Online booking tool adoption has always been a major pressure point in any travel programme. When travellers book according to policy and through the right channels, the ticketing and travel process can be better managed, duty of care is easier and the data processing does not give us headaches.
Lately, this strategy is being rethought. Online booking tools in the corporate space are nowhere near as easy-to-use as the options we see in the consumer space. Some travel professionals, such as Suzanne Boyan with her omni-channel booking strategy at ZS are thinking that, with regards to consumer booking tools, if you can’t beat them, why don’t you join them?
Going off-channel used to be unthinkable or a hallmark of a programme that is not really managed, however, as data processing and technology improves, it is not as unmanageable as initially thought. If we can manage risk and get accurate and complete reporting regardless of booking channel, would there be any real need for a corporate booking tool?
Direct booking also allows for superior traveller booking experiences while allowing travellers to use their loyalty programmes if they choose.
“How many times will you want to reinvent a booking tool? We’re sort of out-innovated – the consumer tools have already given us the end of it. The only way you can optimize the experience now is by looking at the data,” said Roadmap CEO Jeroen Van Velzen in a Phocuswright article.
When travel managers no longer have to worry about online booking tool adoption this can free up time for more important initiatives. The most challenging part of the approach, however, is the data management at the other end.
Data management for off-channel programmes
Most specialized travel management data companies agree that, as data management technology advances, online booking tools will fulfill another type of role in the travel management ecosystem. Instead of being the main channel through which all bookings are made, booking tools will play a central role in providing rich content and Next Generation Storefronts in the changing face of NDC and airline distribution.
If we want to manage an off-channel programme we need to measure and track it. It goes without saying that data is key. Using TMC data only, in this instance, is completely useless.
This is easier said than done. Multiple GDS, multiple agency, multiple carrier and multiple aggregator data – each with their own data formats – need to be fused together.
Luckily, AI and computer science is advancing and the more data the system is exposed to, the easier it is to match data sets correctly. While code can be written to do it automatically there is still an element of manual matching that needs to happen.
What is next?
The off-channel movement is starting now. Data management has become infinitely easier today and there are startups that can integrate your off-channel spend automatically, including PredictX. These figures are delivered in dashboards, stakeholder reports and automated alerts sent to key company personnel, especially in cases of risk and duty of care.
As our capability to manage off-channel bookings grow, we will see a decline in the use of booking tools until one day, they may grow obsolete. Business travellers can finally utilise the innovation behind consumer booking tools without the lack of management and oversight that comes with them.
One thing for sure is that travel managers will spend less time begging travellers to use a channel that does not give them the right experience in the first place.