An interview with IATA NDC Hackathon winner, Evol Johnson
Evol Johnson is a systems architect, and one of the hackers that took part in IATA’s recent NDC Hackathon in Dublin. During the 36 hours available to the hackers, Evol was able to develop (as a solo hacker) a Chrome widget, featuring the Skyscanner Hotels API, that could be embedded into event websites to enable attendees to easily book their flights and hotels for the event.
Unsurprisingly, Evol and his widget caught the attention of the judges, resulting in him taking home two prizes. In this Q&A, we get Evol’s take on the hackathon experience, and use of the Skyscanner Hotels API.
- What was it that made you want to take part in the NDC Hackathon?
I have been working for the past year on implementing an application for a ticket consolidator, using web-services that talk to several GDSs. I had plans on attending another conference in San Francisco around the same dates, but I felt that the NDC hackathon was a great opportunity to push myself to learn more about NDC and how it will influence the future of the travel industry. It also had the benefit of giving me an excuse to visit Ireland, and a chance to meet new people!
- What was your idea for the Hackathon?
My idea was to build a widget and/or application that would allow me to book flights, and hotels from the page of the event(s) – specifically those which I plan to attend.
- What problem do you feel your hack solves?
It reduces the division between booking your conference and booking your travel. Currently, you have to visit different websites, and enter your personal and payment information multiple times in order to end up with a conference ticket and (a) travel ticket(s). Having the widget gives people the opportunity to do this from a single site and purchase all their tickets within a single payment.
You can view a demo for the solution here.
- Which APIs did you use during the Hackathon?
To bring in the NDC messaging, I used the IATA NDC Sandboxes and I selected the Skyscanner Hotels API to provide accommodation.
- How did your widget use the Skyscanner API?
My widget basically uses 2 Queries, one to shop for air and the other to shop for accommodation. The Skyscanner Hotels API provided me with availability and prices for hotels in the immediate geographic area of the event location, for example the Conference Centre where the Hackathon was held. Establishing proximity was key, as I tend to book hotels as close as possible to the venue of the event I will be attending.
During the hackathon I built a backend application in Grails, which made easy to work with XML responses from NDC and convert them to JSON to be consumed by the frontend. I wrote an additional service that would make Queries to Skyscanner API. This also 'decoded' the paths for the images and resolved them to full URLs, to keep the UI very simple.
- How did you find the integration with the Skyscanner API?
I chose the Skyscanner API following a recommendation from another hacker, who suggested to use it because “I would be up and running in no time”, and they were right. Most of my time was spent converting the image encoded URLs, but even this only took me an hour.
- What are your plans for your widget moving forward?
As part of my prize, I will be going through IATA’s incubation phase. This is 6 weeks long and will give me the chance to develop the business and pitch my idea at industry forums. Although there are no guarantees, I am looking forward to seeing if we can build a company out of this weekend experiment!