Sabre CEO Tom Klein says innovation won’t come from IATA when implementing the airline organization’s effort to enable carriers to offer their passengers personalized solutions.

Klein was speaking the other day at the 31st Nasdaq Investor Program in London about IATA’s New Distribution Capability standards for airline passenger product customization.

“A standard-setting body doesn’t innovate,” said Klein, referring to IATA. “They try to align an industry.”

Sabre, which initially viewed the new standards as an airline industry effort to bypass Sabre, other global distribution systems and traditional travel agencies when offering ancillary and personalized services to airline customers, ended up contributing to the creation of the new standard, and Klein said he views it all as an “opportunity.”

IATA is indeed an industry association, and implementation of the new standard is up to each airline.

As with the rollout of e-tickeing several years ago, the innovation part of it didn’t come from IATA, Klein said.

Sabre and Others Will Do It

Instead, Klein said the innovation in the New Distribution Capability will come from Sabre and other technology companies.

Asked about Klein’s comments, IATA spokesperson Perry Flint says: “The NDC standard provides the opportunity to modernize airline indirect distribution, upon which companies such as Sabre can innovate. We are excited that Sabre has embraced NDC and look forward to their first deployment.”

Jim Davidsoon, the CEO of Farelogix, says he agrees with Klein that the “innovators” will be companies such as airlines, reservations system providers and other tech companies that actually use the new standards rather than the developers of NDC.

“Now the question is how much innovation will be done by the GDSs, in terms of display and transaction, to take advantage of all this airline/content innovation,” Davidson says.

Veteran airline consultant Al Lenza, formerly a Northwest Airlines distribution official who did battle with Sabre over the years, was less bullish about Sabre’s prospects.

“For years, Sabre has been making promises to airlines and agents about innovating in merchandising,” Lenza says. “They have zero — zilch — to show for it as 2014 comes to an end.”

IATA, meanwhile, has partnered with Travel Capitalist Ventures to establish an NDC Innovation Fund to bankroll tech companies working on new travel distribution services.

Photo Credit: A delegate of the 68th International Air Transport Association (IATA) annual general meeting is pictured through an IATA logo in Beijing June 11, 2012. Jason Lee / Reuters