In the wake of the Business Travel Coalition’s renewed criticism over the International Air Transport Association (IATA) New Distribution Capability (NDC), the IATA reached out to Travel Agent to defend the proposed standard.
Specifically, IATA Head of Corporate Communications, The Americas Perry Flint took issue with the BTC’s statement that under the NDC, “fares would no longer be published and available for any and all consumers to comparison-shop anonymously so they can find the best fares.”
“Passengers can choose whether or not to identify themselves,” Flint said. “No one will be required to publish intimate details.”
Flint pointed out that airlines already offer customers the ability to identify themselves when booking on their website by inputting their frequent flier number.
“The challenge today with existing travel agent systems is that they are built on the Edifact standard, and they are not able to deliver all of the products and services airlines offer,” Flint said. As an example he cited Air New Zealand’s Economy Skycouch, a three-seat row that can turn into a single couch – something that current GDS can’t display.
At the same time, Flint said that it would be possible for a travel seller, such as an airline, to use the standard to construct a booking interface that requires a customer to submit information, but such a move would be up to the airline and is not required by the standard itself.
Requiring customers to submit personal data could, however, be a risky move for travel sellers. “Common sense tells us that in an industry as competitive as the airline industry, no one is going to risk alienating anyone by asking them to provide information simply to get a fare offer,” Flint said.
The reason the NDC has generated so much controversy, Flint said, is because of its potential impact on the business model of selling air travel.
“We understand that,” Flint said, “But the market has to decide what the business model will be. Today that model is the airlines pay the GDS, and the GDS pays travel agents. Will that model change? We don’t know, we’re just a trade association putting out a technical standard.”
Systems built on the NDC also offer other benefits to travel agents, Flint said. The NDC would allow travel systems to display graphical representations of different products, such as seat types or meals. It would also allow airlines to display their product offerings faster – in an informational video on the NDC, the IATA said that being “the last to know” about new products was a frequent complaint from the travel trade.
Additionally, an NDC system could display fare information in real time, which would eliminate the current problem of attempting to book a fare on an airline website, only to find that that fare is sold out. NDC will also significantly reduce ADMs (agent debit memos), Flint said.
Finally, Flint addressed the criticism that the IATA has not done enough to include travel agents and other industry stakeholders in the process of developing the NDC.
“We’ve certainly invited travel agents to parcitipate in the working group and pilot programs,” Flint said, noting that the IATA has a link on its website where agents can sign up to participate in such programs. “That said, if you have 100 people in a room and 49 people are saying one thing and 51 people are saying the other, if you have a democracy those 49 people aren’t going to get their way. That doesn’t mean they weren’t part of the dialogue, but unfortunately that’s just a reality of things that have to move forward.”
What’s next for the NDC? Flint said that the IATA has a five-year timeline, and that we’re in year two. Year one was the passage of Resolution 787 on the standard, which is currently before the Department of Transportation for approval. Going forward, the NDC will not be a mandatory standard – Flint said that the IATA plans to support the Edifact standard “as long as there’s market demand for it.”
An informational vide on the NDC is available here. The video does not show a working system, but rather is a mock-up the IATA constructed of the type of system a travel seller could construct using the new standard.