Is the concept of Managed Travel 2.0 the way forward, a lot of hot air – or simply a bad idea? Amon Cohen investigates the latest buzz phrase in business travel
WHAT IS MANAGED TRAVEL 2.0?
THE KEY ELEMENTS:
- Shop anywhere
- Book anyone – so long as the supplier is safe
- Book anywhere – so long as the employer gets the data fast
- Book anything – so long as the trip is in budget
Source: Scott Gillespie and Evan Konwiser, 2012
RUDIGER BRUSS, global category manager for travel and mobility with the German automotive company Continental, is a keen student of British television comedy. Ask him about the much-vaunted concept of Managed Travel 2.0 (MT2.0), also known as consumerisation or open booking (and many other aliases besides), and the show he instantly invokes is Yes, Prime Minister.
“There is always a point,” Herr Bruss tells Buying Business Travel, “where Sir Humphrey says: ‘This is a very interesting idea.’ MT2.0 is an ‘interesting idea’, but it is just that. Frankly, I do not see any of it being applicable to a large corporation.”
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In case you have recently holidayed on Mars, or anywhere else inaccessible to the world’s business travel media, MT2.0 is based on a belief that travel managers will soon have to bin much in their rule books for travellers. Pressure from iPad- and smartphone-wielding employees for greater freedom to make their own smart booking choices will force policies to become far more flexible about which suppliers travellers book, and the channels through which they book them. As a result, the theory goes, travel managers will have to find new ways to influence travellers to make the right decisions, and new ways to monitor spend and trip selections across a much more diverse range of booking channels.
THE GENERATION GAP
The case for MT2.0 has been made very eloquently by Jennifer Steinke, Arizona-based director of corporate travel, meetings and expense for US Foods. Quoted in a recent white paper from Airplus International and ACTE, entitled The Future of Compliance – Should Travel Managers Loosen or Tighten Policy?, Steinke directly contradicts peers such as Bruss.
“Very few travel managers are ready for it, but they are wrong if they think the landscape won’t change in the next two years,” Steinke says. In her view, travellers are already acting independently, typically checking fares on several consumer websites before reluctantly switching to make their reservations through the official booking tool. She contrasts the queries she receives from older and younger employees about the company booking tool. “The older ones contact me to say: ‘I can’t log on’. The younger ones ask questions like: ‘Can I get the tool on my iPad?’ ‘Can I use the app that I like?’ and ‘Can I book elsewhere?’” she says.
WHO KNOWS BEST?
Since time immemorial, travellers have irritated travel managers by claiming to find a better fare through unofficial channels, and since time immemorial travel managers have usually proved the supposedly cheaper fare fails to take extras charges into account or carries much less flexible conditions. However, Steinke believes that has changed. “The traveller does know better now,” she says. “They have the tools to hand.”
Another advocate of change quoted in the white paper is Lori O’Connell, who heads up US travel and meetings programmes for PWC (Pricewaterhouse Coopers). “What is making us pause to reflect is the emergence of mobility along with new ways to capture data,” says O’Connell. “The average age of our travellers is 27. They are very accustomed to smartphones and tablets, and they want more independence in how they manage their own travel. Three years down the line, our travel programme may be about making sure corporate discounts are available beyond our usual booking channels and aggregating the booking information regardless of how the reservation is made. It would be a mistake to remain stuck in the current position of requiring travellers to use the official booking channel and comply with a rigid policy. I’m thinking more about the carrot than the stick.”
In sharp contrast, Bruss detects no restlessness among the natives, even the digital ones. “Neither I nor my colleagues in human resources are receiving complaints or suggestions for improvement on this issue, and I don’t see any more travellers saying they can find a better rate than usual,” he says. “Every time we look into it, we find the travellers’ fare is not comparable or that the travel management company [TMC] can also find the fare or an even better one.”
TOEING THE LINE
A survey of 305 ACTE buyer members for the Airplus/ACTE white paper proves that Bruss’s views align with the overwhelming majority of travel managers. Only 15 per cent of respondents are dissatisfied with their current levels of policy compliance. What is more, 53 per cent believe their travellers have become more compliant over the past two years and 48 per cent expect compliance to improve over the next two years. Only 8 per cent have experienced deteriorating compliance over the past two years, and just 15 per cent anticipate any weakening over the next two years.
Since buyers believe the situation ain’t broke, it is little surprise they see no need to fix it – at least not through greater policy flexibility. Only 8 per cent expect to have fewer rules in two years. Instead, 32 per cent believe they will have more. Yet another travel manager quoted in the whitepaper, Veolia Environnement corporate transport director Abdelaziz Bougja, explains why MT2.0 would be disastrous. Bougja believes it would undermine corporate strategy on every major point, starting with duty of care. Veolia employees travel heavily to developing nations and the official reservations process is used to create vaccination alerts. Bougja also says corporate deals would be destroyed, as would hard-won process efficiencies, such as using a centrally billed payment account (lodge card) to pay for flights booked through the TMC, which is then uploaded as a single monthly invoice into the company’s accounting system.
BROKERING A COMPROMISE
Yet clearly divided as opinion is among the four travel managers quoted above, it would be an over-simplification to characterise Bruss and Bougja as reactionaries or Steinke and O’Connell as revolutionaries. For example, Bruss has become less concerned about which suppliers travellers book, partly because he believes negotiated corporate deals are waning in importance. He still considers it crucial to book through approved reservations channels but thinks these channels need to become more user-friendly. “Amadeus E-travel Management looks like SAP [Systems, Applications and Products] – and that’s not a compliment,” he says.
Conversely, MT2.0 does not mean unmanaged travel. Steinke regards the retention of control as paramount. “We need to know where travellers have booked, for those times when they need us,” she says. “I would never suggest a free-for-all.” Steinke is, therefore, among many who have recognised that if MT2.0 has any future at all, it will be imperative for travel managers to secure access to data aggregated from a much wider range of booking channels, including those selected by travellers. Various technology providers have spotted this gap in the market and are working on ways to fill it. The box (overleaf) details four such products, one of which, GDSX’s Trip Link, Steinke has been instrumental in developing.
Scott Gillespie, the US-based consultant who coined the term MT2.0 along with fellow consultant Evan Konwiser, urges buyers to monitor development of these tools closely. “The technology is not robust yet but I am confident it will be in a year or two,” he says. “You should not expect technology to be a barrier.” Instead, what will continue to prove a barrier, he believes, will be corporate cultures fearful of devolving control to travellers.
Whether travel managers will perceive a value to changing is not yet clear. KDS, another of the data aggregators, reports mixed views among its customers. Vice-president for product strategy Oliver Quayle reckons 80 percent of his clients won’t switch, but 20 per cent, especially those based in the US, will.
Where there is more general agreement is that companies must make their travel programmes more traveller-friendly. Even if they don’t fully relax rules on how and what employees can book, they should, in O’Connell’s words, try to be more carrot than stick. By keeping travellers happy, the thinking goes, they will comply more readily with policy and feel motivated to make smarter buying decisions at point of booking. So every travel manager needs to decide: will they be a revolutionary, an authoritarian, or somewhere in between?
WHO CAN HELP YOU AGGREGATE DATA FROM OUT-OF-POLICY BOOKING CHANNELS?
CONCUR: OPEN BOOKING
Concur intends to launch phase one of its Open Booking solution by February, allowing travellers to forward trip itinerary emails to Concur, which will parse the data into its management information system.
Phase two, scheduled for June at the latest, will tackle accommodation. Concur believes the biggest compliance and tracking problem clients face is hotel bookings, of which it estimates half are made outside policy. Concur is negotiating the creation of application programming interface (API) links to take booking data feeds from major hotel chains’ websites. The technology will require travellers to click on the chain’s logo within the Concur tool and on the chain’s website as well to set up the link. Once the link is established, data will be forwarded regardless of which device the traveller uses.
Vice-president of global travel product and strategy Pierre-Emmanuel Tetaz says Concur has no plans to capture airline data in the short term. “Our customers aren’t talking about air, they are talking about hotel,” he says.
GDSX : TRIP LINK
US company GDSX’s tool Trip Link also aggregates data from email confirmations forwarded by travellers. In addition, GDSX is setting up direct connections to air, hotel, car hire and rail supplier sites. GDSX CEO Cindy Allen says the first connection has been established with a car rental company website – if a traveller logs on to the site using a recognised loyalty programme number, the booking data can be forwarded to Trip Link. GDSX aims to bring the technology to Europe.
KDS started work on Maverick in early 2012, but subsequently switched to technology already developed by the US company Procure App. Maverick works on different principles from the tools described above: it is an application that companies programme into employees’ personal computers, which can detect any attempt to book through unofficial channels on that device. Maverick can respond to the attempt according to travel manager preference, including: preventing the reservation and switching the booker to the official booking tool; warning the booker the reservation is out of policy and offering to switch to the official tool; asking the booker to enter a reason code to explain their unofficial reservation; ensuring the booker is using the most appropriate unofficial site – for example, the corporate version of a supplier’s website, not the consumer version; or capturing data for the reservation made through the unofficial channel. Maverick currently operates for a limited number of direct supplier websites, mainly airlines. KDS says making the tool work for third-party websites – for example, Expedia – would be harder. There are personal data privacy issues to consider when using Maverick.
CARLSON WAGONLIT TRAVEL: WORLD MATE
CWT has said it will use its recently acquired mobile trip itinerary tool World Mate to capture data from the itineraries of bookings through unofficial channels. Further details are not yet available.