Following his intimate involvement in an award-winning NDC corporate travel program, Tony D’Astolfo of Serko, in his unique way, spotlights one of the unsolved issues: the economics. Many have debated whether airline distribution evolution is mainly about the technology or the money. Both matter.
They say you should never talk politics or religion. These days that can be even more treacherous since cancellation may await anyone who ventures into those domains. But throwing caution to the wind is something to be relished, so here goes.
As a lifelong Catholic (St. Michael’s Grammar School, Flushing, N.Y. and Monsignor McClancy High School, East Elmhurst, N.Y.), I’ve been to a Mass or two in my day. My tenure as a class clown runs almost as long (my eighth grade teacher, Sister Roseann, once opined that the only clause I would ever know was Santa Claus). One of my favorite early jokes was that the translation of the Latin Dominus vobiscum (the Lord be with you), was actually “Dominic go frisk ‘em.” It came to me right around the point in the Mass when they passed around the collection plate.
As with many of my opinion pieces, you are likely asking, “So what does this have to do with business travel?” Allow me to share my thoughts.
The NDC journey for business travel has been a long and somewhat religious experience for some. (Would anyone argue if I referred to IATA’s Yanik Hoyles as the High Priest of NDC?) Like many new undertakings, there are true believers on one side, skeptics on the other and a large majority in the middle yet to be convinced one way or the other. And, let’s be honest, we’ve been at this NDC thing so long that some might say we need a God-like intervention to get it to work.
I’m one who sees the promise on NDC. Yet, as a longtime business travel insider, I also know how tough it can be to follow the path some say will lead to the promised land and everlasting happiness. The intent to do good is always there but it sometimes takes a lot of hard work and perseverance (which I learned early in life, as evidenced by my most-used phrase entering the confessional booth: “It’s me and I messed up again, Father.”).
NDC for business travel presents opportunities but they’re not without challenges. Delivering an offer personalized for the individual that also recognizes the company they work for clearly has immense value. Still, the devil is in the details.
Where does the offer come from? How is it getting inserted into the traditional travel program so that servicing to the end user and reporting to the travel manager are seamless? These problems are starting to get sorted out. (Kudos to Kim Hamer of Visa for pushing United Airlines, CWT and Serko to do just that.)
But one of the biggest devils that remains is one we don’t talk about as openly and it’s one that leads me back to my joke: Who does Dominic have to frisk to make this new religious experience work?
There are economic considerations that make NDC for business travel a work-in-progress. Eliminated segment fees paid by GDSs impact TMCs’ revenues. Meanwhile, content providers, GDSs and itinerary aggregators — as necessary players in the seamless environment travel buyers demand — levy new ones.
So, until we acknowledge and address these considerations in an open way, we are likely to see slow and choppy progress for NDC in business travel. Here’s hoping Kim Hamer becomes the High Priestess that NDC has needed to convert the skeptics among us. But I also think we need to have Dominic ready because if NDC is going to work for business travel, everyone needs to be ready to put something into the collection plate.