I have read suggestions over the past few months that business travelers have forgotten how to travel. This sentiment has also come up with clients as we engage in discussions around a return to a “new normal” in the corporate travel environment. At first glance, I’ve thought of these discussions in terms of a hybrid work environment or how a travel approver struggles to parse new policy language that has come as a result of industry change. But what I’ve found is that the notion that business travelers have lost their way has less to do with new policies and more to do with expectations around the travel experience itself.
Adhering to contractually obligated service level agreements (SLA’s) among corporate client preferred suppliers have essentially disappeared as our industry’s supply chain has crumbled post-pandemic. The business travel industry’s basic benchmarks – speed to answer a call, hold times, phone abandonment rates, first pass yields, calls per PNR, after hours service metrics, queue clearing, and more – have all plummeted as a result of a lack of manpower as many in the travel business have moved on to new professions. It seems that the volatility in corporate travel has taken its toll on industry professionals who have finally succumbed to career setbacks, furloughs, and lay-offs after 9/11, the Great Recession, and COVID-19. And unlike other professions where the compensation is commensurate to travel and perhaps more reliable, corporate travel is highly complex and requires both significant training and experience to meet client expectations. As a result, we find ourselves in a situation where corporate clients are faced with rethinking their corporate travel strategy and business travelers have to reconsider what to expect in terms of service when traveling on company business.
For many corporate customers, the message they are getting from their preferred suppliers is clear – don’t expect 2019 service levels anytime soon.
The Business Travel Past is Prologue
In the early 2000’s, the business travel industry sought to solve the problem of GDS disintermediation. Airline suppliers, in particular, fought to restrict some website content from the traditional GDS to control distribution rights, manage content, mitigate distribution fees, and engender brand loyalty by driving travelers to their websites. Industry technology solutions that brought disparate booking source data together in an effort to create a “Super PNR” were undertaken primarily to ensure full content access to clients. While content issues persist and have even grown in today’s environment, a new way of thinking about traveler access to disparate content is emerging. Today, issues around supplier service levels to its clients have taken center stage. We are starting to see a trend among corporate clients prioritizing traveler service needs in terms of complexity and other factors to determine the support requirements during a business trip. Many clients have come to recognize that in the face of diminished service, an open booking model for those trips that really don’t require trip support can provide a pressure relief valve for its travelers and suppliers alike.
Relief for the Frustrated Business Traveler
The service level failures we see in the industry today are the result of a robust return to travel coupled with staffing challenges. Staffing and training new resources will take a long time to overcome. Nevertheless, we must find ways to boost traveler support now. Business travelers haven’t forgotten how to travel. If anything, business travelers today are savvier and enjoy more booking options than ever. The argument for an open booking environment, coming in the form of a blanket policy approach or segmented by business unit or travel parameters can both augment efficiency and enable traveler choice while retaining transparency in booking habits and data visibility.
In the open booking model, continuity of business strategy is critical and this relies heavily on the travel manager’s ability to gather normalized data and use it the same way she does TMC booked reservations. This requires booked airline reservation details such as city pair information, fare class, advance purchase data, et cetera. The travel manager needs to be able to compare TMC booked hotel data to supplier website data to include hotel name normalization, room types, preferred status, et cetera. And utilizing an open booking model can leave an organization open to duty of care issues so the strategy must include the ability to track travelers in the event of an emergency.
As business travel continues to approach pre-pandemic levels amidst adverse economic conditions and industry staffing issues, we are finding that travelers can adapt. In addition, some of the largest corporate travel programs in the world are actively adopting this model as a best practice. Ultimately, support requirements vary by travel and by traveler, and we have found that travelers typically make good choices when empowered to do so. Historically, technology didn’t allow us to manage and leverage spend data from disparate booking sources. With this obstacle removed, service levels come back into equilibrium, travelers are happier, and category managers can focus on driving program strategy as the industry continues to return to a “new normal.” Learn how CapTrav’s technology can help manage and leverage business travel spend data and more. Take a demo today.