New York – With the British Airways/Iberia surcharge on GDS bookings set to take effect in two weeks, many eyes are on the United Kingdom’s largest GDS. Travelport arguably has both more influence on, and more to lose from, the outcome of the airlines’ program than any other intermediary. Speaking at a World Travel Inc. event here last week, Travelport president and CEO Gordon Wilson showed no signs of bending amid hype over IATA’s New Distribution Capability.
“NDC is an information protocol, which means standardization on how information is going to appear,” Wilson said. “That’s all it is.” If it’s only that, why does it seem to color so much of the industry dialogue about agreements between GDSs, airlines and TMCs? “Because it’s thought to be used as a means of changing the commercial dynamic with the players in the industry,” he said.
While “standards are great,” Wilson added, there are lots of considerations related to NDC. For example, if airlines want to push personalization, one of the primary benefits espoused by NDC advocates, they’ll have to be the ones replying to shopping requests with offers. Wilson said that would be a challenge to accomplish at scale and with “the same speed and relevancy” of GDSs. “That is a big issue for computing power (and cost) for the airlines which they don’t have today,” he added, “because we do that for them.”
Though he acknowledged that airlines would continue to explore new ways to personalize, Wilson wondered what airlines are trying to accomplish through NDC that they can’t already do. For example, he claimed the only thing a traveler can’t transact through Travelport today when booking with BA is pre-ordering the inflight meal. “All the other stuff BA wants to do — rich content and branding, fare families, ancillaries — we can do today, on a standardized normalized basis,” Wilson said.
Then there’s data protection. “Talking about the value of GDSs, we have done an awful lot of work in our systems for PCI compliance and what’s being done now with the General Data Protection Regulation,” Wilson explained. “We do that work for travel agents because they store information in our system. If you take this away and go through NDC or whatever, who is doing that? People have gotten kind of effervescent about this content aggregation piece when they talk about NDC and forgotten about all the other processes.”