First the worst, second the best: Singapore Airlines offers agents NDC choices

By Jasmine O’Donoghue

Sometimes it’s good to be the first, but not always.

In the introduction of IATA’s NDC program, it would appear Singapore Airlines has chosen to take the back seat to learn from its competitors.

The long-awaited roll-out of NDC has been trickling through the news cycle for some time, as airlines drip feed their plans to introduce the standard and now, Singapore Airlines will make NDC content available to agents from 1 July under an expansion of its KrisConnect program.

When Qantas’ new distribution model, the Qantas Channel, went live on 1 August last year, the industry was promised the change would “modernise the way agencies book fares and deliver personalised experiences to customers”.

Two weeks later, the first Travelport bookings through the channel were made and since then there has been reports the carrier has faced resistance from some agents, with those who choose to use existing GDS channels facing a hefty $17.50 per sector surcharge, in addition to no longer being able to access a wide range of traditional fares being made available via indirect channels.

Despite the benefits of the platform touted in August “expected to start flowing through in the coming months”, travel agents have yet to sing the praises of the channel.

When Singapore Airlines unveiled its plan this month, it’s clear that the carrier seems to have taken a distinctly different approach to Qantas. While the industry is yet to see the plan come to life, the carrier has promised it is taking the route of a “collaborative” approach with agents.

For Singapore Airlines, the power of choice seems to remain in the hands of agents, with the carrier offering four different means of connecting with the airline and its NDC content.

From 1 July, agents will be able to go direct with Singapore Airlines, or through GDS, with SQ working with Amadeus, Sabre and Travelport. New technology partners, or aggregators, will also be part of the introduction, such as Atriis, HitchHiker, TPConnects and Travelfusion. The fourth option will be the carrier’s first agent portal in the market, AGENT360, which will be an information and booking portal.

While Qantas set a hard 30 June 2019 deadline for agents to sign up prior to its 1 August 2019 launch, restricting content through traditional channels from that point on, agents who decide to stay with the existing system to access Singapore Airlines’ content will be allowed to continue ticketing as they have in the past, without financial penalty.

Just like Qantas, not all options and benefits will be readily available on at the start date, with each means of connection having its own yet-to-be revealed timeline.

Singapore Airlines has touted that it will be able to provide agents with the full suite of NDC capabilities from 1 July, but there may be some feature differences as technology partners come online.

The quickest option, it seems will be agents who decide to develop for their own platforms and get a direct connection to Singapore Airlines. The carrier said these agents will be able to connect “after an onboarding process”.

If an agent chooses a GDS or an aggregator, the features they provide and when they will be available may vary, and Singapore Airlines have advised agents speak directly to their preferred provider.

While the exact dates are a little hazy, Singapore Airlines has promised the move will provide agents with improved speed-to-market, access to the widest range of fare products, including personalised content and the ability to provide customised products to their customers.

Agents will be able to access new options such as booking preferred seat selection, and with that, additional chances to earn commission.

Singapore Airlines General Manager National Agency Sales Greg McJarrow told travelBulletin “with the right encouragement and the collaborative approach that we are looking at, I think we will get a very good uptake from the Australian trade”.

A clear effort has been made by Singapore Airlines to plate up a more palatable NDC package for agents, but the question remains – will they bite?

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