ChinaTravelNews, Ritesh Gupta – Airlines have been grappling with cash reserves for months, and in this context, every move needs to be justified from revenue generation perspective. Which project to prioritize and how to sustain the business is of paramount importance. For airlines, it is critical to provide detailed information at all the stages of shopping and via all the touchpoints/ channels, including through indirect distribution partners, as they try to come up with a relevant offer.
Being in control of the offer has been one of the luring aspects of NDC or New Distribution Capability, a data exchange standard developed by IATA to facilitate communication between airlines and agencies.
If an airline today is offering information regarding travel requirements, pre-travel Covid testing, safety measures on-board etc. via its own channels, can the same information and experience be offered via an OTA or a travel agency?
“One of the benefits of NDC is that we are better able to communicate the value of the offer to the agents and travelers,” says Shanghai-based Robert Öhrnberg, General Manager - Greater China at Finnair. The airline recently stated that it has become the first European airline to build NDC connection to TravelSky. The first live connection was launched with Chinese online travel company Tongcheng-Elong, emerging as a partner selling Finnair´s NDC content.
Finnair continues to encourage its agency partners to adopt NDC in order to be able to consume its new content in various markets. Finnair has also decided that as of mid-January next year, its content may vary in different channels in all European point of commencement markets.
Referring to how NDC can help airlines in taking care of passengers’ health concerns and also offer flexibility with bookings, Öhrnberg said the value of offer can be ascertained from the fact that it could include, for example, the different safety measures being taken by the airline. “Flexibility is also very important in these times and we believe with the NDC technology we will be able to provide a smoother experience and more choice for the travelers,” he said. Öhrnberg also indicated that Finnair is taking its “years-long good” relationship with TravelSky to the next level. “Modernizing airline distribution to meet the expectations of today´s digital consumers is very important for us and we rely on the support of our partners in this,” he said.
The industry does see utility in this move, considering China’s post-pandemic travel recovery. Even though travel in and out of China is far from being normal, but given the vastly improved situation in China and ongoing developments such as gradual resumption of international flights, openness to embrace travelers from China etc., then airlines would understandably like to get ready for the future.
Airline distribution in China has made steady progress as far as NDC is concerned. This is being reflected in attaining key NDC certifications or facilitating NDC bookings. As indicated by TravelSky, established Chinese intermediaries, including some of the top OTAs, are simultaneously managing traditional content as well as NDC content from both Chinese and foreign airlines.
Alexander von Bernstorff, Director Airline Solutions, InteRes said that TravelSky “has been very constructive in NDC throughout the entire project” and “has taken the lead when it comes to consuming NDC APIs of airlines”.
Post Covid19 offers and NDC
GDS companies are acknowledging the need to prepare for additional assurance and flexibility that travelers are now demanding. A prime example of the same is offering a voucher using NDC. GDS companies are working on plans to integrate more complex servicing capabilities to NDC, and these include functionalities such as ancillary offerings selection, flight changes, cancellations etc.
“At Finnair we look at NDC as a way to enable better customer experience. When customers are shopping for flights we believe with NDC distribution we can offer them more choice and information as well as more relevant product proposition. This will enable a similar experience in the travel agent channel as in the airline own channels,” said Öhrnberg. “Same kind of benefits are expected in the servicing phase when customers want to modify their reservations. On the airline side NDC will also enable us to align our own tools and processes between our own channel and agent channel. This will bring efficiencies and also cost benefits.”
NDC is a facilitator, focus on agility
von Bernstorff believes airlines need to do more to embrace retailing in an apt way. “The areas where NDC has a big advantage, particularly the flexibility to assemble offers on the spot and to manage post booking, just to name two of the advantages, have not been deployed to a satisfying extent. There are many NDC APIs, but most of them sit on outdated systems with limited capabilities. Some solutions do offer a few extras, but sometimes limited to the airline's own channels. Latest achievements like continuous pricing have nothing to do with NDC. So based on what we have in production today, the benefits are low as long as the content provided does not differ significantly from the content offered in traditional channels. Quite to the contrary and what we see is airline groups returning into full content arrangements with the GDSs.”
Experienced airline distribution and technology executive, Ann Cederhall , says airlines must look to create content that is unique and fits the context of the new world they are selling into. “…(also) it is about being able to integrate products and solutions quickly. Actually, as an airline what you need is a business rules engine where you can switch on functionality and intervene instantly,” she said. “It doesn't matter whether you call it NDC or not, what is important is a better customer experience. If the NDC connection improves the work flow, makes processes easier for the customer, facilitates integration this will be the way forward. If the process benefits are not there for the customer then it really doesn't matter whether the connection is NDC or not.”
From technology perspective, von Bernstorff mentioned that what is needed is a modern, flexible offer and order engine, an OOMS. “As long as the ruler over the airline core product and ancillary services sits in the traditional PSS (and the GDS, likewise), little can be achieved. In my view, NDC is nothing but a standard - but one that is well designed to transmit richer offers of airlines. However, there is no added value if NDC sits on the old APIs and systems,” he said. There has be to a provision for fully integrating non-air content throughout the complete shopping and post booking process.
Airlines should think about what the end game should look like and wisely choose technology that is truly future proof.