When the mega-merger of Amex GBT and HRG was announced some in the business travel industry questioned whether the move would dampen the former's distribution strategy. HRG was one of the TMCs at the forefront of recognising changes in distribution, releasing its strategy in May 2017 and by November was Level 3 certified for IATA's NDC programme.
Amex GBT is also now level 3 certified and is involved in Sabre's Beyond NDC and the Amadeus NDC-X programmes. Addressing attendees at IATA's Airline Industry Retailing Symposium recently, Amex GBT's CEO Doug Anderson said that the two merging TMCs are on "similar paths" for distribution and is "eager to be more efficient and traveller-centric" through both the NDC and its current models. He estimates it will take up to another two years for the two TMCs to fully integrate.
"I don't see us as the retailer. Airlines have spent millions in differentiating services, and presenting that rich content to the traveller is important. We want to be part of that but we need the distribution structure to support it. We're involved with NDC projects to get into operations but the user experience is unknown right now; some parts of the shopping process are unsolved," he said.
Amex GBT isn't alone in needing to run two systems side by side; this was a regular discussion at the summit as airlines and agencies work to build to the new NDC standard while maintaining their current infrastructure. Retaining access to "full, relevant content" is a priority for Anderson and others TMCs no matter where the inventory is coming from. Don't forget that IATA is aiming for only 20% of content to be delivered through NDC from 20 carriers by 2020 — meaning a lot of content will still be delivered as it always has been for some time yet.
Buyers are understandably worried about what content their travellers will and will not be able to see. Some are indirectly asking TMCs about content amid their concerns of out of policy bookings, as mentioned by Louise Kilgannon of Festive Road on our webinar last week.
In the same conversation Travelport's Ian Heywood said he could even see airlines offering different content to different TMCs. "Relevant" is an important term. What might be appropriate for one business is not for another; the same could even be said for different travellers.
Who really has control of the content shown to your employees?