Start-ups and established NDC players had a robust discussion on what lies ahead at the Airline Industry Retailing Symposium (AIRS).

By Patrick Appleton

New Distribution Capability (NDC) offers an opportunity for airlines, travel management companies (TMCs) and online travel agents (OTAs) to embrace technology, innovation and to unlearn the past. Making the most of this requires good faith and willingness to adapt.

At the Airline Industry Retailing Symposium in Bangkok, the discussion focused on how the role of NDC shapes up in terms of aggregation, with panels featuring representatives from global distribution systems (GDS) and start-ups—all eager to reassure airlines that change is not to be feared, but rather to be looked upon with an open mind and desire for change.

The GDS panel, moderated by Dave McEwen, Director, Industry Architecture at IATA, explained that the role of aggregation is to normalize a range of content in the same place using different sources, in turn deconstructing and presenting to the buyer—corporate or otherwise—in a valuable and understandable format.

It’s about finding a balance between disruption and innovation, but not going backwards

They were unanimous in the view that the journey to widespread NDC is a slow road, but Ian Heywood, Travelport’s Global Head of Product and Marketing said that with the expertise and willingness of experimentation, the global distribution systems can make a significant breakthrough in the next decade.

“There is light at the end of the tunnel,” said Heywood.

Panelists also agreed that the path to NDC requires airlines to adapt, such as offering more specific search requests, increased openness to new learnings and a desire to provide “better, faster, quicker responses” to the offers they receive from GDS.

On the travel agent side, Gianni Pisanello, Vice President NDC-X, Amadeus said the current state of play offers “a great opportunity” to change processes and lead through positive disruption.

“It’s about finding a balance between disruption and innovation, but not going backwards,” added Emma Wilson, Vice President Marketing, Sabre.

McEwen asked whether aggregation of NDC could commoditize the pricing model in general, but the four panelists quashed such fears and added that airlines, TMCs and OTAs would be able to use the tools to offer more specialized products and ensure differentiation.

“Now it’s about how innovative the front-end tools can be,” said Moshe Rafiah, CEO, Travelfusion. “NDC is on an evolutionary path—I believe it’s all down to the power of technology and letting that power filter and curate the best answer for consumers.”

Accepting the gauntlet laid down before them, the start-ups panel, moderated by IATA’s Head, Implementation Industry Distribution Programs Shaunelle Harris Drake, said they are entering the market to help airlines “simplify their offering” and grow the business.

Lucy Illidge, Commercial Strategist, Kyte said that start-ups are at the cutting edge of tech. The advantage is obvious, but airlines need to make decisions quicker, the panel agreed. 

Illidge added that start-ups often make decisions “in a matter of days” and Jorge Diaz, CEO, AirGateway echoed the view that airlines can aid scalability by taking care of the certification element, allowing the innovators to focus on the technological side.

Embrace the culture of change and new technologies, the start-ups urged as they called on airlines to give them a chance. “Start-ups are fast growing entities—it is usually a good bet to be open. Don’t look at the state we are in now,” said Steve Domin, CEO and Co-Founder, Duffel. “Try something new.”

“Being part of the Accelerate@IATA program is great for C-level approval,” added Illidge. “Now we need more.”

  • For more information on Accelerate@IATA, click here