IATA’s New Distribution Capability will help close the gap between the merchandising offers available on airline websites and the offers that travel agents are able to book, according to Eric Leopold, director-passenger for the airline trade group.
“NDC allows airlines to manage retailing of their products via indirect sales channels, using travel agents, in the same way as selling through their own websites,” he said.
What IATA does not envision is a “big bang” in which the distribution model is upended overnight, Leopold said.
In an interview with Travel Market Report, Leopold said a carrier that participates today in the GDSs “in five years will still participate in GDS.” There will, in other words, be peaceful coexistence between NDC and the ways in which travel agencies work today, he said.
As a present-day example, he cited Travelport’s Agencia desktop, which allows Canadian agencies to view flights from both Apollo and Air Canada in an aggregated display. Agencia also allows agents to book Air Canada’s full range of a la carte options, as well as its Flight Passes, which offer prepaid packages of multi-passenger one-way flight credits.
NDC would expand on that concept, Leopold said.
Clarifies aggregator role
In October, when IATA passed a resolution mandating the development of the framework and messaging standards for NDC, the diagram showing the flow of information between customers and airlines did not include an aggregator, GDS or otherwise.
At a recent media event at IATA’s executive offices in Geneva, Leopold distributed a new diagram that clarifies the aggregator role in IATA’s vision.
He said NDC will be developed as an open Application Program Interface (API) to connect systems with each other. (APIs have been described as “a website without the user interface.”)
“With an open API, anyone can use it to develop applications, as opposed to today’s GDS, which are proprietary solutions,” Leopold said. “This is similar to what Apple did by allowing developers to create applications for the iPhone and iPad.
“But let me be clear,” Leopold added. “NDC is not a GDS bypass and is not a travel agent bypass. Quite the opposite: It gives GDS and travel agents the ability to access the same product offers when airlines sell their products directly to consumers via their websites.”
The idea of connecting via API is not revolutionary. All three GDSs have APIs that third parties can use to develop new applications that interact with the systems. Southwest Airlines connects with Travelport’s systems via the Travelport Universal API.
IATA’s goal in developing NDC is twofold:
• To make it easier for airlines to sell diverse products, thereby increasing profitability
• To develop standards by which airlines can connect with distributors without reinventing the wheel for every connection.
A major concern expressed by travel agents and their representatives is whether NDC will enable comparison shopping. Leopold said multiple shopping requests could be sent out simultaneously.
Requests, however, may be “much more elaborate than just a city pair,” he said. A request may include various passenger preferences, which some airlines may be able to satisfy better than others. Airlines that can’t meet the requirements may not respond at all.
Comparisons could involve more than price. Depending on the customer’s identity – elite status, history with the airline, whether she is traveling with her family, etc. – airline offerings may call for a comparison of their relative value to the customer.
See Related Story: GDSs Will Evolve Into ‘Value Creation Hubs’