July 16, 2024

Content is King

We chat with Adam Knights, Regional Managing Director at ATPI, about the company's NDC readiness and why he believes corporate travel buyers need to get on board

When did ATPI start working on NDC?

The truthful answer is nearly 30 years ago when easyJet launched! We don’t really see the difference between NDC and how we handled easyJet content back then. Personally, I was on the initial NDC panel set up by IATA 10 years ago, along with representatives from Amex GBT and FCM and others. While some TMCs decided to wait for the GDSs to add NDC content – and are still waiting – we decided to develop our own solutions. NDC is simply another form of content and our policy was that if it’s right for our customers, we’ll provide the connections. 

Why should travel managers be embracing NDC?

NDC means cheaper content. It’s as simple as that. We recently pulled some price comparisons and our data showed that the savings are 17% on average, so can you afford not to embrace it? If your travellers are seeing cheaper fares on an airline’s website, they will get disillusioned with their travel programme – and with their TMC. It’s up to us as TMCs to make sure our clients get access to the full content so there is less leakage. The problem is that some TMCs aren’t providing NDC content and are claiming it’s because it’s not ready.

Why do you think some TMCs are hesitant or cautious about turning on NDC content and what makes ATPI different?

The truth is they can’t easily do it. If your whole global operation is set up to use the GDS and your invoices are all automatically linked to the GDS, it’s not easy to change those processes. If you’re a mega TMC and you want to offer the lowest possible transaction fee, this requires the highest levels of efficiency and productivity and there is no doubt that the GDS is the most efficient way to achieve this. But at ATPI, we’ve taken the approach that our customers need full access to content and that we can’t just rely on the GDS. 

How is NDC content integrated into ATPI’s services?

In each market we will look at the best solution and will provide NDC content through a number of different channels depending on the carrier. In Germany we provide Lufthansa content through a direct connect, while in the UK we provide British Airways content with Travelfusion and Atriis direct connect.

We have our own proprietary invoicing platform (enabling bespoke change depending on market) and all bookings flow through to this, making the process as efficient as a GDS booking. Crucially, we can also capture all the relevant management information and data analysis. Other TMCs are capturing this data by making passive bookings for NDC bookings on the GDS but we’re not sure how this will play out and whether, in the longer term, there will be a charge for these. In my opinion, it could go either way.

How do you ensure ATPI can service NDC bookings?

So, there is a lot of noise about the issue of servicing NDC bookings but in fact things are improving rapidly and it’s not such a problem. In fact, my teams are telling me there are rarely issues with BA NDC on Travelfusion. Because we decentralised it and rolled NDC out country by country, we were able to test it in each local market before we switch it on at scale across the ATPI network, which reduces any friction.

We also have a back-office operation in Mumbai which allows us to support our local centres by doing all the back office processes like reconciliation, refunds and crucially changes to more complex bookings requiring airline portals or call centres. This means we can provide a more cost efficient and competitive frontline service if we need to deal with any additional complexities. 

What are the other potential challenges of NDC and how can these be mitigated?

Our commercial team has been very honest with our customers from the start, showing them the savings that will be made by having access to NDC content and explaining that most of the cheapest fares are non-changeable anyway. Of course, there are also big savings to be made on business class fares – sometimes by as much as £2,000-£3,000 – and we tell our clients that if last-minute changes need to be made, we might not be able to make them quite as quickly as through the GDS.

However, when you look over the savings that have been made over the whole month, this overrides these rare occasions. We have invited our clients to come on the NDC journey together with us, which means that when problems have arisen, they are really accepting of it.

What’s next? Where do you see the industry in the next five to 10 years regarding NDC?

I personally believe that the Amadeus NDC X solution will eventually dominate but it will vary by market and certain carriers’ strategies around differing content. Where carriers are dominant in a single market – Germany, France and the Nordics, for example – there may well be a continued fragmentation of content.

There are some limited examples already of carriers working directly with clients on a “direct connect” deal where the volumes of that client are material enough to the supplier. TMCs have to be open to this opportunity, yet if your strategy is focused on enterprise customers driving your GDS volumes then you are unlikely to promote this to your customer. 

More specifically, what’s next for ATPI regarding NDC?

We are talking to a number of strategic customers who currently lack NDC content and a vision for direct connect. However, this will likely be limited to a few enterprise customers, as I expect Amadeus, our GDS provider, to supply the bulk of content needed for most of our customers. As a provider of systems to major airlines and TMCs, I believe Amadeus will lead in delivering the true “retailing” experience that the airline industry originally based the concept of NDC on.

Top tips from Adam Knights

Push your TMC to support you and your priorities. If cost is king, then your TMC should be fighting your corner to get you the best possible prices, keeping the door open for NDC content which may provide cheaper fares.

Do a cost saving exercise. Consider setting up reports to monitor travel costs and the channels through which tickets are booked to better inform you on your expenses and whether cost savings need to be considered.

Make a list of what’s important to your travellers and businesses and rank in order – price, flexibility, cancellation, accessibility, sustainability, credentials, having multiple travel options. It could be that price is top priority, or perhaps other criteria are more important to your travel programme than the final cost.

If you’re still unhappy that travel options aren’t aligning with your business priorities, it might be time to look for a TMC that can provide travel options that better meet your needs.