30 Oct

Guest article: New Distribution Capability (NDC) – where are we now?

Author: Pat McDonagh, Chief Executive Officer, Clarity Travel

NDC was launched to much fanfare a number of years ago by the airlines and IATA, but has it yet delivered on its promise? I would argue that it’s a long way away from doing that but progress has been made, slowly!

What is it anyway?
NDC is essentially a more modern way to connect airlines with agencies, ensuring richer content and more functionality. It moves away from simple price and availability connections to ones that offer more information and greater ability to add ancillary products and services. It’s a worthy concept and will be transformational for the industry when it becomes more widely available and used. It should aid parity between agencies and airline.com websites because the new connections are able to handle more price points and products than traditional ones and that has to be a good thing.

So, what was the promise?
NDC was to revolutionise the way airfares were distributed and the key sales messages revolved around the opportunity to offer personalised content and added value. Quite a promise, and naturally the market was keen to hear more about this. I mean, who wouldn’t want to have something tailored just for them, offering more value than ever before. It taps into the constant desire of today’s consumer to find a better deal. There must always be a better deal somewhere.  

It’s what I call the ‘somewhere over the rainbow’ mentality of the modern consumer. It’s perhaps a little naïve to believe that the same airlines that have for years been taking service and value out of their products to compete in a market of increasing commoditisation would now be looking to offer you more value. They want to sell you some more stuff, and they will try and do that in a more sophisticated way, but they are not going to give it away. Also, there was the small matter of the fact that the technology was nowhere near ready…

So where are we today?
I think we’re now making progress. The technology is more mature, but still not market-hardened or operating at the scale required. There’s also a realisation that NDC is actually about a better shopping experience. More modern connections to airlines will allow them to return much more than just price and availability. We’ll be able to see what’s included and not in the dizzying array of branded fares better, because there will be images of seats and deeper detail of the product. We’ll also be better able to add products and services to a booking and do things like select seats in the booking flow. It will certainly help airlines merchandise their products better, so that’s got to be a positive. 

The technology is now moving beyond just being able to book and ticket, with more and more airlines offering the ability to amend and cancel, but it’s still not perfect. There’s also a deeper engagement between IATA and the trade. It’s progress, but it’s slow, and investment is required by agencies and airlines to make this happen.

So where are we heading?
A better shopping experience will benefit us all. The end consumer will be better informed, agencies should be able to better compare fares and hopefully spend less time translating and more time adding value and airlines will have a better storefront. One thing’s for sure though; you won’t get something for nothing!

Pat will be speaking on a panel at ABTA’s Navigating Change in Business Travel seminar taking place on 27 November, where he will be joined by speakers from IATA, Virgin Atlantic and Amadeus to discuss the future of distribution.

NDC will be one of the many topics discussed at this must-attend event. Speakers from across the industry will be covering topics such as safety and security in ground transportation, regulation and compliance, emerging technology, attracting and retaining talent, improving diversity and keeping up with the changing needs of the corporate traveller. Relevant for TMCs, suppliers and corporate buyers this seminar will provide you with key insights to inform your long-term business travel strategy.

For further details, to view the agenda and book your place please visit abta.com/abtaevents