NDC, a journey into the future 

Communication, sharing and travel were the keywords at MARTEDIturismo organised by Guida Viaggi in collaboration with Amadeus Italy on the topic of “NDC, the frontier for the aviation ecosystem“.

Communication that must be more transparent and shared with all stakeholders in the supply chain, in an increasingly technological journey.

“It’s a topic that has been talked about for several years,” says Gabriele Rispoli, commercial director and board member at Amadeus Italia Spa, and associate director at Amadeus IT Group, “but is now characterised not only by participation but by a strong acceleration.” Of course, NDC is not immune to challenges, such as “the lack of standardisation and complete servicing in responses,” he added.

At what stage are the airlines?

“We started later because we wanted to understand not only the development of the protocol but also how it would impact tour operators, distribution and OTAs, as well as the relationship with GDSs,” explains Flavio Ghiringhelli, country manager in Italy for Emirates. “Today, GDSs still represent a very strong component of bookings in Italy, accounting for 70%. Our product is divided into three categories: a free entry-level option, NDC connectivity through technology companies specialising in integration with other airlines, and complete integration with travel agencies’ technological systems through APIs. The latter allows for a 360-degree service and involves an investment on the part of the agency.”
Ita Airways, which is younger than the Emirati carrier, “is in the  development, growth and consolidation phase,” asserts Aldo Ponticelli, vice president of commercial strategy & distribution at the company. “We’ve reached a satisfactory level, and now that we have the technology, we believe that NDC is a powerful content delivery method, so it is necessary to make this investment. NDC is here to stay, and we are at the 21st delivery wave that addresses many issues, including servicing. We want to continue the discussion with GDSs, leisure operators and business travel operators to incorporate NDC in a way that is sustainable for us and for those who work with us.” So, the basic principle is not so much “a cost-saving choice,” comments Ponticelli, “saving a few Euros from a distribution standpoint, but rather to convey the best product.'”

The tour operating point of view

But for a tour operator, can NDC actually lead to a better purchase experience by increasing the possibility of upselling? “We hope it can,” says Davide Catania, CEO of Alidays, “and are trying to understand when would be the right time to develop it. We are still a little cautious because we’d like to deliver a system that makes agencies efficient and can interact with the customer, even when it comes to ancillary services and customisation.”
“NDC opens up to this world. Efficiency and customisation through a CRM determine the value of an agent; price is no longer an end in itself but becomes the ‘value-price’ that the customer is willing to pay,” Catania emphasises.  “NDC contributes to the fact that transportation is truly a travel experience.”

A comment from the distribution side

There are advantages but also some disadvantages. This is testified by Adriano Apicella, CEO of Welcome Travel Group.
“We need to separate the theoretical side from the current situation. We were amongst the first to make direct integrations to achieve parity rates with airlines. NDC is also consolidating because with the surcharges imposed on the protocol, we have to move in that direction. Other advantages are represented by the inventory, flexibility and access to content.”
“On the other hand, the disadvantage lies in the post-sale aspect:” Apicella points out, “today, NDC is not a standard because each airline’s connection is different from the others, and because of this IATA has failed in its original aim, by launching a protocol when it was not yet ready. An agency is not a software house, and aftersales today are a bloodbath. We know how to sell a ticket, but we can’t modify it. If we were to consider transferring all GDS content to NDC, we’d go out of business.” But there’s more. “The current problem is the economic model,” he asserts. “It’s a cost for agencies, there is no remuneration and it’s also a cost for the customer.”

Amadeus appointments

There is certainly no lack of interest from points of sale. Amadeus began holding live meetings with agencies this year, every last Thursday of the month, and since April the number of participants has consistently grown.
“It’s a topic that travel agencies feel strongly about,” Rispoli emphasizes, “and we’ve noticed that the Q&A phase is taking longer because skills have grown.”

If it’s true that agencies are not software houses, objects Ghiringhelli, “it’s necessary to allocate a budget within the technology sphere.” And in this sense, acknowledges Apicella, “as a network NDC is an excellent opportunity.”

The ancillary services question

Is it possible to add value to ancillary services? Gianni Zammarchi, managing director & chairman of Easy Market provides an answer.
“We target non-IATA agencies. Ancillary services help create a different product, but they’re not for everyone. It depends on the customer, and it’s up to the agent to understand if it’s worth explaining more complex services, not necessarily those offered by carriers or related to the airline industry. For example, services related to ticket flexibility that can generate revenue with travel agencies.”

Business travel

A recent analysis by GBTA has shown a marked divide, with a third of travel managers reporting that they have experienced a negative impact due to NDC implementation.
Antonello Lanzellotto, head of multinational sales & account management at Uvet, confirms the data. “We have even hosted webinars for travel managers, but I have seen very little interest. They should be the first to understand the benefits of NDC, but perhaps they haven’t been explained very well. Continuous pricing is an example: we should have more post-sale services, and we hope that this can be achieved with GDS. 70% of our clients are international and call centres still don’t provide the service that business travel truly deserves.”
“I come up  against significant technological obstacles,” agrees Massimo Gardini, industry relations and partner director at ACI blueteam, “and price leverage plays a major role. In order to survive, travel agencies and TMCs mustn’t lose touch with the market, and NDC allows for parity rates. But there’s a lack of knowledge of this protocol from the airlines. We believe that the solution is the GDS; direct integrations are unthinkable.”
“In our work,” adds Giorgio Garcea, chief commercial & operations officer at Cisalpina, “there’s also a data security issue concerning the information provided by our customers. The application of NDC to business travel is complex and I would expect GDSs to help us with this.”

The customer

Customers should not be forgotten in all of this, says Alessandra Pisanu, senior director of global market management at CWT, “they expect competitive prices, bundled fares that include a range of ancillary services, simplicity and continuity in their experience. They don’t want any problems and may want the possibility to make changes and ask for refunds with feedback from the carrier and the agency.”

And so?

“To have fluidity in the processes, adaptation and time are needed,” concludes Rispoli, “but it is the beginning of something. The key is in proper communication and dialogue among all stakeholders in the supply chain.”

Nicoletta Somma & Paola Olivari 

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