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NDC for sellers: The other side of the coin

Published on  29 November by Pierre Guiol , Senior Product Manager - NDC and New Data Services, SITA
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There’s been a lot of buzz lately around New Distribution Capability (NDC), IATA’s program for the development and adoption of a new data transmission standard. Much of that coverage, however, has focused on airlines. This makes sense, as the benefits of NDC for airlines are clear: More control over distribution, expanded reach to new channels, and better, more personalized offers for customers.

As airlines’ distribution strategies evolve, travel sellers must rely on a diverse mix of channels to address customer needs. To that end, travel management companies (TMCs), online travel agencies (OTAs), aggregators, large and small travel agents alike are all affected by NDC. In an open letter to the business travel industry, the IATA Travel Manager Advisory Group concluded that “[…] given the right implementation and commercial structures, NDC can bring real benefits to the industry, our travel programs and the traveller experience.”

So how can travel sellers reap the benefits of NDC?

To put it simply, NDC paves the way for an improved, enhanced customer experience. It optimizes API connectivity between airlines and sellers, simplifying the offer and order management processes and increasing the efficiency in selling airline ancillary products. This streamlined approach allows sellers to focus on the customer with personalized offers, rich content, and pricing transparency and consistency.

NDC also offers travel sellers the opportunity to connect to new partners that were previously out of reach. Currently, most low-cost carriers with no GDS presence can only sell direct to the customer; with NDC, they would be able to sell via travel agents and TMCs.

What’s the catch?

Despite all of the recent excitement, implementing NDC is not a quick and easy process for travel sellers. Sellers will need to adjust booking flows and IT processes, which won’t be done overnight. As of September, only 19 sellers and 15 aggregators are NDC certified and able to connect directly to airlines using the NDC standard. And while many airlines have begun pushing NDC onto their partners, there are plenty of complexities to be considered by sellers:

  • NDC is optional. Some airlines will fully embrace it, some partially, and others not at all.
  • The NDC standard isn’t static. IATA launched the initial standard in 2012, and we are now on NDC schema version 18.1 with at least a dozen versions in operation.
  • Implementation isn’t consistent. In addition to the various versions, there are also multiple levels of NDC certification and capability for airlines, aggregators, and sellers.

These challenges mean sellers could spend considerable time and resources developing individual connections to hundreds of airlines, each potentially with a different version, schema, or certification level. Not ideal.

Embracing the community approach

To address these challenges of implementing NDC, SITA and ATPCO joined forces in 2017 to provide the industry with NDC Exchange, a community-driven platform that enables API connectivity between airlines and sellers so that they can exchange messages easily and cost effectively. Using a common data model, it normalizes messages regardless of version or format, creating interoperability across the distribution ecosystem. Travel sellers can access multiple airlines via NDC Exchange, thus lowering the cost of their implementation.

Serko, an industry-leading corporate booking tool, was one of the first travel sellers to connect to NDC Exchange. By joining the community, Rich Miller, General Manager of Sales, U.S. Market says, “[…] we have access to these first movers, as well as other airlines as they join. By building a single connection to NDC Exchange, we are being more efficient with our development resources, letting us focus on customer experience rather than content acquisition.”

Likewise, leading global travel search site Skyscanner has joined NDC Exchange, adding value for all on the platform through a growing network effect.

“We are delighted to have joined NDC Exchange and are sure that the platform will bring many benefits to our partners, providing a consistent product offering across the entire travel distribution ecosystem. We want to bring airline products on Skyscanner’s site as close to the direct experience as possible, with carriers controlling their products and brand while benefiting from our traffic, and audience, across a range of devices,” said Hugh Aitken, Senior Commercial Director of Skyscanner.

It all comes back to customer experience…

Despite the challenges associated with its implementation, it’s clear that NDC offers myriad benefits to both airlines and sellers. A customer might never know whether their booking was NDC-processed, but they will surely know if the experience was simple, helpful and transparent. For that improved customer experience, NDC seems well worth the investment.

Keith Wallis, Director of Global Product Distribution at Air Canada, discusses the benefits of a community-driven approach to IATA’s New Distribution Capability (NDC) standard. 

View the video

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