By Mark Hollyhead, chief operating officer
New Distribution Capability (NDC) is subject to enough hype, unclear truths, and partial implementations to be a source of serious confusion for travel managers. If you're feeling puzzled by what NDC means to you, you’re not alone.
NDC, an industry-wide standard still early in its lifecycle, supports communication back and forth between our business travel platform and an airline’s reservation system using eXtensible Markup Language (XML). Fully realized, NDC promises to provide a one-stop shop for all air content in a single channel, enabling more personalized offerings and access to the cheapest fares for certain airlines.
NDC: A difficult choice
What should travel managers and travel management companies (TMCs) do about NDC right now? Well, that’s not an easy question to answer. Travel managers have long been confident that any content accessed through the global distribution system (GDS) is fully supported with tools and processes built around it. In contrast, NDC content is currently limited through GDS, and even when it is available, full end-to-end capabilities may not be ready from day one. Today, it's available through aggregators like TravelFusion and through direct connects with airlines like Lufthansa. As a result, NDC content doesn’t have the same capabilities that travel managers use to manage their business travel programs with a TMC partner. So travel managers face a tough choice:
- Accept a lesser service experience today as a way to maintain access to all publicly-available NDC content
- Or accept less-than-complete access to publicly available content, and maintain the high-quality travel experience supported by the GDS.
TMC’s face similar choices. Should we offer a lesser service experience by maintaining access to all publicly-available NDC content? Or should we accept less-than-complete access, but maintain a high-quality travel experience supported by the GDS?
Our position — customer choice
At Egencia, we know our customers value comparison shopping and have a low tolerance for workarounds and disruptions in service. So we support working within the existing GDS system, but also believe in giving customers a choice. NDC brings new opportunities. Being a part of Expedia Group’s rich heritage in tech innovation means that we're focused on delivering an exceptional travel experience today and tomorrow.
We're currently piloting Lufthansa NDC content with customers in Germany through the aggregator TravelFusion, meaning Lufthansa’s NDC content is available to shop and compare alongside other fares. We are extending the pilot to additional customers based in Europe soon.
While we work on realizing the potential of NDC, we won’t lose sight of our commitment to our customers to deliver a quality service. We'll continue to have an opinion about the maturity of solutions to meet our customers’ needs and understand the trade-offs as we evolve, but we will not compromise the value of the product and services we deliver. We'll also leverage the work that Expedia Group is doing in partnership with airlines, IATA, and IT providers to solve NDC gaps such as schedule change notifications and management. And we'll continue to develop new technology solutions in partnership with industry players that allow us to offer NDC with the same level of service that our customers currently receive.
The reality today
Today, NDC has complexities and gaps that affect the quality of service we can offer. As an example, NDC means limited or non-existent functionality for reservation changes or the ability to reuse unused tickets. Part of the problem is the newness of the standard. Airlines can't match current GDS capabilities with NDC. NDC is a completely new application programming interface (API) that airlines, aggregators, and sellers like us need to build and integrate with. Also, airlines don’t all use the same API version for NDC content. As a result, NDC requires a retrofit by any TMC who adopts it.
Compromises exist today. Until NDC is fully developed to a scalable roll-out, travel managers will have to be willing to work with a lower end-to-end service, such as a reduced level of care for their travelers, no clear way to gather comprehensive backend reporting across all airlines, variable payment methods, and no easy way for travel managers to integrate NDC content into their travel policy.
In short, we all recognize that NDC has tremendous potential in business travel, but we also know that it’s not ready for consumption by all of our customers. The standard is still maturing, and the current gaps and complexities mean that we can’t yet deliver a high-quality end-to-end experience for every customer. As always, we will continue to listen to our customers and work with our industry partners to deliver the business travel experience of tomorrow, without compromising on the customer experience today.
Read more about why we think putting the customer at the center of NDC is important.