Who would have thought, ten years ago, that one of the most popular way to book tickets would be on your phone?
As technology moves faster every year, it is getting ever more difficult to predict what the next big thing will be (and which big thing will survive more than 6 months).
Users find new and inventive ways to use social networks and apps, that even the creators of the networks didn't intend, and as more technology is opened up to developers, ever more innovative ways of using technology are created.
APIs allow airlines and travel companies to use this to their advantage. By opening themselves up to outside development, using API standards, your in-house innovation efforts can be enhanced by outside innovation. If you can harness developers willing to work on new ways of selling your product, at no cost to the airline, other than establishing a standard and making raw data available, then benefits can be realised at a low cost.
More and more airlines are running hackathons or innovation events, allowing startups and individual developers to brainstorm new ways of using existing data for everyones benefit. At the same time, you should also encourage innovation inside your organisation - perhaps allowing your developers some time to work on their own ideas beside their conventional work.
If someone can think of a good way of selling your flights on social media, or wants to create a bespoke app to benefit a specific usergroup (for example a tailored app for blind users) then there is really no downside for the travel company.
Of course, you need to think about control and security. APIs need to be open enough to encourage innovation, but with enough control and security to protect your organisation. When considering API solutions, this should be one of the most important factors.
It may take your organisation some time to change to this new way of working, but the benefits are worth it. The more commercial channels you can distribute your products to, the greater your customer reach, maximising sales revenue.