Iata's new NDC data standard promises to help forge more mutually beneficial partnerships between airlines and business travel agents that could see greater rewards for agents selling flights.
Speakers in the corporate travel sessions at this week's Advantage Travel Partnership conference in Bodrum, Turkey, agreed successful agents will add value to their suppliers and customers.
A return to a classic percentage-based commission structure was thought unlikely, but it was pointed out that agents are already being rewarded in different ways.
NDC is the new XML data standard being developed by airline body Iata designed to enable agents to sell product on their websites and selling systems in the way airlines themselves retail.
It promises to bring in greater flexibility to sell product bundles and upgrades and making more rich content available to facilitate selling on value rather than pure price.
Timothy O'Neil-Dunne, co-founder and managing partner global at VaultPAD Ventures, said: "I implore you to learn and understand NDC.
"It's going to help you. It's really these days about trust. Are you considered truly trustworthy enough by your customer? If you are they will come back and use you."
O'Neil-Dunne questioned the entire premise on which the supplier retail relationship is based under which the Global Distribution Systems pay agents to "parrot" content to the customer when what agents need to do is convey relevant, real and useful information personalised to the customer.
"You need to stop thinking like an operator. Stop thinking about those things that are operationally-focussed.
"You need to move away from that to become a solutions provider. People think too much in our industry about the conventional value chain. That value chain died about 50 years ago.
"It's not about the vendor, it's not about the supply side, it's not just all about the customer, it's about a mixture.
"You need to have a space where you can talk about everything. Transformation is not just an evolutionary process, revolution is required. The customer can plan and personalise the data he sees [online] himself.
"How crazy is it a customer does not really value you provision as an operational service? He does not think its valuable. He is looking for solutions from you."
Ken McLeod, Advantage corporate director, said: "Our success as an organisation has been built on relationships and how well we work together.
"If we are truly working as a team whether it's a corporate, a TMC, Advantage or an airline we all have to move in the same direction.
"There are some good examples of that. When an airline comes out with a new initiative tell us about it before you tell the whole world."
Asked about the prospect of commissions returning to the aviation third part distribution sector to reward agents for selling the airline product the supplier wants them to Mcleod said:
"I'm not sure you can use the word commission anymore it's reward by performance. We get rewarded the better we perform by a particular company or supplier.
"Whether you get commission on every sale or a net rate you want some reward for that increased performance. It's up to us to increase that performance and its up to them to reward us for that."
McLeod said personalisation was the key factor for the future of corporate travel agents.
"Technology will drive everything we do but if you get good personalisation whether it's online or face to face that's the key.
"Like multi-channel in airlines there is always a multi-channel in personalisation. That's the big thing for the next few years."
Andrew Drury, EasyJet director of business, said the airline was starting to figure out how it can work more effectively with the trade to streamline processes around connecting the third party distribution channel with low cost carrier content and in other areas like payments.
"We are not coming at this with a legacy mentality saying this is the way we do things. But that needs every part of the supply chain coming together. We are at the start of those conversations but everyone is buying in to it. We have resourced up to extend that process going forward," he said.
Drury said this new partnership approach would offer rewards although he stopped short of saying it amounted to a traditional commission-based structure.
"There is a range of mechanisms, wether you call it commissions or marketing funds. I see TMCs as an extension of my sales team."
Drury said he does not see the carrier joining Iata's Billing Settlement Programme (BSP).
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