What is it?
Itineraries typically contain information about planned routes, schedules, events and tasks for a trip, often divided up into several "segments" to help planning. A key aspect of itineraries is that segments are explicitly linked together, and storing this information as computer data (a "digital" itinerary) opens up the ability for any type of computer system (for example desktop computers, mobile devices, GPS devices, etc.) to manipulate the data, manage it and present it to users in many useful ways. Itineraries can often involve multiple users, and often involve items with a "time-based" element to them, such as when a travel segment is expected to start or end.
What scenarios and/or problems does it address, or what new advantage(s) does it confer?
The decline of traditional travel agencies and travel agents is well documented. In the year years from 1999 to 2009, 75,000 US travel agency jobs were lost (Cleveland Plain Dealer), and 14% were lost from 2006 to 2011 (Forbes). Today much, likely most, personal and business travel is booked directly by the traveler him/herself, using online services providing digital transactions from end to end – searching/selection, booking, payment, ticketing, itineraries, and other ancillary services. Many of these online systems are impressive in their capabilities and their comprehensiveness. However, much of their sophistication is the result of proprietary mechanisms which provide great workflow within their systems, but integrate less successfully with other calendaring ∧ scheduling systems and other third party applications.
How does it work?
Online travel agencies provide a "bridge" between booking systems of travel suppliers and end users, helping to aggregate all the information for a single itinerary, with a simple, single point of management for users. Such systems can provide much richer data to users in the form of alternative schedules, cheaper options, destination-based local events, and updates. Users typically book through a web interface or dedicated mobile apps. Itineraries are then produced online and typically sent via email to the user.
Who's doing it?
Travel industry: airlines, booking systems, rental car companies etc. Transport agencies: rail, bus. Entertainment industry: theatres, sports, local events. Software: travel guides.
What are the problems with it?
Many websites offer to export their information as calendar data, however the "quality" of that data is poor, and often disjoint and not easily integrated with other tools, such as third-party travel apps on mobile devices. In some cases old versions of VCALENDAR are used, in others where iCalendar is used, required properties are missing or it has missing or inaccurate timezone data. In many cases users have to go through several steps to successfully import the data into their calendar systems, and matters get worse when they want to share their data with friends and family who may be using different calendaring systems. Key pieces of information (e.g, flight numbers) are stored as text in the description field, making it hard for third-party applications to extract that information. In addition, the calendar data for itinerary "segments" are not related to each other, missing out on many potential opportunities to manipulate the entire set of data in smart ways (e.g., when one segment is rescheduled a smart app could automatically adjust or cancel follow-on segments to match the new timing).
What needs to be done, and what is CalConnect doing?
CalConnect's focus is interoperable calendaring and scheduling; we are a partnership between vendors of calendaring and scheduling systems and tools, and users of those systems and tools. We are heavily involved in advancing the state of calendaring and scheduling through developing and enhancing open standards. RFC5545, Internet Calendaring and Scheduling Core Object Specification (iCalendar) is the standard data format for interoperable calendaring and scheduling on the internet. It is used by many enterprise and consumer digital calendaring systems to convey calendaring information. Developed almost two decades ago, it has established itself as the primary format for calendar data on the Internet. It was designed to cover many of the "personal" calendaring scenarios that crop up in real life, such as recurring events, events in different timezones, alarms, tasks etc. As a mature standard it represents the best way to exchange calendaring data between different systems. As it is widely supported, there are plentiful tools and products available that make use of it and can easily be incorporated into areas where calendaring is a component of a bigger system, such as digital itineraries.
CalConnect's initial goal is to develop a set of use cases and requirements for digital itinerary systems to enhance the usefulness of calendar data, with direct input from travel industry experts. Once the requirements have been established, CalConnect is ideally placed to identify what must be added to the basic calendaring and scheduling standards to fully support travel itineraries and to update the standards – and encourage vendors to support these new capabilities.
What are the implications for calendaring and scheduling?
To address the problems identified under 5, digital travel itineraries need:
- Direct integration with GPS apps/devices - i.e., automatically program a GPS devices with start/end points based on itinerary segments.
- Integration with apps (such as ones that provide details about airports, or local events at a destination etc).
- Automated "double-booking" checks that spot when one segment is changed and "clashes" with another.
- "Smart agents" that can help manage the overall itinerary for users and different parts changes.
- Improved sharing of itinerary information with other people (family, business associates, etc.).
In order to address these needs the calendaring and scheduling standards must be extended to provide the necessary data elements and support, to enable vendors to successfully provide support for these needs in an interoperable manner. Once the extensions to the standards are complete, CalConnect will help in promoting the new standards, reaching out to other vendors to adopt them, and helping with interoperability testing to support successful deployment.
We believe that doing this work will significantly improve the overall user experience of handling digital itineraries across multiple types of devices, opening up new opportunities for vendors to develop smarter applications to further enhance the experience and provide new business opportunities.
Need more information?
Calendaring and Scheduling Glossary of Terms
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