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Saturday,  July 13, 2024 11:34 AM 

Q&A: “We see ourselves as NDC adoption champions”: AC's Lisa Pierce talks strategy amid NDC updates

Q&A: “We see ourselves as NDC adoption champions”: AC's Lisa Pierce talks strategy amid NDC updates
Lisa M. Pierce, vice-president, global sales and Air Canada Vacations at Air Canada. (File photo)
Michael Pihach

Michael Pihach is an award-winning journalist with a keen interest in digital storytelling. In addition to PAX, Michael has also written for CBC Life, Ryerson University Magazine, IN Magazine, and Michael joins PAX after years of working at popular Canadian television shows, such as Steven and Chris, The Goods and The Marilyn Denis Show.

This week, Air Canada marked the one-year anniversary of its New Distribution Capability (NDC) program with the unveiling of more features and benefits – and plans for future expansion.

Launched in June 2023, Air Canada’s NDC program aims to modernize its product distribution, offering new benefits, more content and comprehensive partner support.

NDC, for example, offers more product depth, including discounted ancillary seat pricing, access to promotional code offers and other domestic basic fares.

Over the past year, Air Canada says it executed three new GDS distribution agreements, all incorporating support for NDC, developed more than 25 new features and capabilities, and implemented NDC in eight technology platforms – including Amadeus.

As well, more than 600 travel agencies are now actively booking using Air Canada NDC, the airline says, with 70 per cent of all bookings now using modern technologies.

READ MORE: Air Canada marks first year of NDC with new features & benefits

As PAX previously reported, Air Canada’s NDC milestones bring new benefits and features to the table.

Content and features through Sabre, for example, will soon be available. The Distribution Cost Recovery (DCR) fee has also been dropped on all but the lowest fares.

The airline is doubling its risk-free refund period from 24 to 48 hours for bookings made using NDC. Continuous availability is also now live to all partners integrated with Air Canada NDC, offering greater access to the best prices. In late 2024, Air Canada says it will begin offering continuous pricing for better, more dynamic price points.

READ MORE: Q&A: Are travel agencies ready for NDC? Air Canada’s Mark Nasr talks Sabre, surcharges & more

And, over the next year, travel partners can expect more content and features from Air Canada, including support for disrupted customers; new features for the handling of involuntary changes; the ability to apply unused tickets for future travel; and more payment options for international markets.

What does it all mean?  Here, PAX connects with Lisa M. Pierce, vice-president, global sales and Air Canada Vacations at Air Canada, to learn more.

PAX: Looking back on the past year, how would you describe Air Canada’s NDC transition?

Lisa Pierce (LP): It’s been a journey of significant progress and transformation. We set out with a clear vision to modernize our product distribution, and we've worked hard to deliver new capabilities, content features and benefits, as well as expanding personalized support for travel trade partners to ensure a smooth transition.

One year in, I’m happy to say that 600-plus agencies are now actively booking using Air Canada NDC, and 20 per cent of agency bookings in Canada are via NDC. And we’re not done yet. We’re committed to our NDC strategy and to bringing new benefits and content throughout 2024 and beyond.

PAX: Did the airline accomplish everything it wanted to with NDC this year?

LP: I think it’s fair to say we’ve made excellent progress. We achieved several key milestones, each of which significantly advanced our NDC content and benefits. We concluded three new GDS distribution agreements, all incorporating support for NDC, while introducing more than 25 new features and capabilities, directly informed by feedback from our agency partners.

We successfully implemented NDC in eight technology platforms, including Amadeus, while engaging with agency and tech partners at more than 100 meetings globally. Our reach has also grown significantly. Today, we have enabled NDC in points of sale across 20 different countries.

PAX: What has the feedback been from travel agencies?

LP: Right from launch, we committed to close collaboration with our travel trade partners throughout the transition. The valuable feedback we’ve received from early adopters is giving agency and travel buyer communities an active role in shaping the future of our NDC program. Based on this feedback, we've introduced more than 25 new features and capabilities, which continue to influence our expansion plans and strengthen our transition into the second year.

PAX: What would you say is today’s biggest NDC challenge for travel agencies? 

LP: We see ourselves as NDC adoption champions. The transition to a system like NDC can certainly be challenging for travel agencies, particularly in terms of integrating it into their existing workflows and systems. That’s why we’re working to make our NDC connectivity even more accessible, by continuing to invest in support tools and resources to help our partners during the transition.

That includes dedicated and custom one-on-one support for managed accounts, a multi-lingual NDC information hub, and a range of partner workshops and advisory forums where we’re sharing our plans and our progress transparently.

PAX: What does the partnership with Sabre mean to Air Canada’s NDC strategy? To what extent will this partnership enhance the program?

LP: We’re committed to a smooth transition to NDC, and to enabling the trade to connect with Air Canada using their preferred and familiar methods. A partnership with Sabre provides our travel trade partners with access to a production-ready Air Canada NDC solution – a significant step forward in our program roll-out.

Sabre's marketplace plays a vital role in the travel ecosystem, making NDC content readily available to travel agents and buyers around the world, while providing a consistent and efficient booking experience across all channels. The deal also provides our partners with more flexibility and choice in how they use our services, as we work to make NDC connectivity even more accessible.

PAX: Are the new benefits an incentive for agencies to adapt NDC? (Or is Air Canada simply tweaking its program?)

LP: We believe that adopting NDC is a win-win, so we see the new benefits as both an incentive for agencies to adopt NDC and as a fundamental part of our strategy to continue improving the program. Ultimately, we're all in this together and we want our partners to join us on this journey. We're always looking for ways to add value for them, and the content and benefits we’ll continue to bring throughout 2024 and beyond reflect that commitment.

PAX: What remains Air Canada’s biggest challenge when it comes to NDC? 

LP: The primary challenge is that the ecosystem is highly interconnected. Each agency’s end-to-end solution is unique. While airlines and agencies may be in control of their own deliverables and technology roadmaps, we are also dependent upon indirect partners who each also have their own development timelines. As our industry adapts to modern technologies, the friction we at times face today due to asymmetry will diminish over time. In short, the independent “gears” will become better connected. This is why we refer to this as a journey. We remain committed to meeting our agency partners where they are and supporting them along the way.

PAX: How would you say Air Canada compares to its competitors when it comes to transitioning to NDC?

LP: We’ve gone to great lengths to be as proactive and forward-thinking as possible in transitioning to NDC. We know we’re not the first airline to do this, but I think our thoughtful and collaborative approach puts us ahead of many of our competitors.

At the end of the day, we're not just adopting a new technology. We're also completely reshaping our distribution strategy to provide the best possible service to our partners and customers. I’m certain that our commitment to collaboration, support, and bringing more and better content and benefits will continue to make this roll-out a success in year two and beyond.

PAX: What else is in Air Canada’s playbook for NDC? What does the ultimate program look like?

LP: We’re already making significant strides towards our goal of modernizing Air Canada’s product distribution. And we’re not done yet. We’re committed to our NDC strategy and to bringing great new benefits and content to help us create the “ultimate” program (as you put it)!

We’ll stay agile and responsive to feedback as we progress into year two and evolve our NDC offering. That means building on some of the great new benefits we just announced, like dynamic pricing, more generous refund capabilities, greater ticketing flexibility, all of which provide even more value to our partners and elevate the experience for our shared customers.

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