What’s driving you online?

If you are sourcing a new corporate online booking tool (OBT) for your business, there is a fundamental question you should ask yourself before you go out to the market … what’s the core driver?

Are you looking at the OBT to reduce your agency booking fees, or is the primary driver to better enforce policy and preferred supplier arrangements.  Perhaps it’s because your travellers book on various sites today and you want to gain visibility on your true travel expenditure. Maybe you have a workforce of millennials who do everything else online and don’t see why their business travel should be any different.

Different OBTs will be stronger in different areas and once you’re clear on what your core objective is, you can focus your questions to agencies or technology providers to hone in on which tool is right for your business.

Reduced booking fees

For an agency to provide a significantly lower booking fees for online bookings; fees that are viable for their business over the long term, the OBT must help to take cost out of their business.  If the agency must manually handle any part of the booking that was made on line (for example changes, ticketing, non air components) then the agency cannot take out all of the human labour costs.  The more automated (or “touchless”) the booking process the lower the cost and hence the greater the ability to lower the fees.  Robots are cheaper.

If lower fee costs is your reason for going online, you want those online bookings to be fully automated, removing the person to person contact and associated higher fees.  Note, “removing the person to person contact” – the trade off for automation and  lower fees is taking the travel consultant, and their expertise, out of the equation.  There will always be complex travel that requires the smarts of the travel consultant and cannot (or should not) be booked online.  When these complex travel arrangements are involved, you can re-introduce the human touch, for a higher fee.  People are smarter.

The questions to ask when cost is the driver are around automation and integration.  For example:

  • What level of integration does the OBT have into the agency’s automated processes?
  • Does the OBT come with it’s own automation functionality?
  • How well does the OBT integrate with the agency’s GDS and mid office?  Can it truly enable automated ticketing for example?
  • What degree of automated quality checking is possible?
  • Does it enable online changes?
  • Can you book ancillary services, or do you need to call a person for that?  Ditto for low cost airlines, non GDS hotels, car transfers etc.
  • Will all your required reporting fields feed through automatically to reporting tools, or will some need to be manually added?

Remember every call to a consultant, or point in the process where a person needs to do something, makes it harder for the agency to keep costs down and pass on lower fees.

If you’re looking at contracting directly with an OBT technology provider, rather than using your agency’s offered tool, you need to discuss automation and integration with both the technology provider and the agency.  Will the third party OBT integrate into the agency’s existing infrastructure or will it add manual steps and cost?

Enforcing policy and/or preferred supplier agreements

If enforcing policy is your main driver, in this case you need an OBT that provides a high level of customisation and configuration.  For example, do you have different policies for different travellers, if so you want an OBT that can handle multiple policies and approval processes.

Some questions you may want to consider:

  • How customisable is it?  Can it handle multiple policy settings, such as by cost centre, destination (domestic versus international) or traveller type (eg VIP) for example?  What are the variables in your policy you need the tool to handle?
  • What is the level of compliance management?  Does it offer multiple approval processes?  Can it handle different approval levels for different travellers, departments, cost of trip, domestic versus international?  Can it apply caps for example capping hotel rates by city?
  • How is risk management handled?
  • Does the tool offer the option to enforce, or only guide compliance?
  • Does it have the ability to block airlines, destinations etc.
  • How about supplier management –  preferred suppliers, rate visibility etc.

The world is online

If your employees are pushing you to offer more of the travel booking experience online, then usability and integration are going to be key focus areas.

  • Usability – how does it compare to the other online sites (not just travel) your employees are using today – is it simple and intuitive?  Can it be used without a training manual?
  • Integration of multiple content sources (for example seating requests, low cost carriers, non GDS hotels, taxis etc) – to keep your travellers in the tool and not going out to other sites for additional content or services.
  • Ability to search, book and change on multiple devices.

Of course you may want it all, in which case there is a long list of questions you should be asking your agency or technology supplier before deciding on which OBT is best for you.  And don’t be shy about asking for a demonstration with scenarios supplied by you that show exactly how the tool would work in your world – wouldn’t you always take a car for a test drive before buying it?

Finally, be open with your agency about the desired outcome of an OBT change (or the move online if your company is just venturing there), the more they understand your drivers, the better they can work with you to determine the right tool for you.  Additionally their understanding of how a change in tool will impact, or be impacted by, their current infrastructure will ensure both parties have the full picture on the true value of the change.