Will Owen Hughes
Head of Customer Strategy — Air
Until now, just sitting back and waiting to see what will happen with NDC has been a fairly sensible policy for most agencies. But not any longer.
As of the end of 2020, the IATA NDC airline Leaderboard included 21 airlines in total and many airlines have set out their intentions to heavily prioritize API bookings in the future
All of this NDC momentum means that the time for procrastination is most definitely over. With NDC on the near-horizon, there are about to be some major changes to the way you work. It’s time, in other words, to make sure you can benefit from what NDC offers, or you could risk losing out to better prepared competitors.
The question is, how can you make the most of NDC opportunities, both to strengthen your supplier relationships and deliver more relevant, compelling offers to your customers?
Here are three tips that are a good starting point for any agency:
If you change a football match into a rugby match half way through, there will obviously be some confusion. The only way it can possibly work is if everyone knows the rules of the new game, and it’s the same story with NDC.
As bookings will now be made in airline systems, and airlines themselves will be responsible for creating customer offers, the agent’s role is changing profoundly. Not only do you need access to the new content coming down the NDC API, you also need to know more about your customers, so you can return relevant, compelling offers to them.
There are also new rules about how your relationship with content partners (i.e. airlines) will evolve and change. There are new rules about how you access content and how your customers make bookings. And there are new rules about the range and type of offers that will be available. You need to fully understand all of these changes, and be able to adapt to them, to ensure that NDC positively impacts your content partner and customer relationships — and business as a whole.
To some extent agencies have been competing on a level playing field for decades, with everyone having access to the same public fares on all routes. With NDC, this could change, with airlines favouring agencies who prioritize sales of hard-to-sell fares and ancillaries.
Agencies who do best out of NDC will be those who understand this fundamental change, and those who partner proactively to support airlines in their own commercial objectives.
This means that if you can help an airline sell fares on a challenging route — where planes are flying half empty, for example — you will undoubtedly be rewarded with access to fares that are highly desirable and profitable at other times of year.
Likewise, if you take airlines’ desires to sell more high-profit ancillaries seriously, that will also potentially give you major advantages in terms of the high-value content you can access from them.
You can also grow and strengthen your relationships with airlines in the NDC era by sharing the right customer data with them. After all, to create profitable offers, airlines need full understanding of end customers’ needs and preferences — and that’s information that only you have access to.
One of the major changes with NDC is that just a few fare options will be replaced with a much larger number of offers that include a wide range of fares and ancillaries. This is great in terms of giving customers more choice, value and relevance, but it can also increase complexity in the search process and make bookings more time consuming.
The trick here is to be highly prescriptive and specific in your searches for NDC content. That’s because simply searching for a fare between two cities on a certain day will potentially return hundreds of results that your agents will need to sift through and explain to customers at length. You can avoid this by searching for an offer that includes the desired route and stop overs, and all the right ancillaries – from VIP lounge access to priority boarding.
The benefits of being specific will be time saving for booking agents, but also deliver a faster, more relevant experience for customers. And that means more sales and more success for your business.
Last but not least, NDC adoption is a process, and your technology partners can help you to fully understand the new NDC rules and to make them work for your business. That’s what we’re working on with our own agency customers at Travelport, and we hope you’ll engage with us too as you start booking content NDC-enabled online and offline solutions.