Travel agencies are being urged to sign up for Qantas’ new distribution channel, with technology providers like Sabre pressing their industry partners to join soon if they want to be included in the August 1 launch.

A Sabre email to customers obtained by Skift warned that agencies must finalize agreements with both Qantas and Sabre prior to June 1 “to guarantee access to the Qantas channel from 1 August 2019.” The email continued, “Effective 1 August 2019, Sabre-powered travel agencies who sign up to the new Qantas channel will enjoy a wide range of content from the airline, and have the ability to leverage reliable and up-to-date information to create rich, personalized offers for their customers.”

It’s understood that Qantas has extended its deadline subsequent to the Sabre agent outreach and will now accept sign-ups to the Qantas channel until June 30. Agencies will be able to register for the Qantas channel any time after the deadline, but that will mean that they may only get the Qantas channel content after August.

The Qantas channel, according to the airline, will include special offers unavailable outside the channel and will deliver “a more personalised experience for customers.”

Traditional Alongside Special Content

Mike Orchard, principal of consultancy Festive Road in Australia, said Qantas is working with all three major global distribution systems (Sabre, Travelport and Amadeus) to provide access to “a range of fares and new content that are not easily accessible for agents today.”

“This will make use of the Qantas Distribution Platform, which brings together traditional GDS content alongside new content using IATA’s New Distribution Capability. This promises to provide agencies the opportunity to provide similar services and full-service capabilities for Qantas travelers to what is available on Qantas.com,” said Orchard, adding that the new channel is part of a fundamental shift in the industry toward the New Distribution Capability standard that is gathering pace.

One of the early adopters of the new distribution approach is Australia’s giant Flight Centre Travel Group, which has already signed up for the new Qantas program.

“By signing up to the channel, which will come into effect in August this year, FCTG is ensuring that its leisure and corporate travel customers and consultants globally will have access to a full range of Qantas fares, information, and new content,” Greg Parker, executive general manager of Flight Centre’s global air business, told Skift. “We are pleased to be involved in this program and believe it will deliver a new level of modernized air content to our customers.”

Parker is particularly pleased that Qantas has included the traditional travel supply chain in the new distribution model. “We welcome the GDS’ inclusion in this program and believe that this collaborative approach will deliver the best outcomes for travelers, while also allowing us to work with key GDS partners to deploy broader next-generation retail solutions.

Big Players Have Signed Up

Besides Flight Centre, Qantas has confirmed that the majority of its key agency partners have agreed to participate in the Qantas channel globally, including Helloworld, Corporate Travel Management, Carlson Wagonlit Travel, ATPI Voyager, CT Connections, Expedia Group, Egencia, Webjet, Consolidated Travel Group, Virtuoso and Express Travel Group.

“Qantas is working closely with other agents to register them over the coming months,” the airline said in a statement.

While the Qantas channel is the first distribution solution of its type in Australasia, a number of major airlines have embraced the new IATA model. Orchard, who is an IATA “envoy,” said over 65 airlines globally are NDC-certified, representing more than two-thirds of all passengers that board IATA-affiliated airlines.

He identified Qantas as one of 21 carriers on the NDC Leaderboard, a group committed to having at least 20 percent of their sales powered by the new capability by the end of 2020. “As a result, we are now seeing considerable growth of NDC as a standard and increased engagement across the travel industry to ensure the promise of NDC is delivered successfully.”

Enhancements on the Way

Festive Road has been working with major players in the travel distribution chain to explain the implications of IATA’s new approach, and Orchard says solutions like the Qantas channel benefit “all sides of the industry, including travelers, agencies, content aggregators/GDS’s, and airlines.”

For travel agents, key benefits include simpler access to all of an airline’s offerings. In the past, certain services may have only been available directly from airlines on their own websites. “Under NDC, this content can be delivered into agency booking systems,” said Orchard. “This enables agents to improve the service they can provide customers, facilitating a choice of airline based on a combination of price, quality, and service, rather than just price alone.”

Another major benefit for agencies is a reduction in booking fees.

Rakesh Narayanan, Sabre’s vice president, regional general manager, South Asia and Pacific travel solutions, airline sales, confirmed that agencies which register for the Qantas channel will not have a surcharge applied to their bookings. Agencies that don’t sign up would face such added fees.

Qantas plans to introduce a new A$12.50- ($8.75) per-segment booking fee on August 1 for agencies that choose not to join the Qantas channel.

Travelers, meanwhile, benefit from their travel agents’ improved access to the airlines’ complete price and service offering. “Travelers will increasingly see airlines use the NDC standard to deliver tailored offers to them. For example, if they are a loyal Qantas traveler, they may receive offers that are unique and recognize that status,” said Orchard.

He also identified advantages for corporate travel managers who will be empowered to negotiate agreements with their airline partners that deliver a more complete service and price offering to their corporate travelers.

“As an example, this might include attractively priced fares that also offer lounge access, meals on board, extra leg room seats, and fast-track immigration as a standard. In this space, each airline and corporate customer will be able to have unique arrangements such as this, and these can be managed end-to-end by the TMC in terms of shopping, booking, and servicing,” Orchard said.

Narayanan noted that Sabre’s recently extended partnership agreement with Qantas, the latest carrier to join its Beyond NDC program, would potentially deliver Qantas content to over 425,000 Sabre-enabled travel agents across the globe, thus extending the airline’s reach.

While the major participants are touting the advantages of the new Qantas channel, they concede that some agencies may resist the move.

“We recognize that some agencies may choose not to sign a Qantas channel agreement with Qantas. Those who do not sign the agreement can continue to book Qantas content in Sabre, but may only have access to limited content from the airline and be subject to a channel fee from Qantas,” said the Sabre agency email.

Photo Credit: Qantas is working with the global distribution systems to provide access to a range of fares and new content. Qantas