NDC: Bridging the gap between buyers and sellers

Travelport’s chief product and technology officer Tom Kershaw discusses how NDC can create a modern, seamless experience for both travellers and retailers

The industry’s been talking about New Distribution Capability (NDC) for more than a decade; and, despite the recent focus and headlines about it, there hasn’t been nearly enough progress towards making NDC truly consumable by mainstream travellers.

Sure, that may be an unpopular opinion. There are a few carriers out there that are actively live with NDC and making a lot of noise about it – but with that noise, many in the industry are forgetting why NDC was created in the first place.

Just another source of content
NDC was created to give airlines the opportunity to create distinctive and unique air offers that are personalised and customised for the individual traveller. This is essential to modern retailing as we know it, because as consumers, we want to be able to easily find and purchase the products we want. With so many options available to travellers today, from extra legroom and early boarding privileges to pre-ordered meals and lounge access, agents need to be able to easily consume the plethora of data at their fingertips and quickly search and compare options. Despite all the expectations and opportunities to modernise travel retailing, we must not forget that at the end of the day, NDC is, at its core, an opportunity to deliver truly differentiated content to travellers – in a way customised to their unique needs.

Even though NDC was created as an industry standard for distributing air content, the industry’s obsession with NDC is morphing it into anything but a “standard” ­ and it’s getting increasingly complicated. Having access to NDC content and being able to book an NDC offer is not enough for our modern travel retailers of today. There’s a servicing aspect for NDC-sourced content that seems to be de-prioritised or overlooked entirely, despite the growing need for agents to be able to easily manage a return or exchange when the unexpected happens. The only alternative to easy servicing is time-consuming and inefficient calls to airline systems – something no consumer wants or understands.

The importance of normalisation and standardisation
Let’s talk about another elephant in the room: widespread adoption of NDC makes content aggregation more important than it ever has been. Over the last two years, the volume of trip searches has grown five times – and we expect to see trip search volumes double their pre-pandemic peaks next year. Very few retailers or agencies can deal with the complexity of dozens (or even hundreds) of simultaneous connections to assemble the best possible itinerary.

Aggregators are critical to quickly (we’re talking milliseconds) and economically (lower cost per transaction) sort through an increasing volume of supplier options that are extremely similar, deciphering these incredibly nuanced options to curate and elevate those that are most relevant. Where we are seeing the aggregation role evolve even more from a “dumb” content pipe to a fully dedicated travel retailing platform (like Travelport+), is the use of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine-learning (ML) to eliminate manual tasks and provide faster search responses, more relevant results, and greater accuracy.

Suppliers will benefit from intelligent content aggregators as well. Think about it: airlines are able to expand their reach to travel retailers all over the world through a single system that also normalises and enriches their content for those retailers that are selling on their behalf. Airlines cannot take on this tremendous feat themselves. Travel retailing platforms today are now needed to manage the infinite options from suppliers, making sense of those options and making them retail-ready for agencies and travellers. And, with its tremendous growth in the number of offers, NDC has only amplified the need to help simplify and manage these complexities for retailers.

Without seamless servicing, NDC is stuck on the tarmac
In a multi-source content world, what’s equally as important as connecting to new content sources is how that content is aggregated and presented. Supplier content should be normalised and enriched for travel retailers in a way that simplifies the ability to compare, sell and service – because travellers themselves will not necessarily know (or care) if their flight was an NDC-sourced booking or from another content source. They will, however, want to be able to make changes quickly and easily when needed – even if it means switching from an NDC-sourced ticket to an EDIFACT-sourced ticket. Unfortunately, NDC-obsessed companies are focusing so heavily on being the first to deliver access to NDC content that they are forgetting the crucial post-booking servicing aspect that agents and travellers need.

A modern retailing experience in travel will only work when an agent or traveller can easily search, compare, book and service an offer from any source of content, anywhere, and at any time. Business travellers expect the same seamless experience as leisure travellers, and delivering content that agents can book, but not service, can ultimately create more of the frustration that NDC was intended to eliminate. Agents are the true retailers for travel, which – among many things – means they need to be able to quickly process a refund or exchange without having to point customers to the airline to manage changes. Effective NDC solutions need to be built for agencies, and not just the airline community. That is why at Travelport, we’re laser focused on delivering complete, end-to-end retailing solutions, rather than interim NDC solutions that restrict agents from being able to fully service their travellers post-booking.

Rather than obsessing about ‘being the first’ in the NDC race, the industry needs to focus on making all types of content retail ready. Our role at Travelport is to integrate and normalise content from any source, including NDC, so that agencies can easily consume, sell and service that content in a modern way. By putting the agency channel first when it comes to NDC solutions or making any source of content accessible, we make it easy for travel retailers to deliver modern, seamless experiences.

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