Putting the customer at the center of NDC

by Mark Hollyhead, Chief Operating Officer

Lately it seems like nearly everyone in the corporate and leisure travel space has weighed in on new distribution capability (NDC), putting out bandwagon announcements or “here’s my vision of NDC” bylines. The hype and inflated expectations raise the question: will NDC be as life-changing as advertised?

Expedia Group is no stranger to the topic; since 2012, we’ve been a member of IATA’s Passenger Distribution Management Group Advisory Forum, and consulted with our airline and GDS partners to ensure delivery of a seamless customer experience for our global customers.

While the momentum behind this evolution is commendable, it’s important we focus on the real C in NDC, and no, we are not talking about “capability,” but the (corporate) customer – the consumer of all this new technology. As an industry, it’s our responsibility to keep their needs and requirements at the forefront and ensure the current and next generation of travelers see real incremental value.

The crux of NDC 

Lengthy technical explanations aside, NDC aims to radically improve the airline industry by upgrading the technology infrastructure and standards we all know from the modern-day internet and online retail experiences. Think how technology changed user experiences in online retailing (Amazon, eBay) and media and entertainment (Netflix, Hulu). If all goes to plan, travelers will gain access to richer content and more personalized recommendations.

The four corporate travel fundamentals 

The driving force behind NDC is to deliver the best content to the traveler so that means making sure their needs are taken into account. For corporate travelers and managed travel programs in particular, there are four key points:

  • Incremental value: NDC can’t just be about selling ancillary services like seats, bags or onboard Wi-Fi, which business travelers can already purchase through their travel management company. There needs to be tangible and incremental value gained by the corporate travel program and business travelers.
  • Choice and comparison: Corporate travelers have access to multiple flight and fare options and the ability to compare and choose. NDC offerings should not only maintain the option of comparison and choice, but also enrich that decision-making process.
  • Beyond booking: We need to build maturity and functionality that goes beyond the shop-book-pay flow. In advanced travel platforms, corporate travelers receive post booking services like exchange, refund, reporting, duty of care etc. and will expect the same for content booked via NDC.
  • Scale and efficiency: Travel management companies help corporate customers manage and execute global travel programs, delivering a standard and cohesive online and offline service to travelers across the world. Corporate travelers won’t (and shouldn’t) accept a lower standard of service than they’re accustomed to receiving today. A formalized standard for post ticketing service must be reached.

NDC requires an inclusive and collaborative approach

To deliver a mature, corporate travel ready NDC solution will take untold investment, time and collaboration across the industry. The airlines that will be the most successful in deploying NDC understand these changes won’t happen overnight and take a collaborative and inclusive approach to address the complexity and scale of corporate travel. A small number of airlines have removed content from the GDS or tacked on fees while the industry is in this transition phase. We fundamentally disagree with these practices as they unfairly penalize our mutual corporate customers.

What we are actually doing

Being a leader in both the corporate and leisure travel space allows Expedia Group to bring a unique point of view and expertise to every IATA session and discussions with airline partners. We’re able to draw from our experience of scaling a platform to suggest multiple new use cases and provide candid advice. As NDC evolves, actively participating in IATA’s NDC working groups also allows Expedia Group to ensure travel agents’ need to service customers in a scalable and cost-efficient way is addressed.

In addition to working with IATA and airlines, we continue to work closely with our GDS partners, Amadeus and Sabre, as early adopters and advisory members on their NDC projects. Our partnership allows us to bring to the table and solve unique use-cases to meet the requirements of a business traveler from booking and servicing.

Knowing that each airline will have varied objectives and timelines for NDC adoption, we encourage collaboration and engagement among industry key players, and call for airlines to adhere to the standards defined by the IATA and keep the customer’s interest at the center of delivering an NDC offer to the market.

As an industry, we’re only at the beginning of the NDC journey with IATA’s “202020” objective of 20 airlines targeting 20 percent of indirect bookings via NDC by 2020 ahead. In the end, the only way to tell if the industry lived up to the promises made will be if the added value for customers is delivered and serviced at scale and efficiency by travel sellers like ourselves. With years of experience in multi-sourcing content and a global platform, we’re taking the lead on NDC adoption and look forward to working with customers and partners to make this vision a reality.