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The Future of Travel Bookings


Cast your mind back ten years. While 2006 may not seem like such a distant memory, in the world of online booking tools, those 10 years could be considered a lifetime. At that time, online adoption was becoming well established in the USA, however it was still a relatively new phenomenon across Europe. As we entered the economic downturn of 2008, this area of our industry was given a huge boost. As companies cut costs from every angle, travel managers sought opportunities to work smarter with their Travel Management Company. With this desire to reduce costs, came an opportunity to enable travellers to book online as a key mobiliser.


As a result, we saw efficiencies brought to the booking process; with travellers having instant access to a range of content in a controlled environment via their TMC. It also struck a customer service cord, as it enabled travellers (who were already booking their own personal travel) to feel empowered and accountable for their business travel.


Having one good – or in some cases, multiple – online systems for their customers to take advantage of became a mandatory checklist item on RFPs for TMCs. Companies wanted to know which systems could be implemented and how they could deliver their organisation’s objectives. TMCs delivered on these needs – with the quickest and most cost-effective option being third party systems.


However, since this time, there has been an array of technological advancements which have forced changes in this arena. In a world where technology is moving faster than ever, what will the future dynamics of corporate travel booking look like?


A recent study of business travellers conducted by KDS (involving over 1200 UK & US business professionals in March 2016) looked into the booking behaviour and trends in travel and expense management. The study revealed that 74% of business travellers would prefer to book all aspects of their travel on one technology platform. However, only 34% see this as their reality. In fact, of the percentage of professionals who do not use one platform: 38% book directly with suppliers and the remaining 62% use a combination of their corporate booking tool, alongside direct bookings.


We need to ask ourselves why business travellers still prefer to book directly with their travel suppliers?


Always keen to bring value to their corporate customers, TMCs are focusing increasingly on their traveller experience. Having found gaps in solutions in the market, some TMCs are also successfully building user-friendly, market-focused solutions that are built around their customers’ requirements. Technology has enabled some of these TMCs to even integrate their online and offline environments to improve the user experience and increase agent productivity with some even offering more advanced platforms than the technology giants.


While corporate booking technology is evolving and developments in products and technology are moving faster than ever – is it a case that these corporate systems are simply struggling to keep up? Perhaps. We have seen that when an online system is able to offer complete content and replicate the consumer’s B2C experience, user adoption is high (up to 96% reported in some markets and systems). Conversely, when content is lacking or the booking process is cumbersome, market share shifts away, travellers book directly with their suppliers and Travel Managers are unable to keep an accurate record of spend and traveller whereabouts, which of course poses risks to the organisation’s travel programme.  


Technology providers today offer an evolving range of responses to this conundrum, with door-to-door travel being just one; the concept of the traveller being able to plan their journey from the moment they leave their house, right to the door of their meeting, encourages travellers to book their entire trip in the one system.


Another approach is for technology platforms to send booking details for direct supplier bookings back to the TMC to capture spend and traveller tracking using the “Open Booking” concept. While the booking occurs outside of the corporate booking tool, the system still allows tracking of spend and reporting. Other suppliers are providing content hubs for third party suppliers, to “plug in” their content using API connectivity which opens further supplier content and reduces the development effort for the technology provider themselves.


The ever-increasing trend to have expense systems linked into the end-to-end trip process also delivers huge efficiencies to the corporation.  By offering a fully integrated expense system, adoption of the online booking tool also increases, offering a further benefit to the corporation.


All things considered, there are a host of technology paths available, and the best route for travellers is perhaps not always clear.

 

As we look to the future, the landscape seems to shift again. When we consider upcoming trends – powerful, predictive and insightful analytics will play a key role in the future for Travel Managers. Machines are learning fast, and technology platforms are becoming increasingly able to connect the dots between different data sources. Suddenly, the reliance on having one central system to book everything becomes less important. We are now living in a world where bookings are fed through in real time and predictions of traveller behaviour are made possible based on previous trips and preferences. This means it should be possible to link the location of diary appointments and predict the full cost of a meeting, before any travel is even booked.  Some solutions already pre-empt full trip costs within a fully managed booking environment and are working towards a more personalised experience.


I predict a convergence of approaches. Data will become even more central to the Travel Manager, with predictive analytics being used to greater depth and skill. Mobile and ‘wearables’ will be the go-to technology, with many trips booked on the go. Platforms will be co-developed by contributors. Finally, the lines between business and leisure will be further blurred, both with regard to the traveller’s expectations and the technology they use.


How the travellers of tomorrow shape the future of corporate travel will be fascinating to watch and is exciting for our entire industry.


Marilyn Barnett
Distribution Manager, easyJet


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