IATA’s New Distribution Capability (NDC) took a significant step forward recently after Travelport announced it had passed a significant milestone, performing a live booking of flights using the NDC technical standard. The company says it is the ‘first’ GDS operator to make such a booking, which was facilitated by its Smartpoint agency point of sale.
Travelport’s Head of New Distribution, Ian Heywood, shed light on 10 of the most commonly asked questions he’s received since the landmark development took place.
Which airlines have loaded NDC content so far?
At present, we are working with several airlines, such as the major European carrier which supported the first NDC transaction in October 2018 and Qantas (which we have previously announced), whose NDC content will be made available in the coming months. The IATA Leaderboard is the best source of information on airline’s commitments to NDC.
Is the new NDC content now available for all agents to book through their current Smartpoint solution?
The first version of the capability we recently launched will be rolled out to a growing number of test agencies over the next few weeks as we work with those agencies to ensure the system is working as intended. Rollout to further agencies will be subject to the conclusion of a longer-term agreement with the launch airline. More detailed information will be communicated as we make the new capability generally available.
Does the NDC offering have exactly the same functionality as your existing non-NDC offering?
Travelport is working on further enhancements to its Smartpoint product, which will allow the agent to not only shop, price and book but to fully service the booking much as they can do today for a booking containing traditional content. That said, NDC is fundamentally a ‘shopping’-led workflow so there are inherent differences in the NDC workflow to the traditional ‘availability’-led ATPCO workflow most agencies use via our desktop solution, Smartpoint. The enhancements we will make will be worked through in conjunction with airlines own NDC implementations throughout 2019. They will be implemented into Smartpoint and Trip Services products for consumption by both our offline travel management and agency customers, and our on-line internet customers.
Are agents able to view the NDC content and non-NDC content in one single Smartpoint workflow?
Our desktop solution will provide access to NDC alongside traditional GDS content within Smartpoint. Throughout the course of 2019 we will be continuously enhancing Smartpoint to provide greater integration of NDC with traditional content through, for example, fully-aggregated ATPCO/NDC search.
Are you seeing airlines adopt any particular NDC-specific policies around amendments?
Not at this point in time. Today, ticketing time limits, change policies/penalties remain the same. That said, airlines are at differing stages of API technical readiness when it comes to supporting voluntary and involuntary changes. IATA has tried to address this more completely in version 17.2 of NDC and we’re starting to see the first wave of airlines that have adopted this version release the necessary capability to support voluntary and involuntary changes. We in turn are now in the process of adding that capability to Smartpoint.
Have you seen any airlines introduce ancillary products only available via NDC?
Not yet, however, this is something we expect to happen over time as airlines develop their merchandising strategies. Right now, we’re seeing airlines replicate the ancillary options available via current ATPCO-based technology in their NDC API.
How will NDC affect existing commercial models?
There will be a range of commercial models introduced in the new NDC era, which will be influenced by how individual airlines decide to go to market with NDC. As always, these will need to recognize the value provided by each party in the booking process. The details will ultimately be ironed out on a case-by-case basis.
Is the airlines’ ultimate goal with NDC to own the customer and eliminate the GDS in the distribution chain?
I believe airlines understand that, while NDC can help them improve their sales capability, it can’t reduce the vast complexity of travel distribution. Only the GDS, for example, can offer things like content aggregation from multiple sources, booking, workflow automation, change management, customer servicing, agency robotics, booking changes, policy compliance, expense management, invoicing and business analytics.
Do you think airlines will adopt a carrot or stick approach to encouraging adoption of NDC by travel agents?
We are already seeing airlines in Europe, North America and Asia develop a variety of ‘carrot’ and ‘stick’ approaches when it comes to encouraging NDC adoption and use by agents. Each airline is of course taking the direction it feels will deliver the best results. However, only time will tell which works best.
What do agents need to do to prepare for an NDC world?
Agents need to talk to their partners in the industry; airlines about their plans for NDC distribution, and GDS companies about their solutions to deliver airline NDC content. They also need to work out how NDC can genuinely benefit their customers and the additional value that they can bring to airlines once NDC is widely being used. All this information will help agents form an NDC strategy that works for their business.