If IATA airlines vote later today or tomorrow in Abu Dhabi in favour of a proposed New Distribution Capability the new system could be introduced as early as next year – but travel agent bodies, including ECTAA, ASTA and BTC, are critical of the lack of consultation and are concerned that NDC will prevent them from accessing the best deals for clients and that it will also encroach on ownership of customer information.
Instead of displaying their fares on GDSs, airlines would require agents to submit a travel request, including the passenger’s details, and they will respond with a customised quote.
IATA claims that NDC will allow airlines to offer customers booking via agents a more personalised service, similar to the service they receive when booking on the airlines’ own websites. Agents account for 60% of ticket sales by value, but airlines are concerned that GDSs don’t allow them to tailor their offer to the customers and the model is focused only on finding the lowest fare.
IATA Director General and Chief Executive Tony Tyler said: “Airlines are trying to escape the commoditisation trap through differentiation, and merchandising. They are developing products and services, such as special meals, expedited boarding, roomier seats and access to airport lounges. But the travel agent sees only fare codes – F, J, Y and their various derivatives – that cannot fully describe options available. Customers expect more.”
He claimed that the solution was to develop an interface to sit between the airlines and the GDS. “One key outcome will be closing of the gap between airlines and their customers so that customised offers can be made to travellers even through travel agents,” he added.
However, travel agent bodies claim that the new system is being pushed through by a small group of airlines and the European Travel Agents’ and Tour Operators’ Associations said a lack of detailed consultation with agents and questions over the legality of NDC within the European Union had tarnished the process. It claimed that IATA only started to engage on NDC with ECTAA and other travel agent trade associations in September 2012, despite their repeated requests to be involved since June 2012.
“Agents will have to develop systems and processes to accommodate for NDC distribution,” said ECTAA President Boris Zgomba. “While a single standard to improve the distribution of ancillary services could be beneficial for the whole distribution chain, we feel there has been no consultation on whether NDC is the appropriate model.”
The American Society of Travel Agents and the Business Travel Coalition have also sharply disputed claims by Tony Tyler that the development of NDC was being conducted in open and transparent collaboration with all segments of the travel industry that would be affected by it.
“Nothing could be further from the truth,” said Nina Meyer, ASTA Chief Executive. “ASTA sees nothing in the IATA process to create NDC that resembles full and open transparent collaboration with the travel agency community.”