Travel 2nd April 2020 - 5 min read

COVID-19 exposes flaws in legacy intelligence tools

By Joni Lindes

It is clear that the coronavirus has hit the business travel industry like a bullet. The global business travel sector is expected to take a revenue hit of about $820 billion (£634.92 billion), with China accounting for nearly half of the losses, as corporates curb their travel plans and many suppliers make tough decisions.

No doubt the impact on airlines, TMCs and hotels are tremendous, yet what does coronavirus mean for the travel buyer and their working life right now?

Travel managers do not just have to adjust to working from home like other professionals, they also have to adjust to dealing with a very different to-do list than what they are used to handling.

After receiving ever-increasing requests from stakeholders on traveller location and well-being as well as financial impact, including flight cancellations, and overall impact to travel spend – many are realising that what worked before in travel reporting is not enough for the type of incoming requests and stakeholder expectations that exist right now.

One thing is for sure – your travel programme will not be the same as it was before and neither should your reporting be.

From our experience, most legacy travel reporting encounters six major challenges during this crisis:

Challenge 1: Data is not accurate

The tonnes of last minute cancellations and rebooking that the COVID-19 pandemic has created has meant many travel managers are encountering problems with data that is not simply outdated but not correct.

TMC and GDS data are legacy tools that are interlinked with new technology. When flight routes change, cancellations do not always show in BI tools. As TMCs make cuts, overstretched employees make mistakes. Travellers are also rebooking flights on-the-fly using cards so the last reported location may be different to where the traveller actually is.

The end result? When stakeholders enquire the location of certain employees, the travel manager has the incorrect information. Not ideal.

Challenge 2: Data is not timely

Those who rely on monthly post-trip reports from legacy business intelligence systems are finding these insufficient in tracking down global travellers immediately. As concern for traveller safety is a priority, this can make it difficult to mitigate the crisis.

Luckily, we have seen some TMCs make changes to their usual reporting by providing more immediate information on travellers who are currently travelling, about to travel or have just got back from a trip. This is a welcome change.

Even with these long-awaited changes, travel managers still need to take into account that not all bookings are done through the TMC. In fact, our data that encompasses multiple sources and not just TMC data, shows that TMC data misses an average of 41% of what is actually happening.

Companies who want to track all employee travel, for starters, need to consult the credit card feed and expense management feed to make sure they do not miss out on protecting some employees and not others.

Challenge 3: Data consolidation

Those who rely on separate TMC data, credit cards and expense reports are no doubt finding it difficult to crunch the numbers and consolidate them in time to accommodate the increasing stakeholder requests their inboxes are currently flooded with.

Many programmes still use outdated methods like Excel spreadsheets and manual consolidation methods feeding a data visualisation tool. In times of crisis, this type of reporting cannot keep up. As we have a lot of experience automatically consolidating and automaticalluy validating data, we know there is a much better way to do this than rely on manual reporting that is often implicated by human error. The COVID-19 pandemic has made this even more apparent.

Challenge 4: Keeping track of refunds, waivers, cancellations, credits and vouchers

Even if you are able to get more immediate data from multiple channels: there are still major changes needed to the type of metrics you share. Stakeholders don’t just need to know details like location, dates, suppliers and cost anymore.

As different suppliers have different policies and responses to the pandemic, these need to be taken into account per each booking made. Some hotels or airlines are issuing full refunds, others are providing fee waivers for booking changes and cancellations while others are providing credit. As you probably know, keeping track of this can get very complicated very quickly.

Once travel bans are lifted, companies need to know how much credit they have, when it expires, and, if and when travel has been rebooked.

This is a complex analysis that most dashboards are not built to accommodate. Both buyers and suppliers need to get behind on developing new insights to respond to new business needs.

Challenge 5: Predicting the future

Right now, the C-suite is preoccupied with what COVID-19 means for them and their company. It is expected that the impact to company travel and cost of travel for the year may be a question.

Those who already use predictive analytics and forecasting will be equipped to answer these questions. Additional reports showing the effect the shutdown is likely to have on total annual spend can be pulled if the analytical infrastructure is already in place. We have been able to easily do this for some of our clients.

Those who are used to only analysing past data may have to make changes to their current data management infrastructure.

Challenge 6: Pre-trip reporting

When it comes to predicting the future, the most pressing is, of course, which trips are booked where and when or if they need to be cancelled. As countries started to close their borders and airlines reduced routes any programme who does not have a pre-trip data feed in place has realised that it is no longer an option, but a necessity.

As traveller safety and risk is number one, companies need to make sure that accurate pre-trip reporting procedures are in place and that stakeholders receive proper communication on all employees that may be travelling before the travellers pack their suitcases.

Even if most trips are banned at the moment, take this as an opportunity to approach stakeholders to get company support for pre-trip data as it has never been more important. Having the ability to overlay this data with COVID-19 updates on each country’s and airline’s responses would also be ideal.

With all these challenges, it is quite apparent that travel reporting needs to change industry-wide, and we are here to support it.

Joni Lindes
By Joni Lindes
5 min read

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