Ai Editorial: Are travel tech “laggards” starting to hit back at challengers?

5th August, 2019

Ai Editorial: The option of going “off-PSS” was being suggested for being in control of the offer. But in an industry where the status quo isn’t easy to change, have the so-called “laggards” caught up with the challengers, probes Ai’s Ritesh Gupta

 

There was rather a prolonged period in this decade when travel B2B specialists, including the likes of Amadeus and Sabre, faced a barrage of questions around the waning utility of industry-specific systems they were coming up for operations and commercial interests of airlines. Airlines were recommended to explore scenarios which would help them to focus on real-time offers, personalisation, rich content and ancillary revenue generation.    

All of this hit its peak post developments such as IATA’s NDC XML standard (the talk around being in control of the offer, then differentiation between NDC and non-NDC content etc.), dealing with the issue of look-to-book ratio (cost considerations) etc.

However, the status quo didn’t change that easily, even though there were constant discussions around going off-PSS for retailing.

Specialists or ‘best of breed’ with reference to a particular system or even more came into the equation owing to their flexible infrastructure and overall agility, being relatively faster to market with their offering and also being responsive to specific requirements. There have been cases where established airlines have gone ahead with implementation of products, for instance, for merchandising, from relatively newer players. But whenever the possibility of opting for a new offering emerged, the question around the risk involved in running routine operations and integration cropped up. This is because to switch over to a specific product/ company and operate such systems requires considerable technical expertise. “Every system that is in place has a certain role to play and so it is there for a reason. It is designed to work in totality with the entire product IT suite. Is the backward integration streamlined?” these sort of critical issues were raised, and hence airlines chose to pull back or it prolonged the decision-making of airlines.

(Also read:  Preparing for the impact of NDC on business functions)

Catching up

Reflecting today on the last couple of years, it seems the same players have managed to thwart the danger to an extent, and already singing different tunes today.

And they are backing it up with new contracts for the standalone products, and not for the entire IT suite.  

As Amadeus shared details of a deal with Alaska Airlines to optimize revenue across its expanding multi-hub network, it underlined that Amadeus is capable of integrating seamlessly with another passenger service system (PSS). It is ready to offer its technology for revenue optimization to any airlines regardless of their PSS. The deal made Alaska Airlines the first non-Altea carrier – and the largest globally – to implement the Amadeus Revenue Management solution.

“…as other suppliers fail to keep pace with out-dated TPF mainframe technology, the Amadeus Airlines Platform is filling the gap with leading technology that is simple, agile and open. This technology is particularly useful because it gives third parties the ability to develop solutions on top of our solutions. Amadeus’ targeted investment in critical technology reinforces our commitment to address key customer challenges and enable their success and growth,” wrote Mike Douglass, Senior VP of IT Sales, Airlines - North America, Amadeus, in a blog post.

He also added, “This technology is particularly useful because it gives third parties the ability to develop solutions on top of our solutions.”

Sabre, with moves such as the acquisition of Farelogix late last year (a highlight being connectivity across nine leading airline reservation systems (PSS) and NDC integrations with every global GDS), is keen on GDS- and PSS-agnostic solutions for dynamic offer and order management, plus NDC-focused development across scheduling, pricing, shopping and fulfilment. Sabre has been considering integration of NDC offers into GDS, plus the ability to scale NDC volume quickly across the travel ecosystem; integration of a PSS-agnostic merchandising engine with PSS and gain ability to deliver value to airlines on all bookings regardless of PSS system or distribution channel. Sabre even indicated that Farelogix products will help address a potential $2 billion opportunity across the world’s 300 largest airlines.

Travelport, prior to its acquisition by affiliates of Siris Capital and Evergreen Coast Capital, had moved to the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) methodology for its product organization.

Even as aggregators, GDSs are now counting on artificial intelligence for search technology i. e. for the requests coming from travel transactional platforms/ traffic sites. In this context, companies like Travelport assert that today they intelligently cache at the edge of the cloud. So while they still hit an airline system to seek relevant, up-to-date information, it is being pointed out that they are relying on data analytics and AI tools, along with data models for speed, accuracy and relevancy.  More the system of airlines is hit, higher the expenditure for them. This is relevant for airlines considering the fact with NDC; it is the airlines that are going to make the offer, and not GDS companies that are going to make use of data to make an itinerary. Travelport has grown to more than 11 billion searches per month.  

 

Interested in NDC and travel tech? Must attend the upcoming Mega Event Asia-Pacific, to be held in Kuala Lumpur (20 – 22 august 2019).

Event site: www.megaapac.com

 

Ai Editorial: Preparing for the impact of NDC on business functions

25th July, 2019

A multitude of considerations need to be focused on by airlines before they embrace the NDC standard, writes Ai’s Ritesh Gupta

 

Benefits of NDC, a technology standard based on XML, continue to be highlighted and discussed, but the fact remains that embracing NDC is riddled with challenges.

In terms of where NDC’s adoption stands, an attempt is being made to attain a critical mass of volume of transactions. In all, 21 airlines have committed that by the end of 2020, 20% of their indirect sales will be made using NDC.

“Airlines, as an industry, haven’t at large taken a big leap in terms of being in control of the offer or even selling non-air products,” said an industry executive.

Beyond their own products, the industry is also pointing out that airlines can tap mobility as a service (MaaS) segment, offering an interconnected experience via their own digital assets covering all of the transportation requirements. But according to CarTrawler, only 59 of the world’s 473 airlines currently offer mobility services to customers.

Preparing for the NDC world

If airlines are going to create and distribute offers, what sort of impact it will have on their organization structure? What sort of investment is needed in systems, technology etc. for the same? How commercial relationships are going to evolve?

Companies having a minimum set of recognized capabilities to drive volumes of NDC transactions towards 2020 are going to be awarded NDC@Scale.  It is based on four main elements that are important to quantify the capacity to scale to volumes of NDC transactions:

  • Technical setup (ability to run an NDC API on Service Level Agreements (SLA) with performance requirements for areas such as response time, availability, available transactions per second, error management, etc.). 
  • Organization setup (work on support needed to connect new partners and to run the operations).
  • Use cases (consider the implementation of standardized messages workflows across the industry).
  • Capabilities (consider the coverage of key features (Shop, Order/Service/Pay) powered by an NDC API and the ability for airlines to replicate some features currently possible through the traditional channels (GDSs) as well as the ability to provide additional content).

Airlines Reporting Corporation (ARC) recently highlighted that NDC can have a significant impact on industry-wide processes, from ticketing to servicing, credit card billing and debit memos. ARC stressed on the importance of working out a business case with a cost-benefit analysis to evaluate return on investment for the entire organization.

There are several ways to market with NDC. Options include a direct connect, via a GDS, a non-GDS aggregator, a meta-search engine and a message hub. An important consideration from distribution perspective is going to be the chosen focus. For instance, with whom and how to work in case the objective is ancillary content or reduction in the cost of distribution. ARC also explained that airlines also need to consider the options available for an agency to “integrate NDC transaction data into their corporate booking tools, back- and mid-office processes, customer invoicing, post-ticket servicing and duty of care”; impact on commission, fare and corporate discounts and net fare mark-ups impact the NDC rollout etc.

From e-commerce perspective, if airlines are going to make the offer, and the indirect channel is going to approach the airlines (earlier in case of GDS, traditional filed fares and scheduling was used), then the impact of hits on an airline’s system needs to be assessed. On a positive note, the use of intelligent caching is already coming into play.

Similarly, airlines focused on NDC also need to look at technology-related (for e.g. normalizing content) and payment/ settlement related considerations (for e. g. which party is responsible for the authorization and billing for credit, debit and related forms of payment).

Another area is interlining.

Interline NDC is still the missing puzzle. Interlining is the sale of seats on an airline partner, to offer a wider network to consumers. Interline also covers the ability to cross-sell ancillaries. Read more about: “Why without interline, NDC is incomplete?”

 

A session about NDC  is scheduled to take place at the upcoming Mega Event Asia-Pacific, to be held in Kuala Lumpur (20 – 22 August 2019).

Event site: www.MegaAPAC.com

 

Ai Editorial: NDC or not - TMCs pushing for content from all sources

10th July, 2019

Ai Editorial: Established TMCs are trying to ensure that they have access to all the offerings as far as air shopping is concerned, and in this context, owing to NDC, a lot of interesting developments are emerging, writes Ai’s Ritesh Gupta

 

Many TMCs are currently engaging in testing initiatives around NDC (New Distribution Capability), a technical standard created by the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

For instance, working on a new graphical NDC-enabled user interface and gearing up for booking of NDC airline content. TMCs are looking at real NDC use cases in a test-and-learn environment to deliver improved capabilities.

There are several reasons behind the same. One of them is related to having access to all the relevant travel content. TMCs offer several services including reporting, duty of care requirements etc. to corporations, but having access to content and facilitating comparison shopping with rules is of paramount importance. Options to access in-policy travel options include accessing what’s available in the GDS through a corporate booking tool or through a TMC.

GDS or non-GDS route – can’t wait for content

While certain organizations opt for NDC content via the GDS, there are others who don’t opt for such option and have been exploring alternative options.

As SAP Concur shared recently, Business Travel Direct is offering access to British Airways’ NDC through Concur Travel. Plus, Travel & Transport Stateman, has been testing BA NDC. Businesses are also looking at cheaper fares and avoiding any surcharges (being levied by airlines on booking non-NDC content).  (Read more – Are GDSs falling behind?) In case of SAP Concur, their Select Access feature allows clients to enable an airline’s NDC content within Concur Travel, and the fares and schedules for the Select Access-enabled airlines are offered to the traveller alongside the fares and schedules of other airlines sourced from the GDS.

For their part, GDSs, too, have been focusing on content. Companies like Sabre state that their APIs are in a position to integrate and normalize air content from all the sources.

TMCs are exploring options to pilot airlines’ NDC content, but at the same time they are also working closely with GDSs on their evolving NDC solutions and looking to test them as they mature. 

AmTrav has complemented Amadeus for enabling connections to content from many different sources, including NDC.

Amadeus underlines that NDC can curtail the gap between the business and leisure experience, and revitalize the business travel by incorporating the element. This can be done via a customized package, including priority seating & boarding, Wi-Fi, or access to the lounge, all in line with corporate policies, and available in a secure and transparent booking environment.

Making an apt choice

The industry has also witnessed interesting moves from various stakeholders to improve upon flight shopping.

Jeff Klee, CEO, AmTrav, in a blog post, mentioned that for travellers visiting airlines’ sites, the overall experience wasn't consistent since options presented weren’t available through most of the distribution platforms in booking tools. To overcome the same, the team at AmTrav worked on a proprietary technology offering in order to streamline and simplify the online air shopping journey “for travel arrangers and the CXO-level consumer”. He further added that rather than waiting for the NDC standard to emerge, AmTrav made most of the rich content available and tapped it for the company’s platform “in a way that is very similar to NDC”.

“Travellers coming to our site can search fares and airline offers and at a glance see what amenities are available on each flight along with any extra fees. It wasn’t easy, but it clearly provides real value by helping the traveller make the right choice,” shared Klee.  

Being prepared

Irrespective of the preparedness of the industry, including that of airlines for NDC, TMCs aren’t willing to play the waiting game.

In a recent update, FCM Travel Solutions’ Global Managing Director, Marcus Eklund mentioned NDC will increasingly become a reality in 2019, “but our goal has always been to balance the short-term priorities of NDC with building a long-term, workable solution with our technology partners at Amadeus and Sabre”.

“If you draw an analogy with moving into a new house, the ultimate vision for NDC is the perfect smart home where everything works and you have Alexa in every room. However, the airlines are pushing us to move into a half-built house. There is still a lot of work to be done. That’s why we are piloting solutions with our technology partners to make sure that when we do move into that house, we can give our customers an even better business travel experience. The last thing we want to create for ourselves and our customers is more inefficiencies when booking flights and managing data,” stated Eklund.

TMCs are looking at richer content, and at the same time intend to sustain efficient booking management and seamless fulfilment. Plus, they are trying to overcome possible NDC servicing gaps such as refunds and booking changes. As Sabre pointed out in its recently released NDC-related study, TMCs are going to benefit provided “future releases of NDC can solve for work processes such as interlines, schedule changes and PNR synchronization”.

 

Hear from senior industry executives about NDC at the upcoming Mega Event Asia-Pacific, to be held in Kuala Lumpur (20 – 22 August 2019).

Event site: www.MegaAPAC.com

 

Ai Video: Assessing the efficacy of flexible payments in travel

18th June, 2019

Installment payments for travel allow travellers to book instantly but pay for their trips over time through fixed payments each month.

“Flexible payments (as an option) have started to evolve (in travel) in the last couple of years, stepping up the conversion rate and drive new revenue (for merchants),” says Chris Stacey, VP, Business Development, Uplift. For instance, targeting travellers with modest disposable income and low credit scores, and letting them pay via this payment option.

The fintech company recently indicated that it is on track to exceed its goal of facilitating payments for one million customers in 2019.

Stacey, who spoke to Ai during the recently held ATPS in Brighton, UK, shared that Uplift settles with no changes to existing flow. “No impact to payment processing or revenue accounting workflows,” he mentioned.

Some of the highlights:

  • Airline paid in full via UATP via Airlines Clearing House
  • Uplift undertakes customer credit check and assumes all repayment risk
  • Customer makes monthly payments to Uplift

The team also asserts that Uplift’s offering is not only mobile friendly, but it also purpose-built for travel, powered by AI-driven, point-of-sale lending and payments technology, which empowers travel brands to drive increased conversion rates, spend, and attachment of high-value ancillary sales.

Uplift does not market directly to consumers.

By Ritesh Gupta

Check upcoming Ai Conferences dates or

Follow Ai on Twitter: @Ai_Connects_Us

 

Ai Video: Selling trip essentials and more, are airlines ready?

14th June, 2019

How are commerce strategies of airlines evolving, and what sort of expertise is required to sell more?

The fact that airlines are going beyond selling seats and air ancillaries, and even gearing up for today’s digital travel ecosystem is exciting. For example, the idea of counting on data to run a two-sided marketplace (running a platform and creating an ecosystem of retailers around it) or pushing a B2B business line via API exemplifies the same.

Also, going direct, for example, for selling vacation packages means airlines are competing with OTAs in the arena of customer acquisition. Offering relevant recommendations, crafting a superlative UX design, content/ pages, search optimization, paid advertising, email campaigns etc. demands solid preparation. “All of this (being a retailer) requires a different mindset (in comparison with just being operationally-focused),” says Iztok Franko, founder, Diggintravel

Franko, who was in London recently for Ai's Ancillary Merchandising Conference, spoke about:

  • Preparation needed for selling more
  • Being an OTA or a marketplace
  • Sending traffic to other sites/ platforms

 

By Ritesh Gupta

Check upcoming Ai Conferences dates or

Follow Ai on Twitter: @Ai_Connects_Us

 

 

Ai Video: Why NDC and ONE Order need to be considered concurrently?

 

11th June, 2019

A number of critical issues related to change management are being raised as airlines look at being in control of the offer, looking beyond offering a seat or air ancillaries and even serving passengers as per the intent/ context, right from making the offer to being ready to serve passengers throughout their journey.

As for offers, the plan is to reach all the sales channels, direct and indirect, and offer the same services to the passenger through their preferred sales channel. NDC will continue to create e-tickets but once we move to ONE Order there will be no tickets. Moving from the offer, it needs to transition into an order management system for fulfilment and accounting. This is somewhat analogous to the concept of tickets and EMDs in the legacy, but in the Order structure, there are not the restrictions that are present with these electronic documents.

“Retailing procedures can be formed on the basis on the NDC Order even if PNRs and tickets and EMDs are still there,” says Alexander von Bernstorff, Director Airline Solutions at InteRES.

Alexander, who was in London recently for Ai’s Ancillary Merchandising Conference, explained that the NDC Order and a pure NDC-based retailing process result in data quality in a manner that offer relevance and engagement along the passenger journey can be enhanced. With ONE Order, such information is made available and all the amendments to it, in real-time to the accounting and other systems of the airline.

“The NDC Order is the central element of a modern retailing process, including heavily advanced merchandising. It has to be the master record (the single source of truth) – sync'd with accounting and other processes using ONE Order,” mentioned Alexander. As a specialist, InteRES has focused on how to do away with archaic tools and procedures, and managing the transition, with traditional PNR-based procedures facilitated till the point fresh retailing capabilities can be executive progressively.


By Ritesh Gupta

 

Check upcoming Ai Conferences dates or

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Ai Editorial: NDC Interlining – far from being there?

3rd June, 2019

There are critical financial changes that come along with the adoption of NDC, IATA’s XML-based data transmission standard. Be it for no use of filed fares to no pro-rates to the creation of e-tickets (only goes away with the ONE Order implementation), a lot of areas are being evaluated as airlines look to control the offer.

But what about the handling of routing options, based on code share and interline pacts, to manage bookings on partner’s PSS? How is NDC interlining coming along? Without interline, NDC is incomplete, according to senior industry executive, Ian Tunnacliffe, who spoke about the same during the recently held Ai’s Ancillary Merchandising Conference in London.

Another attendee, Ann Cederhall, Senior Strategic Consultant at PROS, in a post on LinkedIn last week, stated: “Surprisingly there isn’t an NDC standard for selling interline between airlines, you would have thought that this was critical to traditional network carriers who sell other airlines and their content. Sadly, interline and codeshare seem to be rocket science in the NDC world.”

 

Follow Ai on Twitter: @Ai_Connects_Us

Ai Video: Sourcing supply and selling it to be a complete travel retailer

 

6th May, 2019

For a travel e-commerce company to be a complete retailer, an integral part is to present travellers with an array of travel products, offer choice, facilitate a frictionless transaction and support them all the way to consumption and fulfilment.

“Product supply from different sources is important,” says Paul Byrne, Dublin-based OpenJaw Technologies’ Vice President of Business Development and Strategic Partnerships. He says airlines need to strengthen their offering in terms of “in-destination activities, hotel suppliers being connected to their respective platforms etc. to keep the customer on-site and meet all their trip essentials needed as part of their journey”.

In the game of acquisition and eventually conversion, it is critical not to let users drop off a particular digital platform without monetizing the traffic aptly.

Another critical aspect is understanding of different travel products. So as airlines take the onus of meeting all the trip essentials, they end up owning the overall responsibility. Then only airlines can ensure the experience of the passenger ends up being a top-notch one.

Can airlines count on the subscription model?

 

29th April, 2019 

Subscription economy in general has made rapid strides over the years. Learning from the same, the travel sector, including airlines, too, is seeking ways to meet the expectations of travellers, largely set by the likes of Amazon, Netflix etc.

Mexican low-cost carrier Volaris’ decision to embrace the subscription model, v.pass, is one such move.

“We don’t talk of being Amazon of travel, rather our aim is higher,” says Felipe Ocáriz, Head of Revenue Development, Volaris. The vision: Volaris will become the Spotify of aviation. Why? “Because Amazon focuses on transactions. In case of Spotify, the focus is on experience. Volaris should become the only choice for flying and destinations,” said Ocáriz Arce, during the Ancillary Merchandising Conference held in London earlier this month.

Be it for the idea to the development process to managing a subscription product, its technical complexity and above all, ensuring the passenger experience isn’t diluted, the airline asserts it is making progress. It is counting on possible benefits – thriving on data of members, stepping up the ancillary revenue generation, combatting customer acquisition cost and competition.

v.pass - from being a concept to being a core proposition within Volaris’ product stable – has made tremendous progress in under a year, shared Jonathan Newman, Chief Commercial Officer, caravelo, a Barcelona-based travel technology specialist. The team is working with Volaris on this project. “The number of consumers that are using/ subscribing the product are growing 20% on monthly basis,” mentioned Newman

.

 

Ai Video: Assessing the role of GDSs in meeting the NDC 20-20-20 target

24th April, 2019 

There are several ways to market with NDC. Options include a direct connect, via a GDS, a non-GDS aggregator, a meta-search engine and a message hub.

The role of GDSs in pushing the NDC standard forward is being assessed. Considering the fact that 21 airlines have committed that by the end of 2020, 20% of their indirect sales will be made using NDC, this makes the situation interesting.

“GDSs have lot of advantages – their experience, content, capability plus scalability, reliability and speed. GDSs are moving at a certain pace now. There is a sense of urgency (at this juncture),” says Philip Saunders, former Vice President, Air Commerce, EMEA, Travelport. “At the same time, there is space for others in this (distribution) mix.”

For travel agents, booking NDC content is a modification to their customary ways of working. Travelport acknowledges that by making NDC content available, it is providing access to greater choice with NDC content which can be combined with ATPCo content in a familiar workflow. Sabre states that rich NDC content only delivers value to the ecosystem if all the shopping data (NDC, traditional and low-cost carrier APIs) is properly aggregated, indexed, analyzed and delivered. This means the role of the GDS has never been more valuable to the travel ecosystem, highlights Sabre.

Even as the industry accepts that both traditional and NDC content is going to co-exist for years, one positive aspect is that this standard is going to facilitate new entrants into the distribution sector, resulting in increased competition.

 

 

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