Online booking tools (OBTs) are changing. They need to be ready for the returning demand from us travelers, as well as the new concerns we are bringing with us about business travel, like health and sustainability.
The changes are happening too fast for some of us but may not be fast enough for others.
Are travel managers looking to change their entire corporate online booking tool? Or are they still sufficiently satisfied with the existing recipe, only looking to add some new ingredients into the mix?
Let’s step into that kitchen and see for ourselves.
Changing times, changing recipe?
There have been many recent dizzying developments like the launch of online travel management platforms, the emergence of new machine-learning-driven profile engines, the entrance of transformative omnichannel booking ecosystems – these are just a few influencing factors that have shaken up the status quo for OBTs.
The tools need to be ready for new types of content like New Distribution Capability (NDC) – more about that later – and increased demand for team meetings for enterprises who’ve realized that changing workplace configurations and digitization are the future.
From a user experience perspective, some of us travelers long for a better business travel booking experience and complain that the corporate booking tools look and feel old. With the last online shopping experience freshly preserved in our consumer minds, we’re looking to have that same experience we’ve had with Amazon, finding recommendations or going to a travel.com site to be asked if we want to book that same itinerary again or a different one.
We want that feeling of being remembered and valued during the shopping experience – and our current corporate tool may not meet that expectation.
And then there’s another group of us that may say we want that change but, when the time comes, we become more concerned about having to learn something new that isn’t part of our job. It’s up to travel managers to argue that a new option would be worth exploring and getting familiar with.
How do travel buyers, as decision makers, justify the purchase of newer, better, and faster booking tools?
Today’s palate with an appetite for RFI
The truth is, they often don’t. Even with the changing expectations of the diner, there is proof that this doesn’t require a change of the entire recipe.
In fact, in a survey , travel managers state to be largely happy with their current online booking tools, with almost three-quarters of them saying they were satisfied or very satisfied. Just 2% said to be totally unsatisfied with their chosen tool.
Does this mean that it’s a market in which companies that already have an established booking tool may not be looking to change at all?
The short answer: no.
Some buyers that participated to the survey were willing to go out for requests for information (RFIs) either to influence their current provider to innovate or to see how the market is shaping up and what they need to be thinking about for the future.
What are the flavors the current dish needs to be delicious enough to be served?
For 65% of the travel buyers, “user-friendliness” does it. Travel buyers and procurement managers are keen to ensure travelers are satisfied, and in a world where individuals are used to user-friendly technology in their private lives, it’s no surprise that travel managers are trying to match that in the workplace, despite the challenges of doing so.
At second place, “compatibility with travel policy” was a priority for 55% of the survey respondents, signaling the critical need for travel managers to drive compliance through the travel booking workflow.
Right after, “customization” was rated by 52% as buyers look to deliver their company’s branding and messaging to travelers as they walk through the booking journey.
Cost is nearly always a driver of corporate decision-making, but the survey indicated this was only the fourth most important reason overall.
Making the menu
Even when satisfied about the current tool, travel managers find hearing “I found it cheaper online” from travelers very frustrating. And then it’s often the booking tool or booking partner’s limitations in gathering travel content that leads to this bad aftertaste.
So, what’s the winning content formula for a booking tool to be a success? In the survey, more than 40% of buyers said reach, source and appropriateness of content is important when choosing a booking tool.
When diving into how complete their booking tool’s provided content is across the four major content categories of air, accommodation, rail and car, buyers were convinced that air and accommodation content were complete or very complete with the same review result of car content in third place.
Relevant rail content on the other hand was lacking and a clear problem for many travel buyers. While in the US a lack of options overall can be blamed for this, in Europe it more likely reflects the huge fragmentation in the market for rail travel between countries and even within countries.
New Distribution Capability – or NDC content, as it’s known in the industry – is an emerging content channel to which booking tools can enable direct connections or access through an aggregator or some GDS providers that have opened their strategies accordingly.
NDC’s relative recent entry in the market makes it difficult to assess in a survey in terms of how comprehensively booking tools are set up to receive it. But it’s a channel with the capabilities that buyers assessing booking tools should be considering today to close the gap in booking content.
Now that we know what makes or breaks a well-functioning booking tool for travel managers, let’s not forget the ultimate indispensable ingredient: sustainability.
Organizational carbon reduction goals are widely considered one of the most powerful drivers in the push toward a more sustainable corporate travel ecosystem. Such initiatives however, typically set by corporate leadership, must be actionable at the level of the individual traveler to be fully effective.
As mentioned at the beginning of this blog post, sustainability is an important element for today’s business traveler. There’s probably nowhere else that a sustainability strategy has a bigger impact on employee behavior than within the context of the travel booking process.
With that in mind, many online booking tools and other providers have begun adding sustainability data to the mix, presenting the emissions associated with a given flight or ground transport option, or the carbon footprint of a particular hotel stay, within the OBT environment. Those calculations are based on a variety of government and non-governmental organizational methodologies, as well as proprietary methods.
According to supporters of the concept, by offering sustainability data alongside other key booking ingredients such as price, departure, arrival time and COVID-19-related hygiene and safety data, managed travel programs can equip travelers with the information they need – when and where they most need it – to drive more sustainable booking behavior.
As corporate travel gradually resumes, the opportunity is at the right temperature to elevate emissions as a top-of-mind consideration for travelers, ultimately infusing booking habits that will pay long-term benefits in corporate travel’s transition to a more sustainable future.
Getting the greens on the plate
When we have a look at which players have started to put sustainability data into the mix, we have to go back nearly a decade.
KDS’s Neo was among the earliest OBTs to include the concept of an in-booking carbon emissions indicator, offering a ‘greenest’ door-to-door itinerary option and leg-specific emissions figures when it launched in early 2013. Neo has since come under the ownership of American Express Global Business Travel – which acquired KDS in 2016 – and the TMC has continued to fine tune Neo’s emissions features.
Meanwhile, SAP Concur offers the ability to display sustainability data within its Concur Travel OBT, where it appears alongside other key booking information such as departure time and duration, as well as to sort search results by carbon emissions.
While badging preferred sustainable suppliers isn’t yet available, according to customers, travel managers can configure search results to highlight sustainable suppliers and deliver messaging to promote greener travel options, such as booking a train instead of a flight for shorter journeys. Searches can also be set to display multiple modes of transport on the same results screen to enable side-by-side comparisons based on emissions and other criteria.
The newer generation of Travel Management Companies (TMCs) or OBT hybrid providers are incorporating emissions tracking capabilities into their own platforms as well. Barcelona-based TravelPerk includes per-trip emissions measurements as part of its GreenPerk carbon mitigation service. This service gives clients data insights into their travel-related carbon footprint, which can be used to inform policy and supplier negotiations, along with the ability to purchase offsets.
Food for thought
Now that we know what’s included in the recipe for a successful online booking tool, we can say that overall, many corporates are happy that their existing tool and its key ingredients – content, user-friendliness, and the ability to customize to a company’s travel policy – meet the expectation levels set by the travel manager.
There is still room for improvement, however, and travel buyers are still looking to find out more, and plenty of established travel technology companies, start-up technologists, travel management companies are trying to capture that market.
The arrival of greater competition in the market will mean providers will have to innovate faster than ever in both product and services to win clients over and capture new customers coming into the market.
Sustainability is a crucial element in this offering and also NDC can play an important role in this to enable the access to more content, and with that close the gap and provide a richer user experience as well.
Ultimately, by adding flavor where needed for individual preferences, the travel managers can serve a dish that meets the expectations of those that taste it without having to change anything about the winning formula that the tool behind already is.
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Banner photo by Tamanna Rumee on Unsplash
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