NDC is back in the spotlight—but isn’t quite ready to star in the show

BCD Travel’s Klaus Goddard offers common-sense advice to companies looking to navigate the complex NDC landscape.

Full access to content is coming back into the spotlight as the pandemic begins to wane in some regions and companies return to travel. ​BCD has more proven experience than any other global TMC in bringing New Distribution Capability (NDC) content from the world’s biggest airlines to our clients. Klaus Goddard, Vice President for Global Distribution, offers common-sense advice to companies looking to navigate the complex NDC landscape. ​

How has the pandemic affected NDC initiatives across the industry?

We’ve seen activity slow across some airlines as their resources have been placed on furlough. In other cases, airlines have looked to refocus efforts on their primary GDS channel during the pandemic, as they recognized the increased need for rebooking, cancellations and the kind of full servicing capabilities that the GDSs provide. Lastly, as travel volumes fell, some have seen this as the right time to experiment with new distribution approaches, such as dynamic fare pricing.

How has the pandemic influenced BCD’s approach to NDC?

NDC investment has remained a key priority for BCD since we launched our first solutions back in 2019. We continue to develop and deliver BCD proprietary technologies, tools and services that can source content in multiple ways and support future NDC initiatives.

We also recognized early on the real importance, for managed programs, of making sure travelers get the same full service for NDC transactions as for “traditional” transactions. So, we’ve enhanced our platforms to help enable this. The investment in that area remains a key priority, as third-party solutions today lack much of the robustness required to ensure ongoing delivery of these key elements. That said, we strongly believe that the large distribution technology companies are the ones that hold the key to solving this conundrum at the scale the industry really requires.

We’ve also re-emphasized with IATA, airlines and all key technology stakeholders that we need robust servicing models, supported across the whole industry, to make NDC viable for managed programs.

We see a lot of media about NDC being market-ready and available. Is that not the full picture?

It’s only part of the picture. We need to assess NDC solutions against three main criteria:

  • The ability to comparison shop against all relevant alternative airlines
  • The alignment of booking and full-service processes across all booking channels and tools
  • The ability to deliver the duty of care solutions and reporting our customers critically require for these bookings

If all these criteria aren’t met, NDC is just adding complexity—and cost. Key data gaps exist today in the NDC environment and will continue to be challenging until this environment reaches the maturity our customers really need.

Much of the NDC news that makes headlines focuses exclusively on airline shopping and booking capabilities. For sure, some of these are available. And we understand that for airlines, offering the full scope of their content in an attractive way is key to differentiating their products and services in the marketplace.

But we (and our clients) need the industry to continue focusing on bringing NDC content and the new services it promises into an environment that allows for efficient, cost-effective shopping, booking and servicing across all content providers, booking channels and tools. That’s where there’s still an awful lot of work to be done. Many of the announcements today offer solutions in stand-alone environments, such as airline portals—but these aren’t integrated into the overall ecosystem all TMCs and their corporate customers really require.

What NDC value-adds do you see being offered today by airlines?

So far, it’s been relatively limited and focused on pricing. In many instances, airlines are simply providing the same fare in an NDC channel—just without the surcharges they themselves have imposed in the GDS. Some airlines are experimenting with bundles of fares and ancillaries, others with new intermediary price points to help drive up their yield. And many are looking at leisure travel-focused fares and some frequent flyer benefits.

In reality, much of the activity so far has been centered on establishing requisite technical connectivity—for example, opening a booking channel using an NDC-enabled technology.

We’ve not yet seen much of the personalization for the corporate customer and their travelers that’s been cited by airlines as one of the main drivers and advantages of NDC. For many corporate travelers today, those benefits are already available with the fares they buy and the frequent flyer status they already hold.

What should clients do to prepare for NDC?

Above all, get educated. First, understand the real costs and benefits of implementing new NDC-based capabilities. Understand what’s really available today, because full support of NDC does require new tools and processes—and these come at a cost. It’s never “plug-and-play.” You need careful change management in introducing NDC content to travelers and travel arrangers to ensure the total costs are understood when a traveler buys a ticket.

Second, know that there will likely be changes to shopping and booking workflows in your online booking tool.

Third, consider the reporting and servicing aspects. We’re still seeing use-cases, especially around servicing (changes, exchanges, multi-airline bookings, etc.) that simply can’t yet be handled by existing NDC solutions. We’ve addressed some of these ourselves, but the ongoing investment required to address across all airlines will require a significant change in airline thinking and collaboration.

And last, think about alignment within your overall program. Even for a single airline, some transactions will flow through an NDC-enabled connection, and other content will continue to flow in the existing channel. Therefore, how will NDC bookings, including all the elements of a traditional itinerary (such as hotel and car), align across your program and alongside your existing bookings?

What are BCD’s next steps around NDC?

During Q3 and Q4 of this year, we expect to release solutions for a further seven airlines, including the first airlines that will distribute content via the GDSs’ NDC platforms. The full list includes British Airways, Iberia, Singapore Airlines, Qantas, Air France-KLM, American Airlines and United Airlines.

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