Ask the Experts: Star bookings

BBT asks a travel buyer, a TMC and a consultant how travel buyers can be confident their hotel programmes are audited

As travel buyers broaden the pool from which they draw hotels into their programme, forming relationships with hotel groups rather than individual properties, the feasibility of auditing properties is increasingly diminished. So what can be done?

Buyers are able to limit negotiations to only those hotels that meet closely defined criteria, and use third-party suppliers to perform audits on their behalf. TMCs, meanwhile, will check out the hotels they recommend to clients; after all, the TMC’s reputation rests on the standards of those suppliers. In addition, corporates can ask specialists, such as risk management organisations and dedicated hotel audit companies, to provide services, where required. In short, auditing is becoming more fragmented and decentralised.

The Buyer: Benjamin Park, international director of procurement and travel, Parexel International
As corporates move away from the annual hotel RFP towards dynamic rates and further outsource the process by using third party providers to get the best rates, so the one-to-one relationship with a hotel might disappear, with the exception of a few properties where a company has a large volume of business.

As a result, buyers do not know at the beginning of the year where their volume will go and so cannot audit hotels; their audit requirements should be in agreement with the third-party platform providers.

Much of the audit process is about liability and responsibility, which is why Airbnb should not be part of a corporate lodging programme – the accountability is with a local host, who is a member of the public, not a company, and Airbnb does not take responsibility for the stay.

No-one can visit every hotel in their programme to do a site inspection, but it’s important that an employer has briefed travellers about risk. Employees that have a bad experience share this on platforms such as Tripadvisor or social networks, so hotels with a poor reputation have difficulty making a profit; the market regulates itself.

Numerous standards have been set for an audit and many companies still sell these services, which are essential, but as the market changes from owning a direct relationship with a hotel to chain relationships or more reliance on platforms, companies are conducting audits in a more decentralised way.

The TMC: Pauline Houston, senior global director – hotel strategy & sales, American Express Global Business Travel
Hotel auditing appears only occasionally in RFPs, and clients generally expect hotels in our programme to meet the required safety and security standard.

In low-risk geographies, buyers stick to key locations, known brands and hotels with good security standards. However, in high-risk areas additional steps should be taken to ensure traveller safety, which can include the involvement of risk management specialists and may include site inspections before accepting hotels into their programmes. They will also have pre-trip checks to ensure that travellers do not use high-risk accommodation.

Given the large portfolio of hotels that we offer clients – one million properties – it would be a challenge to inspect every single hotel for security. To eliminate high-risk properties, we use the GBTA’s standard hotel RFP, which contains a host of security questions that highlight any issues of concern, and we will not book hotels for clients in high-risk locations or properties where security concerns have been identified. Airbnb has introduced additional security checks on its business-ready property listings, which were already subject to routine safety and security checks.

Although Amex GBT is not legally responsible for ensuring travellers stay at properties that meet health and safety standards, we take steps to promote traveller duty-of-care. First, our supplier relationship team focuses on advocating providers that have a reputation for outstanding service and excellent standards of care. Second, all our products and services support our clients’ dutyof-care policies by promoting their preferred properties to travellers. Finally, our global sanctions compliance system blocks high-risk content, as appropriate, to protect our clients and travellers.

The Consultant: Michelle Taft, consultant, Apensia
Buyers are becoming increasingly concerned about the safety and security of the traveller, especially in sectors where travellers are visiting high-risk areas. They are keen to understand what processes a TMC has in place for vetting hotels and how they work with their supply chain to ensure safety procedures are in place.

A hotel rate programme, where an organisation will select preferred hotels in key locations or a few hotel chains to cover multiple locations, would produce a certain amount of information on health and safety, and the TMC could do a physical check on those hotels because there aren’t that many to manage. Now, however, they are aggregating content from multiple channels, including sites such as and Expedia. 

It is down to companies’ policies to decide how they ensure people are staying in appropriate properties. A policy might state that travellers should stay in a 3-star hotel, at minimum, because certain standards are guaranteed, but this does not cover safety and security, which is paramount for vulnerable travellers or those visiting high-risk areas.

You could take an audit to multiple levels from a basic paper audit to something in-depth. There are companies that offer a vetting service and, in some cases, do an on-site inspection. Where they have an individual inspection, hotels can ask for accreditation. However, this comes at a cost, which could deter some properties.

I would like to see the equivalent of star ratings for safety and security. It would help buyers and travellers make informed decisions and encourage higher safety standards across the board.

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