Aviation Business News

T2RLEngage Preview: The digital future of airline retailing is crystalising

In September 500 airlines, technology and distribution delegates will convene in London for two days for  T2RLEngage 2023 to discuss the emerging digital future of ticketing, merchandising, ancillary sales and customer servicing in aviation. Lee Hayhurst, of Aviation Business News, which is a media partner for the event, spoke to T2RL’s Bert Craven and Ian Luck about what they expect to be the main topics of conversation. 

What airline ticket retail and servicing looks like in the future is crystalising, but is the sector at a tipping point in the adoption of new technology and what are the challenges and opportunities?

For two days in September these questions will be at the heart of the conversation among airlines, technology developers and distribution partner delegates at the 2023 T2RLEngage conference.

The history of digital transformation in aviation suggests the industry should not expect rapid change or revolution but, according to T2RL, momentum is growing and a tipping point may be here.

Bert Craven, president technology and deputy chief executive at T2RL, said: “The airline industry doesn’t have big inflection points.

“These kinds of changes can take 10 years to happen – the industry doesn’t pivot, it drifts. Certainly, interest is growing and the rate we’re seeing that interest appear is accelerating.

“It is just this gradual attrition where more people talk about it. Technology vendors are now starting to openly talk about their strategy and are selling their next generation of solutions.

“There’s a much clearer definition starting to emerge. Maybe a year ago the ideas about the future were slightly more nebulous but they’re starting to crystallise.”

Ian Luck, T2RL president of distribution, said: “In the last 12 months or so we certainly have had much more interest from airlines wanting to understand offer, order.

“They need to think about what that means in terms of their next set of technology procurement decisions.”

At the centre of this change is the shift away from the legacy Passenger Service System (PSS) approach towards what global industry aviation body IATA terms ONE Order.

This new XML standard promises to simplify the ‘offer, order, settle, deliver’ process in airline ticketing, consolidating three data record types (PNRs, e-tickets and EMDs) into just one.

The idea is to introduce modern ecommerce capabilities, making order management, simpler, more efficient and flexible while reducing costs and opening up new revenue opportunities.

A precursor to this has been New Distribution Capability (NDC), a data standard for the ‘offer’ part of the process which has seen slow, and at times painful, adoption over the last decade.

Craven said: “One of the things we learned from NDC is there was a massive focus on who was ready to send NDC messages, and it was all very focused on the airline end of the business.

“There was less focus on who was ready to consume them at the other end, on how many points of sale can actually receive an NDC offer, and is it going to look different on a shopping screen.

“When you think about orders and servicing of orders and all the different people in the value chain, who might touch an order at some point, we have to start thinking end-to-end.

“We need to think about all the parties who might reasonably have reason to touch, or service, or use, or fulfil an order and bring those people in so they understand the impact on them.”

For this reason the T2RLEngage event this year will see greater participation from travel sellers, whether business Travel Management Companies (TMCs) and Online Travel Agencies (OTAs).

Luck said: “T2RL’s conferences have always been really strong on the technology side. What we are also trying to do this year is engage other parts of the chain.

“We are bringing some travel sellers to the conference this year to get those conversations going about what does ‘offer, order, settle, deliver’ mean to a big TMC or OTA.

“How does the whole industry need to work together to play their role to make this work across the value chain?”

Craven said this vital need for interoperability in the complex, global airline sector can make the business case for investing in change hard to make even if that change is inevitable.

And he said that is why is it important that the sector comes together at conferences like Engage to share best practice and shape the future.

“We are sort of holding up a mirror,” he said. “We might agree what we’re doing as the airline industry but what does it look like to travel sellers.

“The secret of the Engage conference is the format. There’s not a lot of slides, not a lot of keynotes and speeches. The focus is one panels and roundtables.

“That format lends itself to a bit of controversy. We can tackle really juicy topics and have people who might naturally be slightly combative in terms of their viewpoint.

“It enables us to get very quickly to the nub of issues. The conversations are very direct to that point. Everybody wants to get their say in So you get chunky digests on all of the key issues of the day.”

Delegates from airlines are invited to register to attend T2RLEngage for free and a full agenda is available now to view on the event’s website. 

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