Word games and quick-fire questions to round off a travel technology panel discussion are often more revealing than what has been said before.
Panelists have moved on from scripted sales messages and are a bit more relaxed knowing the spotlight will soon be off them.
An airline digital transformation panel at the recent CAPA Airline Leader Summit in the U.K. is a good example, when airline and technology representatives were asked to comment on what we might be talking about in five years time.
The good news is that it seems the conversation will have moved on from NDC, although not entirely.
Tamur Goudarzi Pour, senior vice president for channel management for the Lufthansa Group and chief commercial officer for Swiss Airlines, says in five years there will be a “kaleidoscope of various retailing stakeholders playing a part in the chain.”
“At the moment it’s a bit like Pac-Man with everybody trying to swallow somebody else, so there is going to be consolidation, and new players are coming. I think we will see some players becoming much bigger," he says.
"I just learned That Tripactions is approaching a $10 billion valuation; it didn’t have more than 15 people in 2017 so these are really changing times.”
Goudarzi Pour adds that the industry will have caught up with “a lot of the deficiencies” highlighted in the pandemic from a customer perspective.
“I’m hopeful we will have some from of a new order system already in place in five years' time. That’s actually ambitious and I believe that’s the next big thing. I believe NDC penetration for the leading carriers will be very large but there will be a lot of carriers who won’t have much of NDC then, still so we also need to cater for those and to see what the format will be so they also participate in the modern distribution world.”
Picking up on order management and NDC, Bryan Porter, global head of sales for Accelya, says he wants to see the industry leading again when it comes to customer needs and expectations.
“I would see that powered by the adoption of new generation order management systems that really allow airlines to become retailers. Beyond that, in terms of NDC, we’re starting to see levels of maturity now in terms of adoption but the real test is actually seeing NDC becoming dominant in TMCs and corporates.”
Peter Atkinson, digital products officer at Manchester Airports Group, foresees improved access to airline products and services going forward as the industry moves away from silos.
“We’ll have consolidation of products and I think we’ll have single inventory pots and get to a place where we’ll have more channels and more accessibility to products, and collections of products, at the same time, than we’ve ever had before.”
Build or borrow
The final comments also served to sum up much of what had gone before in the discussion, with general consensus of the digital acceleration trend during the pandemic and its impact going forward.
David Gunnarsson, CEO of Dohop, believes some airlines used the pandemic to accelerate their own transformation.
“Maybe they had time to think about these things and could see it as an opportunity to build their business when COVID was behind us. You either build a network or you borrow it and we facilitate the borrow side.”
The build or borrow philosophy can likely be applied to other distribution technologies as well. Goudarzi Pour says that IATA has reinvigorated the ONE Order initiative but, reflecting on some of the past mistakes with NDC, it needs to be implemented with a common approach.
“We’re very active there with a couple of other airlines there together and we believe that’s one of the first use cases we need to get live to have a new form of call it interlining or how we speak with other suppliers, how we speak with parking lots, how we speak with the car rental companies, how we speak with anybody.
"There will be new tech companies that will facilitate that hopefully and help us on the way, and that will mean we have to march along together, decide on this together so we don’t have the same situation like we had with some other innovations, like with NDC where it was whoever could run fastest first will run hopefully and reach the goal at some point, but in the end we ended up uncoordinated.
“This needs to be different, and interlining is one of the best examples where you need to find a common way so why not have an industry approach and in a reasonable time frame get an MVP live that can be used between airlines and also other provides and suppliers to connect ancillaries with airlines and connect all that we would like to connect.”
Panelists were also asked why the industry didn’t make better use of the pandemic to be more innovative.
Porter says the industry is having to confront really big shifts in everything it does.
“A lot of what we’re trying to do is remove friction in terms of how we’re integrating with the customer but these are big shifts, shifts in terms for solutions, in terms of the systems we have, how we’re interacting with the customer but also in terms of how we’ve structured in terms of an organization. Also, in terms of how we’re set up as an industry and how we work together.”
And, there’s also the industry’s “inherent cautious mindset” to consider, says Gunnarsson.
“If you look at airlines, they’re super cautious and conservative in how they move forward and that’s for good reason. The challenge is how you separate that mindset in operations where you have to be cautious and careful, from what they’re doing on the retail side.”