The Wotif grid is back

Wotif was established during 2000 in Australia as an online hotel booking service. It was bought by United States travel giant Expedia during late 2014.

Up until recently, what set Wotif apart from other online booking and comparison service was its grid or matrix of hotel prices and availability.  Many other competing services required a traveller to provide their exact check-in date and duration of stay before they were presented with a matching list of hotel availability options.  In striking contrast, Wotif simply presented an availability and pricing grid across all hotels so travellers could see at a glance their options. This particularly suited people who were flexible with their travel arrangements or who were hunting for the best deal.  See the example below.

Wotif availability grid

At the time, Wotif’s executive general manager underlined the difference between Wotif and other online booking services by these quotes in regards to its availability and pricing grid / matrix:

  • “It’s one of those things we know has a big fan base…and continues to provide an easy way to compare rates for price sensitive travellers who have flexibility about when they want to travel.”
  • “The grid layout is now also somewhat unique. On most sites, customers would have a hard time knowing if the next or previous day or week offered a better deal.”

In early 2015, Wotif changed their availability display style to match the theme of Expedia which meant travellers needed to specify specific dates and stay durations before they could search for availability. This caused the following issues:

  • If someone was wanting to find availability or the best rates for a weekend stay, but had flexibility about which weekend, it would require them to conduct a separate search for each weekend and write each one down to compare. With the Wotif availability grid, a traveller could see instantly the availability across a range of hotels, and simply flick the calendar forward to get to the next weekend
  • Someone with flexibility in regards to the duration of their stay would now need to conduct separate searches with different durations to see the availability and tariffs.  Whereas with Wotif’s former matrix, travellers could see, at a glance, whether they could change the length of their stay and which hotels could accommodate them.

Many people have some degree of flexibility when it comes to their travel plans, particularly if it is for leisure purposes, so having to go through a time consuming process of trying various combinations of check-in dates and stay durations can seem very cumbersome with Wotif’s new Expedia interface than simply casting one’s eye over a availability grid which covers a range of accommodation properties, dates and prices.

Like many others, we here at Travel Victoria missed the Wotif availability grid.  So we did something about it!

As an official Wotif affiliate partner, we had the opportunity to request access to the Wotif API through Expedia, which would allow us to extract availability and pricing from their live database without having to go through the web interface.  This meant we could build a customised table of availability across a range of hotels. Thus we were able to recreate a simplified version of the much loved Wotif matrix, as shown below for our St Kilda accommodation list:

St Kilda accommodation

We do have a few limitations:

  1. It is not a real-time availability matrix as it actually takes a few hours to build up the matrix of availability for the several hundred hotels in Victoria we have chosen to feature in the grid.  At the moment, it is automatically updated once a day, with this process concluding in the late afternoon.
  2. It only covers 3 months. People looking for accommodation more than 3 months into the future will still need to do a traditional (and cumbersome) search by date.
  3. It only shows availability for stays which have a minimum duration of 3 nights or less, as testing for longer minimum stays would slow down the database update significantly.
  4. It only shows the base or minimum rate for the cheapest room.  To get the rates for all room types and numbers of guests, people will still need to go through the regular Expedia style interface.  Wotif actually had a second level grid which would open up if you restricted your search to a specific hotel, thus showing all room types and rates.

So the Wotif grid is back, alive and well, although in a much simpler form,  now on the Travel Victoria website!

5 thoughts on “The Wotif grid is back”

  1. Thats great, really poor that Wotif became Expedia clone but how do you get to this function. Get to website, then what? Accomodation search doesnt get there so how ?

    1. We’ve always loved the Wotif grid, so it was a shame it disappeared early last year as part of streamlining the Wotif website to match the operation of its parent, Expedia.

      However, we have recreated a simplified version of it, using information direct from Wotif’s hotel inventory, which is updated twice a day.

      For example, if you are looking to stay in Melbourne’s CBD, the Wotif grid is available at:
      https://www.travelvictoria.com.au/melbourne/accommodation/availability/

      A bit of nostalgia there!

  2. Do you have an idea why Expedia disetsablilshed the Wotif grid? And another one, what is the difficulty in getting up-to-date data into your database in order to reduplicate the grid as it is done on the Tourism Vicoria page? I have an interest as a researcher in information management in tourism.

    1. Hi Markus, thanks for your comments and questions.

      In late 2014, Expedia bought Wotif.

      Instead of running Wotif as a separate entity, the most cost effective and simplest option for Expedia was to migrate Wotif to their own technology platform and thus their own underlying inventory of accommodation. Effectively Wotif is just a different “skin” to the underlying Expedia base, but with branding that started in 2000 and quickly became a household name in Australia.

      The Wotif pricing grid or matrix front-end was incompatible with Expedia’s technology platform, which is why it was retired. One of the main incompatibilities had to do with the difficulty of displaying the wide availability grid on small screen devices. Expedia’s front-end, whereby you first choose your booking dates, overcame that issue, although for some people with flexibility with their stay, it ended up being a bit cumbersome to use.

      Our accommodation listings consist of accommodation that is not only featured on Wotif, but also independent hotels who have their own direct online booking system and also private holiday rental homes where only a simple availability calendar is provided, but with no pricing per night. There are even a few accommodation providers that have no online booking or availability calendar.

      The main difficulty for us is extracting the live availability and pricing from accommodation using Wotif. In order for us to recreate a simplified version of the nostalgic Wotif grid, Expedia kindly provided us with access to their live accommodation inventory and availability through a restricted API.

      In order to extract availability data from the Wotif database through the API, we are provided with a number of data query methods. Unfortunately there is no method that will allow us to create the grid quickly enough for it to be a live view. For example, we would have liked to submit a query for a particular hotel, asking for the minimum price for each date for the next 3 months. The underlying technology and API won’t permit us to do that in one go. However, what it can do is show the availability across a list of hotels for a specific date.

      Extracting availability and pricing for a specific hotel for 3 months requires about 90 separate API calls to get the pricing for each of those days. Additionally, some days are marked as unavailable due to minimum stay requirements. So for each of those days, we go through and see if we can find availability if we specify the stay is 2 nights and then also 3 nights. We stop trying after 3 nights as that covers most minimum stay requirements.

      For a hotel which has vacancies every night for 3 months, and with no minimum stay requirements, we would make about 90 API calls to generate a 3 month availability grid. Going to the other extreme, for a hotel which was completely booked out for 3 months would require us to make about 270 API calls to verify that, due to the extra checking for minimum stays.

      Given that between 90 and 270 API calls are required to extract the information for each day of a 3 month availability grid, the time required to actually display the grid would be between 30 seconds and 2 minutes, depending if we keep hitting lots of booked dates and have to keep trying 2 or 3 night stays to overcome a possible minimum stay requirement. This is far to long for someone to wait.

      The other problem is that access to the API is governed by limits, and the standard maximum number of API calls permitted in a day is 20,000. In a worst case scenario, we would only be allowed about 75 live pricing grids per day to be viewed before access is stopped.

      To address the display speed issue and also the API access limits, we instead query the API twice a day and extract all the information required to display our availability grids and store it in a fast database. This allows the grid to be displayed in usually one or two seconds. As the database is updated twice a day, the availability can be up to 12 hours out of date. So that’s why we refer to the grid as more of an indication of availability rather than a true live representation.

      Wotif is not the only organisation we have to deal with in order to build up the availability database. SiteMinder (their products include TheBookingButton and LittleHotelier), RMS and AirBnB, to name a few, provide us with access to either their API or an exported calendar file which we can use to create the availability grid for specific accommodation properties that use that. So the generation of a live availability grid with so many external sources is simply not feasible, which is why we have adopted the twice a day availability extraction process.

      With regards to Tourism Victoria, there are a number of reasons why they can display a live availability grid. Firstly, their data comes from only one source, which is the national booking exchange platform, TXA. Secondly, the underlying database supports extracting live availability which fits a grid-style front-end. However, with Wotif, we are restricted with using an API which is designed for a completely different front-end.

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