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DISTRIBUTION


WORDS ROB GILL


The players say they are ready, so are the pieces all in place for NDC to become an integral part of travel booking?


T


RAVEL MANAGERS HAVE BEEN hearing about the proposed benefits of NDC (New Distribution Capability) for many years – so much so, it may be tempting to think it’s never going to happen. However, those working on the many current


NDC-based projects insist it’s now poised to take off as a significant distribution platform. There remains a level of misunderstanding


about NDC. Put simply, it is a set of technol- ogy standards designed to make it easier for airlines to enhance their “indirect” distribu- tion through TMCs and other third parties – a so-called “Amazon-style” experience for booking flights has been one of the promises. While the introduction of NDC-enabled


booking channels has been painfully slow, the process is finally starting to gather pace and impact the way flights are purchased. So what does this mean for buyers and how can they prepare themselves for this new world of airline distribution?


Claudia Adams, Allianz buyingbusinesstravel.com


OVERCOMING LIMITATIONS In July, Claudia Adams, travel manager at Allianz, became the new chair of IATA’s Euro- pean Travel Manager Advisory Group (TMAG), replacing inaugural chair Jens Liltorp, global category manager for travel and meetings at LEO Pharma, who stood down after four years in the role. The TMAG is formed of several travel buyers who meet a number of times per year and act as a “sounding board” for the roll-out of NDC-based platforms and also its sister project, One Order, which aims to simplify the current multitude of airline booking documents into a single order number. Adams tells BBT that NDC “overcomes current distribution limitations, bringing indirect distribution into the modern age”, and will allow travellers to book ancillary products within corporate booking tools and remove the temptation for them to book outside these channels. NDC- based platforms will also allow access


to all of an airline’s fares or “content”, which may no longer be available through GDSs. “Bringing back full content to the corporate


booking channel is one of the key benefits,” she says. “I’m also expecting to see new ancil- lary content in the future. If the full and rich content is easily accessible, travellers will no longer be attracted to booking outside of the corporate channel. “This, in turn, will automatically improve


traveller experience and traveller satisfaction, which are the key drivers in a traveller-centric programme.”


But with any major change like this, there inevitably comes some degree of disruption to the way the flights are sold within managed corporate travel. “My advice is to engage with peers, suppliers and associations to understand the individual implications of NDC/One Order for your organisation and set-up,” says Adams. “Travel buyers then need to decide whether they want to become first movers – with the opportunity to shape the new airline distri- bution ecosystem for corporates – or followers that will adopt what others have developed. “Both ways will trigger a transformation


process to consume NDC content and there are wider implications for the structure of travel programmes today from the indirect impacts of NDC which travel managers should consider – policy, booking tools, etc,” she adds.


“In the end, we as corporate buyers need to accept a certain level of disruption ourselves; we can’t just expect it of others.”


NEW BOOKING PLATFORMS Taking a proactive stance on NDC/One Order and their potential impact on travel programmes is becoming more imperative as airlines, technology companies and TMCs work more closely on these new booking platforms (see box, p85) Lufthansa, an active player in NDC, says the


number of NDC-enabled bookings in the UK grew 20 times between August 2018 and August 2019.


2019 NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 83


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