Forum: TMCs Must Meet the Challenges of Open Booking

by Judy Jacobs

Open booking is here to stay, and corporate travel managers, like it or not, have no choice but to deal with the challenges it presents.

On the positive side, TMCs have a valuable role to play in minimizing the consequences of an environment where travelers are increasingly prone to taking booking into their own hands, particularly through their mobile devices.

These were the key messages during a session called “Open Booking: An Open-and-Shut Case?” at the recent ACTE Executive Forum in San Francisco. The session explored the benefits, risks and challenges of implementing an open booking policy as part of a company’s travel management program.

Panelists Steve Sitto, manager travel, fleet and small meetings at Genentech; Tom Wilkinson, vice president at GDSX, Ltd., and David Smith, travel manager-Americas at Amdocs Global Services, shared their perspectives and addressed questions from the floor. Following are excerpts.

What are the ramifications of open booking for corporations and travel management companies?
Steve Sitto: It’s about educating the traveler, about having proper tracking and the proper technology in place to track open bookings. Is that in place today? No, not really.

If you look at the rebates from suppliers that you get, there are a lot of benefits from a travel program. If you have a lot of complex travel, you do need the TMC in place. Also, you are liable for the travelers’ safety. You can’t have everyone doing willy-nilly whatever they want.

David Smith:  Amdocs is not doing open booking, but it’s something that’s going to happen regardless. I don’t believe there’s a single solution right now. There are pieces of the puzzle that seem to be missing. It’s just a matter of finding those pieces to be able to fit them together.

I’m not shutting out the TMC. The TMC could have a role in this as well.

I believe there’s a key portal that will pull this all together. It’s not going to be one effort from a single group. It’s going to have to be some kind of level playing field.

What advice do you have for travel managers in redesigning their programs to deal with open booking?
Tom Wilkinson: It depends on what kinds of automation will be available, but ideally you will be able to take those bookings no matter what source they come from and run them through a quality system. How you capture the bookings and how you do the quality control is the challenge.

Smith: It’s complicated, because everyone hasn’t played their hands yet. I can collect the data; there are means to do so. But is there one standard way? No. It goes back to what does the company want? What does it need?

Sitto: At the end of the day we’re not in a position to put any roadblocks in the way [of travelers]. We’re not in the business to stop them [from making bookings on their own], but in the business to make it as easy as possible.

Is it really worth it to try to avoid the fees from the GDSs? I don’t think so. Saving $10 isn’t really worth it. In New York City, you’re going to be paying $600, $700 or $800 a night for a hotel. Is it worth it?

What about the issue of tracking data with open booking?
Wilkinson: When the traveler makes the booking, it has to be stored for the travel tracking. That’s the goal of [successful] open booking – to provide the same policies through the more limited, but defined, process of the TMC.

You have to have the fallback of the TMC, however. You have to have both. It’s the best of both worlds. You need better tools, and you need smarter more aggressive travel managers to put it all together. Travelers don’t understand the backside of it [the travel booking process] and all the complexity that.

What are possible solutions to capturing data from open bookings?
Smith: We have to find out how to get data on bookings made outside of the network. The vendor has the information. There has to be a means of identifying that traveler of Amdocs or of any other company and getting access to that info.

You could depend on the traveler himself to put that information into a system that could be captured. In addition to that, there are hybrid solutions where you have a TMC that’s involved in the transaction even prior to purchase.

The traveler goes out and finds flights on whatever website that they may be using, and the airfare is captured via the direct booking of it from that website or through the TMC. And the only way someone will get their travel expenses reimbursed is if they do things a certain way.

Wilkinson: There will be more spending on travel technology. Solutions are there, but they have a cost. Is it worth the cost? It will be more worth the cost, as more tools come on. Automation is not simple and it’s not cheap. So there’s a role for TMCs.

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