implementation project. This has ranged from managing the initial project requirements, through delivery of the system for initial data loading, design and delivery of the web site and support through final preparations for go-live.

About TourHero

TourHERO is a new American incoming tour operator offering an innovative business model that establishes a new industry benchmark level in how to approach the domestic and international leisure markets. As part of the division, they are leveraging their existing business of high volume, long-term contract relationships with hotels in key travel markets, to provide price-competitive product for travel agencies and FITs that cater to leisure travelers through the unique technology that TourHERO has created with RWA as a partner.


The delivered system has enabled the:

  • Launch of with hotel and ground products in cities across the U.S.
  • Creation and management of promotions/special offers
  • Setting up and management of trade clients
  • Provision of easy, reliable online searching and booking
  • Efficient fulfilment and operations
Sep 302013

RWA to exhibit at World Travel Market 2013 

RWA is pleased to announce that we will be exhibiting at World Travel Market 2013, the leading global event for the travel industry. We will be taking part in an event boasting consistent growth in the value of deals it drives and also recognising that WTM 2013 will be bigger and better with a number of new initiatives for this year. Figures already released show that in 2012, a total of £1,860 million travel and tourism deals will be generated by the event, a 13% increase on WTM 2011. The growth is part of a wider trend – revenues generated at WTM 2012 were up 39% on 2009 figures.

RWA  will be part of the event’s Travel Tech Show which has been created with its own dedicated focus and resource. It will run in conjunction to WTM 2013 from Monday 4 – Thursday 7 November at ExCeL, London.

Mark Bradbury, SVP Global Sales at RWA commented thatthe Travel Tech Show is an important exhibition for RWA, providing an opportunity for potential reservation system buyers from around the world to meet with us to talk about their business requirements and find out how our proven Sell-It Suite reservation system can help their business.” 

Mark added, “I always enjoy the Tech Show and look forward to chatting to representatives from tour operators, airlines and wholesalers from around the world. We are already receiving appointments for meetings on our stand so I am very much looking forward to the event.”

RWA will be on stand TT440 in the Travel Tech Show.

About Sell-It Suite

 Sell-It Suite is a family of solutions developed by RWA specifically for tour operators, wholesalers and airlines wishing to sell product offers combining product inventory from a variety of sources through a variety of online channels. It includes a complete reservation system (Sell-It Reservator), an Internet Booking Engine (Sell-It Online) and 3rd party product distribution capability (Sell-It XML Gateway). Sell-It Suite supports inventory from a variety of sources, dynamic packaging and pricing and sale through multiple channels.

Sell-It Reservator is a powerful, modern travel reservation and management system providing industry leading flexible inventory management with dynamic pricing and packaging capabilities. The product comprises of 4 applications: Inventory Manager, Bookings Manager, Finance Manager and System Manager.

Sell-It Online provides award winning online searching, browsing and booking functionality. Its robust, reliable online booking engine enables agencies or direct customers to book with confidence. Sell-It Online can be quickly incorporated into existing web sites and work in conjunction with existing reservation and content management systems.

 Sell-It XML Gateway provides an XML and web services based capability for the sale, distribution and booking of products loaded or accessible via Sell-It Reservator.  As described in this Press Release, the latest version of the product also provides a Services Oriented Architecture (SOA) for providing new, flexible deployment options for Sell-It Suite customers.

 For further information see:


Jul 082013

Why travel businesses need ERP systems

Travel is a complex product, with correspondingly complex business processes. Travel companies often use multiple systems to support these processes. This leads to the need to either manually copy data from one system to another, or to create interfaces between systems.

One of the most common scenarios where this occurs is supplier financials – Managing supplier invoices and reconciling these with customers’ bookings, together with actually paying suppliers are frequently manual tasks managed outside of the core travel system. Similarly, calculating and paying agency commissions are also often handled in a semi automated manner. Creating remittance advices and keeping track of supplier and agency payments is typically done in standalone finance systems.

I think part of the reason for this is that those in the finance/accounts department want a recognised ‘accounting system’ to manage the company financials, and frankly most travel technology suppliers simply do not offer an accounting back end that meets up to the accountants’ needs. What you need here is a proper multi-currency double entry accounting system, with a full audit trail.

Integrated Product Content – Often known as brochure content i.e. descriptions/photos/maps and so on, product content is another area where stand-alone systems are often used. This leads to duplication of data entry between product and content systems, and the need to keep these systems ‘in step’ via common codes. The TTICodes project is an example of an industry response to the problem of matching codes between systems. I frequently come across travel businesses that have content duplicated across various systems supporting different business processes, particularly where businesses grow by acquisition.

Workflow to manage business processes – A third area where problems occur relates to the use of traditional email to manage business processes. Email is great for the communication of ideas, but not for managing repetitive processes like ticketing, document production (fulfilment) and so on. Here what’s needed is a workflow management system, where each task can be attached to specific bookings/inventory/suppliers or whatever is relevant to the task, with a management interface that is able to track and report on these tasks.

Fine grain security controls – Finally, enterprise systems require fine grain security controls, to define who has access to what, and to enforce business process rules. Users what to log in once, and then have the system execute their security profile across the all applications that they may interact with.

To do all these things requires a fully integrated, front-to-back travel management platform. An ERP system for travel, if you like.

Wikipedia defines ERP as: “Enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems integrate internal and external management of information across an entire organization—embracing finance/accounting, manufacturing [i.e. product creation and inventory management],  sales and service, customer relationship management, etc. ERP systems automate this activity with an integrated software application. ERP facilitates information flow between all business functions inside the organization, and manages connections to outside stakeholders……… Enterprise systems are complex software packages that offer the potential of integrating data and processes across functions in an enterprise.  Although the initial ERP systems focused on large enterprises, there has been a shift towards smaller enterprises also using ERP systems………. Organizations consider the ERP system their backbone, and a vital organizational tool because it integrates varied organizational systems, and enables flawless transactions and production.”

To build such a beast by assembling software and systems from different suppliers is a difficult task, the cost of integration probably outweighing the purchase cost of the software components themselves. For smaller and mid size enterprises, such integration is probably beyond their means. For large organisations, experience tells us that building and maintaining these interfaces becomes a significant overhead, and tends to ‘fossilise’ the infrastructure on which the company runs.


Sell-It Suite – The Travel ERP System

Fortunately ERP for travel does exist. Sell-It Suite is an example of such a system. It is fully integrated across product creation and pricing, online and offline selling, mid-office bookings administration and back-office accounting. Sell-It has the most comprehensive financial management functionality in any reservation system that I am aware of, which is partly why I like to refer to it as a leisure travel platform, rather than just as a reservation system.

It has a fully integrated xml based product content management system (CMS), and of course a fully integrated workflow system, accessible from and usable by all areas of the system.

It has integrated access control and usage monitoring capabilities, so that not only can users be grouped and granted only the appropriate system access, but also every user interaction is logged and can be reported down to individual screen and report level. In addition a full audit log of data changes is maintained. So, the question “what did this user do on Wednesday morning?“, can be comprehensively answered in terms of system access and usage, and the corresponding changes to data – You need a fully integrated system to deliver that kind of capability.

So, ERP for travel is not a dream, attainable only by huge corporations with correspondingly huge budgets. Sell-It Suite delivers Travel ERP and is proven in travel businesses from SME’s to multi-market global enterprises. 

Contact RWA if you think a Travel ERP system is what you really need as the backbone for your travel business.

Rob Wortham, July 2013

Jun 242013

Evolution or revolution? Is “ground breaking” the answer?

Have you noticed how many press releases, particularly from travel technology companies, use the phrase “ground breaking”? 

It seems to me that hardly a month goes by without someone introducing their new technology labelled with this phrase. 

I’ll let you each decide on whether there really is anything “ground breaking” in what they are introducing, but this does raise an interesting question – namely “Is your business ready for some ground breaking? Is now the time for evolution or revolution? “

This is a question with which we are frequently faced when we are approached by established travel businesses. These companies are often still exploring “what is out there” and trying to determine if the business benefits of implementing a new system outweighs the potential business risks and disruption that they feel go with such a project. We have helped a number of companies through this thought process, so here are the 5 key questions, we recommend you consider:

Q1/ What are the business risks if we stay on our current technology?

For some companies this question becomes even more personal as it is about potentially replacing an in-house developed system with an externally developed one. The in-house system will probably have been developed and tuned over many years, and while possibly reaching the limit of its capabilities, it does what it does well. Would it be better to try and extend it one more time, or are you now trying to take it beyond its inherent capabilities? Will you be throwing ‘bad’ money after ‘good’?This is a good question, and not just because I have written it! It is important that, as a business, you understand the pros and cons of your current technology. What does the investment you have made enable you to do? Is there more life left in the ‘old dog’? Could you extract further value with some limited investment? Or are you now becoming critically business limited by your old technology? Are you competitors gaining a real advantage by being on better technology?

Q2/ Should we be looking for evolution or revolution?

Taking a look at ‘what is out there’ is a worthwhile exercise in and of itself. You may well be surprised at the capabilities now offered by new reservation systems that have been designed for this multi-channel, multi-market world in which we now operate. However, don’t be seduced by bells and whistles that won’t give your business real benefit. Look for the system that provides the capabilities your business needs, now and into the foreseeable future. Your technology choice should match closely with your business needs – see my recent blog on Why do some travel firms fail – and others succeed?

If your business needs a revolution then look for the technology that can help you achieve that. If your business really needs to evolve in key areas, look for the technology that will help you continue to be strong in your core business but also provides the right capabilities to help you evolve in the specific key areas you have identified.

Q3/ What are the business risks associated with implementing a new system?

Implementing a new reservation system will be a disruption to your business. Don’t let any tech supplier tell you otherwise! I have yet to meet a travel company that has spare people sitting around just waiting to be assigned to working on a system migration project! If you are going to replace your current reservation system, that project will require time from the people who really know your business and your business processes. These are often key resources with important operational roles.

  • How will your business cope with taking key resources aside for periods to work on implementing a new system?
  • Can you continue to operate efficiently and effectively during the implementation?
  • How will you resource and handle the migration from your current system to the new one?
  • If you are looking at moving from an in-house system to an externally provided one, how do you feel about the thought of handing over ‘control’ to a technology partner?
  • Do you consider this to be a business risk?

Q4/ How can we mitigate the risks of implementing a new system?

Ok, we recognise that there are risks, so what do you need to do? The most important thing you can do is to be working with a technology company who has ‘been there and done it’ and may well even have the battle scars to show for it! Yes, it is important that you choose the right replacement system but you also need to ensure that the company behind the system has the expertise and experience to help you with the implementation. The right company can add a huge amount of value to you and your team during the implementation.

You also need to assign your best project manager to the project and be able to call on those key resources as and when needed. Finally, don’t rush the project. I never cease to be amazed by companies who call us saying “we must have a system in two months from now”.  And they haven’t yet even chosen the system! With over 20 years of project management experience under my belt, I can tell you that the most successful projects are well planned with appropriate buffer and start out with achievable time frames. Listen to your tech partner. If you have chosen wisely they will be able to advise you on the appropriate time frame for your migration based off their experience of doing this with similar businesses.

Q5/ Do we ‘stick or twist’?

So, now here’s the rub. In the end, having answered all the questions, you finally have to make the decision. Do you stick with your current system and try and eke out a few more years or do you ‘gamble’. If you’ve carefully considered and answered the previous questions, you should be in a position to make an informed decision that is less about rolling the dice and more about making the right decision for your business working with the right technology partner.

Our animated video is a good summary of some of the points made in this blog – watch it here

Mark Bradbury
Joint CEO

Jun 172013

Online booking solutions and demand in South Africa.

In the UK in particular, stark contrasts are painted between travel firms that are seeing dramatically declining sales and those achieving increases. The proposition is that the former have out dated models or failing to adapt to the way we use technology, delivery methods and trading hours. Similar disparities are being experienced by travel agents in South Africa. In this scenario, there are three key points to be considered which are:

  • It is about your value add, not technology…
  • Tailor processes to business models
  • Now choose the right teach
Mary Bradbury, joint Chief Information Officer at RWA outlines a course of action for your business to keep pace. To read more download the recent news article from TIR Southern Africa.


TIR Travel industry news

View the pdf to read more about this story

“The best technology money can buy will not help you if the fundamentals of your business are wrong.” – Mark Bradbury
Jun 172013

Holiday Tours expands new online booking inventory

holidaytoursHoliday Tours has added online availability for Phuket with Bangkok to follow on in its web-booking engine which is powered by RWA’s Sell-It Online. They have plans to introduce a new self-catering accommodation category for various destinations, including Mauritius, Seychelles and the UK. “Right now, only pre-packaged itineraries can be booked online but potential for packaging will be added from the end of July when an entirely new look and feel to the website will also be introduced,” said Product & Marketing Manager, Dezy de Lima.

View the pdf to read more about this story

Jun 132013

TTI Summer Forum 2013 – Take Flight!

There is a revolution taking place in access to flight inventory!

TTI Forum 2013RWA recently sponsored the Summer TTI forum at the Strand Palace hotel in London on 11th June 2013. The forum discussed the turmoil surrounding the whole issue of access to flight inventory with Google sending shockwaves through the travel industry by acquiring flight distribution technology specialist, ITA Software, and developing ‘Google Flight Search’, the International Air Transport Association launching its New Distribution Capability (NDC) and the GDSs for example, Travelport launching its Travelport Merchandising Platform, there is a revolution taking place to access flight inventory.

 TTI assembled an authoritative group of speakers including RWA’s own Rob Wortham, Joint CEO & Chief Information Officer who gave their expert views on what is needed by airlines & travel management companies and who might be the winners and the losers as the latest technological developments take hold. 


For more information on this Forum please visit: where you can download all the speakers presentations or download the pdf to view the list of speakers and what was discussed at the forum.


Apr 172013

Joined Up Thinking– Are You Getting It?

Yesterday I read two interesting articles regarding the latest announcement from Twitter who have announced that

Twitter Announcement

You may read this announcement with excitement, antipathy or perhaps confusion. For myself, it prompted me to write this latest blog article. Why? Well, if you are in the travel business as a travel provider, intermediary, or travel technology company, you can’t afford to ignore what is going on in the world of social media, and in particular in the way in which technology is enabling strong connections between social media and e-commerce.

Are there really companies ignoring what is happening, you may be asking? Well, yes there are plenty – no names! And there are also plenty who are failing to keep abreast of the fast space of developments. So let me pose this first question [I’ll come back to the Twitter announcement later.]


Q/ Do you have a social media strategy?

If not, why not? If you have looked seriously at what is being enabled through the combination of social media and e/m-commerce and determined that it is not relevant for your business right now, then, ok that is your call.

But… if someone offered you the opportunity to…

  • Interact in real time with people who have explicitly expressed an interest in your products
  • Answer questions people have about your holidays, inviting them to call or purchase
  • Obtain feedback from people who have travelled with you
  • Let your customers and potential customers see that you are interested in them
  • Have people recommend specific holiday products to their friends and others potentially interested 
  • Easily and quickly promote your products and special offers to people who have already expressed an interest providing them with links to move from browsers to bookers

…would you turn that down?

 Q/ When did you last re-visit your social media strategy?

The Twitter announcement is an example of how technology is now enabling seamless connectivity between e.g. Facebook, Twitter, mobile apps and web sites.

The Twitter capability now provides the ability for tweets to contain deep links that take readers directly into the relevant section of a mobile phone app. If the reader doesn’t already have the app downloaded, they can be provided with the ability to download the app. Does this excite you?

Let’s try this example. Company X specialises in providing European short breaks. Over many years they have determined that their business is quite ‘offers driven’ with people responding to special deals or looking for a great deal for a special occasion. The company’s web site works well, but they really need to continue to a develop broader means of catching people’s attention and getting their offers in front of people at their potential point of interest.

How might that company benefit if they had:

  • A strong Facebook presence, interacting with people who have expressed an interest in their European breaks
  • The ability to promote special deals to their Facebook community with direct links to book them on their web site
  • A mobile app that people could download with the ability for people to register their interest in specific European breaks e.g. “Short breaks to Paris in June” or “Romantic Getaways” and be in the first group to receive
  • Alerts on promotions and are then able to connect straight to the company web site to book them

Followers on Twitter who see tweets on latest offers which drive them to the company’s mobile app or web site with more details, again with the ability to then easily go on and book

The second article I read yesterday gives further examples of how travel companies might adopt the new Twitter capability and is well worth a read.

So let me pose one final question.

Q/ Are you seeing the ‘joined up’ potential?

The public sector has used the phrase “joined up” for many years to discuss and even promote the benefits of improved connectivity between disparate but related processes or organisations. Are you seeing the ‘joined up’ potential when it comes to your business? If you are only thinking call centre, web site and traditional advertising are you really ‘getting it’? Are your competitors? Are your customers?

Don’t miss out on the capabilities that technology is now providing the modern travel company. We are in a ‘joined up’ world where your customers are using iPads, iPhones, Smart Phones, PC, tablets, Apps, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter … and your web site and call centre. They are ‘joined up’. Are you??


Feb 072013

Why do some travel firms fail – and others succeed?

I have been prompted to write this blog item after reading an article on Travelmole about “Dozens of travel firms on the brink of collapse”. The article paints a stark contrast between travel firms who are seeing sales dramatically decline and those who are seeing significant sales increases. The proposition is that the former have “outdated business models” and have failed to adapt to “the way we use technology, delivery methods and trading hours”, whilst the latter are adapting and show “increased profitability and sales”.

The UK trade is reporting a strong start to 2013, so how can tour operators (the market we provide our technology to) ensure they are in good, not bad shape? During a conversation at the Travel Technology Show yesterday, I was reminded of a message I have been giving regularly for many years. All that appears to have changed more recently is the impact and swiftness with which getting this wrong take effect!

So, here are my three key points for your consideration:

1. It’s about your value add, not the technology

You might be surprised that the CEO of a travel technology company is saying this but it is a fact. There is a saying about putting lipstick on a pig and I would suggest that acquiring the best technology money can buy will not help you if the fundamentals of your business are wrong.

What is your differentiated “value add”? This can take many forms. It may be the products you sell (which cannot easily be sourced), the expertise you have in the destinations or product types (that can’t be easily replicated), a highly respected brand developed over many years, or indeed the ability to sell to a membership group that others cannot easily reach.You need to be clear on what differentiates you and where you add value and then that needs to be clearly communicated to your customers.

 2. It’s about having the right business processes tailored to your specific business needs

If your business is selling lots of lower margin holidays, then you need to ensure that your costs for selling each one are as low as you can get them. You cannot afford to have expensive human beings having to ‘touch’ each booking in order to take it, manage it and fulfill it. You need to be able to take bookings online and confirm these with NO human intervention and to automate as much of your supplier reporting and customer fulfillment as possible.

However, if you are offering higher value (and margin) products where part of your value add is your product expertise and client advice, then you will want to have businesss processes that maximise your staff’s ability to deliver these (at the appropriate point in the sales cycle) to your potential customer. Full end to end automation is not only less critical but also possibly detrimental.

Don’t fall into the trap of simply continuing to do things the way you have always done them though! As the article says, you need to be ready to adapt as the world around us (consumer habits, technology etc.) rapidly changes.

One of the ‘wins’ in replacing a legacy system with a new system such as ours comes from the opportunity that the project provides to examine existing business processes and look how they need to be performed in the future. The worst thing you can do is simply look to model your existing business in a new system! We always enjoy sitting with our customers during both the sales and the implementation phase and helping work with them on how they can do things better going forwards using our system.

 3. Now choose the right technology

Ok, here’s the technology point. Once you are clear on your value add and differentiation and have an understanding of how you need to work operationally, you then need to find the right technology to SUPPORT this. Technology is rarely the driver here – unless you are a major OTA! It is an enabler. Get it wrong and it will hinder or worse. Get it right and it will support your business model, help you to leverage your ‘value adds’ and help provide a vehicle for sustained business growth.

Having a clear understanding of your real requirements will significantly help you in the tricky process of selecting the right technology and technology partner. If you have a clear focus on WHAT you need and WHY you need it that helps you make trade-offs about things that are necessary verses nice to have.

And, speaking as a technology supplier, discussions with travel companies that know what they want and why and have clarity on this are much better than discussions over vague system requirements! We have many, many years of experience working with tour operators and travel wholesalers around the world but our job isn’t to tell you how to run your business – it is to enable you to do it by providing a flexible, scalable, reliable, proven system that can be configured to meet you current and future business needs. Oh, and to continue to support you on a daily basis as you use our system to run your business.

So, there you have it – simples (as a furry animal would say). But as the evidence goes from the large number of companies who are struggling, it is easier to say than to do – or perhaps it is that inherent human instinct to always keep on doing what we have always done in the hope that things will get better!

In closing I am reminded of the saying:



Which kind are you?

For further information on how RWA and our Sell-It Suite family is helping travel companies around the world please visit

Mark Bradbury

February 2013

Oct 242012

Open systems – old hat?

I was interested to read this week that Amadeus are blogging about their increasing use of ‘open systems’ technology; specifically a switch to Linux as their operating system of choice. Good to see that a GDS is finally moving into the 21st  Century and updating their core systems from ancient proprietary TP (transaction processing) platforms.

For years all the GDS’s have been ‘wrapping’ their old systems with newer technologies to provide XML and Web Services interfaces. However, as anyone who has tried to actually use these systems will testify, these XML interfaces are often a very thin layer of structure over an underlying unstructured host terminal session i.e. screen scraping. Horrible. As soon as you get into details, like ticketing, you find the recommended solution is to send host commands directly to the terminal as a single string element in a generic ‘host command’ XML element. All the GDS’s have some variety of this approach, and whilst technically they can then claim they have a modern XML interface, its really not the case.

Conversely, many smaller travel technology companies have been employing modern open systems technologies to build solutions for years.  The advantages are obvious; no licence fees, systems that are easily maintainable and a huge user community to draw ideas, fixes and best practice from.

One other advantage of open systems technology is that there is no-one to keep changing things for the sake of it (i.e. unless they are broken). Systems are therefore much more stable across versions, avoiding re-engineering of applications just for the latest platforms. Proprietary vendors seem to feel the need to constantly rip up and change things for no good technical reason. I guess they need to keep changing stuff to sell new licences. I’m sure everyone has had this experience as an end user of  XP, Vista and then Windows 7, and also the various incarnations of MS-Office. How often will we all have to re-learn how to use Microsoft’s word processor?

Amadeus have produced a handy little set of slides about the benefits open systems, and I have included it here


RWA use a predominantly open systems approach; Centos and RedHat Linux operating systems, the PostgreSQL database, Apache and Java for web sites and middle tier technologies. However, we do also have some Microsoft based client technologies for our call centre environment (Visual Basic .NET),  with thin client deployment using Microsoft terminal services. We went down the Microsoft route because it provides the most rich, interactive, productive and trouble free way to build complex, interactive, multi-modal applications. We also use VMWare for virtualisation (the basis for our ‘private cloud’ hosting platform), because it seemed to be the most widely used platform and we had first hand experience of its absolute stability and ease of use as a hypervisor system.

I welcome any move towards the deployment of opens systems technologies, lets hope all GDS providers follow their lead.

Rob Wortham

October 2012

Oct 082012

Passwords and Online Security Issues in Travel

I read a very sensible article by Oliver Burkeman in the Guardian today – Online passwords: Keep it complicated. Oliver voices some important issues about the passwords that we all have to set up, try and remember, and use every to secure our online activities. I won’t re-iterate all the good points he makes, other than to say that I agree that stupid rules about password formation, coupled with an inability to use long passwords, certainly makes them more crackable. Everyone would do well to review their passwords and at least make them longer.

My purpose for writing this to relate the general concerns over online security specifically to travel systems. If you hack a private consumer’s login details, then maybe you get all their personal info and credit card details – bad enough. If you hack a login into a travel system, then maybe you get access to hundreds of peoples names, addresses, credit card details and travel itineraries. The stakes are clearly much higher, and as a result the security that is in place had better be up to the job.

There is also a historical problem within the travel industry that logins, and therefore passwords, were often shared at an agency rather than individual user level, and the most obvious passwords you could possibly imagine were used. Historically, access to travel systems was in effect “locked down” by the necessity of connection to the private X.25 network infrastructure for Viewdata and GDS access, and so insecure passwords were really not a big deal. The X.25 network was also connection oriented, so a ‘call log’ was also inherently available at the network level. 

Despite the move to Internet based services, I’m confident that this lax approach to security persists in travel. Users are still sharing logins, and using easy-to-guess and trivial-to-hack passwords.  The problem is, they are now using web sites which can be accessed from Eastern Europe, China and who knows where.

The risk is reduced by at least having 2 security tokens, by which I mean a username that is not your email address, and a separate password. Companies like American Express mandate this as a minimum for all systems access. Its also important to force individual, as opposed to agency wide, logins and passwords should certainly be of some sensible minimum length and contain some non alpha characters. This at least stops “Wendy Smith” logging in as wsmith/wendy.

Passwords should never be stored in plain text (or in fact at all) by the web sites or systems you use. Passwords are ‘hashed’ (an algorithm that creates a new string of characters from the password), and the hash is then stored. When a user logs in, the password they give is hashed and compared with the stored hash. If it matches, you’re in. There is no algorithmic way to go back from the hash to the password itself, so stealing the hash becomes less useful. Problem solved? Well, not really. Given brute force and time, you can try every possible password combination, and see which ones create the hash you want. Say there are about 10 billion possible passwords, then that’ll take about 8 seconds using current technology. Ah, problem not so solved. But, if there are many more combinations, then it will take correspondingly longer. That’s why longer passwords are more secure, but only if the hash algorithm creates a long enough hash. The default Unix (or Linux) hash is only 8 characters, so it’s crackable by brute force in seconds.

By the way, assuming all uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers 0-9, and 31 special characters (like @^:;+!=] etc) are available, then a 5 character password has about 6.9 billion combinations, so not secure at all. Conversely, a 20 character password has about 2342 billion billion billion billion combinations (so my Excel formula tells me anyway). At a rate of  10 billion password tries in 8 seconds it would take 59421 billion billion years to try all combinations for a 20 character password. Things are not quite that great as that, as you would try all the combinations in order of likelihood, based on some other algorithms that try words or part words first, but you get the idea: A 5 character password is hopeless. A 20 character password is very robust from a brute force attack. If you want my calculations sheet, email me and I’ll send it to you. Back to the plot now …

So, there is definitely a problem with security in travel, so what can be done. Well, what we’ve been doing for years is what the banks are now increasingly doing, especially with mobile banking. The connection to your secure service is secured not only with some kind of username and password, but also by tying the connection to a specific device. In the case of banking, your mobile banking app will be registered to and be verifying the device (phone or tablet) that it’s running on. If you install the app on another phone and try your password/passcode, it wont work. In the case of our systems, we check that you have installed a ‘digital certificate’ onto your PC, and we validate this certificate as part of a secure tunnel between our systems and your desktop/laptop. You may not know if your password has been stolen, but you’ll certainly know if your mobile phone or laptop has been. Also, even if your device is stolen or lost, its vanishingly unlikely that the person who stole/found it also has your username/password combination.

So, we have now tied the connection not only to a person with  knowledge of a secret (i.e. their username and password), but also to a set of pre-validated devices. The key thing here is that if either your password or your device is compromised, your security is still intact. 

So, what are the key things that can be done today:

  • Make sure every user has a separate login, and that none are shared in the workplace.
  • Write a password policy and make sure your staff do not use work related passwords for personal use.
  • If you have the option to do so, use a username rather than just your email address.
  • Make all your passwords decently long (more than 8 characters), and include numbers and special characters
  • For core systems, see if there is any option to tie down your access via some 2nd level security to a specific device, via a VPN or secure tunnel connection.
  • If any web site emails you your current password when you forget it, then they are not storing your personal information is an appropriate way (imho), and you should not be dealing with them. Passwords should always be stored in a one-way hash, meaning that they cannot be recovered, only changed.
  • Try and use different passwords for different types of things e.g. don’t use your banking password for facebook , twitter, LinkedIn etc

This is all just common sense, but maybe not so obvious to everyone. The threats of data loss, fraud, identity theft and worse are real threats, and the travel industry really needs to wake up and think carefully about these issues. Understanding how easily passwords can be hacked is a good place to start.

Rob Wortham

October 2012

Sep 262012
1Time Holidays

Congratulations to 1time on being recognised as Africa’s Leading Low Cost Airline  for the fourth consecutive year!

It is a pleasure working with you and the 1time Holidays team in particular.

Sep 212012

Why we think Linux is the Best Choice for Mission Critical Servers

We’ve just this week retired one of the servers from our office infrastructure. Having had great success using virtualisation in our customer hosting platform, we are now busy virtualising several office servers onto a similar VMWare environment. Before shutting down our trusty old mail relay server, we checked how long it’s been running:

[root@mail-relay postfix]# uptime
12:10:22 up 1510 days, 20:20,  2 users,  load average: 0.00, 0.00, 0.00

That’s 4 years and 50 days without a reboot! This says something for the stability of the Redhat Linux operating system and also the build quality of the HP Proliant servers we use.

We do also use some Windows servers, but I’m sure none of them have been up this long without requiring a reboot for some reason or other. Windows is fine as a front-end environment, either with local PC’s or in a terminal server (thin client) configuration, but it’s more than clear to us that Linux is the way to go for performance, stability and high reliability over the long term. All our systems use Linux (either RedHat or Centos) for database, mid tier and web server functions.

If anyone has a windows server that can beat our Linux uptime record, then please let me know!

Rob Wortham
September 2012
Sep 132012

Why travel companies need a strategy for mobile now!

I attended a very interesting travel technology conference yesterday, hosted by TTI. Among a number of informative presentations, I was stuck by Peter Matthews‘ presentation. It seems he has data that shows that over 20% of the web browsing of various travel web sites took place on mobile devices. This figure has apparently more than doubled over the last 12 months. He includes tablet devices (like iPads) as mobile devices.

We also know that mobile devices (smart phones and tablets) tend to be owned by those with with higher disposable income, and this of course is exactly the group you want to target if you are in the leisure travel business. Peter also alluded to the fact that mobile devices are owned and used by a wide cross section of age groups, and are not the preserve of the young. How many grandparents do you know that  have their own iPad? I know several.

Therefore, based on this sole statistic and a little common sense reasoning, it is evident that a planned strategy for mobile is now essential, and probably overdue, for anyone selling leisure travel.

It’s also pretty obvious that when you are searching for a holiday, you will be searching the web (probably via Google), and not via an app downloaded on your phone. Once you have a relationship with your customer they may well download your app, but not before. Therefore, your web site should at least work on the common mobile devices, and you may want to optimise the site for smaller screens of smart phones.

Having an ‘app’ is a good idea for post booking servicing and also to encourage repeat booking and foster some brand allegiance. Apps are still very cool, and your brand will be enhanced by having one. Interestingly, apps that do just one thing well are preferred over those doing many things badly.

All RWA’s web sites and booking engines have been tested to correctly render on tablet devices such as the iPad, and on mobile phones (e.g. Android and iPhone). We’ve also built mobile sites specifically optimised for the small footprint of a smart phone. RWA has an App in the Apple AppStore that allows travellers to download and store their itineraries. The app can be extended to provide push notifications for offers.

If 20% of travel searching and browsing is being done on mobile devices, and if this figure has doubled in a year, then its just a no-brainer that the successful players will be those that embrace the mobile platforms.

Rob Wortham

Sept 2012

May 282012

BYOD – bring your own device – the latest topic of discussion in mobile telecoms and digital/online security. The idea is simply that your employees want to be able to access business systems from their own mobile devices i.e. smart phones, mini-laptops and tablet devices. Most commonly of course this means email, but it also means business related social networking like linkedIn and twitter, and some also use Facebook in a work context. Of course all these horizontal business services are widely catered for on all flavours of smart phone and other mobile devices. There are security issues here to be considered however. There is a wealth of writing in this area, which I shall not repeat, other than to say sensible passwords, individual user accounts, high quality email anti-spam/anti-virus and responsible and well trained employees are all essential, but maybe not sufficient, pre-requisites. The inclusion of training in this list is not an incidental thought. Today, everyone must have a good understanding of IT in order to use it safely and responsibly within your organisation. ‘I don’t understand all this IT, I’m not a techie’ is not a helpful attitude when the job requires the constant use of sophisticated IT systems. Everyone needs appropriate and current IT training these days.

More challengingly, your workers also want to access systems related to your specific technology vertical. They want to access the reservations system to report on bookings during a weekend promotion. They want to tweak pricing or maybe check on a supplier interaction or last minute flight availability. They may see a negative tweet about your web site and need to adjust the wording. In short, they want to do pretty much everything they can do from their desk whilst they are on the move, or at home watching the TV.

Online, your business is now 24*7*365, even if your call centre is only open 60 hours a week. Well motivated staff may want to monitor, fix or tweak stuff out of office hours, and by providing the right technology, the tour operator gets happy staff, and more productivity. 

Whilst many tour ops are only now starting to think about remote working (i.e. from a home office), the world is moving on and mobile working is becoming commonplace. Tour operators and technology suppliers within travel need to step up to this opportunity.

Rob Wortham

May 2012

May 182012

Why Travel companies should spend more on their IT systems

The common law of business balance, often (but unreliably) attributed to John Ruskin, states this:

“There is hardly anything in the world that someone cannot make a little worse and sell a little cheaper, and the people who consider price alone are that person’s lawful prey. It’s unwise to pay too much, but it’s worse to pay too little. When you pay too much, you lose a little money — that is all. When you pay too little, you sometimes lose everything, because the thing you bought was incapable of doing the thing it was bought to do. The common law of business balance prohibits paying a little and getting a lot — it can’t be done. If you deal with the lowest bidder, it is well to add something for the risk you run, and if you do that you will have enough to pay for something better.”

When I saw this recently on the wall of our local Indian takeaway, it resonated so strongly with my experiences in travel technology that I felt compelled to put some thoughts in writing.

I have heard of many travel companies over the years who have succumbed to paying too little for a technology solution, and ended up with a failed project. Yet, almost the first question we are asked by most enquirers is “what does your system cost?“, rather than “what can it do?“, or even better “what does it do for your existing clients?“. This simple, but incisive question would allow those requiring travel technology solutions to rapidly weed out suppliers who cannot deliver, or who have poor systems. It may still be that they cannot then afford what they want, but at least they would not waste money on something that will deliver nothing.

This leads me on to my second point, which is why do travel companies not work out in advance what they really need, rather than a wish list of what they’d like? I do understand that when visiting car showrooms, one enjoys poking the buttons of the car you’d like to buy, before actually deciding what you need from a car and making a sensible purchase within your budget that meets your daily needs. But really, in a business context, it would be better to spend time up front deciding what you need before approaching suppliers, rather than just asking for the world, when your budget is limited. No point wasting everyone’s time. Rant over.

However, back to my third, and this time more serious point: The leisure travel product is complex. Very complex. This complexity may be related to the product components themselves, the itinerary, the party makeup, the business rules around the financials (payments, commissions, discounts, markups) the business relationship with customers and suppliers (amendments and cancellations, XML supplier links, nett fare rules), various points of sale (web sites and call centres) or even the business’ brands (multiple web sites, white labels, markets, business units). The technology to manage all this complexity is necessarily complex, and when you buy that technology and run your business on it, you are also buying into a relationship with the technology supplier. Once you’ve made that decision, you are in a partnership relationship, which both parties should want to be long term and mutually beneficial. Given the strategic nature of these decisions, it makes sense to pay the right amount, or as Ruskin suggests, maybe even a little too much, but it makes no sense at all to pay too little. Some technology suppliers are naive, promising more than they can deliver for the price agreed. Sometimes however, they are not. They know that in the end negligence is hard to prove conclusively, and possession is nine tenths of the law, so what’s been paid along the way will not be recoverable. We have seen this scenario played out several times already in recent memory in the UK, although of course I will not name names.

There has also been a move in recent times to offer pay-as-you-go solutions for cloud based reservation systems, with little or no up-front payments and a monthly rental/booking fee/commission taken once the system is live. This is often described as a ‘shared risk’ approach. However, I would argue that in this case the vast burden of risk lies with the IT supplier. They have invested in developing their technology and service platform, then in finding their customers, and now they are asked to invest in getting a customer up and running, all before there is any return on investment. In what way is the travel company investing and taking risk in this transaction? These arrangements can work, but there must be some sharing of up front implementation costs, and also some commitments made on minimum volumes and length of contract. GDS’s have made this their business model for many years, but still bear the dissatisfaction of disgruntled customers who push for lower transaction fees and lower commitments. No wonder GDS technology is so out-dated and inefficient.

So, what can be done? In my experience, successful projects and customer relationships start with honesty and straightforwardness on all sides, followed by a realistic assessment of what is needed now and in the future, and what can be delivered in what time-scale. Start with something straightforward that fully exists today, implement that and get revenues flowing through it relatively quickly, and then have a phased plan to build out the business and technology on that firm foundation of a live system. Never buy solely from Powerpoint slides, screen-shots or promises. Check out others’ experiences of the systems you are buying. Have someone independent and experienced with travel technology look at your plans. Assess the project risks fully. Hope and expect the best, but also make a contingency plan for a worse case scenario. And finally, make sure you are paying enough money to allow your supplier to do a proper job, and to make a little profit from their labours!

Rob Wortham, May 2012

Apr 172012

Holiday Tours – the ‘cyber’ trailblazers

Holiday Tours is featured on the front cover of the latest issue of South Africa’s Travel News Weekly magazine. They are pushing forward with their plans to overhaul the wholesale model and become the first ‘cyber’ tour operator in the South African market.

The company is using RWA’s Sell-It Suite for it’s new agency selling platform which provides online booking tools for travel agents and their customers.

For further information see:

  Holiday Tours Launches Agent Online Booking Capabilities



Mar 222012

Are You Ready For The Era Of ‘Big Data’?

I have just read two fascinating McKinsey Quarterly articles on this subject. The premise of the these articles is that “the amount of data in our world has been exploding, and analyzing large data sets—so-called big data—will become a key basis of competition, underpinning new waves of productivity growth and innovation” and “radical customization, constant experimentation, and novel business models will be new hallmarks of competition as companies capture and analyze huge volumes of data.”

It has caused me to think about how well travel companies are leveraging the huge volume of data they are capturing as their customers interact with them throughout the entire research, enquiry, sales, booking, fulfilment, travel and post travel processes.

Travel companies who not only realise the value and potential of this data, but are able to leverage it to their advantage will have a big competitive edge. As McKinsey observed:

Over time, we believe big data may well become a new type of corporate asset that will cut across business units and function much as a powerful brand does, representing a key basis for competition. If that’s right, companies need to start thinking in earnest about whether they are organized to exploit big data’s potential and to manage the threats it can pose. Success will demand not only new skills but also new perspectives on how the era of big data could evolve—the widening circle of management practices it may affect and the foundation it represents for new, potentially disruptive business models.”

 So, as a starting point here are three key questions for travel companies to consider:

1. What are you doing today to analyse and leverage the data you are capturing?

 Analytics tools such as Google Analytics provide a wealth of information on web site visitors, browsing and search patterns, referrers, click-through rates, page drop-offs, look-to-book ratios etc. How much of this information are you using to analyse how your potential and actual customers are interacting with one of your sales channels, reacting to your product information and pricing and making purchase decisions? Is this data informing your decision making process with respect to changes to your web site, how you are presenting your products and even pricing decisions?

Modern reservation systems can provide customer and booking data and analysis for you, giving you insights into both individual and customer group buying patterns by destination, by advance booking period, by product type, by price range, by duration, by product value etc. How much of this information are you analysing and how could knowledge of these patterns influence your product and sales strategies?

2. If you could test all of your decisions, how would that change the way you compete?

 As McKinsey observes,

Big data ushers in the possibility of a fundamentally different type of decision making. Using controlled experiments, companies can test hypotheses and analyze results to guide investment decisions and operational changes. In effect, experimentation can help managers distinguish causation from mere correlation, thus reducing the variability of outcomes while improving financial and product performance. Leading online companies, for example, are continuous testers. In some cases, they allocate a set portion of their Web page views to conduct experiments that reveal what factors drive higher user engagement or promote sales.

Travel companies with flexible reservation systems have the ability to quickly and easily create new product offers, special discounts, value-added options, new product/marketing types etc. that can be used to experiment and test hypotheses. When coupled with the ability to quickly collect and analyse the results, this provides these companies with the powerful capability to cost-effectively see what does and does not work and to make informed (as opposed to ‘hunch’) investment decisions.

3. Would it make sense to offer more precisely tailored products or services?

Big data allows ever-narrower segmentation of customers and therefore the opportunity to offer much more precisely tailored products or services. How might you better tailor your holiday offers, for example, if you could see a period where the majority of the last minute bookings were for two specific destinations and were generally families booking family or connecting rooms? Or, if you found that there were significant visits to your web site looking for 3 night breaks in Paris in May but almost no-one booked?

Consumers are now very used to seeing more targeted marketing and offers and they expect this of travel companies too. The rapidly growing use of mobile devices and of social networks also provides both a challenge and an opportunity for savvy travel companies to use these channels to target product offers to specific audiences. But if you haven’t analysed your data, how do you know where to start? Hunch or informed decision making? Your choice!

The world of “Big data” has arrived. Here is a story from one of the McKinsey articles:

The top marketing executive at a sizable US retailer recently found herself perplexed by the sales reports she was getting. A major competitor was steadily gaining market share across a range of profitable segments. Despite a counterpunch that combined online promotions with merchandizing improvements, her company kept losing ground.

When the executive convened a group of senior leaders to dig into the competitor’s practices, they found that the challenge ran deeper than they had imagined. The competitor had made massive investments in its ability to collect, integrate, and analyze data from each store and every sales unit and had used this ability to run myriad real-world experiments. At the same time, it had linked this information to suppliers’ databases, making it possible to adjust prices in real time, to reorder hot-selling items automatically, and to shift items from store to store easily. By constantly testing, bundling, synthesizing, and making information instantly available across the organization—from the store floor to the CFO’s office—the rival company had become a different, far nimbler type of business.”

So, one final set of questions. How does the above scenario play out in the travel sector and in your particular part of it? What happens if it is one of your major competitors that seizes the opportunity? Or, what would happen to your competition if you seized it?

Carpe diem! Carpe ‘big data’!

The two McKinsey articles can be found here:

“Are you ready for the era of ‘big data’” –

“Big data: The next frontier for innovation, competition, and productivity” –

Feb 012012

Holiday Tours Launches Agent Online Leisure Hub

Holiday Tours, South Africa’s oldest outbound tour wholesaler has launched an agent online leisure hub using RWA’s Sell-It Suite

Commenting on the launch, Iain Meaker, Executive Manager of Travel and Distribution says that “the group’s vision…was to build an online leisure holiday hub where agents can get prices, see availability, quote and book. This can be achieved through the use of the website in its Holiday Tours branded form, or a deeper integration in which we enable our customers’ brands with the technology in a product/distribution partnership.  The plan is to give agents ‘true enablement’ when dealing with customers who increasingly expect instant resposnse.”

Holiday Tours have created a media campaign to accompany the launch and are promoting the hub capabilities to agents on their web site.

   Holiday Tours Agent Proposition    

Sep 232011

Desmond O' Connor, Commercial Director, 1time receives the award

Congratulations to one of our clients, 1time for winning the award for Africa’s Leading Low-Cost Airline 2011 at World Travel Awards. This is the third year in a row that the airline has won the category

RWA provides the technology for the 1time Holidays business and we continue to support this through provision of our full Facilities Managed (FM) service.


For further information see:

If you have not done so already, check out my blog on the the adoption of online booking of both flight only and holiday packages in South Africa

Aug 102011

The adoption of online booking of both flight only and holiday packages.

In this article, Mark Bradbury, joint CEO of Cardiff-based travel technology provider RWA, takes a look at online booking of dynamic packages in South Africa and at the changes he expects to take place over the next two to three years.

“The flight + add-on hotel online booking segment is still in an early adopter stage. Domestic travel was and still is a major driver of flight only bookings and the majority of domestic travellers in South Africa are travelling to visit friends and relatives (VFR) with only around 12 to 16% going on holiday and business trips representing around 5% of all trips.

Of course, most of these VFR travellers stay with friends and family so the requirement for needing accommodation for these trips is quite low.
In other markets, business travellers have been a major driver of flight + hotel (+ other e.g. car) bookings.  This segment then evolved further as traditional holiday package consumers moved away from booking standard packages, demanding more flexibility and being wooed with promises of cheaper prices from so called “dynamic packaging”.

In South Africa, there is a relatively low percentage of business travel and their travel requirements has  been fulfilled either by travel agents or by booking flights and accommodation separately with the major suppliers.

Looking forwards, over the next two to three years I would expect to see a number of changes:

1.    The evolution of this segment from innovator through early adopters to early majority driven by a combination of the innovative new companies that have emerged and perhaps one of the more traditional tour operators – who will need to move quickly if they are to remain competitive. The evolution will be shorter than some would envisage as I believe the market conditions and the right ‘industry players are in place to make this happen.

2.    Introduction of new technology, perhaps using technology and systems that have been proven in other markets, to provide user-friendly, reliable and innovative (for South Africa) online browsing, searching and booking capabilities.

3.    The continued emergence of South Africa (and indeed Africa) as an inbound destination which will drive innovation and online booking for both inbound and receptive companies who begin to offer access to lodges and other accommodation that is not easily bookable online today.

4.    A ‘shake-out’ in the current travel players as both tour operators and travel agencies work through how to embrace the internet as a direct sales channel and ‘consumer-power’ starts to emerge. All travel companies, whether operators or agents will need to be clear on what value they offer and make that ‘value proposition’ clear and tangible to their customers.

5.    Increased interest in the South African leisure travel market from the GDS providers and established overseas companies such as Expedia.

In conclusion, the shift to online booking of leisure travel has definitely started. Those companies already in this ‘space’ are commenting that they are starting to see good adoption and growth in their various online channels.  They are building successful online brands through innovative marketing campaigns.

It is a really interesting time to be involved in South African travel and tourism. I suspect  over the next two to three years we will see who are going to be the major players in an industry that has great potential and opportunities for those bold enough and shrewd enough to take make the right decisions and leverage the right technology.”

Mark Bradbury is joint CEO of RWA Ltd, a travel technology provider that has been working closely with a number of South African travel companies for the last 5 years to help them deliver on their strategies and plans. Several companies use its Sell-It Suite tour operator reservation system.

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