Making a change from some of the discussions witnessed at events in the past, an NDC-focused Lunch and Learn Workshop at the ACTE Paris Global Summit and Corporate Lodging Forum proved to be an informative and collaborative dialogue between buyers and suppliers.

The session titled ‘The Evolution of Air Distribution: Considerations for your travel programme’ was sponsored by American Express Global Business Travel. It followed on from ACTE Global and Amex GBT research that showed there is still confusion among the majority of travel buyers about what NDC means for their programme.

In the past, sessions focused on the topic of NDC sometimes turned into debates and caused confusion for travel buyers, as much of the development of NDC is happening ‘behind the scenes’. On the contrary, the ACTE session brought on an encouraging and open discussion full of practical tips for buyers.

Chaired by Jill Jefferis, director of global engagement at ACTE, the session featured speakers from across the spectrum, including Lori O’Connell, senior director of procurement business services and travel at PwC; John Bukowski, director of distribution at Amex GBT; Jan Buyckx, manager of air content solutions and data sourcing at Amadeus IT Group; and Hank Benedetti, vice president of strategic accounts at American Airlines.

During an opening discussion on NDC as it stands, Benedetti said one thing buyers can do to prepare their programme for new distribution is to look at their programme and figure out how much travellers are spending on ancillaries outside of just the air ticket. “This will aid your conversations about bundling when the time comes,” he commented.

For the second half of the discussion, the audience of travel buyers and suppliers was asked to have a conversation about the three current options for accessing content – traditional methods such as the GDSs, online booking tools (OBTs) and online travel agencies (OTAs), direct booking channels on airlines’ own websites, and API-enabled connections. Buyers outline the benefits they see in each model, as well as the challenges they face for the future.

A major sticking point for traditional channels proved to be the fact that not all channels show accurate availability and there is missing content. Buyers also pointed out that it’s hard for what content is available to be personalised.

When it came to direct channels, buyers pointed out that they do see the benefit of more tailored content but worry about how they can show their travellers the difference in fares – either with the airline in question or among various carriers.

Finally, the audience agreed that API connections offer a wealth of content that closes the gap between OBTs and direct channels. However, they worry about the complexity of NDC and how it will affect their ability to understand what travellers are buying outside of the air fare so buyers can negotiate bundled rates.

Benedetti said this is a legitimate fear among buyers because there are currently no practical applications of NDC and no use cases from which to learn.

O’Connell then outlined her top tips to help buyers to prepare for NDC, saying the first step is to educate themselves on the topic. “Learn as much as you can now and start building it into your distribution strategy.”

She continued: “This won’t necessarily affect all travel buyers – if you’re a smaller business that has historically depended on one carrier to take you to the same destinations, changes in distribution might not impact your programme. But I would still advise you to educate yourself based on your programme’s needs.”

O’Connell also encouraged her fellow buyers to engage the “value chain” in their distribution strategy, such as their TMC, OBT provider and airline partners, to have them build new strategies into their contracts so they’re prepared for any changes.

Bukowski agreed, saying: “We all have to work together to figure out what this will look like and how it will work in order to create value from the future of distribution.”

Buyckx said the industry is moving toward developing use cases for NDC and advised all aspects of corporate travel – from buyers to TMCs and airlines – to get involved in the process.

The ACTE Paris Global Summit and Corporate Lodging Forum took place earlier this week at the Paris Marriott Rive Gauche Hotel and Conference Centre.

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