Travel programs that lack a strong mobile platform are driving business travelers to alternative booking services and inviting noncompliance with travel policy.
The more time business travelers spend on the road, the more they rely on mobile booking tools. Veteran travelers are more focused on searching and booking efficiently than they are on whose booking tool they use and whether they are inside the bounds of corporate travel policy.
“New technology makes it easier all the time to search for the hotel that is a little closer to your meeting or the flight that gets you in a couple of hours earlier,” said Bernie Yu, senior vice president of marketing for global travel data analysis firm ADARA.
“If you’re the travel manager or the travel seller, you can’t assume your loyal traveler will come back,” he said. “You have to make it easier for the traveler to use your app than some other product and you have to differentiate the customer experience in a way that makes the traveler want to come back.”
TMCs and travel managers have long recognized that travelers are looking beyond the in-house app when it comes to searching and booking business travel.
American Express, Carlson Wagonlit, BCD Travel, and most other business travel sellers have been frantically trying to bring their own travel apps up to the experience levels that consumers have come to know and expect in leisure travel and in the broader online retail world.
New research from ADARA helps confirm the need to keep up with the consumer online buying experience.
Three in four business travelers do more than half of their buying online, its research finds.
A solid majority of business travelers rely on smartphones (85%) and tablets (89%) to complete purchases. Business travelers also conduct more research before booking flights or hotels than the typical consumer.
ADARA also found that business travelers tend to be more unhappy with their current service providers than other travelers.
Veteran business travelers are more likely to switch banks, insurance companies, car brands, and other product providers that have long relied on customer loyalty.
‘Elite’ and ‘Ultra’ travelers
These findings come from an in-house study that included billions of travel related transactions by business travelers segmented by the frequency of travel as well as by non-business travelers. The company also added traveler survey data from December, 2014.
Elite business travelers, who fly premium fares or book luxury hotels, make up 2.5% of the road warrior population but account for 13% of trips.
Ultra business travelers, who make ten or more flights without a Saturday night stay, make up less than one percent of road warriors but take 9% of business trips.
Ultra and Elite travelers make more flight searches and more hotel searches than other business travelers and non-business travelers.
How they search
How do those higher-volume travelers search?
The typical flight search begins with an aggregator to figure out who flies a route nonstop or with the minimum number of connections.
The next step is probably an airline website to check on a “reasonable” price. Next comes more aggregator searches to look for better pricing.
The only way to get your travel program into that search pattern is to make sure it’s one of the easiest aggregators for travelers to use. If it isn’t the first or second choice, it may not be used at all.
“That kind of shopping behavior is an opportunity to lure your travelers back into the fold,” Yu said. “Business travelers are more willing to switch products and providers. You can’t force them to use your preferred booking tool.
“But you can convince them to use it by making it easier, faster, simpler and more likely to produce results they can act on.”
A balancing act
Producing useful results is a delicate balancing act.
Limiting search results is likely to encourage travelers to look for another booking solution. Too many irrelevant results will push them to a competitor just as quickly.
The effects of changing traveler choice on buying decisions may become a little clearer in the autumn.
Lufthansa starts levying a fee for any booking outside its own system on September 1in most markets. Travel managers are furious about what is effectively a price penalty for comparison shopping and booking through standard GDS channels, but no one knows how travelers will react.
“They (Lufthansa) are trying to use dollars saved from the OTA world to drive the shopping and consumer experience,” Yu said. “The eventual outcome in terms of bookings and net revenue remains to be seen. We all have the Southwest example where direct booking is the only real alternative.
“None of us can predict how business travelers will view the change and the impact it might have on their booking choices.”