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Why a traveler-focused booking experience is important for TMCs

Oct 28, 2019

by Sarah Bock, Director of Account Management

One of the most important things that I am witnessing today in the travel world is the opportunity for corporate travel management companies (TMCs) to better meet and ultimately surpass traveler expectations. Traditionally, TMCs have been focused on what’s best for corporations, who, in turn, have been keen to keep costs down and within policy. For executives the aim has typically been to consolidate and cut the cost of business travel, as well as outsource the logistics that come with managing a mobile workforce. The systems and policies that have persisted operate within a framework that both TMCs and the corporations whom they serve have, more or less, been happy with. This has held true for many, many years. It’s time things change for the benefit of the travelers themselves.

Employees have long been accepting of this paradigm, knowing that when it comes to business travel, the options and processes available to them have already been decided and documented in official company travel program guidelines. Need to book flights and a hotel for a meeting? These are the steps you need to take, the tool you need to use, the budget you need to stick to and so on. The idea of an ‘experience’ that puts the needs and preferences of the corporate traveler first…well, that’s not always been a consideration. It’s just about getting people from A to B.

Not much has evolved and progressed in the corporate travel booking experience – to the increasing detriment of TMCs and business travelers. Against a backdrop of innovation that is transforming the way people search for and book travel, corporate alternatives have seemingly stalled, stuck in a kind of time warp. They now feel outdated: systems are slow, choices are limited, and functionality is clunky.

While employees would have largely complied in the past, accepting that they had no real alternative choice, today’s business traveler is far less inclined to be compliant. They are much more informed and far less tolerant than before. These corporate travelers are now accustomed to personalized and fluid leisure travel booking experiences that offer up relevant and curated options, and they’re left wondering why their corporate travel booking experiences are so rigid and antiquated.

The result is apathy and widespread rejection. As Expedia Partner Solutions (EPS), the B2B partnership brand of Expedia Group for whom I work, noted in the 2018 trends report, How TMCs are keeping up with the corporate traveler, business travelers are snubbing official tools in even greater numbers and opting to make arrangements elsewhere. We found, for example, that a whopping 68% of corporate travelers now book half or more of their travel outside of approved channels. That’s no small number. And this inevitably results in poor hotel attach rates and an inability for TMCs meet their duty of care responsibilities.

Why isn’t this surprising? Visit most major OTA’s websites, for instance, and you’ll generally find that the consumer travel offering and experience is a world away from the average business travel offering and experience. There’s more choice, better rates (including compelling package rates and competitive deals), richer content (e.g. high-quality images, clear descriptions, helpful reviews) and, increasingly, a greater level of personalization.

I firmly believe that at EPS,machine learning is changing the game. Through our machine learning capabilities, TMCs can create a more relevant, consumer-like experience. While we have over 600,000 properties and a range of pre-pay, post-pay, package rates and deals, we ultimately help our travel partners understand which properties to highlight to their travelers and when, driving hotel attach and conversion and removing friction from the customer journey.

Corporate travelers expect a seamless experience, whether booking on a mobile device or desktop while on the move or in the office. The booking tool should be easy to use, flexible, personalized and put the traveler in even greater control (for example, if you book via, you can sort your search results by price, best deals, guest rating or distance to point of interest and filter by property class, price and property type – among many others).

Contrast that with the current corporate travel tools. The user experience is far from intuitive, property types on offer are limited, incentives are lacking, and sort results are often heavily biased towards a particular chain, all to the detriment of the traveling employee. One can begin to see why traditional TMCs are experiencing leakage (as well as other challenges, like low hotel attach rates and maintaining a duty of care).

The solution to all of this is clear: focus on the needs of the traveler first and foremost. It requires a shift in thinking, a change in company culture and, of course, investment in technology and expertise. It’s a worthwhile shift and an absolute necessity to succeed in the long-term. Maintaining current practices and tools isn’t sustainable. Traditional TMCs and corporate travel disruptors alike need to provide corporate travel options in a way that their travelers expect.

Here's my advice - deliver a booking experience that’s not too dissimilar to what corporate travelers enjoy as leisure travel consumers -- easy-to-use and device agnostic. It should act as a portal to a rich supply of carefully considered content (offering more relevant choice, competitive rates and greater availability). More than ever before, the experience should be highly customizable.

Creating a positive booking experience for travelers need not come at the expense of the corporation or corporate travel policy either. These activities should drive a reduction in off-channel bookings. Attach rates should increase, employees should be happier, and their time spent within the booking tools creating their trips should decrease. That’s a win for executives, a win for travelers and, a win for TMCs and other corporate travel providers. Business travel shouldn’t be a chore. It should be a smooth and personalized experience and that’s what I aim to deliver to all corporate travel entities partnering with EPS.

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