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In Sync: NDC Top Priorities

Travelport NDC Leadership Council finds broad industry consensus on blockers and servicing needs
Will Owen Hughes

Will Owen Hughes

Senior Programme Director, Travelport

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Unless NDC works for everyone, it won’t work for anyone. At Travelport, that’s the guiding principle of our NDC approach. Our role in NDC is to shape the change. We’re not spectators — we’re leading participants in this seismic evolution of how travel is bought and sold.

Travelport’s global reach lets us work actively on NDC with the world’s travel agencies and suppliers — not just in one country, continent, or region. When it comes to NDC, one size doesn’t fit all (and hey, who wants to just ‘fit in’ anyway?) — so we’re not building a generic solution.

Last month we launched our next generation platform, Travelport+, the centerpiece of our vision for simpler retailing and multi-source content distribution. Through it, we’re giving our customers tools to reach new retailing objectives like NDC, with simpler, faster, and better access to content. And since our full focus is on the distribution channel, you can trust us to build solutions that benefit both sides of the industry.

Is the Travelport approach to NDC working? Yes. Just take a look at the series of firsts we’ve had (against the backdrop of the pandemic, no less). We were the first retailing platform to secure IATA accreditation for NDC. We’ve secured extended partnerships with leading travel agencies and airlines like American Airlines. And the proof is in the passengers. Like the ones who booked NDC offers through ATPI and Maxim’s Travel using Travelport, and took off with Singapore Airlines and Qantas late last year.

Q1 2021 Leadership Council Meeting

But let’s get back to the NDC Leadership Council. We created this steering group in 2019 to facilitate industry-wide dialogue and collaboration on NDC, and to address potential challenges along the way. Travelport chairs the meetings and periodically publishes the outcomes for the benefit the entire industry.

The latest (virtual) meeting of the Travelport-hosted NDC Leadership Council took place in Q1 2021. In attendance was a group of over 20 of the world’s most influential travel companies from around the globe — including airlines, travel agencies, corporate travel managers, and corporate booking tool providers.

To encourage open, honest dialogue, council meetings are run under Chatham House Rules. This means that while we may publish findings, we don’t mention participant views by name.

Headlining the Q1 meeting agenda was a poll to gauge which NDC servicing capabilities are most important. Understanding this is key to successfully achieving NDC adoption at scale. The Council asked members to rank both the servicing capabilities they consider as ‘blockers’ (i.e., obstacles to NDC adoption), and also the servicing capabilities they consider to be most important. Ranking can be a point of contention, because most Council members find all of these areas important, but some are higher priority. But overall, it provides great insight, and is a valuable, tried-and-tested practice that keeps NDC on track to deliver benefits for the whole industry, and for customers.

The summarized list of servicing capabilities assessed were (in unranked order):

Key Findings in Brief

The main takeaway from Q1’s meeting is that members reached a broad consensus on both the ‘blocker’ capabilities and the priority servicing capabilities. There was strong consensus that at least six of the servicing capabilities are blockers to NDC adoption including:

Likewise, the priority servicing capabilities were found to be ranked as follows:

The results show that overall, customer servicing capabilities (notably refunds and exchanges) for NDC bookings, are critical for the adoption of NDC. There’s a strong consensus (80% of members) on the order of priority between quite disparate business types to drive progress. There was a consensus between agency and airline priorities, although some divergence could be seen due to different business model needs, especially between leisure and business focused travel providers.

On the whole, this confirms that — as an industry — we’re moving in the right direction. And for Travelport, it shows that our approach to NDC is effective, and provides insight for which features to prioritize on our Travelport+ platform.

More Details for the Data Enthusiasts…

Blockers

It’s worth noting that there was strong consensus between agency and airline participants on what the biggest blockers are. Amongst the corporate booking tools and corporate buyers, all items were considered blockers, aside from one booker who did not select Order cancellation — cancel.

There was considerably more demand amongst airline and corporate participants for Pay — Using 3D-Secure. But only two of nine agencies selected this, given most prefer to act as merchant of record themselves. Added to that, 3D-Secure is only mandated in certain markets (like the EU), and then only for e-commerce transactions.

For customer-initiated changes, both Adding an ancillary and Seat selection saw similar higher score from airlines and corporates than agencies. Seat selection and ancillaries are important both from an airline revenue perspective but also to help improve the travel experience for corporate travelers. Order history inverted this trend — being flagged as critical by more agencies. The remaining items were largely consistent across both groups, although three airlines consider Customer initiated changes a blocker, with others regarding this as less critical.

 

Servicing capabilities

The table below shows the full voting scores by mean average of the rankings (from 1 to 18) of each of the capabilities. Note that lower numbers mean higher priority, so each participant voted 1 for their top priority capability, 2 for second, and so on, down to 18 for lowest priority.

 

Servicing capability options #1-6 are deemed to be top priority — and this logically aligns with what members consider to be ‘blockers’.

Flight schedule change and flight cancellation are somewhat higher priority for agencies, compared to airlines or corporates, and they rated both order cancellation and refund slightly lower. Given unusually high level of cancellation and schedule change during 2020 in particular — keeping customers informed is critical for agencies. Similarly Order History (item #9) was noticeably more important for agencies than the other groups. Agencies want to continue to engage their customer post booking and for the duration of the trip.

Customer initiated changes (items #7 and #8: seat selection and adding an ancillary) had significantly more diversity in responses, especially from airlines. While these items are generally higher priority to agencies, individual airlines votes varied significantly — with five carriers placing both them in the top 7 or 8, but some others treating them as lowest, or next to, lowest priority. This is largely due to differing product and ancillary strategies in different carriers — some choose to bundle these items into fare families, others prefer to sell as standalone items.

Customer initiated changes for passenger information (#12-#14) are consistently considered slightly higher priority than the handling of #16 & #17 Airline driven changes.

Unused ticket as form of payment (item #10) was low priority for a significant majority of participants, except for two airlines and two agencies who gave it a medium score, and one corporate buyer and one other travel agent who each gave it 4th place. This indicates that there are multiple ways for dealing with the residual credit that resulted from large number of cancellations in 2020 — with some carriers and some markets opting to use extended ticket validity rather than ticket exchanges or ticket as form of payment to handle this.

So, what next?

NDC is the destination, and Travelport’s Leadership Council is mapping the journey. By researching and sharing findings like these, we’re helping the industry at large to accelerate NDC adoption and to make it a success with benefits for everyone.

The next council meeting is slated for July, and we’ll share more findings then. In the meantime, you can find out more about how we’re shaping a new era in travel retail by visiting our dedicated NDC hub, or visiting www.travelport.com/plus.

Discover Travelport+

 

Voting Methodology
Members were asked to prioritize a selection of 18 servicing features. Meeting participants were asked to submit their vote in advance of the meeting and in two parts, first placing the features in priority order (numbering from 1 to 18), then separately to identify blockers — or those features they consider mandatory for the successful rollout of NDC content.

Our role in NDC is to shape the change. We’re not speculators — we’re leading participants in this seismic evolution of how travel is bought and sold.
Will Owen Hughes
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