After a rocky and controversial start, IATA’s New
Distribution Capability (NDC) standard is gradually starting to see the light
of day in the computer programs that agents use every day.
Across the breadth of the industry, companies are
going through IATA’s certification process, which ensures that airlines,
agents, aggregators and vendors have the capability to send and receive NDC
messages. A few have already completed the process.
Elsewhere, airlines, GDSs and technology companies are
working to deploy the NDC standard to offer agents the chance to sell ancillary
products, such as seat upgrades. Within the GDSs, travel agents often see no
difference between products available to them because of NDC technology and
other products, causing minimal, if any, interruptions in their workflow.
Last fall, IATA announced a certification program
available to several groups: airlines that deploy an NDC application program
interface (API); agents and aggregators that use the APIs; and vendors that
offer NDC products or services to airlines and distributors. Certification is
awarded at three levels — NDC Level 1, 2 and 3 — based on the company’s
capabilities and offerings.
Understanding of NDC still growing
When IATA introduced its New Distribution Capability in 2012,
there was some confusion about exactly what it was, and in many cases,
that confusion turned to fear. Today, that fear has largely dissipated, which experts attribute to education and time. Read More
Yanik Hoyles, the director of the NDC program at IATA,
said certification is important to ensure that companies’ products are
compliant with the NDC standard.
“Certification, it’s simply about being transparent,”
he said. All certified companies will be listed on IATA’s website, he said, so
that visitors to the site “will be able to see those partners with whom it will
be particularly easy to connect.”
While IATA will not release a list of certified
companies until the summer, some have already announced their certifications.
TPConnects, a technology company that offers a variety of solutions such as
merchandising and booking engines, announced in late December that it had
become the first supplier to receive dual NDC Level 3 certification as both a
vendor and an aggregator.
Kristine Fernandez, TPConnects’ director of business
development, said the certification “provides transparency, credibility, as
well as validates the capability of our solution.”
Phocuswright analyst Bob Offutt said certification is
necessary because it ensures a company’s NDC messages are properly tagged
according to NDC specifications.
Analyst Henry Harteveldt of Atmosphere Research Group
said that a company’s NDC certification should give travel partners a level of
comfort in working with them.
“Of course, a lot depends on the company and their own
business reputation with agents,” he said. “NDC certification alone isn’t
enough … to make a questionable vendor stand out as good. But if the company is
well-run, if it’s respected, if its agency clients feel [the company is] doing
a good job, this certification further adds to its credibility and improves its
appeal within the marketplace.”
Meanwhile, other travel companies are in the process
of getting certified but have been working with NDC for some time.
Farelogix, a technology company that is currently
seeking certification, donated the first NDC schema to IATA years ago. Today,
CEO Jim Davidson said the company offers a handful of products, including
NDC-Xpress, the platform on which Farelogix builds APIs for the airlines, which
then set pricing and merchandising and distribute the NDC API to travel sellers.
Farelogix is working with several airlines and GDSs.
For example, Davidson said, the company worked with Sabre so the GDS could
accept an American Airlines API that enabled agents to sell upgraded seats.
Davidson called that a “huge” milestone in the history of NDC deployment.
Additionally, Farelogix recently announced a
partnership with the Airline Tariff Publishing Co. (ATPCO). The two will create
the Ancillary Offer Engine, which will enable airlines to distribute
merchandising offers across multiple channels using NDC messaging standards.
Amadeus also offers travel agents the ability to sell
ancillary products that airlines have enabled in the GDS, such as United’s
Economy Plus extra-legroom seats.
Scott Alvis, Amadeus’ chief marketing officer in North
America, said airlines have a variety of ways to connect to the GDS, but
regardless of what type of connection they use, NDC included — travel agents
likely won’t notice much difference in their workflow.
For example, with seat upgrades: “Now, on the seat
map, they just see a different designation for seats,” Alvis said. “They see
some that are chargeable and some that are not chargeable. Previously, none of
them were chargeable.”
Each implementation, he said, can take years’ worth of
programmer-hours to develop. “But by the time it hits the travel agency stream,
we’ve tried to make it extremely simple.”
That simplicity, in fact, is the whole idea behind
NDC, according to Harteveldt.
“The intention of NDC is for everything to be
integrated into the workflows that agents use so that, frankly, it doesn’t add
much time,” he said. “If anything, I think it will help them save time because
they won’t have to go to so many different resources and go through so many
steps to book and process buying ancillary products for their clients.”