Ai Editorial: NDC or not - TMCs pushing for content from all sources

10th July, 2019

Ai Editorial: Established TMCs are trying to ensure that they have access to all the offerings as far as air shopping is concerned, and in this context, owing to NDC, a lot of interesting developments are emerging, writes Ai’s Ritesh Gupta

 

Many TMCs are currently engaging in testing initiatives around NDC (New Distribution Capability), a technical standard created by the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

For instance, working on a new graphical NDC-enabled user interface and gearing up for booking of NDC airline content. TMCs are looking at real NDC use cases in a test-and-learn environment to deliver improved capabilities.

There are several reasons behind the same. One of them is related to having access to all the relevant travel content. TMCs offer several services including reporting, duty of care requirements etc. to corporations, but having access to content and facilitating comparison shopping with rules is of paramount importance. Options to access in-policy travel options include accessing what’s available in the GDS through a corporate booking tool or through a TMC.

GDS or non-GDS route – can’t wait for content

While certain organizations opt for NDC content via the GDS, there are others who don’t opt for such option and have been exploring alternative options.

As SAP Concur shared recently, Business Travel Direct is offering access to British Airways’ NDC through Concur Travel. Plus, Travel & Transport Stateman, has been testing BA NDC. Businesses are also looking at cheaper fares and avoiding any surcharges (being levied by airlines on booking non-NDC content).  (Read more – Are GDSs falling behind?) In case of SAP Concur, their Select Access feature allows clients to enable an airline’s NDC content within Concur Travel, and the fares and schedules for the Select Access-enabled airlines are offered to the traveller alongside the fares and schedules of other airlines sourced from the GDS.

For their part, GDSs, too, have been focusing on content. Companies like Sabre state that their APIs are in a position to integrate and normalize air content from all the sources.

TMCs are exploring options to pilot airlines’ NDC content, but at the same time they are also working closely with GDSs on their evolving NDC solutions and looking to test them as they mature. 

AmTrav has complemented Amadeus for enabling connections to content from many different sources, including NDC.

Amadeus underlines that NDC can curtail the gap between the business and leisure experience, and revitalize the business travel by incorporating the element. This can be done via a customized package, including priority seating & boarding, Wi-Fi, or access to the lounge, all in line with corporate policies, and available in a secure and transparent booking environment.

Making an apt choice

The industry has also witnessed interesting moves from various stakeholders to improve upon flight shopping.

Jeff Klee, CEO, AmTrav, in a blog post, mentioned that for travellers visiting airlines’ sites, the overall experience wasn't consistent since options presented weren’t available through most of the distribution platforms in booking tools. To overcome the same, the team at AmTrav worked on a proprietary technology offering in order to streamline and simplify the online air shopping journey “for travel arrangers and the CXO-level consumer”. He further added that rather than waiting for the NDC standard to emerge, AmTrav made most of the rich content available and tapped it for the company’s platform “in a way that is very similar to NDC”.

“Travellers coming to our site can search fares and airline offers and at a glance see what amenities are available on each flight along with any extra fees. It wasn’t easy, but it clearly provides real value by helping the traveller make the right choice,” shared Klee.  

Being prepared

Irrespective of the preparedness of the industry, including that of airlines for NDC, TMCs aren’t willing to play the waiting game.

In a recent update, FCM Travel Solutions’ Global Managing Director, Marcus Eklund mentioned NDC will increasingly become a reality in 2019, “but our goal has always been to balance the short-term priorities of NDC with building a long-term, workable solution with our technology partners at Amadeus and Sabre”.

“If you draw an analogy with moving into a new house, the ultimate vision for NDC is the perfect smart home where everything works and you have Alexa in every room. However, the airlines are pushing us to move into a half-built house. There is still a lot of work to be done. That’s why we are piloting solutions with our technology partners to make sure that when we do move into that house, we can give our customers an even better business travel experience. The last thing we want to create for ourselves and our customers is more inefficiencies when booking flights and managing data,” stated Eklund.

TMCs are looking at richer content, and at the same time intend to sustain efficient booking management and seamless fulfilment. Plus, they are trying to overcome possible NDC servicing gaps such as refunds and booking changes. As Sabre pointed out in its recently released NDC-related study, TMCs are going to benefit provided “future releases of NDC can solve for work processes such as interlines, schedule changes and PNR synchronization”.

 

Hear from senior industry executives about NDC at the upcoming Mega Event Asia-Pacific, to be held in Kuala Lumpur (20 – 22 August 2019).

Event site: www.MegaAPAC.com

 

Ai Video: Assessing the efficacy of flexible payments in travel

18th June, 2019

Installment payments for travel allow travellers to book instantly but pay for their trips over time through fixed payments each month.

“Flexible payments (as an option) have started to evolve (in travel) in the last couple of years, stepping up the conversion rate and drive new revenue (for merchants),” says Chris Stacey, VP, Business Development, Uplift. For instance, targeting travellers with modest disposable income and low credit scores, and letting them pay via this payment option.

The fintech company recently indicated that it is on track to exceed its goal of facilitating payments for one million customers in 2019.

Stacey, who spoke to Ai during the recently held ATPS in Brighton, UK, shared that Uplift settles with no changes to existing flow. “No impact to payment processing or revenue accounting workflows,” he mentioned.

Some of the highlights:

  • Airline paid in full via UATP via Airlines Clearing House
  • Uplift undertakes customer credit check and assumes all repayment risk
  • Customer makes monthly payments to Uplift

The team also asserts that Uplift’s offering is not only mobile friendly, but it also purpose-built for travel, powered by AI-driven, point-of-sale lending and payments technology, which empowers travel brands to drive increased conversion rates, spend, and attachment of high-value ancillary sales.

Uplift does not market directly to consumers.

By Ritesh Gupta

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Ai Video: Selling trip essentials and more, are airlines ready?

14th June, 2019

How are commerce strategies of airlines evolving, and what sort of expertise is required to sell more?

The fact that airlines are going beyond selling seats and air ancillaries, and even gearing up for today’s digital travel ecosystem is exciting. For example, the idea of counting on data to run a two-sided marketplace (running a platform and creating an ecosystem of retailers around it) or pushing a B2B business line via API exemplifies the same.

Also, going direct, for example, for selling vacation packages means airlines are competing with OTAs in the arena of customer acquisition. Offering relevant recommendations, crafting a superlative UX design, content/ pages, search optimization, paid advertising, email campaigns etc. demands solid preparation. “All of this (being a retailer) requires a different mindset (in comparison with just being operationally-focused),” says Iztok Franko, founder, Diggintravel

Franko, who was in London recently for Ai's Ancillary Merchandising Conference, spoke about:

  • Preparation needed for selling more
  • Being an OTA or a marketplace
  • Sending traffic to other sites/ platforms

 

By Ritesh Gupta

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Ai Video: Why NDC and ONE Order need to be considered concurrently?

 

11th June, 2019

A number of critical issues related to change management are being raised as airlines look at being in control of the offer, looking beyond offering a seat or air ancillaries and even serving passengers as per the intent/ context, right from making the offer to being ready to serve passengers throughout their journey.

As for offers, the plan is to reach all the sales channels, direct and indirect, and offer the same services to the passenger through their preferred sales channel. NDC will continue to create e-tickets but once we move to ONE Order there will be no tickets. Moving from the offer, it needs to transition into an order management system for fulfilment and accounting. This is somewhat analogous to the concept of tickets and EMDs in the legacy, but in the Order structure, there are not the restrictions that are present with these electronic documents.

“Retailing procedures can be formed on the basis on the NDC Order even if PNRs and tickets and EMDs are still there,” says Alexander von Bernstorff, Director Airline Solutions at InteRES.

Alexander, who was in London recently for Ai’s Ancillary Merchandising Conference, explained that the NDC Order and a pure NDC-based retailing process result in data quality in a manner that offer relevance and engagement along the passenger journey can be enhanced. With ONE Order, such information is made available and all the amendments to it, in real-time to the accounting and other systems of the airline.

“The NDC Order is the central element of a modern retailing process, including heavily advanced merchandising. It has to be the master record (the single source of truth) – sync'd with accounting and other processes using ONE Order,” mentioned Alexander. As a specialist, InteRES has focused on how to do away with archaic tools and procedures, and managing the transition, with traditional PNR-based procedures facilitated till the point fresh retailing capabilities can be executive progressively.


By Ritesh Gupta

 

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Ai Editorial: NDC Interlining – far from being there?

3rd June, 2019

There are critical financial changes that come along with the adoption of NDC, IATA’s XML-based data transmission standard. Be it for no use of filed fares to no pro-rates to the creation of e-tickets (only goes away with the ONE Order implementation), a lot of areas are being evaluated as airlines look to control the offer.

But what about the handling of routing options, based on code share and interline pacts, to manage bookings on partner’s PSS? How is NDC interlining coming along? Without interline, NDC is incomplete, according to senior industry executive, Ian Tunnacliffe, who spoke about the same during the recently held Ai’s Ancillary Merchandising Conference in London.

Another attendee, Ann Cederhall, Senior Strategic Consultant at PROS, in a post on LinkedIn last week, stated: “Surprisingly there isn’t an NDC standard for selling interline between airlines, you would have thought that this was critical to traditional network carriers who sell other airlines and their content. Sadly, interline and codeshare seem to be rocket science in the NDC world.”

 

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Ai Video: Sourcing supply and selling it to be a complete travel retailer

 

6th May, 2019

For a travel e-commerce company to be a complete retailer, an integral part is to present travellers with an array of travel products, offer choice, facilitate a frictionless transaction and support them all the way to consumption and fulfilment.

“Product supply from different sources is important,” says Paul Byrne, Dublin-based OpenJaw Technologies’ Vice President of Business Development and Strategic Partnerships. He says airlines need to strengthen their offering in terms of “in-destination activities, hotel suppliers being connected to their respective platforms etc. to keep the customer on-site and meet all their trip essentials needed as part of their journey”.

In the game of acquisition and eventually conversion, it is critical not to let users drop off a particular digital platform without monetizing the traffic aptly.

Another critical aspect is understanding of different travel products. So as airlines take the onus of meeting all the trip essentials, they end up owning the overall responsibility. Then only airlines can ensure the experience of the passenger ends up being a top-notch one.

Can airlines count on the subscription model?

 

29th April, 2019 

Subscription economy in general has made rapid strides over the years. Learning from the same, the travel sector, including airlines, too, is seeking ways to meet the expectations of travellers, largely set by the likes of Amazon, Netflix etc.

Mexican low-cost carrier Volaris’ decision to embrace the subscription model, v.pass, is one such move.

“We don’t talk of being Amazon of travel, rather our aim is higher,” says Felipe Ocáriz, Head of Revenue Development, Volaris. The vision: Volaris will become the Spotify of aviation. Why? “Because Amazon focuses on transactions. In case of Spotify, the focus is on experience. Volaris should become the only choice for flying and destinations,” said Ocáriz Arce, during the Ancillary Merchandising Conference held in London earlier this month.

Be it for the idea to the development process to managing a subscription product, its technical complexity and above all, ensuring the passenger experience isn’t diluted, the airline asserts it is making progress. It is counting on possible benefits – thriving on data of members, stepping up the ancillary revenue generation, combatting customer acquisition cost and competition.

v.pass - from being a concept to being a core proposition within Volaris’ product stable – has made tremendous progress in under a year, shared Jonathan Newman, Chief Commercial Officer, caravelo, a Barcelona-based travel technology specialist. The team is working with Volaris on this project. “The number of consumers that are using/ subscribing the product are growing 20% on monthly basis,” mentioned Newman

.

 

Ai Video: Assessing the role of GDSs in meeting the NDC 20-20-20 target

24th April, 2019 

There are several ways to market with NDC. Options include a direct connect, via a GDS, a non-GDS aggregator, a meta-search engine and a message hub.

The role of GDSs in pushing the NDC standard forward is being assessed. Considering the fact that 21 airlines have committed that by the end of 2020, 20% of their indirect sales will be made using NDC, this makes the situation interesting.

“GDSs have lot of advantages – their experience, content, capability plus scalability, reliability and speed. GDSs are moving at a certain pace now. There is a sense of urgency (at this juncture),” says Philip Saunders, former Vice President, Air Commerce, EMEA, Travelport. “At the same time, there is space for others in this (distribution) mix.”

For travel agents, booking NDC content is a modification to their customary ways of working. Travelport acknowledges that by making NDC content available, it is providing access to greater choice with NDC content which can be combined with ATPCo content in a familiar workflow. Sabre states that rich NDC content only delivers value to the ecosystem if all the shopping data (NDC, traditional and low-cost carrier APIs) is properly aggregated, indexed, analyzed and delivered. This means the role of the GDS has never been more valuable to the travel ecosystem, highlights Sabre.

Even as the industry accepts that both traditional and NDC content is going to co-exist for years, one positive aspect is that this standard is going to facilitate new entrants into the distribution sector, resulting in increased competition.

 

 

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Ai Video - What’s taking NDC forward and what’s not?

17th April, 2019 

NDC, IATA’s XML-based data transmission standard, has been around for more than six years. The industry acknowledges the need to target a critical mass of volume of transactions. In this context, an initiative, titled the Leaderboard, has been initiated, with carriers featuring in it focusing on sales powered by an NDC API.

“21 airlines have committed that by the end of 2020, 20% of their indirect sales will be made using NDC. If they succeed that will mean that by the end of next year 10 million passenger journeys per month will be booked on these airlines using NDC,” said Ian Tunnacliffe. “If that happens then NDC will definitely have arrived.”

While this is a positive development, there are other commercial aspects that can’t be ignored. For instance, as Tunnacliffe mentioned during Ai’s Ancillary Merchandising Conference in London earlier this month, interline NDC is still the missing puzzle. Interlining is the sale of seats on an airline partner, to offer a wider network to consumers. Interline also covers the ability to cross-sell ancillaries.

Without interline, NDC is incomplete,” mentioned Tunnacliffe. He explained the same in an interview, in which he referred to why the industry can consider the offering of virtual interlining. Overall it is time for a bunch of airlines to move on, and gear up for NDC interline, too.

 

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Ai Editorial: Airline retailing needs NDC, but that's not the only thing

10th April, 2019

By Ai's Ritesh Gupta in London

Airlines are gearing up to answer relatively complex questions as they try to match up passengers’ expectations as retailers.

The plan is to focus on real-time offers, personalization, rich content and ancillary sales. All of this is fine, but as the UK-based senior travel industry executive Ian Tunnacliffe points out, one needs to be pragmatic about the role of NDC, IT systems etc. It is imperative to ascertain the difference between modern retailing and NDC, and be realistic. "NDC is a communication protocol. If you want to gear up for retailing, NDC is just a part of it. Not the full answer," stated Tunnacliffe, during his presentation, titled NDC Update, held as a part of the NDC Workshop in London this week.

All of this holds significance as airlines are looking beyond selling a seat and air ancillaries. The industry is targeting the second wallet by offering other trip essentials - accommodation, rail, mobility, insurance etc.

Importantly, the responsibility doesn’t end here. Airlines have to ensure they can manage the process through day of travel and beyond. And whenever an interaction takes place during the course of the journey – whether at any offline or a digital touchpoint – airlines are diligently looking at ways to recognize the traveller (not only a frequent flyer but could be an infrequent flyer, too), act on the sum of interactions that have had taken in the past, and act accordingly for a superlative customer experience. This in essence sums up the passenger-facing side of the business.

As for what it takes to attain such level of excellence in CX, and also ensuring the product (not only the aircraft but also digital assets including mobile app, website etc.) is ready and is continuously refined in a "test-learn-test” environment, airlines are also looking at means to sharpen their capabilities accordingly. Areas include:

  1. Data-driven decision-making: From how to run the core business (e. g. what sort of schedules and travel offering should be worked out for a particular airport) to precise targeting (automate and segment communications) to personalization (from rule-based segmentation to analytics-driven or algorithmic personalization) to fraud prevention and other areas, a lot is dependent on data. As for indirect distribution and NDC, airlines trying to support distribution via their own APIs, they shouldn’t underestimate what it takes to adopt and execute on a strategy of NDC API distribution. They need to sharpen their data processing capabilities in order to process in real-time the potentially huge volumes of valuable search data from NDC APIs.  
  1. IT and systems: As many as 60-70 distinct systems are involved in operating an airline and specialists stress it is must to set up an integrated system where knowledge and data can easily be shared across the busi­ness. Also, with new standard and initiatives such as NDC and ONE Order, they are looking at their core systems to be based on mod­ern technology and open industry standards. The efficacy of an airline-specific operations or commercial system needs to ensure CX isn’t compromised. In this context, the ONE Order system is expected to deliver. ONE Order would have information about the passenger’s journey. And order would be created based on the passenger information that the airline has. When you go into modifying the order, the process would require a new offer. And that offer is always created considering passenger details and personalization.
  1. People and culture: Embracing a digital culture and agile approach towards running a business demands deep introspection - what is the goal (competitive advantage, engage customers and new data-driven business models), prioritize people, adopt the fail fast attitude etc. Who is going to lead the transformation - chief executive, CIO, CDO, CTO, CMO or anyone else?  Who is going to facilitate change? As Pieter Elbers, President and CEO, KLM  recently mentioned (in an interview with IATA), "...the difficulty is you have to keep the shop open even while you are rebuilding the shop. That is the challenge with implementing new processes." He also mentioned that scalability is another challenge.  
  1. Fraud prevention:  Travellers are reaping the benefit of new digital processes. But simple customer experiences can complicate fraud prevention. As companies allow travellers to create accounts and avail them for their seamless experiences, it is proving to be a fertile avenue for fraudsters. For instance, the threat of account takeover fraud is on the rise. Also, travel e-commerce companies need to dig deep and understand the implications of the mobile channel when it comes to fraud.  A new mobile commerce-related fraud technique that has emerged is the use of app cloners and machine learning techniques to create synthetic device identities.

Being a modern retailer isn't just about NDC. There are several areas that need to be focused upon. Airlines need an ongoing approach that infuses digital literacy throughout employee training and professional development initiatives. Continuous digital learning is critical to embedding digital into an entity. All of this eventually needs to translate into a stage where an airline can thrive in today's digital era, led by a transformation leader who paves way for agility, data-driven decision making within an organization, and eventually a superlative CX for passengers.

 

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