March 2, 2024

Seizing the NDC moment

Scott Wylie, CTO for TripStax, believes there's a way to stop NDC being a huge pain in the backside for corporate travel managers

You can achieve a lot in 10 hours. Drive from London to Inverness. Fly from Heathrow to Seattle. Even serve a term as Prime Minister (okay, I exaggerated that last one, but only slightly).

However, what you can’t necessarily do in that time any more is change a flight reservation. I have just returned from the US where I met a travel management company that spent 11 long hours holding on the phone to a major airline to amend a booking. Yes, changing this long-haul flight took longer than the flight itself.

That fare was only available through New Distribution Capability (NDC). While this particular carrier has started steering bookings via NDC, it doesn’t yet make it easy to manage those reservations post-booking.

“It’s completely bonkers to introduce ‘innovation’ which makes amending a booking far slower than half a century ago”

As Chief Technology Officer of a company whose mission is to significantly drive the evolution of corporate travel’s outdated ecosystem, I passionately believe in agile innovation that delivers on every level. Therefore, when I say it’s completely bonkers to introduce ‘innovation’ which makes amending a booking far slower than half a century ago, I hope we can also agree I’m not just being an old moaner.

Such NDC shortcomings mean a terrible service for your travellers. But it’s also not working for you as travel managers. I attended a conference a few years ago where airlines and others congratulated themselves for two days on how brilliant NDC is and the focus should be NDC at scale. Then a travel manager took to the stage and told all those execs NDC was killing her ability to benchmark. The room went strangely quiet.

Let’s be very clear why airlines are pushing through NDC. It’s because it works well for airlines, especially financially.

I do see advantages with NDC and I fully support change in how distribution operates. The trouble is that nearly all TMCs, and online booking tools, still rely on GDS technology to create a record for and to service all bookings. But without a whole lot of complex customisations for each airline, that environment simply can’t efficiently handle reservations originating through NDC.

“We can seize this moment of transition to move to a more modern digital environment that truly benefits everyone”

In some cases, TMCs are snubbing NDC fares, despite usually being cheaper. Or they are avoiding the NDC hardliner carriers in favour of competitors. But those workarounds aren’t viable long-term.

Instead, I believe the solution, if you’re a travel manager, is to persuade your TMC to move to modern core technology that isn’t GDS-dependent. Newer agency technologies create digital booking IDs to handle all post-reservation management regardless of where or how a booking is made.

That means you can also benchmark data from all bookings wherever they are made: low-cost airline websites, NDC direct or GDS scheduled fares filed with ATPCO.

Right now, NDC is proving a huge pain in the backside for corporate travel. But we can seize this moment of transition to move to a more modern digital environment that truly benefits everyone, including travel managers.

Scott Wylie

Scott Wylie is Chief Technology Officer at TripStax