2012 is the year the traveler took over the reins of business travel. The change came under multiple headings – open booking, open travel, Travel 2.0 – but the upshot is that travelers are exercising more choice and more decision making power than ever before.
Joel Wartgow, senior director for Carlson Wagonlit Solutions Group, Americas, called it the rise of traveler centricity.
“We saw in 2012 that the traveler moved firmly into the driver’s seat when it comes to making decisions around business travel,” Wartgow told Travel Market Report. “Traveler centricity creates a different environment. It is important for travel managers and suppliers and everyone else to figure out how to communicate with those travelers more effectively so they can take advantage of that empowerment.”
Impact of mobile technology
Traveler centricity, fueled by the increasing use of mobile technology by business travelers, was the top development of 2012 in an informal poll of business travel leaders. Just what the growing role of travelers in their own travel planning means depends on who you ask.
Technology suppliers are breathing sighs of relief. Business travel is starting to accept the democratization of decision-making that has already transformed other sectors of the economy.
“The travel industry is finally joining the rest of the business world,” said Richard Eastman, president of The Eastman Group. “2012 has been a turning point. Vendors have achieved a critical mass in the move away from the controlled distribution channel model to direct-but-integrated distribution. Apps have evolved to offer individual business travelers faster and personalized solutions.”
American Express Global Business Travel has a slightly different take. Companies should focus on mobile technology as a lever to help enforce compliance on-trip, improve traveler security and to make traveling employees more productive and connected to their offices while on the road, said Kirsten Neuman, vice president and general manager, advisory services for AEGBT.
More than free choice
Norm Rose, president of Travel Technology Consulting, cautioned companies that open booking is not letting travelers book when, where and how they want. Open booking is much more than free choice.
“Vendors like Concur have a strategy in place where there is the ability to capture information from a supplier dotcom site using an itinerary tool and entering information into the expense reporting process,” Rose said. “It is just beginning to shake the world of corporate travel.
“First and foremost, the corporation gets their negotiated discount when the traveler goes to the dotcom site. That makes it a managed transaction, but it has a notion of bypass for the GDS and the TMC.
“The other piece is the investment by airlines and hotels to implement complex merchandising applications. That means delivering a combination of ancillary services and price that is unique to that customer’s value. It is trying to add amenities in order to capture a customer.”
Varies by company
Where does that leave the TMC? It depends on the client company.
“At the end of the day, the big question is whether the company is more concerned with policy or with keeping travelers happy and working within budget,” said Lea Cahill, chief operating officer for Atlas Travel. “Mobile plays a big role in keeping travelers productive. For some companies, Travel 2.0 is a given and for others it’s a little far-fetched.”