During a break-out session at the Expedia Partner Conference in Las Vegas, Egencia gathered a panel of corporate travel buyers to discover their biggest priorities and pain points in working with suppliers.

Chaired by Egencia COO Mark Hollyhead, the discussion started with a question about the buyers’ priorities for 2018 and beyond. Rosemary Maloney from Tapestry said her main concern at all times was keeping travellers on policy while giving them a choice of hotels they want. Meanwhile, both Denise Clark from Russell Investments and Sarah Brandenburg from Egencia agreed that better data collection and the use of that information to influence and educate travellers would be a key area of focus for the future.

When asked about their biggest challenges in dealing with suppliers, Clark said she really struggles when her providers sell directly to her travellers because it affects her ability to collect data from bookings. “We want them to use the Egencia platform because it makes it easy for them to stay compliant, and it helps me put together a more complete picture of our spend.”

Brandenburg added: “We work hard to build our programmes and negotiate rates with properties. When they turn around and sell directly to travellers, we lose that data and the ability to find out if we’re getting the negotiated rates. Transparency is key in a partnership, and ensuring our travellers are booking through our platform ensures that transparency.

“I often hear executives say they don’t see the big deal if travellers book off-policy. I always bring up that it affects our duty of care responsibility, and remind them that booking data helps ensure cost savings. If we don’t have that information, we can’t build a strong relationship with our suppliers.”

Next, Hollyhead asked how the buyers manage leakage in their policies. Maloney commented that her travellers get one exception to book off-policy. “I explain why they have to stay within the programme in terms they can understand. We may have duty of care responsibilities, but they have the duty of helping us with that. We can’t keep them safe if we don’t know where they are. I have had travellers tell me that they found cheaper rates at the same hotel, but I remind them that our agreed rates sometimes have extras included.”

Clark added: “We spend a lot of time negotiating rates and loading them into our systems, and I agree that sometimes those rates include ancillaries that aren’t available normally. That’s one area where Egencia helps because it clearly shows our travellers what’s included in the price.”

Hollyhead then turned the conversation toward travellers, asking what the buyers have heard are their main concerns. Brandenburg said speed and efficiency are key, especially as employees are too busy to spend time searching for options. “Travel is a personal experience, even if it’s for work. Travellers want the technology to do everything themselves in a way that suits them.”

Maloney said her travellers value loyalty programmes for the rewards they offer, but only if the hotels are in convenient locations. “My travellers won’t stay in a hotel far away from their meeting for the sake of earning loyalty points.”

The session ended with a discussion on the challenges buyers face in the year ahead, to which Clark and Brandenburg agreed that rate structures and negotiations need to be streamlined and more systematic.

However, Maloney disagreed, saying she feels that chain hotel discounts dilute her programme. “There are some amazing boutique hotels out there that can sometimes offer better savings. I prefer to negotiate at property level to avoid any confusion.”

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