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Travel managers reveal confusion and concern about changes to airfare distribution

October 15, 2018 Mobile travel consulting No Comments Email Email

With airlines changing the way they market and provide access to content, New Distribution Capability (NDC) promises both benefits and potential challenges for corporate travel programmes, according to new research from ACTE Global (Association of Corporate Travel Executives) developed in collaboration with American Express Global Business Travel (GBT).The study, The Evolution of Air Distribution, explores travel managers’ experiences and attitudes toward changes in air distribution, including NDC – a technology programme developed to standardise API (application programming interface) distribution. Travel managers expect some benefit from NDC, with 64% saying it could improve the booking experience and 56% believing it could help contract negotiations with airlines. However, the majority of travel managers fear that fragmentation created by NDC could threaten cost control (89%), policy compliance (87%) and duty of care (77%).

Fragmentation is already occurring because of airline ancillary purchasing, with almost half of travel managers (49%) saying travellers buy out-of-policy ancillaries from airline websites “some of the time.” This leakage from corporate online booking tools (OBTs) is a direct consequence of airlines unbundling fares into paid-for components such as baggage fees and seat selection, hindering the traveller booking experience and preventing travel managers from gaining full visibility on air spend.

“Airlines have had to contend with proliferating traveller demands for decades, ranging from a preference for low fares to the desire for constant connectivity while in the air,” said Greeley Koch, executive director, ACTE Global. “NDC is a response to these market forces and could make for better traveller experiences through personalisation. But it has come at cost to travel managers, who are now scrambling to figure out how to maintain control of their programmes if NDC becomes the norm.”

“Travel managers need comprehensive access to air content in a scalable, transparent and cost-effective way, to properly serve travellers’ needs and businesses’ purposes,” added Mike Qualantone, executive vice president of Global Supplier Relations for American Express GBT. “We fully embrace NDC as a positive sign that airlines want to standardise distribution. However, our primary responsibility is to our clients and their travellers, and we have questions and concerns on how airlines will use NDC as opposed to its potential and promise. NDC alone is not a silver bullet. As an industry, we must find more ways to deliver full content access and an improved experience while maintaining service, comparability and functionality.”

Knowledge gap may be driving concerns and resistance to change

Although NDC has been widely discussed since airline industry body IATA introduced the concept, uncertainty about what exactly it is remains pervasive. Almost a quarter (23%) of travel managers say they are “not at all” confident in their understanding of NDC and what it means for their programmes, and a further 58% say they are only “somewhat” confident in their understanding. As a result, few travel managers are ready to incorporate NDC-enabled tools into their travel programmes, with 63% saying they are not exploring any new platforms beyond their OBT at this time.

Travel managers worry that NDC will undermine their programmes

Travel managers remain wary of NDC and fear that it may impinge upon key pillars of travel programmes. Top concerns about incorporating NDC-enabled content into existing policies include: reduced functionality of the OBT (90% of travel managers expressing concerns); unbundling leading to higher costs (89%); lack of availability of data (88%); and reduced fare transparency (88%). Travel managers are also concerned that NDC will negatively impact policy compliance (87%).

Travel managers cannot afford to wait to address new models

New air distribution models are ushering in fundamental changes to the way airlines sell services – but impact on the corporate travel sector remains unclear.

“When it comes to NDC, the biggest unknown is whether travel managers will be able to maintain visibility into costs and traveller behaviour. But they cannot afford to wait to address the issue,” said Koch. “Travel managers must evaluate their policies and technology now so that they’re prepared for the potential disruption. If caught on the back foot, they will be left grappling with a more fragmented, less safe and, ultimately, less effective programme.”

“We continue to advocate the greatest consolidation of content, across all booking channels, to best meet customer and traveller expectations, while controlling both programme management cost and booking processing fees. NDC has tremendous potential, and GDSs are moving towards readiness and NDC compliance, so it will be key to ensure airlines then fully utilize these comprehensive, efficient and NDC-ready channels,” said Qualantone. “Travel managers should educate themselves on NDC, evaluate options with their TMCs, and ensure suppliers do not use NDC to add booking processing costs or limit access to content. Meanwhile, they should look at fortifying travel policies to control cost and compliance while striving to keep travellers productive, safe and happy.”

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