The lesson is not lost on InterContinental Hotels, which runs hotels and resorts in more than 80 countries on six different continents. IHG has decades of investment in a world-class, proprietary reservation system that capably and reliably processes millions of transactions each year. Within this environment, the company can control application and system resources, data center assets, LANs and even major areas of its WAN. It has done so successfully for years, processing hotel and resort reservations that come in from points around the world at its Atlanta, Ga.-based data center.
But with the expansion of Internet use and a global economy that is now starting to register major demands for hotel accommodations in emerging markets like China, the Middle East, South America and Africa, IHG is looking for new ways to continuously improve the customer experience--and it is focusing its attention in an area of Internet WAN that it can't independently control with its time-proven transaction processing architecture--the technology and political limitations that impact high-speed broadband in China and other emerging customer demand regions such as the Middle East and Africa.
"We were seeing transaction latencies of 250 milliseconds each way on transactions from China that were being processed through our Atlanta data center," says Bryson Koehler, senior VP of revenue and guest technology at IHG. "The issue for us was simple. We are seeing a change in global traffic patterns for our reservations, and we also know that people are used to a great hotel experience regardless of which country they are booking reservations from. Our job is to make this experience as enjoyable throughout the world as it is in the U.S. or the U.K. This begins with giving our customers a pleasing experience when they book a reservation with us."
Guaranteeing a universally excellent level of customer service for reservation booking isn't easy. China has regulatory requirements and a set of rules that allow it to arbitrarily block Internet traffic into and out of the country. This affects reservations that have to travel across the WAN to IHG's Atlanta data center. In Dubai, the existing Internet server and firewall infrastructure is simply overwhelmed with demand. In the Philippines and in Africa, there is not enough fiber optic cable to guarantee high-speed, high-bandwidth transactions. And if you're in the hospitality industry, there simply is no way to improve reservation transaction performance when major issues involving the WAN are beyond your control. Or is there?