GDS Exec Says IATA Is Listening

by By Michèle McDonald

At least one GDS executive is ready to work with IATA on developing the New Distribution Capability standard.

During a panel discussion at IATA’s World Passenger Symposium in Dublin, Travelport chief executive Gordon Wilson said he was “very happy to work with IATA” on the initiative.

It was the first such public statement from a GDS company.

IATA has responded
Later, Wilson told Travel Market Report that his willingness stems from the fact that “IATA has changed its position quite a lot, and I recognize that.”

“IATA maybe overreached a bit in the beginning,” Wilson said. “But they’ve listened to feedback from the industry, and they’ve materially changed their position. I give them credit for that.”

He added that “with any of these things, you go in with your eyes open. I would rather engage with IATA and see where we can take this.”

Wilson said that enabling airlines to sell what they want in the way that they want “is what I’m here for.”

He noted that IATA now points to Travelport’s Agencia desktop, which provides Canadian agents with access to Air Canada’s merchandising efforts, as an example of what an NDC-type environment can enable.

A bit of history
It is little wonder that the GDS companies did not initially greet NDC with open arms.

IATA first unveiled its plan to create “a single industry standard platform, connecting airlines, agencies and consumers and facilitating the correct information flow” in an article in its magazine Airlines International.

The article quoted former Air Canada chief Montie Brewer, who touted direct connections between airlines and travel management companies as the best means of merchandising and distributing ancillary products.

“The current situation is harmful to airlines and the consumer,” he was quoted as saying. The trend toward more sophisticated merchandising by airlines is “being stymied by the outdated systems of the GDSs.”

That article was followed by a Commentary piece in Air Transport World, a magazine for airline managers, in which IATA director general Tony Tyler wrote, “the inability of GDSs to display these enhancements properly … is a real barrier to innovation and to the industry’s ability to generate a return on its investments.”

‘On the right track’
Wilson said he reserves “the right to withdraw” from the NDC project if he senses that IATA is resuming its combative stance. “But I’m not feeling that lately. I think they’ve put it on the right track.”

There is, however, “a little thing that nobody talks about,” Wilson said. NDC is just a standard, and there’s a lot of work yet to be done after the messages are created.

Once the standard is ready to go, someone has to develop a system based on it, and the airlines have to populate it with content. It’s not clear at this point how many airlines have the technical wherewithal to jump right in – or the willingness to make the investment.

“They have to be able to put it into a display,” Wilson said. “And all those things have to be paid for.”

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