It seems these days in the realm of airline distribution, everybody is trying to keep the customer satisfied, and the International Air Transport Association’s (IATA) New Distribution Capability (NDC) has become a lightning rod for a debate about how best to serve the traveller. So, if everyone’s advocating for the customer, how can everyone be right?
Travelport believes that customers want the assurance of choice, trust and value. Choice means being able to transparently compare a wide range of products and services; trust is about believing that offers are fair and equitable; and value is how consumers ultimately perceive the combination of choice and trust. That airlines want to promote their entire product range through the intermediary channels, better designed to meet the needs of individual consumers, is recognised and embraced by Travelport. That customers should be enabled in every channel is also something vital to the industry.
The distribution debate has often centered around who actually owns today’s interactive, empowered customer. Brand, customer intimacy and, ultimately, loyalty are now there to be won and lost at every touch-point, and in the NDC debate, the intermediary channel is considered by some to be an obstacle preventing airlines from competing, and differentiating, on brand and customer intimacy.
However, brand is not a transactional phenomenon. A brand relationship is based on an affinity with what your company stands for and how that aligns with the consumer’s own values. Loyalty is a consequence of providing a superior service every time.
Central to successful airline retailing is intense and data-driven customer intimacy. The intermediary channel is a powerful selling-platform which gives access to a high-value and frequent traveller customer base. It provides potential selling advocates with what could be the single most powerful conversion tool available to any travel provider; and it is also a powerful signal source, enabling greater insights into what travel content people buy, not just what they bought with you. We believe customer intimacy should be seen as an opportunity and not an obstacle in the intermediary channel.
What we see is that an itinerary is less a product, than a buying and fulfilment experience. What constitutes a travel experience will differ for every traveller and every trip, but what governs every purchase is a desire to fulfil an experience that meets a hierarchy of needs. These start with reliability (will I get where I want to go?), security (will I get there safely?), utility (will my time feel well spent?), intent (did I get what I wanted out of the trip?) and experience (would I do it again?).
Today, we work actively with travel-content providers to think about how to maximise the opportunity to meet and exceed the traveller’s buying and fulfilment experience through the intermediary channel. Trying to compel consumers to buy a travel product in the travel providers’ preferred channel can have a significant impact and should not be seen as a long-term means to engender loyalty.
A true end-to-end experience is best served by an open travel operating platform. The more the industry collaborates on how data and processes are
shared and common to all, the more the customer benefits from a seamless purchasing and fulfilment experience in every channel. Consumers need ultimately to be convinced that they are getting value-for-money.
While the technologies and capabilities already exist, NDC could be seen as a first step towards standardising how the industry enables a richer, more customer-centric product and fulfilment
process, aimed at generating greater overall value for all in a multi-channel environment.
In the tightly integrated and co-dependent travel value chain, the focus must be on a collaborative approach to increasing the overall value of the travel industry. Seeking to own the customer is a zero-sum game and misses the point and the opportunity entirely. What customers want is a multi-channel, customer-centric experience. What we as an industry need to do is to continue to work together and stay resolutely focused on how to enable a compelling end-to-end experience to keep our customers satisfied.