APIs and Competitive Advantage in the Travel Sector

APIs power the travel sector and effective API security can deliver a real competitive advantage.

APIs and Competitive Advantage in the Travel Sector

In this post, look at the importance of APIs in the travel industry, and dive into how they can lend businesses competitive advantage and enable long-term business success.

The Importance of APIs in the Travel Industry

The travel industry is a strange beast – whereas other industries might have a handful of servers that dictate the modality of purchasing and consumption, the travel industry is truly a network of small, medium, and large providers working together. 

While this delivers incredible value to the end user and provides flexible opportunities for businesses, it does mean that there is a much higher demand for interconnected, portable data and services than there is in most other industries.

How APIs Give Companies a Competitive Edge

APIs are not only good to have in the travel industry – they are often critical elements of business strategy that can deliver serious competitive advantage.

Firstly, APIs provide efficient resource connections that are governed by the provider. An API developer can gain a competitive edge by making their product faster, and through the process of building and maintaining their API, they can also establish an ownership over the data flow that allows for special pricing, marketing and promotional efforts, and more.

Secondly, APIs can help providers build products that they otherwise might be unable to deploy. APIs allow businesses to connect to one another to provide functionality – if a travel organization wants to provide billing, they can choose to use a third party API rather than building something internally, allowing for a more rapid market plan as well as more efficient use of resources.

Additionally, APIs allow providers to own the data that operates within the system. Data is digital gold, and when a provider owns the API that handles this data, they can then transform that data to provide long-term business benefits, guidance, and more. 

The travel industry is constantly evolving, but the consumer base is relatively static. This creates a need for products that can evolve with the competitive nature of the industry while providing incredible customer service and stability throughout iterative innovation. That’s a pretty tall order, and APIs fit that bill perfectly – a properly defined and developed API should allow for constant iteration and development with stable consumer experience.

Strong APIs provide seamless experiences. Consumers want a product that is as low-friction as possible, and properly building and securing your API can enable that. Low-friction means higher potential revenue and quicker turnaround – for this reason, your API can be a principal source of effective business revenue generation.

Example Travel Industry APIs

This is not a theoretical argument, either. We can see how some of the largest organizations in the travel space are using APIs today to gain their competitive edge.

A great example of a powerful API in this space is Skyscanner. Skyscanner is an aggregation service that makes its money by connecting travelers with potential booking opportunities, and as such, it depends heavily on a seamless experience that is as wide-reaching as it is well-implemented. Skyscanner has become a ubiquitous tool because of its ease of use, and by providing its API for integration, it stands out as a strong partner for any booking or ticketing system.

Another good example of an API is the Gimmonix API. This API connects to hundreds of first party hotel APIs to provide advanced hotel mapping and booking processes. Gimmonix has a competitive edge on the exterior of a network – by providing a way to move across multiple APIs as a sort of frontend for a collection of services, Gimmonix has carved out its value proposition as a strong contender for other third party services looking to simplify their hotel stack.

Understanding API Security

Of course, all of this benefit comes with one major caveat – APIs are only as good as they are secure. Insecure APIs can have dramatic impacts on consumer confidence, network stability, and competitive edge; conversely, failing to secure your API can undermine your business and lead to reputational damage, regulatory fines and punishments, and direct data exposure that undermines your business strategy.

Accordingly, half of the process when developing a strong API is figuring out how to secure your APIs to protect the upside while mitigating the downside of such processes.

Common Security Threats Facing APIs

To start building an effective plan, we should consider what kind of security threats APIs often encounter. There are a range of common threats that APIs deal with on a daily basis, but they generally fall into a handful of categories.

First, APIs are particularly vulnerable to technical attacks that target the interconnected nature underlying APIs as a technology. Injection attacks, where code is injected via frontends and forms to force APIs to do instructions they otherwise would not do, are relatively common, but are also relatively easy to mitigate through data sanitation and general authentication and authorization schemes. 

DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attacks are also quite common, where an attacker floods a service with noisy traffic to either overwhelm the API and break security systems or to create enough noise for some other attack to slip under the radar. These attacks can be handled with effective load balancing, rate limiting, and other heuristics systems which help separate the noise from the data and reduce the effectiveness of denial attacks.

Data breaches are also a major threat – the exposure and exfiltration of data can lead to serious ramifications in the short and long term, with regulatory fines and reputational damage being quite common, as well as more dire consequences such as lost business partnerships and major legal action.

Best Practices for Securing Travel APIs

Luckily, securing your APIs is easy when you have a solid gameplan. There are some common best practices that are especially important for travel APIs that can be easily and efficiently deployed at scale.

First, ensure that you are protecting your customer’s data privacy. Encrypt data in transit and at rest to prevent potential data exposures and breaches – this will pay huge dividends in the long run both due to decreased regulatory fine potentials as well as increased trust and brand reputation.

Ensure that your authentication and authorization mechanisms are robust and granular. The most important first step any organization can take to secure their data is to make sure it’s only accessible by those who need it, a concept known as least privilege. Ensuring that you are adequately securing your data in this way will reduce your overall threat surface.

Speaking of threat surfaces, you need to obtain strong visibility. If possible, adopt a trust partner for deep visibility and context – it’s not good enough to just track internal traffic, you need to actually understand and have context for how your service functions so that you can find potential weaknesses.

Basic systems such as rate limiting and throttling can help you mitigate many of the problems discussed herein, and regular security audits and penetration testing can ensure that these systems are appropriate and adequate. 

It’s important to remember, however, that security is not a set-and-forget affair – continuous monitoring is vitally important, and you must continually audit your system configurations and designs to ensure you are adapting to new threats in the marketplace. 

As emerging technologies like AI LLM models and new standards for communication challenge marketplace norms, you’re going to want to innovate on business strategy – accordingly, any resources you spend on repairing basic security holes are going to distract from your core business processes. Spend the time now, and you will have long-term benefits in your security posture and ability to adapt to the changing market.

Case Studies

These best practices are not theoretical, and we only have to look to the last few years to see the impact of poor adoption of these standard approaches. An investigation by Which? detected hundreds of security vulnerabilities across websites, APIs, and other products, exposing data to attackers and risking market reputation for firms including American, EasyJet, and Marriot. 

In the report, Which? noted that these threats had already been seen in the wild and had been the source of major data exposures:

[...] some stolen travel data is already available to buy on the dark web. In 2019, travel booking site Ixigo reported a breach that involved 18 million users. We found what was claimed to be 7.2GB of data on Ixigo customers available for $262 on a dark-web site, including full names, usernames, emails, passwords and some passport numbers.

These exposures don’t just have the potential to harm the reputation of the involved companies – in some cases, they carry major fines, such as the £20m fine levied against British Airways. These fines can drastically impact the potential business success of travel organizations.

Final Word

Securing your APIs is not only vital from a security point of view, it’s perhaps the single best source of competitive advantage in the travel industry. Properly securing your APIs can lead to increased innovation and growth with reduced risk of regulatory fines, reputational damage, and long-term security exposure.

The best way to start implementing these best practices and processes is to find a partner you can trust. Luckily, FireTail has an incredible feature set of security tools that guarantee to secure your APIs and deliver competitive advantage at scale. FireTail is your easiest, lowest-friction pathway to regulatory compliance, true security, and deep visibility. 

To learn more about how APIs power the travel sector and why effective API security is crucial to protecting your competitive advantage, check out our ebook: Making Connections - API Security for Travel & Leisure Platforms