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For Business, Corporate Travel & Meeting Buyers & Arrangers

Buyer’s Guide: bed down a programme

Constant monitoring and reacting to traveller feedback are essential for success

Kevin Carr is part of the travel management team at UBS with responsibility for the global accommodation programmes. The role covers RFP (request for proposal) management, vendor management, smart programme intelligence and the global strategy for the managed accommodation programme. “After the initial loading of an agreed corporate rate, you have to go through quite a vigorous audit to filter out the errors such as hotels that have loaded incorrectly or not all,” he says. “It probably takes three rounds to get to a satisfactory conclusion. Mistakes could be because of the complexity of the deals, seasonal rates, different rate types, single/double occupancy, additions and inclusions, multiple hotels in different brands – and that is on several GDSs and through multiple travel agencies.”

Carr recommends that an audit be done after the RFP to check that hotels have received instructions and what is loaded is accurate. “Go through rates regularly and check they are still loaded because they can drop out and hotels can make changes,” he says.

1 Lanyon does a rate parity and availability audit for us every six months and checks the rate loading at the same time, although generally, I think you only need to check rate loading twice during the length of the contract. We also do the RFP through Lanyon, which checks availability in the GDS and tries to match its booking window, which is about 14 days before departure, checking at given points over the next four weeks, Monday to Thursday. It also checks UBS’s top hotels’ availability in the GDS on the UBS corporate rate. There is not much point in having a corporate rate with a hotel if you never get access to it.

2 Whether you outsource hotel procurement depends on the maturity and size of your programme, whether you want to work with chains, have independent hotels and chains or just luxury, the value of your partnerships and the structure of your organisation. UBS has done it itself, but it takes a lot of effort and resource, and UBS has invested in that – not every company has those levels of resource.

3 UBS has KPIs for demand and tracks advance booking days, average daily rate, room nights and user satisfaction. It has a bespoke engagement survey tool that is sent out to travellers when they return from a trip, asking for feedback on air, hotel, car, all elements of the business trip. It enables UBS to measure overall the products and service offered by hotels. It’s a very simple survey, thumbs up or thumbs down, and a thumbs down gets a direct response from travel management. UBS has had to remove hotels from the programme. If you don’t ask for feedback you won’t get any and you might assume that everything is fine, when actually it’s not.

4 Travel policy needs to state clearly that all bookings should go through the correct channels for duty-of-care, policy management, compliance, etc. You need to follow up with people who are going out of the programme. By matching agency bookings with card and expense bookings, you can identify those who have not booked through the travel agency, and can challenge and educate them. We also have a hotel attachment programme and anybody making a booking through the booking tool or agency – who has an overnight stay but hasn’t booked a hotel – is asked why. There can be reasons for this, such as staying with family and friends. If anybody is not providing the right information, we educate them about why it is important they book through the tool or the agency. The programme has been well communicated and will help us deliver less leakage.

5 For compliance, you need to measure the average rate against the corporate rate because you need to know people are not booking higher room categories. If the average rate is more than 10 per cent higher than the corporate rate, we challenge hotels in order to understand why. You have to manage your programme throughout the lifecycle of the contract; manage demand and availability, and manage the vendor. It takes a lot of effort.

6 The parity audit checks over four weeks on mid-week nights, what hotels are offering on the same conditions as the corporate rate via other channels such as Expedia, Booking.com and hotels’ own websites. The parity audit is to check that hotels are not regularly selling at less than our corporate rates. People often say they can get a lower rate on the internet, but we can show clearly that, over 95 per cent of the time, our corporate rate is the lowest rate available. We find those results very valuable. However, it is a very dynamic environment and there are lots of promotions, tactical offers etc, so you never get 100 per cent parity. And you want people to have the ability to stay in a hotel over the weekend at less than the corporate rate because they have got late availability. You can’t expect the corporate rate to be the lowest 100 per cent of the time.

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