The hot topic across business at the moment is gamification. We find out who is using it and what it means for the travel industry
GAMIFICATION IS THE USE of games in real life situations to influence behaviour. For example, every time you buy a coffee from a certain shop, you may get a stamp, and when you have acquired 10 stamps you are rewarded with a free coffee. Rewards for loyal behaviour is common in travel, too. Consumers enjoy an upgrade for flying with the same airline, or stretch out in their suites with champagne after collecting loyalty points with one hotel brand.
Alastair Cole is head of creative services at Essence, an agency that works on digital marketing with clients such as Expedia. He says: “On a basic level gamification is pushing psychological buttons, and if you give people something they aren’t expecting – a reward – it keeps people excited and engaged.”
The suggestion is that if people are rewarded for their ‘good’ behaviour, they are more likely to behave. Rewards can be anything from regularly publishing the top 10 most best-behaved travellers on the company intranet, to giving them a one-to-one with the CEO – or even a holiday.
If a traveller is rewarded for sticking to policy, they are more likely to comply and, by introducing games to help travellers connect their behaviour to company goals, travel managers can get closer to achieving ‘better than policy’ behaviour.
Claudia Unger, director of research and intelligence at BCD Travel, spoke at a recent ACTE-Management Solutions (UK) (ACTE-MSUK) travel forum about how BCD plans to use gamification to drive compliance. “We are developing a programme where travellers compete against each other, thus driving compliance,” she told travel buyers. “If they book three weeks in advance they get 50 points, for three days in advance 10 points, and they get no points if they book on the day of travel. They have to be compliant to get higher points.”
But why should travellers be rewarded for staying within policy? Surely they should be booking in advance as a matter of course, or staying with the preferred hotel without a second thought. Unger concedes: “It is true they should be compliant and should not need to be incentivised, but sometimes travellers just don’t remember their policies – so it can help people to remember when they are on the road.”
At the forum, several buyers expressed their disappointment in gamification being hailed as the new process to drive compliance. One buyer said: “Why do we think travel is so special? Why should employees who don’t travel have to take company computers and company phones home and work with what they are given [rather than a computer brand or phone brand of their choice], whereas travellers have to be kept happy. Why can’t they comply like everyone else?”
Another travel buyer said it should be the policy and processes in place which help drive compliance – not incentivise people to do as they are told. “I don’t like the word ‘mandate’,” the buyer said. “Our travel policy is mandated but you can go and get something out of policy signed off.
If a traveller doesn’t ask for sign-off then they won’t get their expenses approved – so our compliance is already really high.”
Another travel buyer added: “If people go out of policy, then we name and shame them” – punishing people for bad behaviour, which is almost the opposite of gamification.
HRG group commercial director Stewart Harvey points out that if people are not complying then companies should be looking at why: “The more fundamental points to consider are the way business is forecasted and budgeted. The big challenge is how companies look at their own culture. Do they want to encourage people to be good citizens, or do they expect them to be good citizens anyway?”
The bigger picture
Instead of seeing gamification as incentivising travellers to follow policy, some people are looking at the bigger picture. By increasing compliance, data and total cost of trip can be more accurately measured. So on the surface the traveller may be rewarded, but with greater compliance the buyer is rewarded with more accurate data, less leakage and more bargaining power for higher levels of loyalty.
HRG’s Harvey says: “We are seeing more people getting control on expenses so they can see what is being spent on taxis and meals – it is no longer about policy, it is more about total cost of trip.”
Another buyer at the ACTE-MSUK forum made the point that there are other ways of preventing leakage, and gamification is not necessary. “If people can book outside of the tool, then other reporting aspects will pick it up – through the expense management system in place,” they said. “If you educate travellers as a whole then you drive compliance, and that benefits the whole company.”
Despite the doubts, gamification is in use in the corporate travel sector. Take Google: a BCD white paper last year, The Customer Always Knows Best, talked about how Google uses gamification with its company travellers: “The company wraps incentives around the travel programme that encourage employees to search for better deals; those who find them are able to bank half the savings in a business travel account that they can apply to future trips on which they might want to spend beyond the benchmark caps – or they can donate the amount to a charity of their choice.”
Essence’s Alastair Cole explains that business travellers are the perfect people to target with games on their mobiles. They have the time, waiting in the airport lounge or in the taxi queue, to check into an app or update what they are doing. Cole is convinced that by gently offering reminders of policy (through games), behaviour can change. He says: “Gamification is everywhere, but from a business travel point of view there is the ability to bring a new dimension.”
It’s perhaps no surprise that Google is so far ahead of the game in controlling travellers on a policy scale, but suppliers have been applying these techniques for years. Apart from the airlines and hotels, which trade on loyalty, some travel management companies also reward loyal clients.
Corporate Traveller UK general manager Graeme Milne says: “We believe gamification works. We have had two different client-facing gamification schemes in place for some time and they are popular with clients and continue to be very successful.” In one scheme, Corporate Traveller UK uses a web-based loyalty programme designed for travel bookers. CT Loyalty is an interactive online programme providing individual rewards to travel bookers. Reward points are earned for each booking made with Corporate Traveller UK and once a travel booker has accrued sufficient points to qualify, they can select rewards, such as cinema vouchers, electronic goods and holidays. Since its launch in March 2010 the programme has already attracted 1,200 members.
Milne says: “CT Loyalty benefits our clients on two levels – first, clients see increased cost efficiencies because their travel bookers are consolidating all activity through one consultancy; second, travel bookers are being rewarded for better travel practices.”
Essence’s Alastair Cole agrees with the softly-softly approach: “Saying to someone who books a lot of business travel ‘change what you are doing right now’ is not going to work, but gamification allows for small actions on a regular basis, which breaks the process of change down.”
Milne adds: “As yet we haven’t used gamification as a way of keeping travellers within policy, but we wouldn’t rule it out for the future.”
And what of the future? Business Travel Show director David Chapple doesn’t believe gamification is the only way forward for compliance. In a discussion on Buying Business Travel’s LinkedIn group, Chapple said: “Some travel buyers are actually relaxing policy and, instead of stamping down on rogue travellers as they would have done previously, or ‘influencing’ their decisions through bribes, they are giving them price parameters and more freedom than ever. Technology has enabled travellers to book through public apps and websites, and managers still have the visibility of all of these bookings, thanks to a number of new products that feed all the information back to their corporate databanks. So rogue travellers can still feel rebellious and managers can still keep them within policy and know where they are.”
There is also an argument that perhaps the sector has been slow to adopt these new initiatives because the industry is made up of different generations. Generation Y is armed with tablets, smartphones and apps galore, and perhaps this jars with the older generation, who have managed fine without. But Alastair Cole disagrees: “I think gamification works across the board, because you’re never too old to play games. It keeps you alive and mentally agile – everyone likes playing.”
In travel, gamification is still in its early days, and the rules are still being written. Whether it is used to drive compliance, prevent leakage or just keep people loyal, technology and resources will play a big part in its success.
HOW COULD GAMIFICATION WORK IN THE TRAVEL ARENA?
Here are some aspects of behaviour to consider tracking and rewarding…
• Booking preferred suppliers
• Use of value-priced/limited-service hotels
• Booking flights and hotels well in advance
• Not checking-in a bag for a short trip
• Using off-airport parking
• Taking a free shuttle or public transport to the hotel rather than using a taxi
• Complying with security department recommendations for trip safety
• Checking in with home office when arriving at a high-risk destination
• Using the gym while on the road
• Rating hotels/car rental companies on the company social network
• Completing expense reports 48 hours after the trip
Source: BCD Travel