It’s clear 2016 has become something of a pivotal year for travel management companies and the corporate travel world in general - and, if the first half of the year is any indication, the second half is poised to be just as impactful. At least that’s the feeling expressed by a host of travel and tourism industry experts at the annual Global Business Travel Association Conference in Denver, Colorado this past week wherein analysts concluded the corporate travel industry is still lagging behind the leisure travel sector in a number of key areas.
While conference presentations and lectures highlighted the steps travel management companies are taking to cater more closely and specifically to the needs of today’s modern business traveler, the consensus was the corporate travel industry is still in catch-up mode when it comes to a number of back office and customer-facing operations which may in fact be preventing the corporate travel industry from reaching its full growth potential - a revelation that’s particularly worrisome given the rapid growth of commerce and business in several key emerging markets.
These concerns were echoed by a report issued by the GBTA late last year that also indicated travel management companies still have a tough hill to climb in appealing to and servicing the corporate travel sector as efficiently as leisure travelers. And while the exact causes or reasons behind this gap is difficult to pinpoint, let’s quickly examine 3 ways in which corporate travel is behind the times in order to better understand how the corporate sector can meet the demands of today’s business traveler.
Mobile and Online Booking
While so much of the travel industry at-large has placed an increased emphasis on mobile and online booking capabilities, travel management companies still have important strides to make in optimizing these capabilities for the corporate traveler. Statistics indicate many corporate travelers are still hesitant about fully adopting mobile capabilities into their research and booking habits, which has in part driven the corporate travel industry’s lack of enthusiasm in developing and fostering this technology - advancements like voice recognition, pattern recognition, and other digital or intelligent integrations appear to be lesser priorities for corporate travelers, which means travel management companies have been lax in leveraging their potential.
While many experts believe change is on the horizon in terms of mobile and online capabilities, the conventional thought is that it may be some time before travel management companies fully realize the potential value added in positioning these advantages to corporate travelers.
Part and parcel to the lack of mobile and online booking capabilities in the corporate travel sector is the absence of serious data and behavior analysis by travel management companies in an effort to truly understand the needs of the business traveler. In the aforementioned GBTA survey conducted last year in the United States and the United Kingdom, about 55 percent of respondents indicated they wished more action was taken by travel management companies based on data, analytics, and reporting to increase the overall pleasure and convenience of the corporate travel experience. While the survey did indicate a majority of travelers are moderately satisfied with the experience provided by travel management companies, the report was enlightening in that it revealed how little data and reporting is internalized and actualized by TMCs on behalf of the corporate traveler.
This lack of internal review is thought to account for misunderstandings or lack of understanding about the booking patterns, purchasing habits, and needs or desires of the modern corporate traveler, especially in an era when digital technology and 24/7 connectivity is a critical driver in achieving agility and visibility across a TMC’s value chain.
For today’s leisure traveler, convenience is the name of the game - from researching and booking travel accommodations to the ins and outs of flight connections, rental pick-ups and drop-offs, and hotel services and amenities. But many of today’s corporate travelers feel the convenience factor in modern travel is not translating from leisure to business travel. From back office processes like multiple purchasing channels to more consumer-facing tasks like coordinating travel booking logistics such as connecting flights and rental, travel management companies have been slow to emphasize convenience and ease in the business sector in some part due to the lack of data analysis and review to uncover needs and desires.
What’s perhaps most fascinating about the three biggest pain points for TMCs and corporate travelers today and in the near future is the connectivity of the issues at stake. These problems don’t exist in a vacuum, rather they’re connected with each one dependent upon the other in terms of course correction and bringing corporate travel up to par with the leisure travel experience. While this at once makes the challenge of addressing these issues more problematic - imagine shoelaces tied in a knot - the links between them are also advantageous in that TMCs who address one of the problems will, indirectly, be addressing them all. Travel management companies should offer their corporate clients a simplified booking experience and the necessary tools to reduce costs, being a well-known fact that in a company, the travel expenses are among the largest costs, these being difficult but crucial to control.