A panel discussion at The Beat Live suggested that the distance that online booking tools put between corporate travelers and their travel management companies is affecting how TMCs are perceived.
In a session titled “The Buyers’ Table,” Valerie Fender, corporate travel manager at Blackboard Inc., said, “For our C-level, they [TMCs] are very important, but the rank and file don’t even know who they are, because everything is booked online.”
Maria Chevalier, former global director of travel and meeting services at HP, took it a step further. “Travel management companies are becoming more irrelevant as more and more goes online,” she said. “A lot of my relationships were direct.”
Customer service still matters
Dan Cooper, global travel manager at Westinghouse Electric Co. in Pittsburgh, disagreed. “A TMC provides customer service. We strive to ensure that our travelers are taken care of.
“You can’t look past the need for customer service, ” he said, adding, “We push our agency to provide it.”
Steven Mandelbaum, vice president, information systems, at the Advisory Board Co. in Washington, said, “When things go wrong, that’s when you need a TMC, and you get hurt when you don’t have one.”
But, he added, “As time goes on, they will become less relevant.”
Mandelbaum said it used to be that travel agencies brought the entire suite of the technology needed for travel management to the client. “But that does not seem to be the trend today,” he said.
For example, “if I want to integrate HR with my expense tool, the TMC doesn’t add a lot of value there,” he said.
Ceding ground to tech providers?
TMCs are ceding ground to third party technology providers like Concur, he said.
But audience member Jeannie Eisenhart , director of corporate travel and meetings at Crowley Maritime in Jacksonville, Fla., suggested that technology providers like Concur can only go so far.
“I spend a lot of time servicing the direct relationship with Concur. I don’t think people realize how bad Concur is at customer service.”
Eisenhart said she also spends “a good chunk of time being a technology person.”
“I think there’s a lot of value that TMCs add. Concur is great at innovation, but not great at servicing the client.”
Opportunity for TMCs
Mandelbaim said there is a “fantastic opportunity for a TMC that can bring a total solution to the marketplace – technology, booking, expenses, reporting – instead of waiting for third parties to bring it to you.”
The Egencias of the world have the wherewithal to make that happen, he said. They would have to have an Apple-style model, in which they control the way things are done, he said.
Jim Davidson, chief executive officer of Farelogix, spoke from the audience. “In the managed travel business, we are not welcoming to new entrants,” he said.
“It’s a very closed network. We have to be more welcoming to new investment, and you guys are the ones who have to drive it. You have to endorse and embrace new entrants.”