Urging industry-wide cooperation, major travel industry organizations from the U.S. and Europe announced a collaborative effort to develop open, neutral data standards to enhance distribution of airline products through any channel.
U.S. organizations endorsing the initiative included the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA), the Business Travel Coalition (BTC), the Consumer Travel Alliance (CTA), and the Travel Technology Association (Travel Tech).
On the European side, the European Technology & Travel Services Association (ETTSA) and the European Federation of Travel Agents Associations (ECTAA) issued a separate statement supporting the initiative.
The group also said it intends to broaden the discussion to include other stakeholders such as hoteliers, car rental companies, rail operators, and cruise lines who will benefit from wider industry cooperation in setting technology standards.
The goal of the initiative is help the industry reach consensus on technical standards that will enable greater communication efficiency, consumer choice, and transparency of information across all distribution channels, the group said.
"It will also facilitate airlines efforts to make custom offers to travelers while fully preserving robust comparison-shopping across multiple carriers and protecting consumers data privacy rights."
The group invited the International Air Transport Association (IATA), Airlines for America (A4A) and other relevant travel industry stakeholders to join this cooperative multilateral initiative.
The group said they believe the initiative could effectively end the acrimony caused by IATA's unilaterally developed New Distribution Capability (NDC), which has received harsh criticism from many parts of the travel industry and from government officials. "At the same time, it will enable airlines to sell their products in smarter and more cost-effective ways across all distribution channels."
"We need to come together as an industry, with IATA and the carriers, to develop a sensible, business-model neutral data standard which enables airlines to effectively distribute rich content and enhances the comparison-shopping experience for consumers and travel buyers," said Paul Ruden, ASTA's Senior Vice President for Legal and Industry Affairs.
"Another major travel organization (the Global Business Travel Association -GBTA) issued its own call for a direct dialogue with IATA on Friday, an effort that we strongly commend and hope will become part of this broad industry-wide collaboration," continued Ruden.
"Todays flight shopping experience leaves consumers confused and angry because airlines do not make available the full all-in price including extra fees and charges in a transparent way," said Charlie Leocha, Director of the Consumer Travel Alliance.
"We think theres an opportunity to set technology standards that make the experience more transparent, user-friendly, customized, and competitive, all while protecting consumers privacy," Leocha said.
"We are extending the olive branch to IATA to work with us in a cooperative manner to encourage technological innovation for the industry and increased customization for travelers," said Kevin Mitchell, Chairman of BTC. "We hope they will accept our invitation to reset the dialogue and move forward
"We have spent a year arguing over standards that clearly are not supported by the airlines vital partners or travelers themselves," added Steve Shur, President of Travel Tech. "We're offering to put down our swords and come together on a new and better approach that includes all of the key stakeholders in the air travel industry."
To ensure the standard-setting process remains focused on the needs of the traveling public, the groups said they also endorsed a set of consumer-focused Principles for the Future of Air Travel Distribution. Those Principles include transparency, choice, competition, innovation, and privacy.
The group initiative was released just before the start of IATA's World Passenger Symposium in Dublin.
Principles for the Future of Air Travel Distribution
Consumers today have an incredible range of options for searching, comparing, and purchasing travel services, from online travel sites to traditional travel agents, corporate travel departments, and provider web sites. The current system is robust and competitive, and participants are adapting quickly to meet the changing needs of their customers.
The undersigned organizations help distribute and book air, rail, hotel, cruise, and car rental services for hundreds of millions of business and leisure travelers around the world. Our organizations are driven by the needs of the traveling public. Our vision for a consumer-focused and competitive future of air travel is based on the principles below.
Travelers should be able to compare prices and purchase all of the services they will need for their flights at the time of booking, including ancillary services. Travelers (or their agents) should be able to see all of the options and fees available for a flight before travel is booked, so they can make
informed decisions during the booking process.
Travelers should be able to compare prices and services between a broad range of airlines, and they should be able to compare base fares and ancillary services with the base fares and services from other airlines that sell through the same distribution channel. Choice should be driven by the travelers needs, and the traveler should be able to compare, contrast, and choose the supplier that best meets those needs.
Travelers should have access to a robust and competitive marketplace of airlines and other travel suppliers who compete for their business on a level playing field. Both anonymous and self-identified travelers should be able to compare their full range of options among airlines.
Innovation is driven by competition, and travelers should have a broad range of options to book their travel, ranging from airlines to online travel companies, corporate travel departments, and traditional travel agencies. Each of those companies should be able to choose and develop the technologies that best meet its needs, so long as those systems do not interfere with open, transparent pricing and consumer choice.
Travelers should be able to shop anonymously in a setting in which all applicable privacy laws and regulations are respected. Customization should be at the request of the traveler, not at the demand of the supplier, and travel suppliers should allow travelers to decide which additional services they would like to receive, if any, whether traveling on business of for leisure with their family.