Global distribution systems (GDSs) are rushing to re-integrate air fares into displays for agents as leading carriers look to bypass the systems which have dominated distribution for decades.
Willie Walsh, chief executive of British Airways parent IAG, spelled out the intention to restrict fares through GDSs to those that “require an intermediary” when he spoke at the UK’s Guild of Travel Management Companies’ (GTMC) conference in Ireland last week.
Walsh told corporate travel leaders: “We can’t afford to make all our fares available through the GDS. It’s too expensive. It’s not justifiable. It doesn’t make sense. We’ll provide relevant fares through the GDS, [but] we’re not going to make all fares available. [IAG carrier] Aer Lingus uses the GDS only where it adds value. About 80% of Aer Lingus sales go through the direct channel.”
Scottish Passenger Agents Association president Ken McLeod said: “That is the problem. We have to find a way to integrate these fares available outside the GDS.” He warned: “[Distribution] is going to become more difficult and the channels more complex.”
IAG-owned BA and Iberia, along with Lufthansa and Air France-KLM, now levy fees on GDS bookings as they seek to drive sales through ‘new distribution capability’ (NDC) channels.
Travelport Europe vice-president and chief commercial officer Stephen Shurrock told the GTMC: “Taking content from traditional sources, from APIs [online application programming interfaces] and from private channels is the technology challenge. There is [also] a commercial element.
“The biggest issue [for us] is being able to get all the content for you. The problem for you is you need to invest in technology.”
However, Shurrock pledged: “At the back of the summer we’ll have a standalone app to allow you to take API content. We’re working with IAG on that now. We’ll have a fully integrated product on the desktop by next year.”
Amadeus UK general manager Liz Emmott said: “Amadeus is looking to develop a platform to allow you to consume any content you want. You’ll start to see changes in the way you consume content in the first quarter of next year.”
Yet she added: “Most of you will continue to use the old GDS version for many years. We’ll add NDC content and [fare] aggregators’ [content] to that.”
Corporate travel buyers made clear they see it as their TMC’s duty to offer all fares. Leila Dunphy, global travel manager at aircraft leasing firm AerCap, said: “NDC is not my concern. It’s your responsibility to ensure you have a full offering and make it available to us.” Mike Potter, travel services director at tobacco company JTI, insisted: “Every agent is going to have to look at how they aggregate content online and offline.”
But McLeod warned of growing fragmentation and disparity between fare offers. He said: “NDC will allow airlines to differentiate between agents and TMCs, and different markets. With NDC, BA is looking at 40 booking classes with six or seven different fares within each.”
GTMC chief executive Adrian Parkes said: “There is so much confusion around the technological capabilities. Until the technology is resolved, it is going to be a problem.”
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