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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Ai Editorial: Airline retailing = contextual shopping + seamless fulfillment

First Published on 2nd April, 2019

Ai Editorial: Airlines are bracing for today’s era in which passengers not only expect frictionless shopping, but also seamless fulfillment. In this context, a lot is expected from ONE Order, writes Ai’s Ritesh Gupta  

 

A lot is being spoken about offer optimization but it is just one aspect of the journey. Without delivering a superlative experience on the day of travel, airline retailing would be incomplete.

Be it for the day-of-travel-experience or even at the time of disruption, there is plenty of scope for improvement.

Though not many full-service carriers have shown swiftness in this context, a handful of them have embraced agile transformation to enrich the passenger experience. And with IATA’s initiative ONE Order program, based around the concept of a single order record, one can only expect the journey of travellers to get better. This, in fact, would be an integral part of overall digital transformation, where agile enterprises are looking at making the most of every interaction with their passengers. The ONE Order initiative is an extension of the NDC program that simplifies the way that airlines operate and interact individually with their passengers before, during and after the trip.

It isn’t uncommon to come across a disjointed experience even with the best in the business. A top airline would probably fail to identify, let’s say a non-loyalty program traveller, at the boarding gate even though the same passenger would have requested for something via Twitter or Facebook on the day of travel. For instance, a flight getting delayed, and the traveller informing the airline about the connecting flight owing to a less than one-hour halt via social media, there is no help on most of the occasions, and the staff at the airport is oblivious to any request. So how to overcome such challenges?

Passenger-centric

The industry acknowledges the need to destroy data silos and historically grown complicated message exchange systems and protocols.

In this context, a lot is expected from ONE Order. It brings the industry to the “single source of truth” model of passenger services.

 

“Within the ONE Order world, there is one data point that contains all of the information regarding a passenger’s journey, and it resides with, and only with, the selling airline,” shared an executive, working with a travel technology company. ONE Order combines the PNR data information with the E-ticket and the EMD information into one single record. In the ONE Order environment, all information is contained in a single order.

By gaining real-time access to the airline’s data, including schedules, pricing, availability, rules, allowances, and so on, the airline regains full control over its data, the executive said. “It is no longer beholden to conform to restrictions in fare rule filling, baggage allowances, price determination, or anything that is in place simply because today’s distribution requires it. Ancillaries are freed from constraints in EMD issuance without impacting the distribution capabilities.”    

“While it may seem a bit counterintuitive, the centralization of the airline’s data is the only way that the airline can be free to address its passenger’s needs and wants, and be able to offer anything it wants to sell, present it how it wants to sell it, and at the right, personalized price to increase the overall sales conversion.  That centralization is not possible in today’s distribution landscape.”

Servicing – as desired by passengers

Clearly airline operations system integration is critical. 

If airlines intend to ensure their passengers are identified when it is needed, it is imperative for airline-specific systems and processes to completely provide an answer to siloed data scenario. For example, if data is being ingested from only a fraction of sources, it wouldn't serve the passenger in all scenarios. That's where the planned offer and order management systems, and the concept of ONE Order will count.

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.

As for how this also simplifies servicing the passenger, imagine meeting a request for changing a seat after a boarding pass has been issued. Today DCS or the departure control system is a separate system. Advanced seat reservation happens in reservation, not in DCS. Information goes from reservation to DCS. Today's environment is complex, as it is not a real-time transaction. But with ONE Order and integrated, connected set up, a system like DCS would be having order information in real-time and updating it. Everything resides in real-time in that order. In the NDC world, it is one source of data - it doesn't need to be siloed or to be transferred from system to another. So there is one copy of data in today's scenario and if it isn't shared with another, then it remains siloed. With ONE Order, there won't be any single copy or lag time.

 

Hear from senior industry executives about NDC and ONE Order at this year’s Ancillary Merchandising Conference, scheduled to take place in London, UK (9-11 April, 2019).

For more info about Ancillary Merchandising Conference, click here

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Ai Editorial: Doing away with paper-based business processes via ONE Order

First Published on 29th March, 2019

Ai Editorial: With ONE Order there will be no tickets. The concept of a single customer order record holds a lot of promise. The key to ONE Order system’s readiness lies in creating it for a truly ticketless environment, writes Ai’s Ritesh Gupta

 

Airlines are attempting to overcome issues associated with archaic processes and protocols. They tend to hamper the overall passenger experience. 

With ONE Order, the objective is to eradicate the existence of various booking, ticketing, delivery and accounting methods. According to IATA, the plan is to do away with paper-oriented methods deployed for delivery tracking and accounting purposes. Eventually there is going to be phasing out of the current booking (PNRs) and ticketing records (ETKTs and EMDs), and blending the same into a single retail and customer-focused Order.

The customer Order in the ORA’s (Offer Responsible Airline) OMS (Order Management System) remains the single source of truth throughout its lifetime. The ORA holds the customer’s payment until services are operated.

Progress

There are companies that have been working on pilots featuring their respective ONE Order systems and have also achieved IATA certification.

One of them is Dublin-based JR Technologies. The ONE Order solution is a collaboration of its New Distribution Capabilities (NDC) Retailing Platform utilizing Chicago, USA-based MIS Choice’s Airline Choice Departure Control System and Frankfurt, Germany-based Lufthansa Systems’ Sirax Revenue Accounting system to complete the passenger handling business cycle. The company recently achieved the highest IATA ONE Order certification.

Ryan Harris, Director at JR Technologies explained that his team had “very few conceptual problems with the ONE Order process”.

This is because the company’s offerings were developed with the NDC core philosophy of offer/ order management from the beginning. 

“Since we didn’t have the legacy systems that needed to be adapted to the ONE Order processes, we were able to focus on the data flow through the customer journey,” said Harris.

Referring to the role of partners, he mentioned that they “were in similar positions” since their core systems were already adapted to the ticketless environment, which for DCS and Revenue Accounting systems will likely be a major hurdle to overcome if that is not already the case. 

What does achieving highest IATA ONE Order Certification mean? “Achieving the highest level requires that the company be able to handle the entire passenger experience from sale, through to flight, and finally into the airline accounting systems, including any additional products or services that the passenger may purchase,” mentioned Harris.

“We should remember that ONE Order is essentially a ticketless environment that has been elevated to an always available, passenger-centric world.  Since our partners had also already overcome the challenge of working in the ticketless environment, we simply had to ensure that the real-time communication from all parties was available through the NDC and ONE Order standard messages,” shared Harris. He added, “The biggest challenges that we faced throughout the entire pilot process was more due to when we were doing the pilot.  The project that was presented at IATA GAPS in October 2018 was largely done in the summer of 2018, before IATA NDC 18.2, which contained the first “final” ONE Order messages, was released.  As a result, we were constantly giving feedback to the IATA standards teams on what we were seeing and some of the issues so that they could be resolved before 18.2 was final.”

Explaining how the company has focused on concepts such as delivery status and internal values in order to replace current paper based mechanisms used for delivery tracking and accounting purposes, he said, “The delivery and accounting concepts, from a business standpoint, are not actually new.  They’ve been around for years, we just know of it as “ticketless”.  What ONE Order is able to do is to take the concept of a ticketless carrier, expand it by eliminating the structural constraints of the PNR, and make it a standard for the industry.  For carriers that have never worked in a ticketless environment, this is a major change that requires substantial modifications to business and accounting processes, not to mention the technical development to support it.” 

“One of the biggest roadblocks with ticketless carriers has always been how to work with a ticket-based carrier in interline or codeshare relationships.  The traditional approach was to make the ticketless carrier issue tickets, which solved the problem, but brought significant restrictions to the ticketless carrier by now having to issue tickets and EMDs.  What ONE Order looks to do is take that other approach, remove the tickets from everyone, and at the same time, free the airlines from the constraints inherent in the legacy, paper-based business processes,” said Harris.

Enhanced capabilities

One of the biggest advantages that the industry gains through NDC and ONE Order adaptation is that the communication of all information transitions into a standard XML interface, as opposed to the cryptic EDIFACT or proprietary APIs used today. 

“With that transition, it opens the door to any system or provider that can generate or consume an XML message, which is basically any modern system developed in the past 10 years,” said Harris.

“That opening of the door to the airline systems, which rather has been closed to the general public, will allow new opportunities for open communication to and between airlines. New opportunity breeds innovation, which the travel industry in general, and the airline industry specifically, needs to have to offer a better product more efficiently.  I have had the chance to attend several of the IATA NDC Hackathon events over the years, and to see what people outside of the industry can come up with as industry solutions is exciting, and is only possible through the open-source nature of the NDC and ONE Order world.”

 

Hear from senior industry executives about NDC and ONE Order at this year’s Ancillary Merchandising Conference, scheduled to take place in London, UK (9-11 April, 2019).

For more info about Ancillary Merchandising Conference, click here

 

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Ai Editorial: 6 examples of how travel e-commerce is counting on API strategy

First Published on 22nd March, 2019

The role of APIs in running a progressive organization is increasingly coming to the fore. Ai’s Ritesh Gupta assesses 6 ways in which APIs are helping travel e-commerce companies.

 

Be it for overcoming the issue of siloed backend systems and integrating data to improve the passenger experience or letting cross-functional collaborate and focus on incremental delivery of capabilities, the efficacy of APIs and API-oriented connectivity can’t be undermined.

Here we assess how certain travel companies are taking lead and moving ahead to make the most of their APIs:

  1. Evolving business model: The travel industry is taking notice of Airbnb’s end-to-end travel platform. This is reflective of the fact that Airbnb is gradually moving from its focus on “where to stay” and “what to do” to “how to get there”. For this, the expertise of engineering and data science in coming into play. The objective is to optimize the value of context i. e. to ensure content served or inventory presented clicks with the user.  Airbnb has been refining its knowledge graph to classify its inventory and contextualize the entire platform. One of the highlights of the graph is the presence of nodes (could be entities such as restaurants, experiences etc.) and edges (the sort of relationships that exist between the entities). To build on this, the company possesses a flexible API to query for neighbors connected by certain types of relationships and can index its inventory items by the unique identifiers of their corresponding representation in the knowledge graph. Airbnb asserts that this is a solid foundation to understand what one’s trip possible could be all about. 
  1. Expanding reach: The openness of an API, which is a mechanism to allows two applications to interact with each other, isn’t a restricting factor anymore. An established carrier, in an interview with Ai, acknowledged that their open API could be used in several foreign markets including China, except the booking capability which is being only trialled in a certain market. This restricted approach in China, for instance not introducing booking capability via open API isn’t surprising considering the hurdles - there is a language barrier, a broad domestic ecosystem of potential API users that follow different approaches when developing digital platforms and end-consumers with China-specific consumption characteristics. “Although travel is a global game, we do not believe in simply extending existing offerings made in our local market, but in thoughtful tailoring to the local needs with our distribution colleagues that have a substantial knowledge of this important market,” shared a senior executive working with the same airline.
  1. Sublime CX: Specialists like MuleSoft recommend that retailers need to rely on modern APIs (follow standards that are developer-friendly and easily accessible, and are treated more like products than code) to connect their customer behavior data through API-led connectivity. Eventually retailers are able to assimilate their customer data from distinct sources and capture the value of that data to foster better personalization on their own platforms. Overall, if agile organizations manage to connect, analyze, and use data from multiple applications and systems , then API-led connectivity is the key. Travel companies, including airlines, are already counting on APIs to capitalize on real-time information and improving the passenger’s experience.
  1. Featuring early in the booking funnel: Travellers shop for their trip on several channels, and the “dreaming/ inspiration” phase happens outside the airline domain. How can airlines jump into a moment when a consumer is liking a picture or a video on a 3rd party app? As shown by easyJet, the airline worked on a new feature for its app that leverages advanced image recognition technology to identify the location and leverages Microsoft Azure APIs to match the photo to easyJet destination. This feature helps users find out where an Instagram photo was taken and which flights users need to book to get there. So this way APIs are helping airlines to get passengers to add value and book with airlines directly. Destination discovery and associated experiences is one area where airlines haven’t excelled in a big way. But this way, by counting on mobile technology, social media and APIs, airlines can play their part in shortening the research phase of leisure travellers. 
  1. Development new projects faster: The payment infrastructure and internal alignment paves way for payment optimization at KLM. One of the core strengths of the group has proven to be the agile environment and the cross-functional expertise, involving the front-end, back-end API teams and payments team that helps in working on new projects faster.
  1. Distribution + data processing: As for those airlines trying to support distribution via their own APIs, one 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.  

 

How is your API strategy coming along?

Hear from senior industry executives about APIs at this year’s Ancillary Merchandising Conference, scheduled to take place in London, UK (9-11 April, 2019).

For more info about Ancillary Merchandising Conference, click here

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Ai Editorial: Optimizing flight shopping UX – where does the industry stand?

First Published on 20th March, 2019

Ai Editorial: The industry recognizes that a compelling offer alone isn’t enough. A passenger needs to fully understand the offer and options available before they make a commitment on any channel, writes Ai’s Ritesh Gupta  

 

Displaying what a flight shopper is looking for and getting them closer to completing a transaction with aplomb hasn’t really been a forte of the travel industry. If one gets to visualize a seat, in-flight entertainment, priority boarding, food on-board etc., all of this would make the experience much more enjoyable. As much as one can refer to the industry being slow to respond, there is no denying that flight as a product is fairly complex, and on top of it, airlines themselves are evolving their product as well. But the intent is clear and progress is coming along.

Selling air ancillaries and targeting the second wallet isn’t new, but letting travellers visualize what they can buy is what the industry is working on. How all of this is coming along on indirect channels?

If on one hand airlines are looking at being in control of the offer, via new airline-specific commerce systems and the NDC XML data transmission standard, on the other hand, there are initiatives like new data application and standard by ATPCO to showcase “like-type” airline offerings with the intent of showing of them in a way that makes it easy for travellers to understand.

Compelling offer alone not enough

Airlines, be it for full-service carriers or LCCs, are looking for ways to showcase their product in an appropriate manner. “There is a need to go beyond ticket pricing and to focus on showing the options airlines have to offer,” shared a source.

Airlines executives highlight that a compelling offer alone isn’t enough. It is also necessary that customers fully understand the offer and options available before they make a commitment.

“What really matters to our customers-- and to us as an airline-- is the total offer. The fare and the combination of flight-related options that each customer values,” Mike Robinson, Head of Ancillary Revenue, Frontier Airlines told Ai in a recent interview. “As a low fare carrier, those flight-related options are a core component of our total offer. So it’s really essential to us that our customers be able to understand and make the best choices possible for their trip.” While Frontier can manage the offer on the airline’s own website, presenting flight related options to customers booking elsewhere can be a challenge. “Without NDC (videos, pictures and text descriptions can be transmitted via the NDC API), it is essentially impossible to present such offers through intermediated channels.”

In a recent blog post on ATPCO, Delta Air Lines’ Sharon Mickelson mentioned, “…our customers deserve a great shopping experience in their channel of choice, including when shopping on third-party channels.”

The depth of what airlines have to offer, especially in the context of air ancillaries, is going deeper. It is imperative for the industry to find ways to let users compare multiple airline products in one single display.  

The industry is taking note of the fact that ATPCO is working on plans to sort this issue. The objective is to support modern shopping display, essentially portraying airlines’ offering aptly via simple representation of each product’s attributes. The Next-Generation Storefront or NGS initiative will set up common standards for amenity data. Plus, it would be easy to comprehend what’s included in a fare or whether available for additional cost.

According to ATPCO, the NGS initiative would:

  • Group similar fare products in shopping displays
  • Create data standards to consistently describe itinerary attributes 
  • Institute a common rating system to align and group features of an airline product

Trials are being conducted at this juncture, and ATPCO is constantly attempting to improve the accuracy of shelf algorithms, work out data and end-to-end processing flow for all data elements etc.

Fast and transparent CX

In addition to introduction of the retailing data standards, there are other areas, too, that the industry is working on. These include the overall UX on 3rd party channels – functionality, speed etc. to support comparison shopping. OTA and meta-search engines are gradually going beyond the base fare-oriented search results phenomena. A key here would be how such entities pull in more information from their visitors about what all they are looking for when they travel and accordingly coming up with ranking of offers not just fares in the search results.

Travel technology specialists are catering to more searches at faster speeds. Plus by banking on data analytics and artificial intelligence, they are also starting to improvise on their search algorithms. It incorporate several factors that assist in travel shopping – when to buy, where to go etc. Also, rather than analysing or computing every time, these companies are capitalizing on results stored as they cache judiciously.

All of this is going to result in more engaging flight shopping experience, one that is fast, transparent and offer choice in a simplified manner.

 

Hear from senior industry executives about the retailing and NDC at this year’s Ancillary Merchandising Conference, scheduled to take place in London, UK (9-11 April, 2019).

For more info about Ancillary Merchandising Conference, click here

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Ai Editorial: NDC and travel agents – how is the combo coming along?

First Published on 15th March, 2019

Ai Editorial: Working out multiple connections would require a substantial level of investment and IT skills. How can travel agencies prepare for both NDC and non-NDC content, probes Ai’s Ritesh Gupta

 

 

The impact of IATA’s New Distribution Capability (NDC) on the traditional agency channel is being keenly followed. A couple of issues are - how are these stakeholders going about the major booking flow redesign and also what sort of investment is required on their part to invest in NDC interface adaptation and costly IT integration.

Even airlines recommend measured changes to the agency workflows and evaluating the significance of scalability, even as they step up their focus on NDC content.

As airlines look to sharpen their retailing capabilities in their chosen indirect channels, its impact on agents’ is being assessed. For instance, how comparison shopping is going to shape up in the future. Indirect channel also acknowledges the need for supporting airlines in their quest to sell more seats, baggage, insurance and lounge passes through travel agents.

Seamless transition – is it possible?

As a key player in the entire travel distribution and technology domain, Travelport asserts that agents need familiarity and consistency with booking tools. “We’re likely to be operating in a world of mixed content for many years,” Ian Heywood, Travelport’s Global Head of Product and Marketing, mentioned at the beginning of this year. “It’s essential that we work together to drive NDC forward.”  

A couple of developments that stand out as far as Travelport is concerned:

  • Travel technology specialists like Travelport are trying to ensure that agencies are able to access NDC content in the same workflow as other content.
  • Last year the company chose to focus on the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) methodology and lean agile principles for product development, working in conjunction with agencies and adapting via learn and test approach.

Another area that is being focused on upon – the impact on mid- and back-office processes being used today.  

Indirect channel also acknowledges the need for supporting airlines in their quest to sell more seats, baggage, insurance and lounge passes through travel agents.  

While the idea of presenting same offers/ content that airlines have their own channels on the all indirect channelsis enticing, how to work on the same demands introspection into certain areas.

Airlines are introducing their own platforms, offering a connection via NDC XML API. Among the recent ones is Qantas. The airline’s certified platform supports shopping, booking and servicing capabilities. Even as aggregators are looking at normalizing content to make it available across multiple point-of-sale interfaces, there are specialists who believe that agents can look at new solutions.  

Agents can connect via NDC XML API or an approved technology partner connection, but these platforms typically do not have a customer-facing user interface (UX or GUI). Direct connectivity isn’t new, so how are agencies looking at this commercial association considering they have to prepare themselves? As highlighted in one of Ai’s recent editorials, it is being indicated that various channels (APIs and airlines’ own user interfaces) introduced by airlines is not going to help airlines to scale and generate NDC transaction volumes.

“Agents are already dealing with multiple screens and they will be least interested to switch between multiple UIs provided by each airline,” shared a source, adding that a high majority of IATA registered travel agents lack the e-commerce infrastructure.

As a specialist, TPConnects recommends that travel agents should have their own supplier agnostic systems going forward.

The decision-making is being closely followed, as the industry is trying to evolve, with more airlines continuing to introduce segment channel fee on bookings made by agents who do not participate in the airline NDC channel.

 

Hear from senior industry executives about latest developments related to NDC at this year’s Ancillary Merchandising Conference, scheduled to take place in London, UK (9-11 April, 2019).

For more info about Ancillary Merchandising Conference, click here

Follow Ai on Twitter: @Ai_Connects_Us

 

Ai Editorial: What’s the secret behind Airbnb’s end-to-end travel platform?

First Published on 12th March, 2019

Ai Editorial: Rather than being an avenue only for accommodation, Airbnb is evolving to be an end-to-end travel platform. Ai’s Ritesh Gupta understands what is being done to power all of its verticals.  

 

In the second half of 2018, Airbnb made a couple of big announcements – crossing the 400 million-mark in terms of its total guest arrivals and 3.5 million guest arrivals in a single night in August. Earlier this month, the company stated that it has over 6 million homes. Airbnb is expecting half a billion guest arrivals in Airbnb listings by the end of first quarter.

A question that is being probed is - how Airbnb is gearing up to take the so-called network effect to the next level as it goes deeper into the booking funnel.

As it develops into an end-to-end travel platform which essentially means focusing on where to stay, what to do, and how to get there, what this would mean for the traveller?

Airbnb is definitely one of those brands that the entire fraternity believes can provide a better answer to the fragmented travel shopping experience. The way Airbnb goes about uniting its staff/ teams across product disciplines, making the most of “creative hacks” or managing complexities associated with product designing, it can provide an answer to when to travel, where to go, and what to do on trips.

Thinking like a traveller through “entities and relationships”

The best part about Airbnb’s platform is to let travellers get closer to taking a decision.

This means that Airbnb is coming up with the best possible result for users on its platform when it understands their intent. This is going to be based on setting up an environment for accessing structured data and enabling users to enjoy their trip planning and buying by a gamut of choice being presented to them. In order to attain this, the expertise of engineering and data science comes into play. The value of context i. e. to ensure content served or inventory presented clicks with the user.

For this to work, as explained by Airbnb, it is imperative to work on a meticulous way of ascertaining relationships between discrete but related entities such as cities, activities, cuisines, etc. Queries of users would be answered aptly or precisely by storing details about entities and the association between them.

To work this out, Airbnb has been refining its knowledge graph to classify its inventory and contextualize the entire platform. The focus here is on storing and serving structured data that connects what makes Airbnb’s inventory distinctive, what travellers are searching for, and what is there to be explored or availed. The concept of knowledge graph isn’t new. For instance, Google’s knowledge graph intends to offer precise information in response to users’ search queries, within the shortest possible time.

Generally relational databases store data in tables. Tables can shape up to have massive details, and have an array of columns and records. Pointing an issue with this, Airbnb mentioned that  there is an “operational burden when you have many table for distinct objects that may contain the same relational information in individual columns”. Referring to the utility of the graph structure, the Airbnb team says structuring queries in terms of this graph paves way for optimal data semantics maintenance. Citing an example, Airbnb referred to surfing – as an experience it should be the same surfing that a destination like Hawaii is known for. Such structuring around the relationships between the entities provides the scalability and flexibility needed to expand categorization to any number of things, mentioned the team associated with this project. This helps in avoiding duplicate data. The taxonomy in the knowledge graph has been applied it to classify all of available inventories at Airbnb.

One of the highlights of the graph is presence of nodes (could be entities such as restaurants, experiences etc.) and edges (the sort of relationships that exist between the entities). There are various types of nodes for diverse set of entities and different types of edges for different types of relationships (located in, tagged by, etc.). The team also acknowledges that an initiative like tagging restaurant with the relevant nodes isn’t easy.

“From there, we have a flexible API to query for neighbors connected by certain types of relationships and can index our inventory items by the unique identifiers of their corresponding representation in the knowledge graph,” according to Airbnb.

Airbnb asserts that this is a solid foundation to understand what one’s trip possible could be all about. Be it for designing of the interface, how the options are going to be presented to actually working on contextual travel insights to users in the booking flow is a fascinating journey. The action that a user can take could be finalizing a location to travel, a home to book etc. It would be worth watch how Airbnb shapes up this foundation further to add more trip essentials and excels in its quest of becoming an end-to-end travel platform.  

 

Hear from senior industry executives about how the industry is looking at offering the “end-to-end journey” solution at this year’s Ancillary Merchandising Conference, scheduled to take place in London, UK (9-11 April, 2019).

For more info about Ancillary Merchandising Conference, click here

Follow Ai on Twitter: @Ai_Connects_Us

 

Ai Editorial: How to make data count?

First Published on 27th February, 2019

There are airlines that have embarked on the data-driven journey, and they are increasingly relying on the same to serve their passengers during various phases of their shopping and travel, writes Ai’s Ritesh Gupta

 

Airlines are focusing on today’s digital economy, and an integral part of the same is being adept at managing and acting on data.

There are certain airlines that are on the right track, and there are those that seemingly grapple with basic issues. Those who have embarked on the journey and are garnering positive results refer to few critical aspects:

  • Drawing more value from data means taking care of several hurdles: data inaccessibility (owing to unstructured and semi-structured data), the quality of data, and the lack of skilled people to show the way and capitalize on it.  
  • In addition to working on an apt architecture to access data across siloes, it also important to look at existing marketing stack and leverage a customer data platform for all contextual business intelligence, recommends Boxever. 
  • Set up a cross-functional team. For instance, alignment between data engineers and scientists, and data-based customer teams such as user experience designers, marketers and product specialists.
  • Also, as IBM points out, put in place an analytics foundation to ensure compliance, security, and data quality, and focus on a data-driven culture.

Tangible results from data

There are airlines that have embarked on this journey, and they are continuously trying to serve their passengers during various phases of their shopping and travel. The likes of JetStar are blending real-time behavioural and the historical transactional data to act not only on past behaviour, but also evaluating possible purchasing pattern/ intent. The carrier is experimenting with datasets to predict intent to travel to destinations the airline flies to and have personalised marketing campaigns and website initiatives for each individual customer.

The meaningful use of data from various sources, including the 1st party ones, and contextual selling will open new possibilities that are currently unimagined, asserted Catriona Larritt, Jetstar Airways’ Chief Customer Officer in a recent interview with Ai. "That data and customer insights will lead to the development of new customer experiences, products and services that is more personalised and offered at the right time, on the right channel at the right price,” she said.  

The improvement comes from the fact that whenever a new data source is added to the strong foundation laid for data collection, ingestion, analytics etc., then it further improves upon the insights, recommendations etc. resulting from it. For instance, the gap as far as single view of the customer is concerned, lies in capturing emotional data or offline data. Once a way is found to capture such data, it will be added to the existing set up. 

Even as retailers are grappling and coming to terms with data privacy-related issues, if there is apt master data management, platform and architecture in place, then they can only improve upon this. For example, in case of airlines, the day of travel or the airport experience is where the consumption of the product commences in a tangible manner. There is interaction with the staff at the airport. This is where a passenger shares certain experiences or even the expectations of the journey. Now can this be captured? Yes. The technology is in place. There is an opportunity to avail a voice recognition tool to analyze and record a spoken conversation. This can be useful for airlines considering the typical fast-paced environment (marked by limited time period for each passenger) of an airport. Once airlines get closer to capturing emotional-data emanating from an offline environment, this means they can have better understanding of the travel cycle.

“We don’t capture conversations at the airport. Being clear with customers about what data is being collected is important,” shared an airline executive with Ai.

Once airlines get closer to capturing emotional-data emanating from an offline environment, this means they can have better understanding of the travel cycle since they already have an astute data strategy in place.

 

Hear from senior industry executives about the retailing and NDC at this year’s Ancillary Merchandising Conference, scheduled to take place in London, UK (9-11 April, 2019).

For more info about Ancillary Merchandising Conference, click here

Follow Ai on Twitter: @Ai_Connects_Us

 

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