Opinion: ‘We are NDC ready’

Opinion: ‘We are NDC ready’

Travelport’s Ian Heywood outlines preparations for NDC

New technologies allow us to do things differently, more efficiently and in a personalised, customer-centric way.

New Distribution Capability (NDC) is part of this change. It is a new way for airlines to retail their services and engage their customers more effectively with rich content and a seamless experience.

For everyone in the travel business it is a fresh distribution method to use, just like the arrival of the internet, Edifact, XML and others before it.

NDC is the latest example of the continuous evolution of our industry, promising greater customisation to the agent and travellers and designed to create a closer relationship between airline and customer.

Whilst the aim is simple, its delivery is more complicated.

We have been working with a wide range of airlines and agencies on developing our product roadmaps and now, after months of consultation and development, Travelport is weeks away from handling its first orders from European airlines using NDC.

For years we have recognised the desire of airlines to display their array of fares and ancillaries in a creative, engaging and personalised way for indirect sales, just as they do on their own websites.

Pictures and brand images to grab and hold the attention of potential buyers in a highly competitive market, and to compete in valuable ‘away’ market bookings, have been key.

This has been one of the driving motives for NDC, along with airlines’ desire to gain greater control of their content and to improve their sales capabilities.

That is why Travelport launched its Rich Content and Branding merchandising in 2013 and why over 270 airlines now benefit from it, with more steadily joining.

Distributing more than 322 ancillaries for 87 airlines has given Travelport its leadership position in air retailing. This has been invaluable as we have started to develop our NDC solutions.

We worked hard to get the crucial IATA ‘Level 3’ status as an aggregator last year. It gives any organisation looking to use NDC the vital certification required to provide offer and order management functions.

We were the first commerce platform to achieve this and around 120 companies globally now have this authorisation.

IATA has recently announced two further certification Levels (4 and 5) which we look forward to achieving in the near future.

Meanwhile, we are working with the 21 airlines listed on IATA’s Leaderboard which are committed to having 20% of their indirect sales transacted by an NDC API by December 31 2020.

IATA predicts that, by the end of 2018, airlines which are level-3 certified will account for around 60% of all IATA airline passengers boarded. IATA is also firming up the technical standards by making its 17.2 schema the baseline, with subsequent releases to be compatible with this.

As we operate at the heart of the travel industry, we need NDC to work for everyone, from major travel management companies (TMCs) through to smaller online and off-line travel agents, and corporate booking-tool providers as well as airlines as they move to this new means of distributing content.

The industry needs the new NDC technology to be as robust, efficient and effective as the current technology.

That is why 2018 and 2019 are about getting the plumbing right and testing, re-testing and then testing again to ensure our solutions deliver all the capabilities the industry requires.

Our strategy is to work closely with our airline and agency partners to ensure our product solutions are what they require.

The IATA NDC schemas will continue to develop with two releases a year, while airlines’ distribution strategies and merchandising platforms will evolve.

In line with this, we are phasing in our products over time. Following our initial basic tool for offline agencies to book airlines’ NDC content, we will introduce more sophisticated tools next year for both offline and online agencies.

At each stage we will continue to follow a tripartite approach with our agency and airline partners.

Through this co-operation, we believe the IATA 2020 goal can be achieved and NDC will become a success for everyone in our industry.

Ian Heywood is Travelport head of new distribution and merchandising

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