In April this year American Airlines took 40% of its inventory and moved it away from travel agents’ preferred distribution channel, the GDSs and into NDC-only channels. In October this year, the same carrier launched AAdvantage Plus, a loyalty programme for SMEs in the US and Canada, in which loyalty points are awarded to both the corporate and the traveller – but only for direct bookings.
It’s no wonder that agents see this type of initiative as deliberate acts intended to marginalise them and push them outside the booking circle. A travel consultant who chose to remain anonymous, told Tourism Update in April: “Airlines, and AA more specifically, seem to be doing their best to alienate agents and TMCs and cut them out of airline bookings.”
This behaviour by airlines feeds agents’ perception that airlines want them to disappear. So it’s refreshing to hear that some airlines really value the agent community.
“There’s currently a lot of negativity in the trade about NDC,” says Carla da Silva, SAA’s GM Sales, Marketing, e-Commerce & Distribution.
“NDC has a role to play in airline technology, but the GDS is still the prominent source. Not even some airlines’ practice of charging agents a surcharge for booking on GDS deters the trade – they want to use the GDS.
“SAA understands this and so, we have full content agreements with the GDSs. Also, the GDS has additional SAA content – corporate agreements, corporate fares, IT fares, mice fares and student fares. It’s a compelling offering.
“Yes, we do have flysaa.com, but we have absolute parity of fares across both channels.
“We know the NDC has a role to play, but at SAA, we are determined to walk this journey with the trade, and we would never establish a platform to exclude you, the travel agents.”
It makes sense that SAA keeps its focus on the agent community. Da Silva says 73% of the airline’s support comes from industry. Whether it’s bookings for large corporates or the special deals SAA will craft for the SMME clients of travel agents (available only through those agents), groups, MICE or plain leisure business, SAA will go the extra mile, she says.
Da Silva has a message for the travel trade: “Walk with us while we connect Africa, one flight at a time.”