The airline industry knows it’s on the cusp of something that will truly transform how it markets and sells its products and services. The opportunities to personalize offers through access to much richer content than ever before have been clearly spelled out.
Early adopters are now moving from the talking phase to the action phase, with some forward-thinking airlines and agencies having already set the wheels in motion to begin reaping the benefits that will be afforded by the IATA New Distribution (NDC) standard.
These early pioneers are confident they’re in safe hands, as they work with their global distribution system (GDS) partners and airline internet technology providers to ensure that the right technology is in place to create a flawless end-to-end journey, from offer creation through to fulfilment, no matter what schedule changes and other disruptions may arise.
Flight Centre Travel Group on Putting Next-Gen Retailing into Practice
One such agency is Flight Centre Travel Group, which is working with travel technology company Sabre, to help transition to this brave new world of retailing.
“We’re not an old-school agency. We’re moving with the industry and trying to be in front, and we’re not afraid,” said John Morhous, chief experience officer for global brands at Flight Centre. The agency is actively building NDC-enabled, next-generation retailing elements into their everyday business.
“Understanding the needs of the individual passenger and tailoring offers to them is the holy grail. As this technology starts to enable that a bit more, it will be a super-powerful opportunity for all of us,” said Morhous.
Evidence of these tailored travel offers will soon be visible in the corporate space, which Morhous believes was previously “missing strong personalization” aspects.
“I’m Boston-based and when I go to New York I prefer to fly into LaGuardia. I have children, so I don’t want to leave at 3am. Understanding the traveler and being able to tailor offerings to their individual needs is something we’d love to see,” he said.
Considering the Challenges of Next-Gen Retailing
But even the best made travel plans can fall victim to unpredictable forces, such as weather disruption, industrial action, or terrorism. Therefore, it’s vital that when an airline passenger buys a flight ticket which includes a bundle of personalized extras –– for example, a window seat, a special meal, or an upgraded inflight entertainment package –– those extras are still included in the event of a rerouted or delayed journey.
Morhous admits that “transiting that to the NDC world is going to be a challenge.” However, it’s a challenge that has been anticipated, planned for, and built into the fabric of Flight Centre and its GDS partner, Sabre.
As Rodrigo Celis, vice president of product management at Sabre explained, “A lot of people think about creating the offer and shopping for an offer, but what happens when there’s a mishap? That’s part of the work we’re doing at Sabre. We want to make sure the airline can recover the offer when something goes wrong.”
It’s important to consider this from “both sides of the business,” added Celis. “We’re not working in a silo. We’re thinking about NDC from both the agency and the airline side, with a distribution component added into the mix. So, we think about how an airline would go through a disruption or schedule change, but also how we transfer duty of care from the agent back to the airline.”
Part of this work, added Celis, is to look at all of the components that make up a passenger’s order and ensure that, in the event of a disruption, “we put the passenger in the same type of product and same type of experience that they had originally purchased. So beyond just the seat re-accommodation that typically happens in today’s world, how do we think about offer and order re-accommodation so that bundle of products is included?”
The Transition to Next-Generation Retailing Won’t Happen Overnight
What’s important to remember is that the transition to NDC-enabled, next-generation airline retailing will be gradual –– not everyone will jump at once, and even those who do enter this new world early will likely follow traditional and next-gen models simultaneously for some time to come. For this reason, Flight Centre’s Morhous believes it’s vital to cater for both worlds.
“A hybrid approach is going to be very important because some airlines and agencies will be at the forefront…but there will be some that take longer to conform. Being able to support both is critical,” he said.
Cognizant of this, Sabre has made the ability to support airlines in a hybrid world a core component of its beyond NDC strategy.
“Not all airlines are moving to distribute all of their content to using NDC overnight –– some will still continue to use traditional offers. We view NDC as another type of content,” said Celis. “We aggregate all of the content from different sources, make it visible, and normalize it so that travel agencies like Flight Centre can easily comparison shop across products.”
Next-generation airline retailing is no longer a futuristic talking point. It’s starting to take off, and key developments will take place as early as this year. This fall, Sabre will launch the industry’s first Digital Airline Commercial Platform, including a completely reimagined agent interface, decision support around pricing optimization, an advanced shopping engine, NDC-enabled offer and order management, and microservices and cloud deployment, enabling it to start delivering the end-to-end personalized shopping experience it has promised.
Sabre is committed to supporting airlines and agencies and investing beyond NDC by delivering a true end-to-end retailing ecosystem across all channels in a way that helps solve travel complexity and makes the best possible use out of new technologies as they emerge.
Learn more about the opportunities that next-generation retailing and distribution present for airlines, agencies and travelers and gain practical tips for elevating your travel retail strategy in Sabre’s eBook, NDC to the Power of Sabre.