June 4, 2024
Introducing The Sellerverse

Welcome back to the Mystifly blog, where our exploration of air content distribution continues with the series, “Rise of Multisource.” In this chapter, we introduce the Sellerverse—a diverse group of travel sellers extending beyond the “Galactic Center” of traditional travel agents and online platforms to include a “Halo” of lesser explored companies, such as loyalty programs and closed member groups. As we delve into the Sellerverse, we uncover sellers’ relationships with multisource air content, including NDC, and take a glimpse at what’s holding them back.

The Galactic Center

Traditional Travel Agencies – Personalized Quality

Retail travel agents specialize in crafting and managing travel arrangements that benefit from a personal touch and multisource air content provides these advisors with opportunities to better serve their customers. Not only can they access a wider range of flight deals from different suppliers, but NDC enables them to get their hands on premium travel extras such as seat selection, lounge passes, and bundles.

For several years, NDC airlines have employed tactics like introducing surcharges to shift bookings away from the GDS. Last year, American Airlines significantly disrupted the distribution landscape by announcing it would restrict AA Advantage members’ ability to collect points based on their booking source. Although American recently softened this stance[1], the critical need for accessing multisource content has become clear.

Travel advisors are less reliant on the one-stop-shop approach of the traditional GDS than many think. According to a Travel Weekly survey, only 15% of travel advisors use the traditional GDS to book flights. In addition, the percentage of travel advisors who say they are both familiar with and have access to NDC-supported content more than tripled over the past year, to 22%[2]. Despite the challenge it brings, multisource content is a business reality for traditional agencies.

TMCs – Guardians of Managed Corporate Travel

Of all the seller types, travel management companies (TMCs) face the most complexity when adopting multisource air content. TMCs support their corporate clients with multiple services that go above and beyond trip planning. These services – which include travel policy compliance, duty-of-care, and financial reporting – are tightly woven into the TMC’s typically GDS-centric ecosystem. It’s, therefore, no surprise that adopting NDC and other non-GDS content is particularly slow and problematic for this group.

Online Travel Agent – Agility and Innovation

When it comes to embracing multisource air content, Online Travel Agents (OTAs) stand out. OTAs excel at integrating flights, hotel content, and other travel services into user-friendly interfaces, leading with customer-centricity, competitive pricing, and agility. Using content from diverse sources, including consolidator/wholesale air content and direct airline APIs, is core to their business model. They are also ahead when it comes to NDC. In February 2024, ARC reported that 17.9% of the air transactions settled were NDC-enabled. Of those, OTAs accounted for a staggering 91%[3].

Metasearch Engine (Metasearch) – Aggregation and Transparency

Unlike OTAs, which enable customers to book on their platforms, metasearch engines like Kayak, Skyscanner, and Google Flights typically redirect customers to the source for booking. The flexibility of the multisource opportunity has enabled metasearch to experiment with and evolve their business models. Direct APIs to LCCs have enabled these entities to forge differentiating partnerships, for example, Google Flights recent deal to display Southwest flights[4]. Some metasearch are exploring adding booking capabilities to their platforms via the NDC standard. In 2023, Skyscanner was the first metasearch to display and sell tickets using NDC, and since then, Kayak and Hotwire have followed suit[5].

The Halo

Beyond the primary players in air distribution cosmos, there are numerous other entities that, while not always in the spotlight, significantly contribute to this space. Let’s glance at two such groups in the metaphoric “Halo”.

Loyalty Programs – Personalized Engagement

Loyalty programs are potent tools for customer retention and engagement. They sell points to partner brands that reward members for their spending. Providing valuable member rewards is core to loyalty program success, making a redemption portfolio with multisource air content compelling. For instance, the popular Alaska Mileage Plan includes 30 different airline partners[6], such as members of the Oneworld Alliance and several non-alliance carriers. By offering diverse redemption options, a broad network enhances loyalty program attractiveness.

Looking ahead, as personalized, dynamic offers (air and ancillary offers priced on the fly) become more prevalent, it is reasonable to anticipate that more programs will incorporate NDC-enabled content into their offerings. By leveraging vast amounts of loyalty data, these programs will be able to access highly valued, bespoke offers tailored to specific members.

Closed Member Groups – Member-Driven Revenue

Closed Member Groups such as warehouse clubs might not be the first players that come to mind when thinking about selling air travel, but they are interesting contenders. Did you know that Costco turns a profit primarily through membership fees from their 124.7 million members? Keeping these members loyal is crucial for Costco, Sam’s Club, and BJ’s – and believe it or not – travel is a key component of their appeal. In a survey, American consumers rated big box stores twice as high as “travel websites” for value[7]. Given the importance of providing high-quality value to members, tapping into the potential of multisource air content is a key consideration. This is especially true as more airlines reserve their best value content for their direct and NDC channels – a key consideration for all entities in the Sellerverse.

Multisource Draw Backs

In an industry with growing content fragmentation – and where NDC is becoming a new normal – there is no doubt that embracing multisource air content is a logical move for travel sellers striving to remain competitive in their sectors. However, there are some real challenges that, until now, have been holding the Sellerverse back from taking advantage of what multisource stands to offer. For example:

  • Sourcing air content from multiple sources requires grappling with different APIs, data formats, and workflows
  • NDC air selling and servicing workflows are often inadequate and incomplete
  • Post-sale management of flights, such as void, reissue, and refund is time-consuming at best, and fraught with limitations at worst
  • Every travel business has different business models, e.g., markups, fees, rebates, and commissions that need to be accommodated. Doing so seamlessly across multiple content sources is tedious and prone to error for many sellers
  • It’s all too hard, slow, and expensive!

The fragmentation and complexity of multisource air content are preventing travel sellers from opportunities and securing the best value, especially when many airlines reserve the best deals for their NDC channels. In this context, the Sellerverse needs solutions that intelligently address the challenges and make selling multisource air content easier and a better experience for all. With this in mind, in the next and final chapter of the Rise of Multisource, we will turn our attention to a new player in the ecosystem. One which not only champions the cause for all in the Sellerverse, but does so using new technologies purpose-built for the world of multisource air.

Stay tuned for “Enter … the Smart Aggregator”.

Mystifly Sellerverse

[1] https://www.travelweekly.com/Travel-News/Airline-News/American-Airlines-reverses-course-punitive-NDC-strategy?ct=

[2] https://www.travelweekly.com/Travel-News/Travel-Agent-Issues/Travel-Industry-Survey-2023-What-advisors-are-booking

[3] https://www.travelweekly.com/Travel-News/Travel-Technology/ARC-working-group-tackles-NDC-issues?ct=tech

[4] https://www.travelweekly.com/Travel-News/Airline-News/Southwest-starts-Google-Flights-displays?ct=

[5] https://www.oag.com/blog/new-distribution-capability-airline-commerce

[6] https://thepointsguy.com/guide/alaska-mileage-plan-guide/

[7] https://www.consumerreports.org/money/buy-vacation-or-honeymoon-from-bjs-costco-sams-club-a1151135911/

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