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It’s always a treat to attend events like Flightglobal and T2RL’s Technology and Innovation in Airline Distribution 2016 – held in Hong Kong last week. The topic is pertinent, the perspectives diverse, and you know you can look forward to the occasional feisty comment or two, always given and taken with good humour.
Certainly there was plenty of healthy debate to go around and good insights to take home. If I were to sum up my key takeaways from the event in just 3 words, no doubt they would be “merchandising”, “NDC” and omni-channel”!
Merchandising has been the buzzword of our industry for quite some time, and unsurprisingly took centre stage at the event. The consensus was that merchandising delivers value to both airline and traveller, but how do you do it well? Charles McKee, Marketing Head for Malaysia Airlines proposed that it’s about finding the gap in the current experience and providing an offer that fills it. Others suggested that better use of data and collaboration between airline departments are critical. And a brave soul ventured that perhaps airlines just need to get on with it! Have the willingness (and courage) to decide on a strategy, try it, and then course-correct if necessary. Whatever the approach – it’s clear merchandising is a theme that is here to stay and needs to be addressed.
Can there be a Distribution discussion without the mention of NDC? It was clear from the room that there is plenty of interest and optimism in the initiative, but some questions on whether it was moving quickly enough. From IATA’s Yanik Hoyles, Director of NDC Program, we heard that a lot of progress is being made. We saw that airlines are investing in the project and technology companies like Amadeus are on board. To date, Amadeus has managed several successful NDC-XML implementations and are actively working on others. However, as with any major industry initiative, it will take time for NDC to fully take hold.
A question that often comes up on the topic of Distribution is ‘direct or indirect?’ If the discussion at the event is anything to go by, perhaps it’s not a question of one or the other. Each has a place in the traveller journey, and both deliver value to the airline. As my colleague Cyril Tetaz pointed out on Day 1 – what’s needed is an omni-channel approach that gives travellers transparency, consistency and choice, whichever channel they choose.
I had my share of fun as well participating on one of the panels – “Examining the relationship between airline distribution and PSS decisions”. Being the only GDS and PSS provider on the panel was admittedly not an easy task, but I appreciate the frank and productive exchange with my fellow panellists. I pointed out that PSS and Distribution are like wine and cheese – you can enjoy each on its own, but together they taste better. Distribution puts the offer out on the market, the PSS delivers on it. So the more tightly integrated both are, the more value it delivers to the airline and ultimately, the end customer. That said, we acknowledge as well that you may choose to buy your cheese and wine from two different shops. Amadeus recognises and respects airlines right to define their own strategy and we support them with the technology that delivers on their needs.
One last point – Collaboration is key to deliver the seamless experience the traveller is looking for, and this collaboration must happen between different airline teams, across industry players, and between technology systems.
Speaking of wine and cheese, I recommend that you try pairing a glass of Gigondas with a slice of Roquefort. Trust me, I’m French.