Competition authorities in Europe are expected to take a keen interest in the emerging New Distribution Capability (NDC) being developed by Iata.
Christoph Klenner (pictured), secretary general of Ettsa, the lobby group that represents GDSs and online travel agents, said both competition and data protection issue would be scrutinised closely.
Speaking yesterday at the latest corporate business breakfast held by Travolution sister publication Travel Weekly and sponsored by Amadeus and easyJet, he said:
“Airlines want to be able to retail those services [fares and ancillaries] in a smarter way.
“We’re on board with that and in fact the GDSs are working with increasing numbers of airlines to make that happen.”
Klenner said the concerns arise around whether NDC is being developed as something more than just a new data standard.
“It may be considered as a business model which may be imposed on the business chain. So that’s a concern about this.
“Rather than filing fares publicly which can then be consulted by customers and buyers on an anonymous basis, it might be they intend to reverse the flow and hold the information in the airline’s system and whenever you want to make a request that goes to the airline and you get a personalised offer.
“What does that do to transparency and anonymous shopping? Can that be reconciled with the principles of managed travel?
“We are trying now to work with Iata through those issues to make it work for the entire value chain.
“People are starting to get interested and a little bit concerned. They first want to know more because Iata has not been very good at communicating this initiative.
“The authorities in Brussels, I think, will look at this very carefully from the competitive angle and the data protection angle.”
Ken McLeod, Advantage Travel Centres corporate director, is the only travel agent represented on an NDC steering committee set up by Iata.
He said: “This is a long way from fruition. Do not forget who this is designed for; it’s people dealing directly with the consumer or the corporate and if they do not like it it’s not going to be used.
“Sixty per cent of business currently goes through systems which are 40 years old so it’s not going to be adopted quickly. Let’s be honest, the GDSs are going to catch up quickly.
“I think this is going to be a hybrid eventually. There are certain airlines which have different ideas on what NDC is. I do not think anyone really knows where this is going to end up.
“It depends if you are worried about change. While NDC is not moving very fast, technology is moving incredibly fast and we have to be prepared for change. What we have to do is shape it.”
Klenner said based on the Iata documents he has seen to date under NDC an anonymous request from a customer or buyer which does not identify them will not be responded to.
“Whether that will apply in the end is a different question,” he added. “But there is a possibility to reject a request made anonymously through an intermediary.”
Klenner said it was possible that any requests for fares that did not include customer details may return an incomplete set of results.
He said any requirement to add those details in beforehand would slow down the speed with which consultants can find fares for their customers. This may be a barrier to users adopting NDC.
Rob Sinclair-Barnes, Amadeus UK marketing director, said NDC also raised questions about data management and processing power available to airlines.
“We process one billion transactions a day, more than banks, and 95% of that does not go through airlines because they are on cache.
“The question we would raise is when airlines take an individual approach to inquiry they will need to gear up massively on the big data side. Do they realise the implications of this on costs?”