Inside the NDC – an interview with Tramada’s Björn Böhme
Global Director of Product and Engineering for Tramada Systems, Björn Böhme, was recently interviewed by FESTIVE ROAD’s Mike Orchard on behalf of IATA. The topic: the New Distribution Capability, or NDC. Here we share highlights from their intriguing discussion.
Mike: In layman’s terms, what is NDC?
Björn: Technically, the NDC is a set of standard XMLs, or computer code, that support flight bookings maintained by IATA. Their aim is for airlines and intermediaries to focus on product and service innovation rather than on solving technical complex problems. The standard (the code) itself is neither exciting nor innovative; it is functional. But what it enables – the personalisation of offers beyond what’s possible today with private fares – is very exciting. Essentially, the NDC enables airlines to offer their products through multiple channels and in ways not possible until now.
Mike: The industry’s been talking about the NDC for several years, since at least 2012, so it isn’t new. Why is it important now?
Björn: What’s important is that talk about the NDC is now quickly becoming action, and anyone who’s not acting today runs the risk of not being able to offer the same personalised products and services as those offered by agencies and TMCs who are NDC-ready.
Mike: What benefits do you see NDC bringing to travel agents and travellers?
Björn: Travel agents, in co-operation with airlines, are now able to tailor offers to suit specific companies, and even personalise offers at the traveller level. Currently, this is restricted by booking classes and/or private fares.
And while it’s true that many successful TMCs and travel agencies pride themselves in offering personalised services, the advent of the NDC means they will now also be able to offer personalised fares and customised bundled offers.
Mike: Are there any risks to travel agents from the NDC?
Björn: There are risks for some, opportunity for others. Given that the NDC makes it possible to personalise offers to a much more sophisticated degree, it will be a real advantage for TMCs and airlines who work together on this. The questionable part of it, however, is how manageable all this is at scale. That is, is it likely that airlines will be selective in who they work with – which is what’s happening today with private fares.
There’s also an operational risk, or overhead, involved. That’s because without scalable back-end processes, the NDC could possibly result in a lot of additional manual effort for agents. And this is where tramada® comes to the fore because the platform provides the same post-booking automation capabilities regardless of booking channel.
Mike: I hear Tramada has had a big team working on NDC for quite some time, can you tell us what you have been working on?
Björn: Many NDC presentations talk about the NDC offering airlines the ability to personalise and tailor offers, similar to, say, Amazon, as a way to describe the possibilities in terms of the shopping experience. While that’s true, we like to take this analogy one step further.
Let me explain: as we all know, where Amazon really excels is in supply chain management, or getting the ordered products to the customer fast, reliably and inexpensively. Even more than its ability to tailor the shopping experience, it’s Amazon’s ability to offer hyper-efficient, post-shopping processes, at scale, that really sets Amazon apart from its competitors.
In much the same way, what tramada does is to streamline and automate the post–booking processes. This means tramada-enabled TMCs and travel agencies can offer personalised fares and offers to their clients and travellers, while at the same time having robust, scalable, secure and automated post-booking processes. It’s always been tramada’s value proposition to streamline and automate post-booking processes such as application of service fees, creation and sending itineraries and invoices, receipting etc., – all regardless of the booking source.
Going forward, it simply won’t be sustainable for agents to be solely dependent on GDSs for any of these processes with the NDC. With other booking sources in addition to GDSs already in the mix, for tramada users it is business as usual. The solution has been designed with multiple booking sources in mind and is already integrating with multiple booking sources, so the NDC is simply another extension to this capability.
And you mention our team that’s been working on the NDC for some time – yes, and we have had live NDC bookings come in since December. We are committed to ensuring our clients enjoy post-booking processes for NDC content that are as automated as they are for GDS content. And again, this is a key requirement for agencies because the industry trend is clearly to automate post-booking processes. So for the NDC to become mainstream and accepted by TMCs, agencies absolutely require the same level of automation for NDC bookings as for GDS bookings.
Mike: How will Tramada help agents merge inventory sources and enable a shopping experience that spans all content?
Björn: In tramada, content from multiple booking sources is automatically merged into the booking it belongs to. That is, a booking in tramada can contain both NDC and GDS content as well as, for example, Expedia TAAP content. There is no “shopping experience” in tramada because the solution is 100% post-booking.
Mike: Rich content enabled by NDC sounds great, but how do we make it work operationally? How does the agent manage issuance of itineraries, changes, payment and refunds in an NDC world?
Björn: Today tramada leverages existing and proven functionality, at scale, and business rules to support the issuing of itineraries, managing changes and refunds from an accounting perspective as well as payment gateway integrations. This capability is another key benefit of the solution – processes and functionality is all the same when adding NDC content into tramada, and there’s no need for TMCs to retrain staff or re-build current integrations.
Mike: With all the extra data that can potentially be captured from NDC content, how will this be available to and benefit agents?
Björn: Reporting capabilities are key. The embedded reporting suite in tramada combines content irrespective of booking source. An example is the Yield Management report, used to compare GDS margins versus NDC margins, and tramada users can improve overall margins by breaking this information down per bundle to analyse and refine the products they offer. Structured data is the vital to personalising offers and data, and the tramada solution plays a pivotal role in this.
For example, let’s say that airline X plans to commence a new route to a city that it hasn’t flown to before. Together with TMC Y, airline X can look at the number of room nights for that particular city as part of determining the route’s feasibility.
The next step would be using the data available in tramada for airline X and TMC Y to personalise offers for travellers who frequent that specific route using, for example, additional Frequent Flyer points or status credit points, discounts on a specific restaurant, etc.
To be sure, this involves issues around data privacy, commercials etc. that need to be resolved, but this scenario illustrates the opportunities that are there – and it’s just one example of innovation the NDC presents in the ability to offer products from airlines that that hasn’t been possible in the past.
Mike: Does anything change with duty of care solutions?
Björn: From a duty-of-care perspective, what’s important is to know who is where and when they’re there. That’s basic information regardless of booking source, and TMCs need to be able to manage this holistically
tramada makes this easy by presenting passenger location information in a single dashboard, regardless of booking source. Plus, we have integrations with duty-of-care providers such as iSOS and Concur Risk Messaging, including content from all booking sources. We absorb the complexity in tramada and integrate with the full set of bookings that we receive, whether GDS, NDC or other.
Mike: What are you most excited about for the next six months in terms of NDC?
Björn: Tramada already has clients live with NDC, so in the next six months I’m expecting to see at-scale implementations by our clients with the NDC as well as a range of airline and solution providers. These will herald an exciting new and revolutionary chapter in the travel industry, and I’m excited that tramada-enabled agencies and TMCs will be at the vanguard of that change.
Mike: Björn, thanks for your time – and for your very helpful insights.
Björn: Thank you, Mike.
ABOUT FESTIVE ROAD
FESTIVE ROAD is on a mission for better travel and meetings management. Headed by business travel thought leaders Paul Tilstone & Caroline Strachan, together with their network of international Roaders, they provide strategy, sourcing & delivery services to the buyer community and strategy, marketing and delivery services to the supplier community. The FESTIVE ROAD team has been recognized multiple times in prominent industry leader lists and industry awards as leading lights in the global business travel market since 2007. Mike Orchard leads the delivery of FESTIVE ROAD services to clients across Asia Pacific.
Important Note: Since 2015 FESTIVE ROAD have acted in the capacity of “Envoy” for IATA, to support the airline association in creating better engagement with the corporate travel sector globally, specifically about IATA’s New Distribution Capability (NDC). They do this through advisory groups, design thinking exercises, white-papers and event facilitation.www.festive-road.com
- This interview was conducted by FESTIVE ROAD and is neither part of the IATA Envoy process, nor in any paid capacity by Tramada.
- Excerpts from this interview featured in the June 2019 issue of Australia’s Travel Bulletin magazine.