Our buyer on the keys to hotel compliance, using virtual cards, online booking agencies and good old-fashioned manpower
ROD RICHARDSON HAS BEEN TRAVEL MANAGER for medical research charity Wellcome Trust for ten years. He has been in the travel industry for 23 years and previously worked for a number of travel management companies (TMCs). Here, Richardson talks us through how he manages to maintain a high degree of compliance in his hotel programme.
“Wellcome uses an online HBA [hotel booking agency], HRS – we route as much as possible through there,” he says. “We used to use the GDS [global distribution system], but neither its technology nor content has moved forward, so we don’t use it for hotels.
“Our programme is fairly small, except in London, where we book around 2,000 nights a year because we have a lot of traffic coming here to meet us, so we don’t have the volume to set up corporate deals or preferred rates in any other cities. Out of London we tend to use best-on-the-day rates.”
1. I HAVE A TEAM OF FOUR AND EVERYTHING COMES THROUGH US, so our compliance levels are in the 90s – it helps to control the booking process. We use HRS and we have not got a self-booking tool, and I think that also helps keep the compliance levels high. We still have to communicate with travellers because we have an open-booking policy – they are at liberty to book outside the programme if they want to but would not have access to the corporate rates, which are controlled by the team. They can look at sites such as hotels.com but the booking still comes through us.
2. FOR NON-LONDON ACCOMMODATION, we hope people book best-on-the-day but it still comes through the team. We do have a small amount of self-booked hotels and that’s leakage we can’t really control. Those bookings are probably linked to conferences and seminars and come as part of the conference package, which we wouldn’t get involved in.
3. WE USE AIRPLUS VIRTUAL CARD and I recommend having a virtual card built into your HBA or TMC [travel management company] portal, as ours is: this way payment is just one click, which generates the card, sends it to the hotel, and billing instructions are attached. It’s all automated within the tool. We arrange payment or pre-payment for many of our travellers because lots of them only travel infrequently, so they don’t have corporate cards – and that has also helped drive compliance. If they haven’t got a corporate card, they have to pay the bill and expense it, and claim it back. They much prefer us to pay – even those who have a corporate card.
4. LOOK AT AN ONLINE BOOKING AGENCY. We have been using HRS for four years and Airplus about six – the two together are definitely instrumental in our success with compliance. It has really driven down costs. Whereas we would always have booked corporate rates, we now look at hotels in the programme and if HRS has set up rates with the property that are lower than our corporate rates, or free sale, restricted or reduced rates, we will book that.
5. ASK YOUR HBA OR TMC TO WIDEN YOUR PROGRAMME. The key drivers for our policy are proximity to the office and something for every level of traveller, from three-star to five-star. And from having quite a small programme, HRS has made it a lot broader, especially in the last few years. So, for example, while we might not have corporate rates with three or four hotels we use in London, we book them regularly on a best-on-the-day basis and they may be cheaper than those we have got under contract. That would never have happened with GDSs. It’s all about the content – GDSs don’t fit with what we want to offer clients.
6. FOR THE BEST HOTEL RATES, I RECOMMEND AN HBA. I think TMCs are still bad at hotels – our TMC doesn’t do hotels at all. Hotel programmes can be quite fiddly to manage, especially when they are global: you have got to collect commission, interline payments... I can see why they have stepped away from it.
7. WITH AIRBNB AND SIMILAR SITES, THERE IS A PROBLEM WITH TRACKING TRAVELLERS and knowing where they are. Where there is a flight or rail booking, we can cut-and-paste the line from the HRS confirmation in the online tool into the GDS, so it is all handed off as one PNR [passenger name record] to our security management tool. Otherwise, if it is a hotel-only booking, we would have to go into the tool and track where people are. I’d love to put all our business with hotels.com but it does not have the functionality and doesn’t tick all the boxes we require for a corporate set-up, although it has excellent content.