Ai Editorial: Airlines + meta-search, how NDC is strengthening the bond?

First Published on 11th August, 2017

Ai Editorial: Meta-search continues to be an attractive proposition for airlines, considering its place in the booking funnel. But as airlines target new ways of connectivity, they also need to scale up for the meta-search world in a cost-effective way, writes Ai’s Ritesh Gupta

 

A traveller doesn’t differentiate between interfaces and channels - it could be an airline app, Facebook Messenger, a WeChat chatbot etc. or could be airline.com, OTA.com, meta-search engine etc. As long as one is being served apt content, choice/ recommendation, offer, payment method…it’s fine.

Airlines, meta-search engines, OTAs etc. have to find out ways to crack seamlessness, one that depicts understanding the intent of the traveller as per the booking funnel and aiding them in taking a decision.

The industry needs to add to the joy of travelling, and take painpoints out of the equation. Be it for itinerary, in-flight meal, clarity over seating and baggage allowance, experience at the airport and so on makes a trip worthwhile.

In this context meta-search engines are being keenly followed, considering that their position comes into play quite early in the booking funnel.

Evolving role of meta-search engines

If on one hand, meta-search companies are even “moving further up” via features such as traveller inspiration timeline and push notification of travel ideas, on the other side they are also drifting away from pure lead generation. The focus is on meeting requirements of a trip, rather than just offering standalone products, and also facilitating transactions within the meta-search environment.

And there is more to this, as the category is looking at fulfilment and customer service, too. At a time when even the definition of direct distribution is being questioned, it is worth assessing how meta-search engines approach the omni-channel shopping. If “instant booking” isn’t enough, then what are meta-search engines working on? How are they working with airlines to showcase their products, including branded fares, bundled products etc.?

Meta-search engines have been working with airlines to craft an attractive merchandising offer with rich content (for instance, baggage allowance, upgrade options etc.) and whatever can differentiate the offering. One key development here is IATA’s data standard NDC.

 

Standarization via NDC – a work in progress

Even as airlines have been working on the objective of letting sales partners connect to their IT systems directly based on the IATA NDC standard, it is clear that there was too much flexibility in the initial versions of schema and implementations weren’t the same. As one executive pointed out, “The big problem came when the players like KAYAK and SkyScanner, and NDC consuming parties tried to build a one-time NDC connection in order to connect to multiple airlines with the least amount of effort considering that a standard was being planned. But the reality is that because of the varying level of interpretation, connections had to be modified somewhat. So with implementers providing their feedback to the IATA, the industry body has worked out a data modelling exercise. So they are redefining and tightening relationships in the NDC schema to ensure that the flexibility and looseness of the interpretation will go away. The new 17.1 scheme are going to be partly generated from the new airline data model and later on 17.2, the full schema set would be generated from the IATA data model. So when that’s done, there should be standardization in projects and implementations.”

A senior executive with a meta-search engine mentioned that for the company or the category in general, there are many different sources of a product - via GDSs, airline-direct, OTA-direct etc. “There is a network of connectivity and the objective is to aggregate as much as possible.  But we need to standardization job as well. We do focus on it, as if entities converge on that, it would be beneficial for us, too. It is still a work in progress, as others are moving, too. And everyone has their own agenda, and time scale.”

So what happens when there are different versions of one standard, then aggregating multiple airline APIs requires the “normalisation” of these APIs into a single version. As of now, it seems like over the past few years, there will be evolving versions of the schema that will impact the specific XML messaging, in that messages themselves will change over time – new ones added, existing ones modified, etc. So considering that airlines have developed their API based on a particular XML standard (NDC or even other), it would result in different interpretation of these standards.

As for airlines, there is a need to re-look at their own IT infrastructure to refine retailing capabilities. In fact, the industry is already looking at major transition, embracing cloud-native, API-led architecture as part of digital transformation. As for sector-specific systems, airlines have been separating core functioning of a PSS that are needed to run operations, and opting to control their own merchandising (control over distribution as well as showcasing core product and air ancillaries to depict value to passengers), e-commerce and API technologies for differentiation. Also, airlines need to scale up for the meta-search world in a cost-effective way, delivering massive search volumes without look-to-book restrictions and the ability to respond in fraction of a second.

Hear from Scoot and Skyscanner at MegaAPAC in Singapore

Trevor Spinks, Head of Sales & Distribution, Scoot and Filip Filipov, VP Product Management, Skyscanner are scheduled to speak at the upcoming The Mega Event Asia-Pacific 2017 - 4th Annual Profitabilty Summit, to be held at the Grand Mercure Roxy Hotel in Singapore (23-25 August, 2017).

 

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