Travel technology will be showcased at the upcoming CAPA Corporate Travel Innovation Summits, supported by the Association of Corporate Travel Executives (ACTE). Ahead of the next event, inSydney on 3 August, guest contributor Allan Leibowitz looks at the current state of travel technology and some developments on the horizon.
Technology is a great enabler, and it has been widely adopted in corporate travel. Over the past decade and a half, organisations have moved to online self-booking, with some now doing more than 90% of their bookings online.
However, self-booking has not been universally adopted and there are still obstacles to its implementation and use.
And while many in the travel supply chain are focused on booking technology, the industry faces a new challenge – the need for mobile solutions, with travellers demanding access to information and the ability to make and change bookings on the move, using hand-held devices.
The mobile revolution has provided opportunities for travel technology companies, their travel management company intermediaries and for end-users, with a host of new applications now on offer.
However, integrating all of these solutions and ensuring they work for the benefit of all in the supply chain remains an ongoing challenge.
Self-booking reaches maturity
Many would argue that the biggest advance in corporate travel in the past two decades has been the move to self-booking, with travellers able to complete their bookings online without the need for travel consultant assistance.
Despite accelerated adoption in the early years, online booking appears to have stalled. According to Kurt Knackstedt, CEO of Troovo and an experienced industry veteran who has worked both as a supplier and a buyer, “the same issues remain today as they were five years ago, where we started to see adoption plateau”.
The main reasons, he argues, revolve around the user experience and content.
“In Australia, we don’t have that much issue with content as the majority of domestic business travel options are easily accessed via the OBTs (online booking tools), but once you get to international bookings or alternative content sources such as hotel aggregation websites, the corporate OBTs still don’t quite hit the mark.”
Kaylene Shuttlewood, general manager, Pacific at Travelport, believes online self-booking is “easy for a one-stop round trip, but might be quite difficult for a round trip that has multiple stops – which is quite common for business travellers”.
She sees reluctance to change as another factor.
Tim Nichols, chief product officer at Serko, sees no reason why domestic and trans-Tasman bookings should be done outside the OBTs. “Our best clients are up at the 95% mark for domestic and trans-Tasman. But the majority of clients (70% of bookings) are still using our OBT as part of their centralised booking function, which means we’ve automated an admin function rather than removed an admin function (which is a much more interesting challenge).”
Nichols concedes that a fair percentage of international booking still goes offline. “I’m not sure people trust the OBT to do a good job of handling complex international transactions – and probably with some good reason.
“There’s no real reason why all of domestic, trans-Tasman and point-to-point international stuff shouldn’t be pushed through the OBT. The barriers … probably still relate to understanding or training more than any other factor,” he explains.
Karen McLeod, head of product at Sabre Pacific, sees online booking adoption continuing to rise, but concedes that “no one booking tool fits every corporate traveller’s requirements, and therefore some travellers will still choose to contact their TMC offline”.
“Similar to the challenges around implementing 100% automation, in order to provide differentiated services, agencies sometimes need to offer solutions outside of the technology they use in order to win business in the short term. These offline processes are forever changing and require development into the online booking tools.”
Impact on mandating on OBT adoption
Tony Carter, managing director of Amadeus IT Pacific, explains that travel policies can be more complex for international travel – often with more levels of approvals needed. Travel class is usually based on a wide range of criteria, very different to local travel policies, with some locations even on the ‘no-go’ list, he says.
“Businesses want to be 100% sure that an online booking tool can manage this level of complexity before committing to it. They want to be confident that a traveller can book everything they need online – which often includes more than air and hotel.
“Offline bookings will always have a place in the travel lifecycle; however, with the evolution of online booking tools today, more bookings could be made online,” he adds, pointing out that Amadeus e-Travel Management (AeTM) is designed to manage complex policies and international itineraries and to seamlessly add hotel and car bookings.
Murray Warner, director of business development – Asia Pacific at Concur, agrees that access to content can be a challenge.
Other reasons for the lack of universal adoption, he says, include travellers (such as contractors) not always having access, suppliers approaching travellers with incentives to book directly with them and “travellers simply preferring a different booking experience than that offered in the booking tool”.
Jo O’Brien, chief executive officer of Tramada Systems, believes there’s nothing standing in the way of universal adoption and wider usage. “If businesses aren’t embracing self-booking, it’s because they don’t want to, their TMC isn’t helping them or they’re using the wrong technology and tools,” she points out.
Hans Belle, vice president and general manager APAC of Sabre Travel Network, whose stable includes the pioneering GetThere tool, agrees that adoption is a management issue: “The trend we are seeing in Australia is mandating the usage of OBT and we witness this across both mid-market and large organisations.”
In similar vein, Concur’s Warner points out that adoption of booking tools can be increased by “setting a policy (read mandate) as to the booking process and actually having repercussions if it’s not followed”.
But Warner sees mandating as only part of the solution. To ensure compliance, he explains, it is necessary to integrate the booking process and the expense management system.
“Ultimately, … even a highly managed/highly mandated travel programme will not achieve universal adoption, and therefore, even those programmes will continue to seek the ability to obtain the data they require to properly understand where T&E (travel and entertainment) dollars are being spent. That requires a platform with both travel and expense integration, but also integration with suppliers to capture receipts, invoices and itineraries.”