A recent study by the GBTA Foundation found that the vast majority — 87 percent — of business travelers are satisfied when self-booking directly with airlines or hotels. Comparatively, 75 percent are satisfied when booking with a corporate-sponsored online booking tool. This disparity can lead to travelers taking the DIY route and breaking corporate travel policy.
As the TMC, you’re expected to help the travel manager to drive more policy compliance. This means that some of the travel managers will need your expertise and advice.
Is leakage unavoidable?
Truth is, no matter how hard you try, someone will book outside of your corporate customer travel policy.
Often, this happens for one of two reasons:
- Employees don’t fully grasp all of their travel options
- Employees don’t understand the benefits — for both the business and the individual — of booking through preferred channels and partners.
Also, a lot of travelers "go rogue" because they prefer to book on mobile devices. If companies do not have designated apps required for their employees to use, they’re leaving room for employees to book out of policy
The good news? These are relatively easy problems to fix.
Here are two tips that you can use to help your customers decrease out-of-policy bookings by clearly communicating — and adding to — the value of booking through the corporate policy:
First, help travel managers communicate the value of their policy
More often than not, business travelers aren’t booking out of policy because they’re dissatisfied with the company’s tools and vendors. Instead, leakage is often caused by a lack of understanding about:
- The benefits of booking in policy, such as negotiated rates that incorporate supplier add-ons (e.g., airline baggage fees, complimentary breakfast at hotels)
- Approved travel channels and partners
- The risks and costs of booking out of policy, such as lack of visibility into their whereabouts for travel security and accounting insight into travel expenses
- The reasons certain sharing economy services are not included in the travel policy and recommendations on which services to use
Without clarity on these issues, many travelers are just booking what they now.
According to the 2015 GBTA research on the transformation of the travel manager's role, travel managers spend a lot of their time communicating, educating and reminding travelers about their travel policy. However, the effectiveness of the communication and education efforts is frequently diminished by a lack of senior leadership support, especially in enforcing travel policies.
While the GBTA study showed that many travel managers focus a lot of time on communication efforts, there are still plenty of others that don’t. That creates a prime opportunity for your TMC to make a great impact: help travel managers create and execute a well-planned communication and education plan that highlights the benefits of the program.
Most business travelers care deeply about the ease of their travel experience. If a negotiated rate with a particular partner includes special perks that can only be accessed when booked through the policy, make sure those perks are clearly communicated. Also, if there are additional services that would make the traveler’s experience simpler or more enjoyable, make sure every employee knows those are only accessible through the policy.
Next, consider both the traveler and the business
Innovation must be both traveler and company facing.
There are two issues at play here when it comes to innovation. You have technological innovation, which I will get to in a minute, and you have innovation in the way organizations and employees operate.
What is operational innovation?
Although the concept of traveler centricity has been around for a while, we’ve seen wider adoption among travel managers recently.
The principle of traveler centricity is that compliance will increase significantly if the travel policy is designed while considering and incorporating what employees want and which technology tools they prefer using.
Compliance increases if the travel policy is designed while considering what employees want
Communication is key in any travel program. For traveler-centricity, communication is even more vital because effective communication is two-way.
Travel managers and their TMCs need to understand what travelers are looking for and expecting when booking and traveling. Without a clear understanding of travelers’ motivations and desires, the traveler-centric program cannot be created. To stay on pulse, ask questions to travelers via focus groups, surveys and informal feedback to gain the necessary insights.
Traveler centricity doesn’t mean that travelers can do whatever they want or that travel policies will become more flexible. It’s about creating the policy around improving the traveler experience. The compliance then comes naturally.
Again, here TMCs have a great opportunity to show their value by proactively discussing with travel managers the benefits of a traveler-centric approach and by recommending the necessary steps to take to start developing it.
What is technological innovation?
Travel technology innovations create experiences that are more rewarding than traditional booking. These tech innovations also make it easier to get information while traveling. Business travelers use travel apps whether or not their company policies suggest (or mandate) which apps to use (more research on policy-drive apps here).
For a traveler-centric program, technology enables a better traveler experience, from pre-trip and in-trip messaging to booking and changing reservations. It makes sense to implement a mobile-app policy that either controls usage — mandating which apps employees may use — or allows freedom but provides guidelines on which apps are preferred by the company.
Biz travelers are using travel apps whether or not their company policies suggest which apps to use
Some TMCs are creating their own mobile travel apps. Some are embracing the ones that technology providers make available. Whether you choose in-house or third-party mobile apps to recommend for your travel manager to incorporate into the program, the app needs to ensure it covers the travel manager’s needs to improve traveler satisfaction.
Don’t forget that the specific mobile app(s) must be clearly communicated to the travelers. The communication should also include all the benefits the traveler receives by using the app.
Creativity can encourage compliance
Another way to address technological innovation is to make the in-policy booking experience more innovative, fun and engaging. For instance, try these creative ways technology drives adoption:
- Gamify the booking experience by allowing travelers who book in policy to accumulate special rewards (a free meal) or unlock bonus experiences (tickets to a Broadway show). Although the concept has been around a while, it’s worth trialing or revisiting again if you’ve seen poor results.
- Study which out-of-policy services travelers are using (e.g., Uber, Airbnb). Ask questions that help you understand what the current policy lacks that those services provide. Once you figure out what the other services provide, incorporate other ways to get the same outcome.
- Negotiate with travel partners so that employees can transfer loyalty points from non-preferred suppliers to a company-preferred ones.
The goal is simple: if you make your travel policy easier and more enjoyable to use, employees won’t have any reason to book outside of it!
An easier, more enjoyable travel policy takes away reasons for employees to book outside of it
It takes two to travel
Business travel doesn't happen in a vacuum. It's a partnership. So make sure to keep communication lines open between agency and traveler. This can achieve greater clarity for all parties, which ultimately saves the business money.
The reality of business travel today is that employees have options — and lots of them. While booking in policy might make sense for the organization, that value isn’t always so obvious to business travelers.
As such, understanding booking leakage is essential for all travel managers. Are there specific channels or partnerships that travelers don’t have access to? Are there issues with the booking tool? Are there other channels or partners you should be looking into?
The more that travel managers and TMCs strive to communicate with travelers and make modifications to better meet their needs, the less problematic out-of-policy bookings are.
For more about balancing corporate travel policy and employee travel preferences, read Personalization vs data privacy: 7 steps to reduce traveler resistance to data sharing.