First Published on 22nd September, 2017
Shopping for flights tends to get mundane when travel e-ecommerce sites or apps come up with an overly generic or inconsistent presentation of product attributes. As key players in the flight search category, meta-search engines are being counted upon to let travellers understand, compare and personalize their trip essentials by overcoming data, technology and user experience (UX) hurdles.
How close are airlines to letting travellers visualize what they have to offer - Wi-Fi, power ports, seatback entertainment, food, seats, in-flight shopping, specific aircraft, baggage etc.? Yes, one can garner and compare basic information, but there are also signs that some concrete, functional information about product attributes is being showcased.
Filip Filipov, VP, Product Management at Skyscanner, says, “As we go deeper into the purchasing funnel (working with certain carriers for the same), we are now showing how big is the seat pitch, what is the actual seat like (in terms of photographs/ rich content)…ultimately it comes down to whether the airline is able to provide information to us. We do intent to show as much as we can, but it’s a question of technological advancement (where airlines are able to pass on the requisite content)."
In this context, the role of IATA’s XML-based standard NDC (New Distribution Capability) is being continuously scrutinized. Filipov says the standard has simplified the ways the API is structured. So, for examples, every airline would define their attributes, say baggage or in-flight entertainment, in a certain manner. So considering the number of airlines, every single definition then becomes an exponential problem for an intermediary like a meta-search engine.
Considering that there was “too much flexibility in the initial versions of schema and implementations weren’t the same”, intermediaries are hoping that this aspect would be taken care of in the future. The challenge for an intermediary arises considering that airlines have developed their API based on a different or a certain version of the NDC XML standard. So aggregation of multiple airline APIs requires further work to achieve the desired result.
For their part, Skyscanner is open to the collaborative route, for instance, the concept of airline store-front on their platform where shopping is practically identical experience to one on airline.com.
The team at Skyscanner is experimenting with rich content, be it for photographs or videos at this juncture, to improve upon the experience of the shopper. Of course airlines, too, need to play their part in making this a possibility. So, yes, attributes of a particular flight are being displayed, but there is no video yet. But one can expect lot more immersive experiences in the future, may be 3-4 years from now on.
Hear from British Airways and Skyscanner about the role of meta-search and the contribution of NDC in improving merchandising at the upcoming 8th Mega Event Worldwide, to be held in Palm Springs, CA, USA (29 November – 1 December, 2017).
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