July 30, 2021

Extra time

The pandemic travel pause has given the industry a chance to test and refine NDC, says CWT's Erik Magnuson in our Q&A

Where does the industry stand on NDC?

Airlines already well on their NDC journey before the pandemic have continued to make progress both in terms of their content strategies and their recognition that business travel has some unique service capabilities that need to be addressed.

We have seen a lot of progress with GDS and non-GDS aggregators as well. Amadeus and Sabre continued their NDC investment to a point where they are offering NDC-enabled content for a few of the early adopter airlines and Travelfusion continues to offer access to NDC enabled content for an number of airlines. Just in this year we have seen a number of airlines agreeing to terms with the GDS for NDC-enabled content.

We see these agreements as a significant positive change for the industry. Finally, while Next Generation Storefront (NGS) has been seemingly put on hold (potentially impacting the likelihood of further development and adoption of an industry standard), Sabre has leveraged that effort to introduce New Airline Storefront (NAS), which CWT has played an integral developmental role in.

We see each of these as key developments across the three critical elements we believe make up NDC:

  • Distribution – Enabling distribution channels access to enhanced content
  • Content – Providing content with demonstrative value to the end consumer
  • Display – Being able to display content in a way that’s efficient and engaging

From a CWT perspective, we have been providing early adopters access to NDC-enabled content through Travelfusion since 2019. Although pandemic has meant limited transaction numbers, it has helped improve our understanding of the value and capabilities and refine our requirements. 

In parallel we have been testing NDC-enabled content with both of our primary GDS partners and actively collaborating with them to mature their offering and extend capabilities to address the unique requirements of business travel. We expect to begin end-to-end user acceptance testing  in Q4 2021 with pilots to begin in Q1 2022.

Do you believe there are enough building blocks in place to start driving to adoption?

The industry has made progress across the three earlier mentioned critical areas to realise the potential of NDC but not necessarily enough to start moving to wide-scale  adoption. However, recent progress has allowed us to kickstart the test, learn and adapt engine and start moulding the initial building blocks into something that is really transformational and addresses the unique needs of business travel. 

You mentioned the unique requirements of business travel. What are those unique requirements?

The easiest ones for people to understand are related to servicing capabilities like void, cancel, refund exchanges and involuntary change notification. There are definitely different expectations in business travel than there are in leisure travel. Beyond that you have things like reporting and analytics, which are the life blood of a corporate travel programme. These are all questions our corporate clients have that we need to answer or at least provide some direction.

So, you feel we are a long way off from critical mass adoption?

It’s important to note that of the approximately 500 airlines globally only 49 are certified as Level 4 and only 17 are certified NDC@Scale. To reach a critical mass we need to move beyond these early adopters and all airlines need to develop truly compelling NDC-enabled content that the travel managers and travellers can see demonstrable value in the content. We also need to close the service capability gap between today’s solution and what is currently offered by NDC. Finally, we need to ensure multi-channel capabilities so the travel managers and their travellers can consume the content via their channel of choice. So, simply put, I believe we are in the most critical stage of the technology adoption curve – the period of time between the early adopter and the early majority which if extended becomes a chasm. In order to ensure a steady progress we need to really understand the needs of the customer and work together as an industry to implement it successfully.

When you engage with your clients, what are you hearing from them?

We speak with our clients on a daily basis. They demonstrate a range of understanding about NDC from novice to expert but regardless of their level of understanding they generally are interested in three things:

  1. What is the benefit of NDC-enabled content for my travellers and my travel programme?
  2. How do I ensure this new content fits within my travel programme?
  3. What is my TMC doing to ensure that NDC meets my travel programme needs and is enabled efficiently?

Clients are looking to TMCs help them navigate this industry change and help them understand the implications to their travel programme and traveller experience. NDC is still maturing, especially for corporate travel, and there are a number of unanswered questions but we all understand NDC is a journey and we are willing to manage the ambiguity.

There is optimism and caution in your answers. What gives you the most cause to be optimistic and what gives you the most cause to be cautious?

The progress we have seen and the improved collaboration over the last six months really gives me a reason to be optimistic. I remain cautious, however, because this is a really big change for the industry and expectations are high and I sense patience is running low. We need to continue to collaborate, set realistic expectations and move NDC forward at a pace that makes sense for the industry. If we get out of alignment, we run the risk of not realising the opportunity enabled by NDC. 

Erik Magnuson is VP Product Management Mobility & Payments for CWT.

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