Taking NDC from start-up to billion dollar unicorn!

Gianni Pisanello

VP, NDC-X program, Amadeus

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At Amadeus we have technology in our blood. In the tech world, “unicorns” are those start-ups that become billion dollar businesses. And that’s exactly what we want IATA NDC to deliver: billions of dollars of incremental revenue, for the whole value chain.

We think that there is plenty of potential for NDC to revolutionise travel retailing across our industry and to fully embrace the merchandising train. That’s why I took an NDC unicorn on stage with me yesterday at IATA’s World Passenger Symposium (WPS), to represent the business opportunity that NDC holds, if the industry gets it right.

The industry needs this value to be created, because as we all know, NDC is not for free. And with the right investment, the right economics must follow, for all stakeholders.

Amadeus has been very active in the NDC standard since its inception. We’ve been moving fast with the standard, as contributors in the IATA work streams, and as the first to implement NDC v1.0 in production with United Airlines back in 2014. Since then, we have achieved both Level 1 certification as an aggregator, and Level 3 certification as an IT player, and this is just the beginning.

We believe that NDC is in a very different place than it was a few years ago, meaning that now we can start talking about the industrialisation of NDC. There are three main reasons why we are in a different place: first, the maturity and stability of the standard has evolved significantly; second, the critical mass of airlines making serious investments in this area; and third, increasing awareness and engagement from the travel agency community.

That’s why over the past few months we have been doing some research across the industry, consulting with different players in open discussions. In order to achieve high market adoption, NDC needs to be considered from every point of view, including from that of airlines, travel agencies (business, online and offline), metasearch companies and corporations.

So, what did we find out? We learned a lot along the way, particularly with regards to IATA NDC Level 2 (Offer Management) and Level 3 (Offer and Order Management). We looked at both options: going to Level 2 only, and going straight to Level 3. It’s clear that Level 3 has some drawbacks. It is very disruptive for agents, changing workflows and processes, be it an airline agent and travel agent, and it will require significant time and investment from all parties to work. The upside though is that it’s future proof – and in our conversations with airlines and agencies we could see that the industry is ready to embark on this change, as long as the downsides of going to Level 3 are mitigated by the industry.

The mitigations that the industry needs to commit to are:

  • Using IATA NDC version 18.1 as the base for industrialisation, while we commit to evolving with the standard.
  • True adherence to the IATA NDC Standard, as well as the IATA Implementation Guidelines. This means for each use case, one implementation approach.
  • Enabling agency needed features: this means implementing those NDC services that travel agencies need to carry out their business, and evolving the standard to include more complex use cases.
  • Ensure that we keep performance centre stage for NDC, such as response times. The industry cannot afford to degrade the performance achieved today with the existing infrastructure.

If the industry gets this right, then NDC will accelerate and deliver economies of scale and ROI that all players are looking for.

Of course this is a journey. At Amadeus, we are already on the road, and will be Level 3 certified as an aggregator by next year. And we will work closely with IATA and our airline and agency customers that share these principles.

This is the message that I presented at the WPS in Barcelona. NDC can be a win-win for the whole travel industry, where airlines, travel agents, intermediaries, and travellers all stand to benefit. If we work together as an industry, then together we can make NDC the giant tech unicorn we all want it to be!


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