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Semantic Web travel services on a voyage of discovery


A secure, semantic-based interoperability framework for exploiting Web service platforms across peer-to-peer networks in the tourism industry hopes to set free the valuable Web-based tourism information that is currently trapped in isolated silos of incompatible databases.

"The tourism industry today is the second largest economic sector, after manufacturing, in the world," says Professor Asuman Dogac, Director of the Software Research & Development Center in Turkey, and coordinator of the SATINE project. "Earlier than in other sectors, tourism embarked on e-business, not only with respect to business-to-business, but also with business-to-consumer."

Currently, travel information services are dominantly provided by Global Distribution Systems (GDSs). A GDS gives its subscribers pricing and availability information for multiple travel products such as flights. Travel agents, corporate travel departments, and even Internet travel services, subscribe to one or more GDS’.

"However, small and medium-sized enterprises [SMEs], for example bed-and-breakfast accommodation or companies hiring bicycles, restaurants and many others cannot participate in GDS-based e-business because selling their products through GDS’ is too expensive for them," says Dr Dogac.

Furthermore, GDSs are legacy systems, and suffer from a number of problems. They mostly rely on private networks, are mainly for human use, are difficult to use and have cryptic interfaces. Their speed and search capabilities are limited. Finally, it’s difficult to get them to interoperate with other systems and data sources. This means that tour operators, travel agencies and others cannot benefit fully from the advantages of electronic business-to-business trading.

The potential for advanced online travel Web services

The SATINE project developed a secure peer-to-peer network that enables peers to deploy their semantically-enriched travel Web services and allows others to discover these services semantically. "By introducing semantics to Web services, we have addressed the interoperability issue on the semantic level and constructed a peer-to-peer network that eases service discovery," says Dr Dogac.

"The creation of complex services through the orchestration of simple Web services is an important task that is of particular relevance in the travel business: Apart from the typical examples, like the composition of package tours, more sophisticated services like a flight booking based on the availability of tickets for a certain cultural event are conceivable," says Dr Dogac.

For instance, ultimately the work of SATINE could lead to very advanced travel services, where a holiday maker might enter terms like the dates, cost, car rental, hill walking, scuba diving and sunbathing and then be presented with a list of options offering all those activities and services with detailed itineraries and cost information, and all necessary bookings. The user would simply click on the option that appeals most.

"In SATINE project, we have developed a Semantic Wrapper for constructing and describing Web services," says Dr Dogac. The main role of this component is to wrap existing information resources to make them appear as semantically well-described Web Services. It’s an easy-to-use tool for SMEs to create and annotate Web services from their existing enterprise applications.

The Semantic Wrapper provides two complementary tools: the Web Service Creator and the Web Service Annotator. The Web Service Creator transforms existing resources in Web Services. The Web Service Annotator describes a Web service at a semantic level, using OWL-S as the ontology of reference.

OWL is a markup language for publishing and sharing data using ontologies on the Web. OWL-S ontologies describe the Web service semantics. Ontologies are the vocabularies that allow machines to identify specific services or information. For example, a human operator would understand the term ’booking’, but it needs to be defined in a special way for a machine to understand.

The project is also developing a mobile application to wrap the basic functionality of SATINE and provide a mobile interface for consumers to query and invoke the services in the network. These are secure Web services deployed among peers in the p2p network.

The project developed a prototype that was demonstrated successfully at over six major conferences. SATINE also organised a number of commercial demonstrations, including one to German software firm, SAP research.

Tara Morris | alfa
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