Airline association Iata and its plans for a New Distribution Capability (NDC) came in for fierce criticism at the Advantage travel agents conference in Malaga on Saturday.
Iata head of business development Yanik Hoyles told the conference he hoped “to clarify some misconceptions”, but his presentation triggered a strong reaction from representatives of global distribution systems (GDSs).
Hoyles said: “We’re trying to modernise something 40-odd years old, from before the internet was invented.” He insisted: “We are not building a system. We are creating a standard . . . for a platform.”
Travelport UK managing director Simon Ferguson told the conference: “We are sympathetic to the problem. But we have a healthy scepticism. The investment we are making in our current platform means we are able to do all the things NDC is touted to do.
“Our concern is transparency. The GDSs display content agnostically regardless of how it comes in. NDC will lead to the offer being constructed by the airlines not the GDSs. That is the concern.”
Sabre UK commercial director Elisabeth Martins agreed, saying: “We have serious doubts about transparency and the ability to compare prices. If someone in the industry is on top of technology it is the GDSs, not the airlines.
Martins told Hoyles: “It looks like you are selling NDC.” Amadeus UK managing director Diane Bouzebiba said: “We do not believe in introducing a new industry standard.”
Hoyles acknowledged: “I understand people are suspicious. It is potentially a massive change. An industry standard would mean [the GDSs] opening up to competition.”
He said: “There is a big gap between what airlines sell direct and what partner agents sell. In today’s indirect channel, the GDSs package and push the offer. NDC will provide a standard . . . consistent with the online shopping experience.”
Hoyles referred to the Expedia site hotels.com and said: “This is the kind of capability NDC could provide [for airlines].”
Some agents expressed disquiet. One Advantage Global member, who declined to be named, said: “We all recognise the GDS screen is archaic, that if we don’t change it there is no future.
“But why not build the next generation together? Why push this through? The guys who will be left in the cold are the smaller agencies.”
Asked about the cost and revenue implications for agents, Hoyles said: “On cost, I don’t know. On commission rates, we can’t answer. That is a one-on-one discussion.”
Iata plans to launch at least one NDC pilot programme this year.
The association’s NDC standards manager Andrei Grintchenko said: “There is lots of work to be done. [But] once we have proven the concept we will deploy it in 2015-16.”