Travel advisors urged to take active role in NDC implementation

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Photo Credit: ESB Professional/Shutterstock

Now is the time for travel advisors to step up and get involved with their GDS's efforts to implement IATA's New Distribution Capability (NDC), thus helping to shape its future, Phocuswright's Norm Rose advises.

The senior technology and corporate market analyst said agents should be proactive in working with the GDSs as they enable NDC content in their workflows.

"If you sit back and say, 'I'll let the GDS figure this out,' your particular needs may not be met," Rose said. "I think it's the travel agents who just let everything happen to them that are going to suffer in this next kind of wave of change that's being driven by NDC."

While the major GDSs -- Sabre, Amadeus and Travelport -- initially resisted NDC, all three eventually reversed course and last year announced that they would develop and test NDC-enabled solutions.

"It is clear that the GDSs are now en masse embracing NDC and trying to at least equalize the airline dot-com content and experience and trying to bring that to the indirect channel," Rose said. "It's just challenging. It's not an easy thing."

Sabre earlier this month released its first set of NDC application programming interfaces (APIs) with United Airlines. That gave some agency customers the ability to make NDC bookings, which Kathy Morgan, vice president of NDC at Sabre, called "huge."

"It's evidence of the progress of NDC," Morgan said.

While she said the release is so far limited to one airline, "You've got to start somewhere. Our goal is to certainly bring on more airlines throughout the year and to grow our capabilities."

Sabre expects to get a boost with NDC progress when its acquisition of Farelogix is complete. Morgan said that when the deal closes, it will accelerate Sabre's NDC work.

As far as integrating NDC into its agency points of sale, Morgan said some capabilities are expected to be integrated into Sabre Red 360 by the third quarter this year. Its corporate booking tool, GetThere, will likely get NDC capabilities in early 2020.

Travelport processed its first live NDC booking last fall. Simon Ferguson, Travelport's president and managing director of the Americas, said the GDS continues to onboard agencies as part of a pilot group that is getting NDC content via its point-of-sale app, Smartpoint. NDC bookings have been completed with five airlines so far.

"The work going on in 2019, from connecting NDC-ready airlines to delivering our point-of-sale solutions, is essential to successfully delivering IATA's 2020 goals," Ferguson said. 

By 2020, IATA wants 20% of sales with a group of airlines known as the Leaderboard to be powered by NDC.

Five airlines are currently supplying NDC content on Travelport's platform, and Ferguson said more will be introduced throughout the year; access to NDC content via Smartpoint will also continue to expand. It will make its API available in the first half of the year.

Considering many major airlines' bookings are split roughly 50-50 between direct bookings and agents, Ferguson said meeting IATA's goal would require that about 10% of agent bookings are powered by NDC by the end of 2020.

"I lay this out to give agents an indication of the pace at which to expect NDC content to come online," he said. "It will be largely test usage throughout 2019, with growing mainstream usage throughout 2020."

Gianni Pisanello, head of Amadeus' NDC-X program, said that in 2018, the company worked to develop NDC using test programs with airlines and agencies. This year, Amadeus is in deployment mode.

"We're trying to implement this with as many airlines as we can and as many agencies as we can this year," Pisanello said. "Next year, 2020, is really going to be a fine-tuning year." 

He said he expects meaningful NDC volumes in 2021. Progress is largely being marked by the maturity of the market.

"We are dependent on airlines and their airline systems to be ready before we can do our bit as a GDS provider," Pisanello said. "And, of course, then the agencies are dependent on us as an intermediary to upgrade them and enable them to integrate those services into their own systems. So there is a sequential path here to the deployment of NDC."

The ability to make NDC bookings is expected in Amadeus' point of sale app, Selling Platform Connect, by this summer. As with the other GDSs, functionality will initially be limited. At first, agents will be able to complete an essential booking flow: the ability to search, book and settle. Additional features, such as the ability to change bookings, will be rolled out as they are developed.

Having been on a panel recently with Sabre and Travelport representatives, Pisanello said, "We're actually pretty much more or less on the same timeline."

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