The business travel industry is rushing to adopt online booking. It has proven benefits in terms of cost, control and duty of care, but it is important to note that not all online transactions are the same – it very much depends on how and where you book.
An online transaction can mean many things. It can be a booking made through a mobile app or on the web, via metasearch engines like Skyscanner, online travel agencies or booking tools. And because we perceive the direct online channel (eg leisure sites like Expedia or airlines or hotel chains’ own websites) to be low cost, business travellers and bookers may be missing the real value of booking through a Travel Management Company (TMC).
Do-it-yourself rather than using a professional service provider presents some challenges. Home improvements are a good example. DIY can appear attractive to the enthusiastic amateur, offering a lower cost option in principle. However, the amateur’s lack of knowledge or expertise might result in the exact opposite. Here is a quick guide to their differences – and their different advantages and disadvantages.
An online TMC can contain the content your company wants. That means that the suppliers included will be those that your employer is happy for its travellers to use, for example because of a commercial partnership or duty of care criteria. These suppliers will also be able to offer travellers from your company special benefits such as a lower rate or an upgrade.
2. Time is money
You can find a hotel room at a good price using a metasearch engine or online travel agency like Expedia but finding the best options and rates can also take a booker a lot more time. Business travellers making their own bookings could be wasting time that could have been better spent delivering their employer’s business strategy.
3. A helping hand
In the real world things don’t always go to plan. Travel itineraries can change and a missed flight or travel disruption could mean that your traveller needs to rebook. This means you need access to offline TMC support such as the out-of-hours travel emergency service. They can re-arrange travel within minutes, without lengthy calls and queues.
The most cost effective fare for a specific traveller is similarly not necessarily the cheapest. For example, someone who works in sales often has to change travel plans so a flexible ticket might be the sensible choice. Finding the right fare is what a TMC’s travel consultants are trained to do.
A high online adoption rate is important but offline support is vital.
4. Policy compliance keeps the cost under control
Every company wants compliance to its policy to save costs. Your company should provide a system that enables travellers to book the way they want while adhering to company policy. This is near enough impossible if travellers book on different online sites.
The back office paperwork also becomes an issue if you book through several channels. Having to manually fill out and file expense and approval forms takes time, resource and patience…as well as needing a fairly flexible finance team! A corporate booking system which automatically collects data and compiles reports in the right format is far easier than a collection of manual spreadsheets.
5. Negotiating the cost down
Traveller satisfaction is important but your company needs to ensure that it maximises value from its travel spend. Don’t just focus on one rate. Consider how to leverage your total spend volume to get good deals.
You may be purchasing 300 room nights per year with one hotel chain but if you are doing this via a cocktail of online travel agent, the chain’s own website and hotel booking agencies, this won’t show in the consolidated data. Without that, you will be unable to leverage the total spend volume to gain a favourable rate. If all bookings are done in one place with a TMC, your Account Manager will have more data available and thus be able to negotiate better rates for you.
Having all the information in one place also allows you to practise corporate social responsibility by tracking your travellers. You will then be able to protect your travellers and get them rebooked and repatriated in case of a travel emergency
Before rushing headlong to get everyone booking online, just ask yourself about the true costs of doing it yourself.