It has been a year of reckoning for the aviation industry. But it has also been a year of ‘renewed learning’ for Mark Muren, British Airways’ Head of Global Sales, who spoke to ArabiaTravelNews.com about building better relationships in a post-pandemic environment.
“The importance of face to face interactions, both in personal and professional contexts have never stood out more. I have learned to be much more intentional about seeking out those interactions in a world where they don’t come as easily as part of a normal daily work routine.”
“The easing of UK entry restrictions brought much cheer for the airline and everyone at BA is pouring 100 per cent of our energy into fostering a safe and positive return to travel over the next few months,” said Muren.
But this was not time lost. According to Muren, the airline used this period to relook at every part of the business to find ways to fly safely, due to the pandemic but also fly efficiently.
“I’ve been enthused by the level of passion, innovation and care that our colleagues throughout the world have demonstrated. I have countless examples of my team going above and beyond to do the right thing by our partners, for example, helping arrange repatriation flights or supporting partners to navigate changeable travel administration.
“I’m also really pleased to see the way we have used new technology to aid the travel experience, for example our Covid restrictions map ‘Sherpa’ and the new app based in-lounge ordering system ‘Your Menu’,” he added.
According to Muren, their relationship with trade partners, both leisure and TMC, have had a key role to play in the recovery of the industry. “Today our interactions are more candid, collaborative and partnership focused. To reinforce our relationships and provide stability, we have been extending our corporate and agency deals until we have a clearer view on future needs.
“We have also created new refundable products for our trade partners (Select and Select Pro). We are committed to having a new spirit of working collectively to ensure that our trade partners know they are being listened to and suitably rewarded for their loyalty and hard work on our behalf, he added.”
The airline has also been working extremely hard to open its transatlantic routes. “We have proved with multiple studies that internationally recognized vaccine certification can be used effectively to open borders, as we have seen in the case of US and EU vaccination status allowing entry into the UK. Additionally, we recognize the huge global economic cost of the closed border analysis from the U.S. Travel Association estimates by the end of 2021 the loss to the US economy will be $325 billion and 1.1 million jobs.
“Our purpose at British Airways is to connect Britain to the world and the world to Britain. Border restrictions without scientific basis cause significant emotional and economic harm and we continue to lobby for these restrictions to cease,” added Muren.
Adoption to NDC: It is all about engagement with trade partners
One of the earliest adopters to NDC, British Airways received its first bookings through NDC in 2015. Since then, many key players in the industry have shared their vision by supporting the roll-out of NDC. Earlier this year, the company signed an agreement with Amadeus which will allow the distribution of NDC content, allowing for more personalized content, better transparency and more choice.
According to Katy Cardwell, British Airways’ Head of Distribution and Payments, “British Airways had already began working on service disruption using the NDC OrderChangeNotif message before the pandemic hit, which meant we were in a good position to adapt this to handle with the cancellation messages that were sent to our trade partners.
“The APIs also provided partners with self-servicing capabilities to make changes to disrupted services. During the pandemic new/ updated policies were introduced including “Book with Confidence”, which continues to give customers flexibility on their bookings.
“Having the NDC pipe ready meant we could adapt quickly to these new policies and enable the use of e-vouchers through NDC. There were some challenges to adapting so I wouldn’t say it was a seamless transition. Nonetheless, it would have been a lot harder without NDC.”
NDC to British Airways is a new channel for indirect sales, therefore, the airline pushed focus on the whole end-to-end process since the beginning. “From booking, servicing, adding extras to reservations such as ancillaries, to involuntary flows with schedule changes and disruption. Over the last couple of years, we have had dedicated product owners reviewing the different Offer (Selling) and Order (Servicing) flows to ensure that we provide a channel, where connected partners can self-service and get all the information needed around their reservations” she said.
Cardwell knows that the NDC has a huge role to play in the recovery of the aviation industry and this was apparent with their e-voucher adoption in NDC during the pandemic.
“NDC enables greater speed of new products/ functionalities, through which British Airways offers more diverse content to the trade, including the introduction of Select and Select Pro fares. NDC also enables us to work closer with our trade partners, and right now this is one of the key factors, as we look at improving the travel experience to bring confidence back to travelers,” she added.
For British Airways, this means simplifying systems and processes for the whole value chain. The airline is focused on the growth of airline retailing and on the lookout for any new opportunities that come through NDC connections.
“Our trade partners can get more information on what we are doing with NDC including our technical documentation, news, support, and even NDC policy updates all on the British Airways NDC Comms Hub. Furthermore, we allow our clients to test upcoming features prior to their official release in our Beta Environment and offer NDC content through the IAG Booking Portals. We continuously work on improvements in all areas. Through NDC we offer the widest range of British Airways functionalities,” she added.
Looking ahead Cardwell says that while the NDC has come a long way, there are still improvements to be made.
“Our advice for agents that want to learn or push for NDC, is to get involved with the industry discussions. IATA has done a very good job at getting stakeholders from the whole value chain into discussions, and there are groups targeted at different stakeholders. The latest schemes have standardized a lot of features through NDC, as the value chain works through the different flows. British Airways is committed to join these discussions, work with the industry to ensure challenges are addressed, and support NDC.
“As an early adopter we have helped in the development of NDC and continue to work with IATA on pushing for its adoption. This means that airlines that are now joining can hopefully get up to speed faster. For trade partners that do not have the resources to adopt multiple airline NDCs, my advice is to review technology options available, as there are many aggregators that can support with this issue.”
At the end of the day, Stakeholder engagement is key, adds Cardwell.
”NDC can only be successful if the value chain joins this journey. We need partners and other airlines to continue investing in this solution and joining discussions to ensure NDC continues to mature and so it can cater for our partners’ needs. We need to work together to build the new items that we know our trade partners are longing for, such as bundling and innovative content.”
To open conversations, the airline’s trade partners can now comment or request for new features through their NDC connection via a web form available on the British Airways NDC Comms Hub.