First Published on 27th March, 2017
flyiin is 100% API-based online marketplace that promises to show travellers offers that are relevant to them, and in doing so provides airlines entire control over the distribution of their product, writes Ai’s Ritesh Gupta
How comfortable is an 18-inch economy seat? What is the meaning of “customisable lighting” in an aircraft? What sorts of ground transportation options are available at a certain airport?
These are just a handful of questions that a passenger might contemplate while booking a seat on an air plane. And considering the “fickleness” of a consumer in the digital world, how can airlines present their product in the best possible manner when one is looking for the same?
There is no point in making investment in a new aircraft if the same can’t be conveyed to the traveller and that too in a manner that adds to the joy of flying.
In this context, digitisation of operations is rightly being strived for, by drifting away from being technology-centric processes that this industry has over the years followed. Collaboration via APIs is one route that entities, including airlines, are increasingly embracing, and this means the distribution status quo is set to be challenged.
Also, if more airlines are pushing their offerings via APIs, what sort of opportunities is there for start-ups?
Berlin, Germany-based flyiin is the process of crafting a new online marketplace that is 100% API-based, playing the role of an aggregator and working out a new sales channel.
The company recently signed a pilot agreement with Lufthansa Group to take part in the beta phase of their offering. The start-up doesn’t rely on GDS technology. Rather the team has developed their own search and booking technology, plus it is capable of aggregating APIs from the airlines. And even if there is lack of standardization in APIs, flyiin would work on the normalisation of APIs, and then facilitate search and booking (via request and exchange of data, could be content or inventory). So essentially flyiin would exchange data as per the version/ interpretation of the airline, and eventually transform the airline’s response message to NDC 16.2 version. Till recently, the platform could normalise APIs from six airlines, based on different versions of NDC (1.1.3, 15.2 and 16.1).
Ai’s Ritesh Gupta spoke to flyiin’s CEO Stéphane Pingaud about the status of the venture. Excerpts from the interview:
Ai: How does flyiin compare with existing online intermediaries such as online travel agencies (OTAs) and meta-search engines (MSEs)?
Pingaud: There are quite a few differentiating aspects to OTAs and MSEs but the most relevant one for the consumer is that the search - and subsequent booking, payment, ticketing and servicing transactions take place directly with the airlines. When you search for flights (and services) to your desired destinations, your search is sent to all airlines operating the route directly or through their hub. That means the flight information, the fare and any fees for extra service are returned by the airline. Your search result information will always be valid and fares available. Not always the case with OTA or MSEs.
Secondly, as importantly, you will get the visibility of the full costs of your flights prior to booking them. If you search for flights between London and New York, and wish to check 2 bags, select your own seat and be able to change or cancel your flights if needed, flyiin will return the total costs, inclusive of these services. So you can easily compare flight options irrespective of the various bundled fares and ancillary services approach of each airline operating the requested route.
Ai: Why are you calling flyiin a new sales channel?
Pingaud: So flyiin is an online marketplace for air travel, where airlines and travellers interact directly throughout the entire flight planning and purchase (and post-purchase) process. There are no technical intermediaries between the airlines and their customers. Like any marketplace in other verticals and industries, for airlines our sales channel is semi-direct. They keep the entire control over the distribution of their product throughout the whole purchase process.
Ai: What’s your vision for flyiin, and how are you looking at filling the gap in current planning and booking?
Pingaud: flyiin aspires to be the number one brand and product for online flight planning and purchase. How? By bring the both the comparison power of OTA/ MSEs with the in-depth content of airline channels. But once again, by minimizing the complexity of individual airline offerings and making it easy for travellers to compare these offerings in one screen, including of the services that are important to them and available in each flight option.
Ai: Can you elaborate on revenue generation? Also, how do you intend gain traction, looking at growth hacking?
Pingaud: I can't elaborate on the revenue generation at this stage, as we will use the 16-18 month beta phase to get the data that will help us define a proper business model with the pilot airlines. Although new for airline distribution, our business model is typical of a marketplace. Travellers will search, shop, book, pay and get their tickets directly with the airlines. They will be in the flyiin digital environment (like Amazon) but in the background, airlines through their APIs will be in charge. It goes beyond facilitated bookings and encompasses 'facilitated search'.
About growth, the next 18 months - financed by our seed round - are going to be all about building the best possible marketplace product. Growth hacking will be after we secure series A.
Regarding white label and other user channels like messaging channels etc., yes we will consider all of those, to make sure that travellers can use flyiin wherever they are, but once again right now of our focus is on building the core product and supporting API aggregation platform and get as many airlines as possible on-board.
Ai: How has flyiin come up with a technologically advanced, NDC-based distribution model?
Pingaud: We knew the only way we could really deliver a much simpler, more transparent and user-centric experience to travellers was to disregard existing search and booking technology from the GDS (and other fare search system providers) and instead leverage the APIs from the airlines (many of which are based on the NDC standard). As a consequence, we built our API aggregation platform which connects to each airline API and 'normalise' these APIs into the latest version of the standard, since all these API are based on different versions of NDC (or are not NDC-based) and/or interpret the standard differently.
Ai: Can you explain how are you looking at commercializing all offerings of airlines, be it for core offering like air ticket, or air ancillaries and even bundled fares and other ancillary services?
Pingaud: Our approach to flight comparison is to ensure that travellers can compare all flight options returned by all airlines being queried, inclusive of the services that are important to them (number of bags for check-in, select my own seat, flexible fares etc.). We do by showing the fare from the right fare family i.e. that includes the requested services.
The plan is to also associate to each flight option a 'flight details page' that will enable airlines to showcase the experience to be expected during that flight, using a combination of media assets and product/services descriptions.
Ai: Can you explain how flyiin would contribute in terms of real-time data exchange that can help airlines to push the right offer at the right time as per the context or intent of the traveller?
Pingaud: For every search made by travellers through flyiin, airlines receive an XML search request messages that will include not only their desired O&D and dates and number in parties, but also the services that they wish included with their flights. If the traveller is logged in, they will also know who is searching for flights and adjust their offer accordingly. Secondly, we’re using a technology for our front-end development that can potentially provide data about what travellers are interested in (services, destinations etc.) which we would potentially shared in real time and anonymously, but it is too early to talk about this.
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