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Murdoch, Hotel Chains Form Computer Reservations Venture

November 15, 1988

NEW YORK (AP) _ A new computerized hotel reservations system being developed by media tycoon Rupert Murdoch and nine hotel chains could allow travelers to book rooms like they book airline tickets.

The new system, called UltraSwitch, will provide a central electronic source of hotel room information for the participating hotels and for travel agents, officials of the venture told a news conference Monday.

Currently, only a small fraction of hotel rooms are booked electronically, using the computer systems provided by major airlines to travel agents. Most hotel bookings are made through toll-free ″800″ numbers or directly with hotels, methods which are more expensive for the hotels to process.

Under UltraSwitch, the number of electronic hotel bookings made by travel agents will increase, the officials said. The system also will provide a central pool of information on rooms available at the participating hotels.

By using new computer software, UltraSwitch will link the five existing airline reservations systems in the United States with those used by participating hotels.

If a hotel is full, for example, it will be able to tell travel agents what rooms are available at other participating hotels in the same city. This is the practice followed by the airlines, which often will book a passenger on another carrier’s flight if one of their own flights is full.

UltraSwitch, which is expected to serve hotels in the United States and abroad, is scheduled to be operating before the end of next year.

″The consumer will now have the best opportunity to get what he wants,″ said Robert D. McGrail, senior vice president of marketing for Days Inns of America.

McGrail also is chairman of The Hotel Industry Switch Co., or THISCO, formed by the nine participating hotel chains and Murdoch Electronic Publishing, a subsidiary of Murdoch’s News America Publishing Inc.

The participating chains are Best Western, Days Inns, Hyatt Hotels, La Quinta Inns, Marriott Corp., Quality Inns, Ramada Inns, Sheraton Hotels and Trusthouse Forte Hotels. They each will have one share in THISCO. Murdoch Electronic Publishing, which is putting up $8 million to $9 million to finance the project, will own a special class of stock in THISCO.

McGrail said the group also hoped to attract as shareholders other hotel chains, and possibly airlines and other companies. The nine participating hotel chains represent about half of the major hotel chains in the United States.

″We’ll see a marriage here eventually between″ airline and hotel reservations systems and travel agents, said Murdoch, who flew in from London for the news conference.

Murdoch said he got involved because some of the magazines he publishes are ″entirely dependent″ on advertising by hotels and airlines. The publications include Hotel and Travel Index, Travel Weekly, Official Hotel and Resort Guide, Meetings and Conventions Magazine, Official Meetings and Facilities Guide, and European Travel and Life Magazine.

The software for UltraSwitch will be developed mainly by Anasazi Corp. of Phoenix, which has developed programs for the hotel and financial services industries.

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