Over the two days of WPS, participants from travel agencies, travel management companies, travel buyers and academia discussed the impact NDC will have on distribution through the travel agent channel.
According to Jayson Westbury, CEO, Australian Association for Travel Agent the main advantage of the indirect channel today is that “direct sales channels struggle to deliver service across the many aspects of a trip that includes more than point-to-point travel. It is also very difficult to compare prices between airlines using tabs and multiple open windows. Travel agents provide this in a multi- channel approach and will continue to add value to both the consumer and the supply chain for decades to come”.
Westbury believes NDC can positively impact the agent model: “As communications between businesses become ever more interrelated and interdependent it is appropriate that the airline industry in partnership with travel agents develops a new language to enable fast, better and comprehensive access to information and to ensure that travel agents have all the information necessary to be able to selling the products available today”.
Ken McLeod, Corporate Director of Advantage Travel Centres
Paul Wait, CEO, The Guild of Travel Management Companies (GTMC)
In today’s sophisticated environment where there is a fierce competition from airlines, hotels, car rental companies and train operators, “the ability to explain and sell differentiation at the point of sale in a time-efficient and effective manner is a much needed requirement” says Paul Wait, CEO, GTMC.
The need for a collective approach is key according to Wait: “Any innovation that reaches the market that is insular in its approach, sells only one travel element and is not a significant enhancement to the current distribution method, is unlikely to meet corporate company travel requirements and therefore highly likely to fail”.
For Ken McLeod, Corporate Director of Advantage Travel Centres, “NDC could allow the distribution of fares and ancillaries to be completed in a more definitive manner, but could also become more complex depending on the desire of the airlines to push ancillaries to the extremities. The shopping experience in that complexity will allow agents to bring additional value to the customer, whether corporate or consumer, but for many it is a double edged sword. Retailers could lose out, but TMC’s could be big winners”.
From a corporate buyer perspective, the benefit that an NDC standard could bring is “to be recognized at a corporate client level, ensuring the right price and access to inventory with our strategic airline partners, in all booking classes at all times. Also the possibility to better control ancillary services included in a corporate contract – options such as lounge access on lower classes or extra luggage “says Mette Christensen, Global Head of Travel and Related Activities at Mærsk.
McLeod also believes, “the future of [the] GDSs is assured, so long as they understand that the change from legacy systems to new distribution methods is paramount to allow the new generation coming through to accept more up to date methods of booking and processes. However, GDSs are unlikely to stop other systems from coming into the market to challenge the status quo. Airlines desire competition to bring the cost reductions they want, and selling ancillaries provides additional income to drive the gap between loss and profitability.
And to Anne Coughlan, Professor of Marketing at Kellog School, airline distribution will have “a continued need for the functions of database management, data agglomeration and information provision in a compact but easily accessed manner, to bring the air travel industry’s IT communications capabilities up to the standard travelers expect from online commerce”.