The MacNair Travel Leadership Blog

How Open Booking Ate My Travel Program

Posted by Mike MacNair on Sep 10, 2015 12:00:00 PM

Open-booking-ate-our-travel-programDo you know where all of your travelers have gone this year? Taking the time to check-in on your travel program is something we at MacNair Travel recommend to all of our customers – it’s good habit, and often an assessment of where you are has you wondering about your company’s business travelers…where are they going? Or why aren’t they traveling?

In a perfect travel management world, each and every traveler within your organization complies with the established travel policy and records all of their travel-related items within your online booking system. Then the travel manager simply runs a report to assess the status of your travel program. Sounds easy, right? Let’s be realistic – your employees are busy, they have other jobs to focus on, and compliance with the travel policy may not be the top item on their list of priorities. But without compliance by almost everyone, it’s hard to leverage the full benefits of your program relating to time savings, supplier benefits, money savings and control.

What is open booking anyway?

One of the biggest challenges of compliance in your travel program is open booking. For those of you not familiar with this term, “open booking” refers to the concept of employees booking their travel needs – air, hotel, car -  outside of your online booking system. We call this group your “rogue” travelers. Even though they have the ability and ease to book everything through the business’ system, they choose to secure one or more travel items on their own. Unfortunately, open booking does not allow the travel manager to effectively track where and why employees are traveling.

One way to combat open booking is to be sure your business has a robust, effective and easy-to-use online booking system.  This “system” can be a number of different apps that complement each other, or if you’re working with a travel management company, their experts should work with you on developing a system that best meets your needs.

Measure the data

Having an online booking system in place can then appropriately control costs, lessen risk for employees travelling, and help the travel manager appropriately manage and negotiate vendor discounts. The following six initial data points to diagnose and quantify the lost opportunity of rogue booking can help your leadership team and rogue travelers “buy-in” to the system:

  1. Total volume of your travel spend. The choice is yours – data can be pulled for overall travel spend, by product purchased (air, hotel, car, sedan, etc.,) by department or by cost center.
  1. Average transaction cost compared to plausible benchmarks. You’re rogue travelers may think they are getting the “best deal,” but with your negotiated discounts, this may not be true. Topaz International and other third parties provide this data, as do many TMCs.
  1. Lost opportunity compared to lowest fare available. What was the lowest fare for the itinerary compared to what was selected by the traveler? This data is often available from TMCs and can’t be secured from public sources.
  1. Preferred supplier performance and/or opportunities. Which suppliers (air, hotel and car) are being used the most frequently and why? Are there opportunities to bring new vendors on board?
  1. Travel purchased by source. How are your employees purchasing travel? Is it through the TMC? Is it a combination of online and a phone call to the TMC? Is there an alternate source such as a direct supplier web site?
  1. Policy compliance. If you have details in your travel policy about what the company expects travelers to select (fares under $500 or within range of the lowest fare, per diem rates), how did the team do with compliance?

With an online booking system in place, reports showing costs for a specific expense category and from where they are purchased can be pulled and reviewed. This simple process can help you manage the travel and entertainment line item in your budget versus just making a purchase for travel.

Ask questions

The next step in your process of managing an online booking system is to ask for feedback. The following scenario is typical with the businesses that we work with.

ABC Organization launches a new travel management system and encourages employees to start using the system. Throughout the first few months, there are no complaints – but people who are not happy with the new system continue to book as they had done previously, and do not comply. Without actively asking and listening to traveler feedback, “travel anarchy” continue and makes for a messy travel management system, lack of compliance and an increase in travel expenses.

With the help of your travel manager or a TMC, feedback on the new system can be attained, processed and used to improve the process for all involved. Who has used the new system and what do they like best about it? Why is John in Operations not using the online booking system? Is it poor customer service from the TMC? Is the online system unclear about car rentals? Is it cumbersome to use? When you ask for feedback – the good, the bad and the ugly – progress and improvement is made. Your travel manager should be open to feedback and/or should work with your TMC to improve on vendors, tools or policy to improve your online system.

Once again, balance is achieved. Travelers are happy because their voices have been heard and the job of securing travel is made easier, thereby saving them time. The company’s CFO is seeing a 10-20% reduction in the travel and entertainment line item of the budget. And those of you involved with the travel portion of your business…your life is made easier. It’s a “win” for everyone!

Travel Policy Workbook