ChinaTravelNews, Ritesh Gupta – There are many aspects of flight shopping that aren’t easily understood or can take multiple sessions to arrive at a decision. It is not easy to comprehend what’s included in a fare or whether available for additional cost.
As a key player in this industry, ATPCO is looking at ways to enable passengers to search by attributes they value, simplify comparison shopping, etc.
Jonathan Savitch, ATPCO’s Chief Commercial Officer acknowledges the challenges associated with finalizing a flight.
“Even as a frequent traveler and someone who is in the industry, I often have to hunt and peck to find a complete picture of my options behind price and schedule. Getting a full understanding of the onboard experience is still an educated guess for many, though this is starting to really change with our expanded rich content,” Savitch told ChinaTravelNews.com, during his trip to China.
Jonathan Savitch, ATPCO’s Chief Commercial Officer
Talking of China, this market has given a new dimension to mobile shopping and commerce, including in the travel sector. When booking travel, Chinese travelers are mobile-first or mobile-only, even for transactions. This has implications on the amount of relevant content that can be displayed.
Sharing what he has observed about China, Savitch said, “The Chinese consumer is heavily immersed in social media and looks at mobile first. In such an environment, while price remains an important factor, convenience and seamless booking experience is also critical. That opens up all sorts of platform and technology implications.” As for flight shopping in China and Asia at large, he said, “Unbundled fares are not as common in China as well as most parts of Asia. Those consumers still expect all-in fares. It is evolving and becoming clear to many that consumers value choice so we see carriers in Asia adding ancillary options for seat selection and bags. The process is gradual but it is definitely headed in that direction.”
Building on deals with TravelSky and Trip.com Group
If one evaluates the areas around retailing and distribution, including IATA’s XML standard, NDC, ATPCO is gearing up to play its part better. For instance, via expansion of retailing content, enabling connectivity across the entire ecosystem through one API, etc. So it is worth assessing how ATPCO is gearing up for China at this juncture.
“It’s (China) a huge market for us and we have had a footprint there in Asia for years, including over 10 years with TravelSky. We first partnered with our North Asia Fares Support office to onboard more than 20 Chinese carriers for fare data. That’s expanded to other services, including support of their pricing engine. We’re seeing now a convergence of pricing and retailing data with TravelSky as well as other players, including Trip.com Group and OpenJaw,” said Savitch. “We’re looking at enhancing each other’s NDC capabilities and there’s a lot to do on that front.”
In addition to accessing fare data, Trip.com Group today is accessing ATPCO’s rich content to improve shopping displays, by describing an airline’s products and services by aircraft type, cabin, etc. via text, photos, graphics, and videos plus explanation of benefits and restrictions, like cancellation, boarding priority by fare etc. TravelSky also signed a five-year deal for both ATPCO’s pricing and shopping content.
Savitch asserted that deals with TravelSky and Trip.com Group in 2019 were big steps forward in modernizing the flight shopping experience for hundreds of millions of flight shoppers in China.
He shared that Trip.com Group is already live with Amenities (flight scores and cabin data, including aircraft, seat, layout, entertainment, Wi-Fi, etc.) on its desktop and mobile platforms and they are also testing UTAs (for understanding benefits and restrictions) and UPAs (media for a travel offering).
“TravelSky is actively working their integration with a long list of use cases. We recognize the challenges but prefer to view them as opportunities. With our partners, we are embarking on this journey to encourage and excite new and old travelers that air travel is not all about booking a seat…it is clear that airlines are taking these opportunities seriously. Going forward, I see us scaling up our content efforts—and teams—here in the region,” mentioned Savitch.
As for working with GDSs, ATPCO has just signed respective retailing agreements with Sabre and Amadeus, another indication that plans are in place to deliver retailing content at scale. In fact, Savitch highlighted that prior to signing respective retailing agreements with Sabre and Amadeus, TravelSky was actually ATPCO’s first GDS deal that included both retailing and pricing content.
“ATPCO has a foundational role serving the industry so we see this as very complimentary: Chinese carriers want to get their offers more easily distributed outside of Asia while European and American carriers want the converse. We aim to make it easier for all,” he said.
ATPCO’s role going forward
Flight as a product is fairly complex, and on top of it, airlines themselves are evolving their product as well. Plus amidst all the talk around retailing, airlines intend to be in control of their offer. For an entity that specializes in pricing data, shopping data/ solution and even in areas like NDC Exchange (normalizing APIs), ATPCO is expected to play a significant role going forward. Savitch said airlines are also preparing to share their content.
“Airlines do want to control their offer but they also care deeply about having their products presented fully and fairly. I think there’s a misconception that airlines don’t want to share their content, that’s not the case. They just want to make sure the full value is presented—price, amenities, as well as features and restrictions of the fare. An offer can be both rich and comparable, just like in other industries,” said Savitch.
Negating perception around ATPCO content (offers based on fare filing and scheduling) and it being described as part of the traditional ways of distribution content, Savitch said, “Actually, ATPCO has been evolving for some time. Our content today is much more than fare and fare-related data and we deliver using APIs, flat files and NDC. We always leverage our capabilities to enhance both pricing and retailing content, these things are by their nature interdependent. So all our initiatives, including Dynamic Pricing, NDC and Retailing, take full advantage of the infrastructure we provide.” He further added, “ATPCO provides pricing for hundreds of airlines and, contrary to what some might expect, the number of fares continues to increase. This makes sense, as airlines expand NDC and Dynamic pricing they also want the interlining, market analysis and all the other end-to-end interoperability we’ve always provided. NDC doesn’t change that, in fact it offers more growth as we enrich NDC offerings with retailing content and other services.”
One of the major initiatives that ATPCO has been working on is related to its Next Generation Storefront (NGS). The focus is on working on an industry standard of data that describes “like-type” airline products and services. The NGS initiative paves way for grouping of similar fare products in shopping displays. It will set up common standards for amenity data, and work on a graphical representation of each product’s attributes, whether they are included in a fare or available for additional cost. In order to build on the success of version one of the U.S. domestic standard, ATPCO recently set up new advisory boards for NGS in four international markets, including one for Asia Pacific. “…the APAC advisory board is still in its early stages. We’re just now calling on more airlines and channels to join those working groups to shape the standard for this market. It isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach for each market,” shared Savitch, who added that a concrete response on the progress made by NGS in this market is expected only by next year.