In 2009 corporate booking tools were just starting to gain traction. Get There, Reardon, Cliqbook were the major players. Since then, these tools and concepts have matured and now some 40 plus percent of corporate travel bookings flow through online booking tools. Concur has matured the technology to integrate expense management with travel management and is now a power player (they were recently purchased by SAP), who not long ago introduced the concept of “open booking” the ability to manage travel while letting employees book where they prefer, but still capture all travel related expenses on a single platform. From what I see, the early hype around open booking hasn’t been matched by rapid adoption. So where will it go in 2015? Market research firm PhoCusWright predicts that open booking will gain momentum particularly in the Moderately Managed and Lightly Managed segments. I believe that PhoCusWright is spot-on with its prediction but that raises the all-important question: to what extent?
As someone who believes down to my very soul that Travel and Expense (T&E) needs to be managed and supervised even more than most top line items, the tools coming into the market can, will, and should help achieve this concept - not replace it. At its most basic level, I believe that organizations will embrace open booking if it can help them effectively manage travel, with greater flexibility and at a lower cost. The value of these tools all starts with good data. For managed travel to work, we must first solve the challenge of full data capture. If employees are occasionally allowed to book through any channel they prefer, there must be a way to bring all of that data together in a consistent, real-time format.
Current popular solutions rely on travelers to forward their confirmation emails via alternate sources to a data aggregator, like True Trip or Trip Link (solutions associated with TripCase and Concur). These emails are then parsed and converted into useful data for reporting and other purposes. I believe that 10% of the lightly to moderately managed market will pay to subscribe to these tools. When they do, and they get everyone to forward emails to it, the evaluation can then begin. The travel manager can determine if they have in fact found a better value (as they often claim), where all travelers are, if they have gone outside of their TMC for a legitimate reason you can approve in your travel policy moving forward, if and when preferred supplier agreement should have been used, etc. Together with their TMC, some of these customers will consider this enhancement and work through these types of evaluations if they choose to manage travel at a higher level.
By nature, organizations considering open booking will tend to have more relaxed cultures. However, that doesn’t mean that they want a T&E free-for-all. Open booking solutions can provide support in this area if these tools are used and under the intent of even more tightly managed travel.
Note: Challenges exist and in a future article we will address how these and new technologies and methodologies are beginning to address these issues. It’s no surprise that this method has gaps that include: road warriors not forwarding their emails to these data aggregators, preferred supplier agreements cannot be used or credited when travelers book outside a managed system, how to support these reservations not made by the TMC - even if the TMC can see them, they don’t own them so making changes, cancelling, and receiving updates to flight changes and other services provided by your TMC have to be a more manual process - and how to measure the impact of time when travelers go outside the system to report on and reimburse these expenses.