To remind us all, NDC stands for New Distribution Capability, a technology standard launched by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) that allows data, such as passenger booking information, to be transferred in a common way over the internet.
The NDC standard enables the travel industry to transform the way air products are retailed to corporations, leisure and business travellers. Initial tests proved successful and IATA promised the programme would hit critical mass this year even though there had been lot of uncertainty into its evolution, which has been a little slower than originally envisaged.
As we entered into 2020, NDC had been a topic that dominated distribution discussions all around the world. It may have slipped down the priority list as the global coronavirus pandemic spread across the globe, but it remains a key capability for a realigning commercial air transport industry. While NDC held its ground amidst all the challenges of 2020, some continue to think it will provide a limited platform, create opportunities only for airlines, at best. “This couldn't be farther from the truth,” says Mark Ridley, head of airline distribution solutions and NDC [X] program at Amadeus.
As the travel industry continues to navigate towards recovery in 2021 and beyond, Mr Ridley attempt to break the truth from the myths and misconceptions that have risen on the subject during the COVID-19 pandemic. Firstly, that travel companies are not actually slowing down their NDC deployments.
The pandemic in fact has “reinforced the argument in favour of building a strong retail proposition for the travel industry,” he says, noting a need for enhanced, efficient new systems to manage refunds or vouchers to passengers after flight cancellations.
The NDC standard has already been adapted to meet the need for voucher-based refunds as well as updated to offer extra features, such as information and reassurance about the safety and hygiene measures being taken throughout the journey. This, says Mr Ridley, deflates another myth that NDC is incapable of adapting to the new normal.
The travel environment will be different, but Mr Ridley says that it is “not the end of business travel as some doomsayers believe”. When it returns, he says the need for access to richer and more importantly pertinent content “will be pronounced” with travel decision makers need to “get easy access to the complete offers and consumer friendly policies of an increasing number of airlines via NDC”.
But is this all about making airlines better retailers? They certainly have a lot to gain through NDC but Mr Ridley acknowledges that NDC will actually help in the recovery of the travel industry. NDC helps airlines build targeted offers when a request comes through from aggregators or agents. This opens new revenue opportunities for airlines as they begin to customise offers for travellers around requests for additional baggage, food options, Wi-Fi, or any other on-board service. There are myriad benefits for travel retailers too.
“For travel sellers, a whole new world of opportunities is opening up as they have access to new, richer and more innovative tailored content. This means more images, videos, ancillary services, reviews and targeted bundled offers that they can select from and propose to their customers, all while having continual access to the latest promotions, fares and updates,” explains Mr Ridley.
The success of NDC will eventually be measured by the level of sustainable adoption not merely by airlines but by all players in the travel ecosystem. “As global air travel recovers, travellers will be more concerned than ever for a smooth end-to-end experience, especially when it comes to last-minute changes to travel plans or flight cancellations,” says Mr Ridley.
In this sense, the disruption caused by the pandemic has reinforced the need for standardisation and collaboration across the travel industry to ensure customers can be helped and assisted effectively through all channels in real time.
“Travelers needs are rapidly changing due to COVID-19, and NDC is an enabler for these faster changes,” says Mr Ridley. Despite this unprecedented crisis, this may suggest that NDC is even more crucial today. “It is one of the paths to recovery and to leapfrog into better retailing for the travel industry,” according to the Amadeus executive.
This is just one area where Amadeus feels that COVID-19 will influence changes on the travel and transport industry. Last year research developed on its behalf by Forrester Consulting warned that transforming outdated travel and expense management processes and tools must be central to future business objectives.
Amadeus commissioned Forrester Consulting last year to conduct a survey of finance, procurement, travel management, IT, and HR leaders at large enterprises to explore the current state and challenges with travel and expense management processes and tools. The study, ‘Digital Transformation For Travel And Expense: Balancing Process Efficiencies, Compliance, And Employee Experience’, was published in Sep-2020, based on qualitative interviews and a survey carried out amongst 556 respondents. The research showed that although there has been lots of talk and examples of automation this is not necessary the case with all business.