Opinion: Why travel buyers should care about the NDC

Euan McNeil, General Manager FCM Travel Solution

Iata’s New Distribution Capability (NDC) was a hot topic in 2017. It’s a standard developed by Iata to facilitate communication for travel agents and airlines and will ultimately impact travel buyers as well.

If your travellers are customers of British Airways, you will soon be able to pay for a preferred seat, add additional baggage or re-order catering on BA flights via your TMC through the GDS instead of having to book this on the airline’s website.

A number of airlines have started charging fees for bookings made in the GDS, instead of through their own channel. Among these are British Airways and Iberia Airlines which have signed a multi-year distribution deal with the Flight Centre Travel Group that eliminates this booking surcharge.

This agreement means FCM customers will be exempt from the airlines’ £8 (R150) surcharge per sector on bookings made through travel agencies. FCTG will work closely with British Airways and Iberia on developing the future roadmap of the NDC to allow airlines to change the way in which they sell their ancillary products.

But it isn’t just about being able to shop for ancillaries.

There are other benefits of the NDC for travel buyers. The rise of low-cost carriers, which were traditionally outside the GDS, have seen travel managers lose visibility and control of a growing proportion of their air spend. The NDC could help in this regard.

IATA recently also hosted what it called a “Propathon”, or proposition marathon, involving 15 buyers from large organisations. The 24-hour session came up with 60 ideas for new airline products and services that buyers would like to see and which NDC could enable.

Travel managers during the Propathon indicated they are looking for solutions to offer a better traveller experience, better cost management and better data.

They would like to see a system for automatically recognising corporate travellers at the airport to give them fast-track services; a service where the airline contacts the corporate to offer lower fares on alternative flights; dynamic pricing of lounge access; a corporate notification service for traveller no-shows or a data feed showing total contribution to airline (including up and downgrades).

For now, 45 airlines have signed up for the NDC out of the 275-membership of Iata. These airlines include British Airways, Lufthansa and American Airlines. However, Iata says that more than 75% of major airlines have committed to adopt NDC.