Flight Centre’s James Kavanagh talks NDC, AI and business travel

Flight Centre has become the first company in the Asia Pacific to participate in Sabre’s game-changing Beyond NDC program.

If you’re among the masses left scratching their heads over just what all the fuss is about with NDC, we’ve got you covered.

We caught up with James Kavanagh, executive general manager of Flight Centre corporate to find out what’s behind the hype.

As you may already know, NDC stands for New Distribution Capability and is an initiative launched by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) for the development and adoption of a new XML based data transmission method.

Yeah, we don’t know what that means either, but Kavanagh said when you boil it down, it’s really just a messaging standard.

“NDC is an enabler that helps support the airline’s overall distribution strategy,” he told us.

“NDC-style offerings are an exciting new initiative, particularly when they can be developed in unison with the GDS (global distribution system), which is what we are seeing with the Sabre Beyond NDC program that we are involved in.

“We strongly believe that this style of program is the way of the future and are pleased to be involved.”

Kavanagh said this technology has lead to more engaging discussions with Flight Centre’s airline partners collaborative approach to merchandising; whether that’s the possibility of free wi-fi on board, priority boarding or additional loyalty bonuses in some cases.

“By being part of this program, we will be at the forefront of developments and can play an active role in delivering solutions that benefit our customers and our people,” he added.

Besides NDC, Flight Centre has been busy with a range of other customer-focused tech developments this year in the way of mobile apps, online booking tools and, for corporate travellers, reporting and pre-trip approval tools to make it easier for companies and individual business travellers to book and manage their travel and itineraries.

“New tools we’re seeing in the market like our AI-driven mobile chatbot SAM, FCM’s Connect technology suite and our new online booking tool Savi, which is being developed in conjunction with our partners at Serko, are all super personalised and gives the customer a much more enjoyable and easier online experience”


You may remember SAM from our article on it back in May, but if you don’t then here’s a refresher.

SAM stands for ‘Smart Assistant for Mobile’ and is a pocket travel assistant that helps business travellers with everything from itinerary management, bookings, service and support.

The app is designed to help make business travel easy by employing a blend of AI and integrated consultant support and expertise.

But what about SAM’s new mate, Savi?

“Savi (our new online booking platform) is exclusive to the corporate clients of FCM Travel Solutions, SME travel provider Corporate Traveller, academic travel business Campus Travel, and sports and entertainment travel specialist Stage and Screen,” Kavanagh told us.

“Over the past 18 months, Flight Centre Travel Group has also collaborated with Sabre on the development and launch of their New Sabre Red Workspace as a booking platform for our corporate and leisure agents in Australia, New Zealand and the Americas. ”

While having the latest tech is crucial, Kavanagh assured us that it still doesn’t measure up to customer satisfaction that comes from having damn good staff.

“It’s all good and well to be able to offer technology to clients but we are also focused on making sure that we’re backing up these platforms with people that can provide expert and personal support,” he said.

“We need to continually invest in and enhance our technology suite, introduce new tools that take away pain points for customers and, of course, invest in our key asset – our people. “