Covid-19 may have pushed New Distribution Capability out of the business travel spotlight last year, but a number of major industry announcements regarding the International Air Transport Association’s standard have surfaced in recent months.
Emirates announced, for example, that it would launch an NDC-enabled direct connection platform, Emirates Gateway, with exclusive content and services in July. At the same time, a surcharge of up to USD 25 per ticket will be introduced for bookings from global sales systems. Last year the Lufthansa Group concluded two NDC content deals with Saber and American Express Global Business Travel. American Airlines announced new NDC packages for its NDC-enabled agents in February, including a “Corporate Experience” offering that includes perks such as free access to preferred seats and priority privileges for Business Extra travelers, as well as Amadeus, Travelport and Fareportal online Travel agents have all announced that they will be selling them.
Expect these announcements to keep flowing in the months ahead as some salespeople say 2021 could be a transformative year in terms of NDC.
“Despite the unprecedented difficulties the industry faced in 2020, change will accelerate in many ways in 2021,” said Bill Cavendish, former vice president of sales strategy at Emirates who recently moved to technology provider Accelya overseeing the NDC- Airline strategy. “Many airlines were already well on their way to taking advantage of the opportunities presented by the new technology.”
The Covid-19 pandemic, of course, forced airlines to make tough capital spending decisions as their revenues evaporated. Delta Air Lines, for example, said in a partner interview with Saber posted on YouTube last fall that some of its resources used for NDC would be used to instead focus on “working within the existing ecosystem we currently have”.
Across the industry, however, many of the projects that were slowed down in the early days of the “big shock” of Covid-19 have returned, Qantas sales director Nadine Dawood Morgan said at a recent CAPA live virtual event.
“There has been a hiatus across the industry and some partners have been in survival mode,” she said. “It was short-lived, this break, and we’re pretty busy. We had some partners who needed to slow down a bit, but we had others who wanted to speed up.”
London-based travel software platform and NDC aggregator Duffel said the end of last year was “very busy” on the NDC side, not necessarily with announcements but with activity, said Steve Domin, CEO and co-founder of Duffel. Several airlines evaluated their strategies and responded to requests for suggestions. This continued this year as well, when “a lot of contracts were signed and a lot implemented,” he said.
Kathy Morgan, vice president of sourcing sourcing at Saber Travel Solutions, compared the pandemic to “hibernation” and said that most airlines that already had a strong NDC strategy – American, United, Qantas and Singapore, for example – despite the pandemic stayed on this path.
“”[Sabre’s] Additionally, NDC has such a strong market exposure, and airlines and third party companies that had a really clear, defined roadmap are now seeing the fruits of their labor, “she said.” Although the industry fell asleep for a while, we didn’t. t. “
However, for those airlines that hadn’t done a lot of work on NDC, not much changed for them, she said.
As reported in The Beat earlier this year, IATA reported that their leaderboard goals for 2020 – with the first 20 participants aiming to achieve 20 NDC bookings per volume by the end of last year – were technically achieved across the group as a whole, albeit below one Very low volume set that had little impact on business travel. However, the pressure among airlines and distributors is now to demonstrate the value of the work up to this point.
“This will be a year where we will hopefully not only get the plumbing up, we will add real value to the entire NDC initiative,” said Will Owen Hughes, Head of Customer Strategy and Marketing at Travelport, at the CAPA Live event .
The GDS agreements, including the Saber-Lufthansa deal, are an important gateway to potentially deliver this value. Amadeus was particularly busy on this front. In February it announced that it had started NDC integration with International Airlines Group and plans to distribute content from British Airways and Iberia in the second half of this year. It also announced an NDC deal with American Airlines. This year also saw the launch of content from Singapore Airlines. An NDC distribution agreement with Air France-KLM was announced last fall and is expected to be rolled out further this year.
The piece we really want to highlight is one way we know the company where we will recognize you and give you a package and you know you are going to get the right one. “
Amadeus’ Mark Ridley
Like the rest of them, Amadeus heads of sales solutions and the Amadeus NDC X program, Mark Ridley said NDC work with airlines slowed down during the pandemic, but no airlines had withdrawn. Now that some of the programs are in the early testing phase, Amadeus and the airlines are starting to look into some of the possible uses, he said.
Singapore, for example, is “trying some interesting things with promo codes” where users get offers like a bundle back after providing a code, Ridley said. As the agencies control the Air France-KLM link, the tests include corporate packages that are pushed forward when corporate IDs are detected, as well as “continuous rates” that go beyond the traditional boundaries of the limited tariff.
“The piece that we really want to highlight is one way we can identify the company, where we will recognize you and give you a package and you know you are getting the right thing,” said Ridley. “We can use these new retail methods to differentiate ourselves from competitors who are still doing the same thing, the same thing.”
As a result of the pandemic, airlines are placing increasing emphasis on ensuring service capabilities with NDC bookings, Sabre’s Morgan said. Some say ability is a requirement before posting the content, she said.
“Some skills that weren’t particularly important to airlines are now realizing we can’t get out of a Covid world without them,” Morgan said. “Given the change and volatility in travel, it has to be able to support this.”
The rollout of NDC outside of GDS is also gaining momentum, including some new entrants. On the one hand, the travel platform App in the Air announced new NDC connections via Duffel to airlines of the Lufthansa Group, via ATPCO to Southwest Airlines and via Hahn Air to smaller regional airlines. Originally a personal assistant app for frequent travelers, App in the Air added booking functionality last year and decided to jump straight into NDC connections instead of connecting through GDS deals, although some content comes through GDSs, said CEO and Founder Bayram Annakov.
“We are eliminating the GDS surcharge and we know that some tariffs are not exported to the GDS,” he said. “With the NDC connection we get, we can manage and cancel all itineraries for our bookings, and airlines can offer additional services in our app.”
If demand starts as forecast later this year, it could also lead to a faster pace of development.
“After the talks we’ve had, now is the time to reset, regroup, and get back to being more determined and focused on becoming an effective retailer,” said Accelya’s Cavendish. “Customers want to be in direct contact with travelers, and airlines want to be able to build balance sheets as quickly as possible by selling products and services more effectively. So we’ll see that momentum continue into 2021 and beyond.” “