Making sense of the NDC

While the NDC programme sounds good on paper, the Asian corporate travel community desires greater clarity as it is still finding it a complex concept.

New Distribution Capability (NDC) – a travel industry-supported programme launched by IATA to transform how air products are sold to corporations and business travellers by addressing the industry’s distribution limitations – took off in 2012.

Three years later, IATA delivered the first set of official standards for product differentiation and time-to-market, access to full and rich air content, and a transparent shopping experience.

Industry players discuss NDC’s implications on the corporate travel booking process. From left: Troovo’s Kurt Knackstedt, Delta Air Lines’ Samson Lim, Accenture’s Amarnath Lal Das, Sabre Asia Pacific’s Todd Arthur, and American Express Global Business Travel’s Sanghamitra Bose

According to IATA, the NDC Standard is aimed at enhancing communication between airlines and TMCs and is open to any third party, intermediary, IT provider or non-IATA member to implement. Airlines, TMCs, corporate buyers, GDSs and other technology players contribute to the NDC Standard.

This collaborative approach is meant to ensure that the supporting models are functional, and can be used by all regardless of business focus, geographic location, size, target markets and individual commercial policies.

Structured around distribution-related functions, the NDC Standard aims to address the end-to-end airline distribution process and deliver enhanced customer experiences.

But at an ACTE Education Forum held in Singapore last October, speakers on a panel discussion described NDC as “complex”, raised questions like “who takes that cost”, but also saw the “opportunity” it provided.

Sanghamitra Bose, general manager, Singapore and Thailand, American Express Global Business Travel, said: “Amex sees it as an opportunity to produce content like you see in leisure travel and how it is received across channels. The question is how to deliver NDC to business travellers in a cost-effective manner and how travel disruptions can be handled.”

For Amarnath Lal Das, manager, country travel management, Accenture, NDC provided a new revenue stream for the airlines but could become a cost for the corporate. He questioned who would be the cost bearer.

There was the complexity issue when it comes to providing NDC content versus traditional content, Todd Arthur, vice president, Sabre, Asia Pacific, said. He commented that of the 30 Asian airlines on its system, only 30 per cent had the right functions for ancillary products.

Bose shared that Amex wanted to be prepared for content to be distributed via new and different channels and believed NDC was getting close to the “end-to-end booking and servicing experience”.

She admitted: “There are lots of solutions but there is also the cost challenge for airlines to allocate resources.”

Das expressed the need for one central payment card, without having to split expenses with a personal card for reimbursement, adding that this remained a challenge.

Among international airlines, Delta Air Lines attained NDC Level 3 certification last September, enabling it to deliver a consistent retail experience for customers regardless of booking channel.

According to its general manager-China sales, BSP and Digital Agencies, Samson Lim, the carrier was committed to providing access to all fares across different channels and partners.

Meanwhile, Sabre has expanded its Beyond NDC programme by entering into strategic relationships with additional airlines and agencies. This new NDC Level 3 certification is in addition to Sabre’s previously announced NDC Level 3 capability as an IT provider.

Arthur shared: “To go Beyond NDC will have a huge impact on the global space.”

On whether the industry has reached a “tipping point” or is a “slow burn”, Das said there is still no right content from a single source now.

“Corporate travel is dynamic. What if a business traveller changes to a different seat, does he pay more for the same seat? Corporates will have to negotiate with the airlines and relook travel policy to make it seamless.”

The panel concluded that the NDC conversation was not “regional yet”, that B2C solutions could impact B2B corporate travel, and that the corporate travel sector was in a “confused state and more clarity is needed”.

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