04 May 2020

Self-booking tools – the way forward for Business Travel after COVID-19 crisis

Travel Management Companies (TMC) as all travel sectors, took a serious hit during the last 3 months since all businesses suddenly stopped their travel arrangements or postponed most of their plans to an indefinite term due to coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19). No one knows exactly when business travel will come back but one thing is certain: it will return but it will be changed, as experts anticipate both short- and long-term transformation.

Change, the positive one – this is our approach for this article. What can be done by TMCs to adapt to the “new normal”, stay afloat and be as efficient as possible. We’re not experts on travel but we are with technology, with the one that can work in TMC’s benefit.

Automation and self-support during and after COVID-19

Nowadays automation and self-support are the keywords on the lips of every travel professional trying to predict the next steps of travel. Automation is not only for the future but as for the current situation as well. Dozens of companies in travel are already using automated systems to handle the cancelations. One of them stated in a recent article in Phocuswire that “when you get a sudden spike in cancellations of bookings accumulated over a few months compressed into a few days” you need automated systems by your side.

While human touch is important in managing emotions, this crisis has shown how crucial technology is at the back-end. “It is important for us and other travel companies to have a tech back-office operation which is equally as important as bookings” stated Caesar Indra, CEO, Traveloka.

The corporate travel sector already has a digital solution for automation and self-support and we all know it. It’s called corporate self-booking tool (or CSBT) and it has been on the market for quite a while. The first commercially available online booking tools for corporate travel were developed in the 1990s but only in the 2000s, the solution was first recognized as inevitable for the future of efficient corporate travel booking. We say efficient because that’s the key to driving down costs and booking time for both TMCs and Corporations.

CSBT – the lowest transactional cost method of purchasing travel

It’s real and we’ve found several articles and studies proving it. While the technology-enabled, traveler-booked reservation costs a corporation from $4 to $8 in agency fees, an assisted booking through a call center will reach from $15 to $65 per reservation. Ok from the TMCs point of view and this could be a great selling point of the self-booking tool.

How about the real costs supported by travel companies after the pandemic crisis with the human resources, with the dedicated account for each corporate client? It will be far higher than a few simple commission could bring per assisted booking. The corporations will search for a lower cost in everything, even in business travel. Let’s be realistic, all the industries have been affected by the pandemic so cost-cutting will be if it isn’t already a priority.

Credits, late payments or simply payments – a future issue for the TMCs

During the crisis, the TMCs will need to minimize their costs and automate as much as possible and if they don’t have any automation tools now would be the right time to acquire or build them. After the imminent downgrade of business travel and minimum 1 year later, until the activities go back on track at the level of last year, the travel companies will take good care of their budgets and expenses so the exposure in the market should be carefully controlled.

The relation between a travel management company and a corporate client is governed by the vulnerability of the cash flow since most corporations imposed that the payment from their side to be done after the booking has been made, 45-60 days later. Unfortunately, for the next semesters, most TMCs will no longer afford to offer so many benefits to the corporate clients, since they won’t have any cash flow available to sustain the business with late payments, credits, dedicated accounts and so on. Here is where automation and self-support come in hand.

Although it is not yet intensively debated it is possible that the concept of “credit” in the travel market to disappear, if not forever at least for a while. And if it will no longer exist the corporation won’t be able to turn to it, so new payment methods will rise, such as credit cards or virtual credit cards. For the corporate account in will mean pay on the spot. For the TMCs it will translate in less risky situations and rapid cashing.

To use the self-booking tool or not? That is the business travel question

Although there are several CSBT online, already available, the real struggle of TMCs is there and everybody in the industry aware of it. Why aren’t the corporate clients using the company booking tools provided? While most of the modern travel management companies have shifted to online tools in the past years, getting the corporations’ employees to use the self-booking tool is still a great challenge.

Well, Skift – one of the largest media companies dedicated to travel industry news, conducted an interesting study about self-booking tools adoption, where they’ve found why travel managers are so reluctant in working with a CSBT. Skift’s authors found out that poor user experience, lack of education around how to use booking platforms and price were the main reasons, expressed by the business travel managers, for not using the technology tools available at their fingertips.

Reasons for reluctancy to self booking tools from corporations from Skift media

Source: Skift and ACTE

While the struggle is real and on a global scale, we’ve found some solutions to counteract, for the TMCs to adopt up-to-date booking tools and use their power of persuasion to convince the corporate client to use the self-booking tools offered.

Offer your corporate clients travel variety alongside lower prices

Sounds ideal and fortunately, it is true. TMCs have now the possibility to offer their corporates the chance to add in their systems the corporate negotiated rates with particular hotels or large hotel chains. They can also add the negotiated rates with affiliates such as large OTAs like booking.com, Expedia, HRS, etc. So their negotiated rates should be the best available for them and this is how they can capitalize on their negotiation power.

On top, the TMC can add their API travel suppliers and offer to the corporates additional offers, bringing them a variety of choices and lower rates. So by connecting to as many travel APIs as possible, the TMCs will attract more its corporate clients with a rich offer and low prices for them to assure continuous self-bookings instead of just browsing for the BAR and booking elsewhere. This way the business travel managers will use the tool, not as a price comparer but rather as a technology solution and a great deal booking tool.

Choose an OTA-like self-booking tool for the UX, speed, look and feel sensation

65% of the population are visual learners so it’s imperative to make your corporate booking tool as memorable as possible. Add clients’ corporate logo, their fonts and colors, make the user feel comfortable while browsing through the platform. Ask your software provider to offer personalization services and to grant a beautiful User Experience. These are just some of the key elements that large OTAs have and keep on developing on a yearly base.

The world-renowned OTA booking.com has other “secrets” to make the users keep coming back to its online portal. The UX, UI, engaging descriptions, content and the most important – SPEED.

Since we’ve reached a sensible topic – OTA like speed, note that even with dozens of APIs connected at the same time the system must work smoothly and bring the results in 2 maximum 3 seconds. Business managers don’t have the time to wait indefinitely, time is precious so take really good care of this issue and don’t neglect it in the favor of design.

If you want corporate clients to constantly use your self-booking tool, offer them an intuitive and delightful booking experience, highly flexible with the same look and feel as if they were booking their personal travel. They’ll love it and keep coming back to it.

Personal training, documentation and assistance are still mandatory for the self-booking to work

For a corporate self-booking tool to be adopted and repeatedly used, business travelers need to understand what is it for, how it works and why it’s good for them and their business. The travel companies should ask from the tech provider the documentation and should always make training sessions with the corporate clients, preferable in small teams to offer dedicated support and assistance once they encounter questions or problems. They should provide online video tutorials and help them through all the processes, even if it means that once a new team is formed to redo the whole training.

If the tech provider makes updates on the booking tool the travel management companies should inform the corporate clients of the new upgrades. So communication is crucial between the parts but once a training session is done the travel agent just has to assist the business traveler only for particular requests or difficult changes. This means less pressure for travel agents, less work and in the end efficiency since the travel company won’t be needing so many human resources to personally book for each corporate client.

ACTE study on corporate booking tool adoption

Source: The Association of Corporate Travel Executives

Duty of care, travel policies, lack of reporting – just a few corporate managers’ concerns

The Association of Corporate Travel Executives with American Express Global Business Travel showed in a recent study that travel managers are worried that their employees will lack the duty of care or will book outside the booking policy or will simply ignore to make savings for the company. This situation could be easily controlled with the right systems.

For the business traveler not to book outside the departments’ budget or other limitations (class restrictions, hotel stars), strict travel policies are in order and the person in charge of the business travel can easily add them for each department, branch, management level etc. It’s just a “one-click away” operation. Moreover, the manager can define authorization flows and set specific user roles and restrictions for each of them.

For the BAR rates, as stated above, the TMC will need as many travel inventory sources as possible from various travel APIs, corporate negotiated rates and own contracts.

Constant reporting and instant invoicing

Ask your tech provider to offer additional tools that the corporates can rely on. Large companies depend on expense reports to make annual budgeting and to analyze the travel expenses. So implementing a BI and Reporting tool is not only preferable but mandatory.

Business Intelligence & Reporting Tool - wbe.travel

An expense report on a particular department or branch or even on an employee’s activity can really come in hand for the travel manager or team leader. A specific report on a hotel chain can offer your corporate the negotiating power for next semester/year booking projections and so on.

A finance module will provide the TMC the power of cashback. The invoicing processes can be easily automated. The TMC can personalize the billing time and if it will be sent automatically at a specific date or instantly if the account decides to send it at an earlier date.

At last, consider adding more services to your portfolio: travel insurances, rent a car, transfers

Avoid extra cancelations for your corporate clients and offer them a portfolio of business travel insurance providers. You can also allow them to connect their contracted insurance partners in the Mid & Back Office module to ensure each business trip.

A business traveler will need the whole package of services for its trip. So besides the basic ones such as flights, accommodation consider adding transportation services such as rent a car or transfers. These additional services will only bring more bookings from your clients and they can be easily done via API connectivity from your tech supplier. A rich portfolio of services will only attract your customer more. Moreover, having all the services in one source the travel manager can easily track all the travel expenses, issue reports and report further to top managers.

Early signs of recovery and preparations

In a recent study conducted by Global Business Travel Association about a third of the association’s corporate travel managers said they expected business travel to resume in the next two months, while about one-fifth said in three months.

While predictions are up and running there are several companies already preparing for the future business travel. Recently, Ernst & Young signed up for a certification system app that allows its employees to demonstrate their immunity to authorities when required, based on the results of Covid-19 antibody testing. The consultancy giant chose the CoronaPass app initially to help its own employees and other businesses return to work but once it’s trialed internally the company can use it for its travel team with a global spend of $2.2 billion on travel, says Skift.

In conclusion

It’s not enough for travel management companies to offer online self- booking tools and expect corporations to use and adopt them. TMCs need to not only make sure corporate clients and their employees know how to use them but also do a better job at keeping them informed, trained and up-to-date with the digital trends. Efforts need to be done from both sides but with a deeper interest from the TMCs side to gain efficiency, stay afloat and in the end survive and thrive.

For more information about wbe.travel’s self-booking tools or simple corporate booking tools visit our dedicated page or ping us at sales@wbe.travel for a one-on-one direct demonstration and personal advocacy.

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