Today’s Travelport /American Airlines announcement marks a watershed moment in airline travel distribution. Over the last six months the two camps seemed to be solidifying their positions.
On the airline side the purchase of the Open Axis Group schema by ATPCO followed by the IATA’s announcement that their New Distribution Capability (NDC) would embrace the same Open Axis Group standard, aligned the airline distribution approach around a single methodology (created by Farelogix). The stated goal of the airlines is to gain more flexibility to offer customized products and services to individual travelers based on their preferences and value. Despite recent press to the contrary (NY Times, Fox News), I do not believe this is anti-consumer, but rather a valid attempt to get in line with the general e-commerce trend towards greater personalization.
The opposing forces representing corporate buyers (BTC), TMCs and the GDS seemed to continue to spend considerable marketing dollars to counter this Open Axis Group/NDC/Farelogix effort with the argument that more personalized offers would lead to a lack of transparency, higher airfares and hamper the consumers’ ability for competitive shopping. It is interesting to note that while the GDS where lobbying to derail NDC/Open Axis/Direct Connect, all have spent considerable money on implementing travel agent desktop point of sale platforms that are able to integrate airline ancillary products. Up until today those ancillary products still needed to be distributed through the traditional channel (ATPCO/EDIFACT).
As the first of the three GDS to embrace the Open Axis Group/NDC/Farelogix standard to allow full access of ancillary services and ultimately allow the airlines to offer unique bundles and pricing to customers, Travelport is using their Universal Desktop to truly be an aggregator of multiple sources of inventory. Considering that the roots of the Universal Desktop came from Travelport’s purchase of the assets of G2 Switchworks, an early proponent of alternative distribution is quite ironic. I am hopeful that this marks the beginning of the end of this airline/GDS battle allowing all channels access to full content and services while allowing the airlines to better market their products in an era of hyper personalization.