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Amid Growing Pains, A Reminder Why We’re Still All-In on NDC

Amid Growing Pains, A Reminder Why We’re Still All-In on NDC
This is an adapted version of a guest-post that was originally published by The Beat.

 

Alexander Winton, a pioneer of the American automobile industry who sold the first automobile in the country in 1897, once wrote “The greatest obstacle to the development of the automobile was the lack of public interest. To advocate replacing the horse, which had served man through centuries, marked one as imbecile.”

The ongoing New Distribution Capability (“NDC”) effort by airlines to replace 40-year-old technology that underpins travel booking systems isn't as sexy or consequential, but the reaction isn't much different. In the same way early proponents of cars had to justify their effort (even though the very first ones were hardly faster than horses), so, too, with NDC.

Last month Amex GBT published a document outlining 162 requirements that third parties “need to fulfill” before Amex will bring NDC content into their marketplace. While it’s a thoughtful document from an important industry voice, as a platform that has already brought NDC into the marketplace, AmTrav has a different perspective. So we’ve put together our own list.

Our list isn’t a list of requirements but, rather, a set of goals and aspirations, focused not so much on why we shouldn’t embrace NDC, but why we should. It’s a vision for how we can use more modern technology to improve the booking and traveling experience to make life better for travelers and their companies. Amid all the noise and debate, this is a reminder of why we as an industry went down this road in the first place and why, even after 12 years of admittedly much more disillusionment than progress, we are still excited and optimistic.

But we need to start with the right premise. At AmTrav we have always said that any conversation about NDC has to start with an acknowledgement that the status quo is not OK. To varying degrees, all online booking tools (OBTs), even the best ones, ask travelers to make sacrifices when they book their business travel – to accept less choice and less functionality than they are used to getting when they book personal travel on supplier direct sites. At AmTrav we have worked really hard to close those gaps and think we lead the industry in that category. But even for our travelers, there is more functionality on supplier sites that we’d like to be able to deliver within our platform. Most in our industry deny that. We’re working hard to try to fix it.

What we’re aiming for is that holy grail – the best of all worlds. We want all of the same content and functionality found on airline sites or apps; aggregated into one platform with all suppliers that lets travelers compare, book, and change their entire trip at once; wrapped inside a system that delivers savings, enforces corporate policy and provides real time visibility for companies. We, of course, already provide a lot of value for both travelers and companies – otherwise we wouldn’t have any customers – but legacy plumbing within the industry has created somewhat of a ceiling for AmTrav and our competitors which NDC can help us break past.

Unlike Amex GBT's list, ours makes no mention of fare basis codes, reservation booking designators, passive segments, pseudo-city codes, interface records or any other arcane industry constructs that may be comfortable for travel providers but meaningless to travelers and companies. We're not looking to shoehorn new technology into old processes. On the contrary, we're willing to ditch any legacy construct, process or workflow that constrains progress without adding value for customers. 

Our list imagines a world where corporate booking tools are an extension of airline merchandising platforms, where travelers can choose freely whether to book direct or through a booking tool but either way get the same offers, the same extras, and the same ability to self-service. We want bookings that start in one channel to be serviceable in another, with the traveler and company having full visibility within the corporate platform either way. For travelers and companies, we want delightful experiences with options that are comprehensive, descriptive content that is rich and visual, booking that is fast and reliable, and data flows that are always real-time. 

We want the conversation to focus, not on showstoppers, but possibilities. The list we’ve created is just that, limited only by what we at one company have imagined so far. It’s easy to get caught up in this near-religious debate about NDC, or to get down about things that don’t work as well as they should at the moment. But let’s keep our eye on the prize. This document is a reminder – for ourselves and for the industry – of just what that prize is.

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