NDC for business travel is 'longest conversation ever'

Travel buyers need to push suppliers in order to achieve the full benefits of NDC (New Distribution Capability), a conference was told.

NDC presents opportunities for travel managers, but Ann Dery, director of global travel at financial services firm S&P, told delegates at the Business Travel Show the development of NDC had mostly been focused on leisure.

“It’s a bit of a frustration. I know other buyers keep saying this is the longest conversation ever. We have had a lot of progress, especially in the last 18 months, but it's very incremental from a corporate side,” she said. 

While Dery has tried to begin conversations with airline partners about using NDC content, airlines have little to offer corporates yet.

“It's a journey, that's for sure. But I think as a buyer, you need to keep going back to your suppliers and pushing them on this, because if we don't really advocate and really insist that this technology is brought to the forefront in the corporate sector as soon as possible, it will take that much longer for it to happen.

“We need the buyers to really start pressuring our TMCs [travel management companies], our online booking tools and the airlines. This is a very collaborative effort.”

The NDC prgramme has been developed by the International Air Transport Association to enhance communications capabilities between airlines and travel agents. 

It aims address the industry’s current distribution limitations around product differentiation, time-to-market and access to all available air fares. 

Rogier van Enk, head of distribution at British Airways, agreed progress for corporates had been slow but he believed there were significant cost benefits available to travel buyers using NDC.

“There's many reasons why corporations have a travel programme. I think it's about duty of care but a big chunk of it is also about controlling costs and saving costs. At British Airways, we have 'additional price points'. What that means is that if a corporate books through the NDC, they will get what is virtually a discount of the public price,” he explained.

“It's also a unique opportunity for corporates to save money and travel spend. I do agree maybe things weren't as fast as they should be and we are fixing a lot of the basics. But there are things that you should engage with us on because there is value already being added,” he said. 

While lower costs will ultimately benefit businesses, Nicola Ping, air content and distribution manager at travel agent Flight Centre, said part of a travel manager’s role is to prove how much money is being saved, which is difficult using dynamic pricing on NDC.

“At the moment if you're a corporate and you negotiate a route deal with an airline, they'll offer you something like 10% off and it's absolutely measurable on a real time basis. 

“The difficulty is airlines generate this content on a dynamic basis, there is no reference price so it is impossible for the travel manager to say, 'Actually, I've saved this much', and report it back and finance teams don't really get what they need from NDC in the way it's been built,” she said. 

Pascal Struyve, global travel fleet and meeting services director at manufacturing firm Ingersoll Rand, acknowledged the purpose of NDC was primarily to optimise revenues and profits as airlines are also businesses.

He agreed NDC is not fully delivering the capabilities businesses need right now but he expects the process to take time, which he compared to the air industry’s move to e-ticketing. 

“I think of NDC as an enabler to change the way we buy airline tickets so it becomes a better experience. Clearly, we are not at that level yet with NDC. If you look at the maturity curve, we are not to that point where we can enhance the experience of our travellers today and there's still a long way to go. 

“On the other hand, if you look at e-ticketing, it took about 15 years, to get from the first the ticket to no paper tickets. There is no reason why NDC would go faster to reach full maturity when all the capabilities it brings can be exploited and it is put into the market in a commercial model. I'm not saying it will take 15 years, but it will take time. It's not going to come overnight, because it's a very complex matter,” he said.

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