Global airlines have moved slowly to adopt new technology that allows them to more effectively merchandise their products and connect directly with the companies that sell their flights.

In Australia, industry stakeholders seem to be moving faster than those in other regions to embrace these new standards. Some Australasian early adopters are hoping to capitalize on their new distribution capability (NDC) participation as the corporate travel market attempts to understand and utilize the new channel.

Dominant carrier Qantas has implemented its new distribution capability access through the Qantas Distribution Platform (QDP), which is fully operational, according to Igor Kwiatkowski, executive manager of sales and distribution for Qantas. He indicated that Qantas’ early adopters are actively developing their own connections into the Qantas Distribution Platform.

“These connections are still under development and are progressing well. When partners build out their connections to the Qantas Distribution Platform, the benefits of the new platform will be visible to agents and their customers.”

Those partners include Amadeus, Serko, and Travelport, which have committed to connecting to the Qantas Distribution Platform.

“Each has their own approach to ensuring they can seamlessly deliver full end-to-end booking and servicing of Qantas Distribution Platform content to their customers,” he added.

Corporate Travel Management was the first Australian travel management companies to sign up for the new Qantas Distribution Platform, enabling access to airline content through a new distribution capability-compliant connection.

“This offers a more personalized experience for customers and access to richer content more relevant to their journey,” said CEO Jamie Pherous, who also spoke to Skift earlier this year about the company’s global ambitions.

Technology provider Serko was another first-mover, working not only with Qantas, but also with other airlines such as Air Canada and with SITA. “We support booking and are working with the airlines to support changes and disruption management,” CEO Darrin Grafton told Skift.

Grafton is trying to demystify new distribution capability, urging the industry to ignore the label “and think of making corporate travel like consumer travel and offering the same power that is available on their own consumer sites”.

Pherous also sees significant customer benefit from Corporate Travel Management’s ability to deliver new distribution capability content through his travel management company’s proprietary SMART Technology platform, including the global Lightning online booking tool.

“This means we don’t have to rely on a global distribution system or third-party aggregator,” said Pherous. “Our proactive approach to accessing new distribution capability content strengthens our position to offer our customers seamless access to the best travel content and market-competitive prices to drive better value and transparency to their travel programs.”

STRONG CORPORATE TRAVEL INTEREST

Grafton is seeing strong interest in new distribution capability from travel management companies and their corporate customers.

“The travel management companies interest is growing globally and the travel management companies that are global are investigating how to manage this along with the future benefits,” he said, adding that corporations are increasingly specifying new distribution capability in their requests for proposals.

Qantas, according to Kwiatkowski, is also working closely with global distribution systems and agency partners to adopt the new technology “so they can deliver the benefits that new distribution capability can bring agents globally”.

“We have a strong vision for new distribution capability and see it being a very important part of how we distribute our content in the future,” he added.

“We’re talking with a range of distribution platforms and agents including travel management companies. We have received an overwhelming amount of interest since we launched our new platform in May,” he noted, adding that Qantas Distribution Platform connection is open to a wide variety of trade partners, including new technology companies and aggregators.

For Corporate Travel Management, access to new distribution capability allows it to meet the growing demands of larger clients who are keen to ‘mix and match’ new distribution capability and global distribution systems for optimal outcomes.

“With new distribution capability, we can better deliver content to our customers the way they want it. This includes specific content for a particular customer,” Pherous said.

LOTS OF opportunities, BUT CONFUSION ABOUNDS

Serko’s Grafton said there is still much confusion over new distribution capability and the industry is slowly coming to grips with the changes.

“The industry is hung up on where (content) is sourced and the commercial model,” he explained. “For Serko, we are focusing on the experience. We absolutely don’t care whether the connection is direct or GDS; we just want to see the future benefits offered to corporations and their travelers.”

The bottom line for Serko, he said, is that new distribution capability is just a standard that brings the top airlines into the modern age and changes how corporate technology for travel will be consumed in the future.

While interest is strong, adoption of new distribution capability is not without its challenges, according to Pherous. “The timetable for stakeholders being new distribution capability-ready varies across the industry. Therefore, it is important to keep the lines of communication open with all our partners and suppliers, and to ensure our technology has the capability to deliver the best outcomes for our customers; namely, more content and more cost-saving opportunities.”

For Qantas, new distribution capability seems to only have upsides. Kwiatkowski said Qantas Distribution Platform offers “the same content and functionality that is available via existing platforms such as the GDSs for Qantas-operated services and codeshare services with a QF flight number. The platform has the ability to better recognize our Frequent Flyer members at the point of sale. Over time, we are looking to innovate and collaborate with our trade partners to develop new content that will benefit our mutual customers.”

Its new distribution capability also delivers a short-term advantage over rival Virgin Australia which is “still working on a distribution strategy”, but it is expected to align with the new distribution capability sooner rather than later.

Like the rest of the world, there’s still plenty of “wait and see” among airlines, intermediaries, and end-users, but there is certainly an awareness of the shifts in distribution and a sense of anticipation about better things to come.

“The new distribution capability program is set to have a profound effect on how air travel is booked and marketed to travelers in the years to come,” said Pherous, echoing the sentiments of many in the corporate travel sector.

Photo Credit: A Qantas aircraft taking off in a promotional image. Qantas