The elephant in the NDC room

Ben Hunt

Group Communications Director, Amadeus IT Group

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Late on the second day of IATA’s World Passenger Symposium in Dublin, Yanik Hoyles, Head of the NDC program, issued apology to any delegates who had been “NDC-ed out” over the previous 24 hours.

Iata dublin
Convention Center, Dublin. Photo credits: IATA.

His remark was only partly in jest. Over the previous 30 hours many delegates had sat through 12 sessions dedicated to NDC and a further five plenary sessions in which it had featured heavily. “You told us you wanted more discussion,” said Hoyles.

During the morning preceding Hoyles’ remark, the Symposium had heard the views of Travel Management Companies, Online Travel Agencies and others who have been among the most vocal critics of IATA’s approach to NDC. Both from the platform and privately around the Convention Centre Dublin, many of these representatives had been encouraged by what they viewed as a more collaborative and open approach from IATA on the issue, rebuilding trust as Amadeus has very strongly advocated. They were also reassured by IATA’s absolute insistence – reiterated again and again – that NDC was purely a standard for the industry, one that all stakeholders could benefit from.

For all that, however, there was still little visibility over how this new collegiate approach might be turned into concrete action to move the program decisively forward with all stakeholders involved.

And then Anne Coughlan, Kellogg Professor of Marketing from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University in Chicago, took the floor and offered, ”an academic view on airline retailing and customer engagement”.

Coughlan, who has written a research paper for IATA on the issue “The Elephant in the Room: The Benefits of Creative Destruction in Airline Distribution”, built a compelling case for action in the industry. ”lt seems to be a win-win,” she said. ”If the industry does this right, the (profit) pie will grow and there will be something in it for everyone”.

And yet, she pointed out, NDC has not been embraced by the industry. Why not? Professor Coughlan, identified a number of key issues that had barely been addressed, never mind resolved: What would the costs of the program be? Who would bear these costs? The size of the profit increase was not clear, nor how that would be shared. And finally, as had been pointed out by so many in the previous 36 hours (and 24 months) the program was being conducted in an atmosphere of mutual mistrust and suspicion among all stakeholders.

Without addressing all these issues, she said, the program would not move forward. And the questions of cost and profit sharing, in particular, would have to be addressed.

At the end of a long and tiring day, Professor Coughlan had injected a sense of purpose and fresh energy into the debate. All around the large hall, delegates sat up a little straighter and many heads could be seen nodding in agreement.

One delegate later told me that having previously decided to skip the following day’s session, he would now return specifically to hear Professor Coughlan elaborate further on her ideas in a panel session.

As Hoyles subsequently said as he rounded up the day, “the elephant in the room is the commercial model”. And finally somebody had identified the elephant in a neutral way. It may have been an important moment. Only time will tell.


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