Pegasus Solutions' distribution division, which was acquired by private-equity firm H.I.G. Capital late last year, was renamed Dhisco (Distribution Hospitality Intelligent Systems Co.) in January and at the time brought in tech-industry veteran Toni Portmann as its new CEO. Portmann is charged with updating the decades-old technological "switches" that link GDS operators and OTAs with hotel reservation systems to speed up hotel-room price queries while better providing real-time price and availability data. Portmann, 59, spoke with hotels editor Danny King.
Q: How's progress been since you joined the company?
A: Last month, we did 9.2 billion transactions. When we got here, we were doing 8 billion transactions a month, and we were hovering around 7 billion to 8 billion transactions a month for the past three to four years, so we're showing real growth. Also, we are attacking every point of technology that the distribution side of the business has. Every iPhone and every laptop is a connection point to book a room, so you need speed and high levels of reliability. When we did the acquisition of the company, the speed of the switch was 70 milliseconds. Right now, we're averaging 39 milliseconds.
Q: What are some of your primary challenges?
A: The behavior of the traveler is pretty crazy. The average traveler is looking 35 times before they book, and they're looking eight times within the 24 hours before they travel. So we're undergoing a big project that we call total pricing, and we're delivering it to every distribution partner. That means disclosing [the accurate] rate as well as taxes and fees. So we are returning to you a real rate and real availability in real time.
Q: How are you looking to best improve your content?
A: We've learned about really curating our content to know that the business traveler's No. 1 concern is amenities. For instance, they want to know WiFi rules. And Americans love coffeemakers in the rooms, while Europeans think Americans are crazy. So it's curating the content to get it more personally based. Additionally, we're providing hoteliers insight to how they're performing relative to their peer group. If you go out and have 4,000 to 6,000 hotels in your brand, you better deliver real accurate content, or it's going to be a customer-service nightmare.
Q: How much is Dhisco investing in these technological improvements?
A: We are investing in both infrastructure and on the application-development side. It's double-digits of millions that we will invest over the next 24 months.
Q: Hotel lobbyists have recently decried Expedia's pending acquisition of Orbitz, saying that fewer OTAs spell higher pricing, less choice and less technological improvement. Given that you're serving both the hotels and OTAs, what's your opinion?
A: We don't really care where you book as long as it goes through the Dhisco switch. The booker will continue to use their channel of choice, and I don't think there are any limits to technological advances. For instance, one of our partners isn't even going to have a [traditional] Web presence; it will be 100% mobile, which blows my mind. We haven't seen anything yet. We're going to be booking hotel rooms through our watches. With more enabling of technology and the evolution of advances in mobility, there are going to be channels to connectivity that we haven't even thought about.