How Will NDC Affect You? Agencia Offers Clues

by Michèle McDonald
How Will NDC Affect You? Agencia Offers Clues

As the debate over IATA’s New Distribution Capability rages on, little has been said about how an NDC world would look and feel to a travel agent.

IATA and its airline members have said that it will provide agencies with the ability to sell everything that the airlines sell on their own websites.

On the face of it, that sounds good. But, as every agent knows, the devil is in the details.

Agents’ concerns
What agents want to know about NDC are things like: How will NDC affect my productivity? What will happen to the PNR? How would NDC work with our accounting system?

Travelport’s Agencia desktop for Canadian travel agents may offer some clues. It connects with Air Canada in the way that is envisioned in the NDC project, via an XML application programming interface.

Sarita Sawhney, vice president of Voyages Cortravco in Montreal, was a beta tester of Agencia. When Air Canada rolled out its website for agents, “it was tedious,” she said. “You made the booking on the web, then you had to go back and put everything into the GDS. The added time was 10 to 15 minutes.”

Populates the booking
With Agencia, she said, the agent has access to all of Air Canada’s products and services, including its popular Flight Passes. In addition, flight and pricing options from both Air Canada and other airlines are returned from the GDS in an aggregated display.

But that’s not all, Sawhney said.

Agencia goes into the GDS, reads the customer’s profile, takes the necessary information – frequent flyer number, passport number, etc. – and populates it into the booking.

Agencia also does some things better than the Air Canada website: “You have the option of booking or holding,” Sawhney said. “You don’t have that option on AC Web.”

Saves time for agents
Another advantage is the ability to select a seat “before pushing the trigger,” she said.

Voyages Cortravco business mix is about 80% corporate, and “you know how business travelers are about getting their seats,” she said.

After the booking is made, Agencia correctly populates all the information back into the GDS. “You can go in and add one or two details, and in two or three minutes you’re good to go,” Sawhney said. “It saves a lot of time.”

That automatic repopulating is key, she said. If agents had to do it manually, they might not get to it by the end of the day. In that event, the agency’s after-hours service would not be able to access the information.

Being able to offer the ancillary products of Canada’s largest carrier also is important, she said. Voyages Cortravco is very service-oriented, and corporate customers “want everything yesterday. The one time you don’t offer it, you could lose a customer.”

Bumps in the road
Getting Agencia to where it is today was not all smooth sailing, Sawhney said. “There were some negatives, and some of the beta testers dropped out.

“But Travelport kept asking what works and what doesn’t. They made sure it worked with different accounting programs and that it matched up with them. Everything we’ve discussed has been implemented.”

Some of the older agents at Voyages Cortravco are less enthusiastic about Agencia, she noted. “But the times are moving on. The quicker we open our minds to it, the better off we’ll be.”

So is Agencia a forerunner of NDC?

Parallels to NDC
“Conceptually, it’s the same model,” Marc Rosenberg, president of the Marsalyn Creative consultancy, said. Rosenberg is former vice president of sales and product distribution at Air Canada, where he was instrumental in Agencia’s early development (see sidebar).

Farelogix chief executive Jim Davidson refers to Agencia’s “NDC-style approach to airline integration.”

Agencia is probably already “NDC-compliant,” in that Air Canada’s API was developed by Farelogix, whose schema became the basis for the NDC messaging standard that is currently under development.

American Airlines’ API also was developed by Farelogix, and the carrier has agreed to connect with both Travelport and Amadeus via the API.

American originally wanted to connect directly via the API with large travel management companies

But, Rosenberg said, “the appetite for direct connect was constrained by the lack of NDC,” which aims to provide technical standardization of multi-source content for indirect channels. “You can’t have 40 different versions of direct connect,” he said.

The real challenge with NDC
Much of the hand-wringing over NDC has focused on privacy issues and comparison shopping, but the biggest nut that needs to be cracked is the business model -- who pays what to whom. That issue, probably more than any other, is the elephant in the room.

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