Partner Perspective: NDC as an evolution, not a revolution

For the first time in the history of travel, NDC brings airlines and travel agencies together to share the rich content they need to provide a truly personalized customer experience. NDC is an evolution in air distribution. To drive momentum around NDC solutions, Sabre has launched a Beyond NDC strategy, bringing NDC-enabled solutions to market that power airlines and agencies to intelligently and seamlessly retail, distribute and fulfill their products and services to their most valued customers.

NDC gives travel agencies access to all available content through airlines, GDSs or other intermediaries in one single place for easy comparison shopping and fulfilment. NDC positions airlines to become true digital retailers, giving them the freedom and flexibility to consistently merchandise their products and services how they want to across all channels. NDC helps both airlines and agencies know their customers so they can make personalized offers that suit their customers needs and preferences.

American Airlines is not starting from scratch when it comes to NDC. For the world’s largest airline, it’s an evolution of a retailing strategy the airline has been working on for the past decade. Its strategy, a proven success in the direct channel, has evolved to include NDC and place more focus on distribution and agency servicing. At American Airlines, the opportunity NDC presents for the future is a transformed customer experience.

In a 2019 interview with Sabre, Neil Geurin, director of distribution strategy at American Airlines, shared his perspective on how technology and NDC are playing a role in the airline’s retailing evolution.

Sabre: When your organization said, “We need an NDC strategy,” what were some of the first steps you took to achieve this goal?

Neil Geurin: I’ll be honest, that’s a hard question for me to answer because American was working on something that looks like NDC before NDC existed. We’ve known for a long time that we need a better way to market our products and services to customers. Growth in our direct channel has come of that, but we also recognize that we work with thousands and thousands of travel agencies and need to empower them to do the same. The goal all along was to get to a point where we could do more than just sell a fare through a travel agency.

Sabre: In that process, how did the organization evolve internally?

NG: The distribution team has always worked closely with partners across the airline like our revenue-management and sales teams, but a few years ago, we moved the team into the sales-strategy organization to allow for a deeper level of collaboration. The distribution team itself has grown quite a bit over the years. We now have more than 30 people working on distribution every day — much larger than the team we had in place five years ago. We’ve needed more manpower, and we’ve gotten a lot closer to the business units most impacted by NDC and other distribution matters.

Sabre: Despite the increased focus and alignment around NDC in the industry, what challenges still exist today?

NG: In early 2018, we reached a point of alignment across the entirety of the industry with the agency, the airline, the GDS and the technology partners involved. Even though we’re at that point, that still leaves a lot of unanswered questions about how NDC works in a servicing capacity and how NDC works when we drive it up to full scale. All those questions are still outstanding.

Our thinking is that there have been 100 questions about NDC over time, and we’ve answered them collectively as a group, one by one by one. The more people we have involved, the more voices we have at the table, the better those answers will be. We expect that over time, we’ll be able to solve these last remaining use cases around NDC and really take it to the next level.

Sabre: Describe the customer experience in an NDC world.

NG: It changes over time, but the early-day customer experience means getting access to bundles of products and services at any customer touchpoint. Whether that’s in the booking tool or standing in a line at an airport to change a ticket. Soon, all of that can be coordinated through NDC into a product that’s available to customers across all channels. Sabre’s strategy will not only enable that personalization for us, but it is robust enough to consider use cases that span the customer journey.

Longer-term, we constantly hear from Amazon and Google about the big push toward voice-search and voice transactions. Right now, that’s hard to imagine in an airline space where, if you’re looking at a flight from Dallas to New York, there are 25 options and all kinds of different products and services within to communicate. By utilizing customer data, we can micro-segment offers and make voice much more feasible.

Then, if you have a customer who’s flown four times over the last year on that route and she typically flies first thing in the morning and always buys Wi-Fi, when she says, ‘Hey, Google, tell me about flights from Dallas to New York,’ we just tell her about the ones that are most relevant based on her historical purchases. It will take a while for us to get there, but we need the supporting offer-management technology in place now to make it real in the long run.

An NDC evolution across the travel ecosystem
As with American Airlines, Sabre is partnering with numerous companies across the global travel ecosystem to not only provide NDC content, but also to provide access to scalable, end-to-end NDC solutions that will secure these companies position as frontrunners in the travel industry.