Zeno Labs Live

Accelya’s Jim Davidson Talks the Impact of COVID-19 on NDC

21 April 2021

Zeno Live host and Serko SVP of North America Tony D’Astolfo sits down with “The Godfather of Alternative Airline Distribution” Accelya Group’s Chief Product Officer Jim Davidson.

Get ready for a cornucopia of Coppola references as the pair cover Accelya’s Farelogix acquisition, the uptake of NDC in the leisure segment ahead of corporate, and the expected acceleration of NDC coming out of the pandemic. And because Tony respects those who tell him the truth no matter how hard it is, he puts Jim on the spot in the Zeno Zone for a round of rapid-fire questions.  

Watch the recording or view the full transcript below.

Full Transcript

Tony D'Astolfo:
Hi, and welcome to Zeno Labs Live. The new live video series from travel booking and expense management provider Serko, where we feature subject matter experts on various topics across the corporate travel industry. I'm Tony D'Astolfo, today I'm joined by industry icon, Jim Davidson, the Chief Product Officer at Accelya. Jimmy D always good to see you and thanks for joining.

Jim Davidson: It's great to be here Tony. Look forward to today. Always love being here. We wish we could be in person, but soon.

Tony D'Astolfo: No doubt about it. On that note Jimmy, we've been friends a long time. You've been at this a very long time. I know we both know Andy Menkes. He calls himself the Godfather, of the CTD. Would it be fair if I called you the Godfather of Alternative Airline Distribution?

Jim Davidson: Yeah, you can... I'll take the Godfather title from you anytime.

Tony D'Astolfo: All right, if that's the case, I'm going to speak a little bit like the Godfather. Makes no difference to me how a man makes his living mind you, but the sale and distribution can be a tough business and you're still here many years later, te salut Jim Davidson.

Jim Davidson: That's how I feel, and I'm lucky to leave the room with a good set of knees.

Tony D'Astolfo: Enough screwing around in better impersonations. Let's get down to business. All right.

Jim Davidson: Got it.

Tony D'Astolfo: Talk to me a little bit about the acquisition. It's almost a year. I can't believe how fast it was. The Accelya deal closed in June. You were at the altar with Sabre. We know that one fell through, but tell us what this brings to Accelya and then also to your historical clients.

Jim Davidson: I look back and just amazed of what happened and the good fight we had with Sabre to get this thing closed and it ultimately didn't work. Not because we didn't want it to that's for sure, but then Accelya and Vista quickly came back at a very difficult time in the industry, and saw a vision of where putting Farelogix and Accelya together would create a solution that isn't out there in the industry today, and I say that in terms of the end-to-end solutions. There was no product overlap between Accelya and Farelogix, which is unusual in most mergers. And not only did we not have overlap, but when you put one and one together, you had a higher factor because you could make the products that we had better by simply integrating with each other's products. For example, our merchandising engine is better because now we can settle those ancillaries and things more quickly and more efficient because of the financial solutions. We can take data from the financial solutions and put them into the offer creation solution. When we got our heads up after the deal was closed, we realized from a product point of view, this was a very good extension to both our sets of customers, and I am proud and lucky to be where I am as the Chief Product Officer with Accelya.

Tony D'Astolfo: Super. All right. Let's talk a little bit about the benefits of NDC for corporates. There's a business travel session here, and a recent The Company Dime article. You were quoted as saying, "It remains a bit of a mystery when compared to the leisure side where we've seen a lot more uptake and it's a lot more mature there." How do we solve the mystery for corporate travelers?

Jim Davidson: Yeah, that's a great question, Tony and I think the mystery is identifying the pieces. It's not the proverbial mystery that we have to figure out what it is to solve it. There's, a lot of moving pieces involved in delivering the NDC model through the traditional corporate landscape, and some of that is because of the tools that were in place. Sometimes a lot of the corporate booking tools that are in place did not have the idea of getting content from multiple sources, for example, number one, and then packaging content in a way that corporates have versus leisure. Leisure you can do a lot of ad-ons and the customer can have a lot of discretion in how they build their product. In corporate, a lot of it's negotiated, a lot of it's bundled, a lot of it is pre priced. There is some complexity in that, but the concept of NDC for corporates and I call it NDC corporate is very workable and very real. Somebody was asking me the other day is do corporates need content? I'm like, "Absolutely they need content." And, but it's a different content in terms of structure then than the content is that you do leisure. Leisure is much more discretionary where corporate content is much more fixed and requires some rigidity around how things are bundled, because it's not what the airline might have available. It's what the airline may have available that's consistent with what the corporations have agreed upon. I think it's a mystery and in that sense, but coming out of COVID, I'm starting to get all kinds of calls from corporate booking tools and they understand that content is king, regardless of whether you're a corporate traveler or a leisure traveler.

Tony D'Astolfo: Now, you referenced a little bit about the traditional travel ecosystem, specifically have the GDS, and you have the TMC who are clearly the three tenants with when you stick the OBT in there. Do you think this needs to be a GDS solution? Or do you think the breakthrough will happen when it comes through the traditional players, the traditional ecosystem players?

Jim Davidson: Yeah. Look, I think COVID has put a lot of pressure on airlines to look at all their methods of distribution, and honestly, I don't see a lot of change coming out of COVID. I see a lot more partnership type discussions. We've talked about that before. The players need to get together without disrupting a lot of the kind of traditional systems until we can get back on our feet. I think we'll see some pretty good incremental growth in the current ecosystem, and then maybe once we're back, we'll get something a little bit more radical and a little bit more simplified. But right now I know our focus from Accelya is to work within the confines of the guard rails per se, and try to help get this industry back.
Tony D'Astolfo: Less disruption to make the disruption happen right.

Jim Davidson: Exactly.

Tony D'Astolfo: Do it in a less disruptive way.

Jim Davidson: That's a good way to put it Tony.

Tony D'Astolfo: Makes perfect sense. All right. Accelya published a report that I was reading through. The Airlines: A Path Back to Profitability for those of you who haven't seen it I would suggest you go out and get there's a lot of good information in there. One of the things you called out was the fact that the pandemic has accelerated digital shopping among consumers. I'm assuming that's a positive, because people will get more comfortable doing everything digitally, and do you see this as a positive trend with respect to NDC specifically on the corporate side?

Jim Davidson: I think what has transpired in airlines right now is a clear directive to get travel back, which means, regain the loyalty, focus on safety, look at destination data. One of the things that I think NDC allows for is the ability for rapid change, that you can change how you distribute based on environmental factors, and as we know right now, you look at where, you look at India, you look at some hotspots. I'm here in Michigan today and Michigan is a hotspot, and all that impacts travel and it impacts travel from day to day. As we look at NDC and the ability to deliver content, I think this is key for particularly the corporate market in terms of understanding how they have to modify any travel program not on a second's notice, but week by week or month by month. I think this relationship between airline and corporate and even travel agency is going to allow folks to get more accurate information, more readily into the hands of the corporate travelers. I think that's the value of NDC. It's not the value of NDC just for NDC sake, but with NDC, you get faster access to offers and information. Scheduling is all over the place with airlines right now. You want to be able to react to that. The change, the servicing is critical in the re-booking and having those capabilities and NDC, I believe fosters that much quicker than some of our traditional distribution methodologies.
Tony D'Astolfo: Last question, before we move into the Zeno Zone but in the same report, you guys said that nearly half the airlines that you surveyed suggested that the standards are being developed too slowly by the traditional players. Again, back to those traditional players, there's been a push by certain airlines, very aggressively that included pulling content. There's the carrot and the stick and then American came up with a carrot approach. We'll excite you to do this. Is the boulder a financial one or is it a technical one or maybe both?

Jim Davidson: I always look for the financial angle on anything because I think that's, fundamentally a driver.

Tony D'Astolfo: Follow the money.

Jim Davidson: Back to your opening comments about The Godfather, look, I think there's certainly a financial element. There's a negotiation on the relationships between how airlines distribute their product through GDSs and that will continue to be a factor but, and that will solve itself out. I won't say there's a real or technical barrier, because look, everybody we're talking about here is a technology company. I think you have probably a financial aspect of it, and in terms of trying to figure out how this is going to play out in the marketplace, and then ultimately a desire to go full scale on it. This is still fairly new, and to make that kind of investment that a GDS has to do, although all of them have come out and said that they're in. And I know that for a fact, because we have a number of airlines that are on... We have the APIs for that are being connected to the GDSs. Look, I think everybody got knocked down on their knees, but I think that the interest in NDC is a study and Henry Harteveldt conducted that study, it wasn't an internal assessment. I think what came from that study is that everybody sees the value, including all the players in terms of the technology, the GDSs otherwise, they wouldn't be investing in it. Look, it got to a slow start and COVID brought everything to a stop. I think, we're going to see an accelerated aspect because particularly when the corporates warm up again, they're going to want this content. They're going to want this ability to change things and support and service things very quickly. NDC will give them that capability and all the partners will jump to that.

Tony D'Astolfo: Nobody knows this stuff better than you, Jimmy D thank you for all of that. We switch gears a little bit. I'm going to bring you into the Zeno Zone. This is where we try to get a little bit more familiar with Jimmy D the guy. All right. Are you ready to jump in the zone?

Jim Davidson: Is it going to hurt?

Tony D'Astolfo: No. It depends. You might hurt some feelings, but it depends. Let's get started here. All right. This has probably happened to you a lot recently, but let's say you have a major business decision to make, and you can only make one call that can call can go to anyone in your network who gets that call?

Jim Davidson: Tony you know the answer to that one, it's you. The problem-

Tony D'Astolfo: Shit, we're in trouble.

Jim Davidson: ...is you don't answer the phone half the time.

Tony D'Astolfo: You're in big trouble.

Jim Davidson: And I will say I've had a dear friend and mentor in my life that I have turned to on very frequent occasions to discuss those, you got one call, who are you going to call? And prior to that, when my dad was living. My dad was one of the most practical guys in the world, not highly educated, but practical. I used him as a sounding board, which was pretty amazing.

Tony D'Astolfo: Very cool. All right. Next question. Three dinner guests, you have three dinner guests dead or alive from beginning of time till today. Who's at Jim Davidson's table?

Jim Davidson: Giving live dinner guests is very hard for me. I'm going to go with a couple of dead ones. They're still living, but one is Nelson Mandela. I would love to have dinner with Nelson because of what this person has gone through and the stories and guidance they can give. Jumping completely to the other way is as you know I am an NBA fan and a Michael Jordan fan. Ever since Carolina, I would have him there. That would be interesting with Nelson I'm sure, and then just so it's not all guys I have so much respect for Michelle Obama. I would bring Michelle Obama into this conversation and she would humble us all.

Tony D'Astolfo: You're probably right. Now, this is a tougher question, are you guys in a dive bar or you fine dining?

Jim Davidson: Oh, no, no, no. Again, first of all, I can't get into a fine dining establishment, I'm in dive bar, Tony.

Tony D'Astolfo: Wait a minute. Now you have Michelle Obama, Michael Jordan, and Nelson Mendela.

Jim Davidson: Come on. You're not going to be fine dining with those people together, maybe individually.

Tony D'Astolfo: All right. I give you that. All right. Last question. It's not a question, but it's prediction. Jimmy, tell us something you believe is going to happen in the next 12 months in our industry.

Jim Davidson: I get asked this question a lot. Leisure travel in my view in 12 months from now is going to far surpass pre COVID. Now, it may spring back a little bit, but I think we are going to see unprecedented numbers of leisure travel within 12 months. I think pending vaccines and getting this thing under control. The demand is going to be wild and I think that's going to be a real shot, "shot in the arm" for the industry.

Tony D'Astolfo: Yes. Good stuff. Jimmy D listen, always a pleasure. I want to thank you for joining us today. I also want to thank everybody. Who's joining us live here on Zeno Labs Live for Jim Davidson and Tony D'Astolfo. We're signing off. Te salut the Jimmy D. Great to see you.


Have feedback for our team or ideas for other guests we should host on future episodes of Zeno Labs Live? Drop us a line.

About the Speakers

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Jim Davidson

Chief Product Officer for Accelya

Jim currently serves as the CPO for Accelya Group and is responsible for the organization’s commercial and financial solutions portfolio. Prior to its acquisition by Accelya, Jim was CEO of Farelogix. Fun fact: Jim has been twice named among the 25 Most Influential Executives in the Business Travel Industry by Business Travel News.


Tony D'Astolfo

SVP of North America for Serko

Tony joined the Serko team in 2018 to lead the launch into the North American market. Prior to Serko, Tony served in leadership roles at Deem, Phocuswright, and GroundLink. In his free time, you can find Tony in the New York area quoting "The Godfather" to all who will listen.