Choosing an online booking tool can be difficult. There are so many to choose from and you’re constantly being sold the latest and greatest feature that will revolutionise online booking as you know it. And then there’s the question of how much of what they’re actually saying is true. I’m not saying they are lying exactly, but there are a lot of smoke and mirrors that can catch you out if you’re not aware. So we’ve put together the top 6 things to consider when choosing an OBT.
With the average organisation’s international spend increasing by 5.5% in the last year, the ability to book international via your online tool has become increasingly important. Many OBTs will claim they have the ability to do this, so the question becomes… how? The key questions around this are:
- Do I have to nominate the carriers and routes I want loaded? This is a question which generally doesn’t occur to most people, but there are some online tools which require you to nominate the routes you want to travel and the carriers that you want bookable on each route. This only becomes an issue when you miss one!
- How many destinations can I book? The most destinations I have seen an online booking tool book is up to 6. This means that your travellers can also book complex international trips online (saving you up to 80% on the transaction fee).
- Are there any special international search filters that simplify the international booking process? This really relates to any functionality that makes booking international easier. I have seen OBTs that can filter search results up to 18 different ways, but there are lots of options out there, so make sure you shop around.
- What kind of support is provided (generally by your TMC) for international bookings? No matter what international functionality your OBT has, if your travellers/ arrangers aren’t comfortable with booking international, they won’t! It’s that simple. So you need to ensure that the travel management company you partner with can help you educate them so that they will.
2. Online changes
In the past 12 months the ability to make changes to bookings online has become more and more common, with a lot of online booking tools claiming they can make changes both before and after ticketing. The most interesting part is post ticketing changes and it is really worth asking how these changes are actioned and in particular if the process is manual or automated. You may wonder why this matters. Well, a manual process means that when you change a booking online, the booking is then sent to a queue to wait for a travel consultant to action it. This may not seem like a big deal, but what if it’s an urgent change, or in the middle of the night? Chances are it won’t get changed in time for you to travel. It also results in additional rules from your Travel Management Company (TMC) around when bookings can be changed AND how much you are charged to make that change. Conversely, an automated process, automatically changes the booking immediately, without any consultant intervention. The traveller is able to make a change independently, from wherever in the world and at any time of day
3. Hold live inventory
There are not many online booking tools that I have seen that actually do this. This refers to the ability to hold confirmed itinerary content (flights, hotels and cars) until the booking is confirmed or cancelled. This ensures that when your travellers retrieve the booking after seeking approval they are able to book the exact same rates/ fares that were available at the time of the initial search.
In today’s fast moving world mobile technology is becoming increasingly important. This is why online booking tool apps are critical to your travel program. The question is not 'do they have apps', but 'what do they do?' The key functionality is:
- Booking, but ensure you are able to book air, hotel and car
- Approving travel
- Viewing itineraries
5. Integrated access to fares and rates
We all know that the nature of the travel industry is that the distribution of fares and rates is quite fractured. The majority of content is distributed centrally through what’s called a Global Distribution System (GDS), but because suppliers have to pay to have their content distributed, smaller suppliers and low cost carriers sometimes don’t, which then makes them non GDS content, which means content that is not distributed via the GDS. So, taking all of this into consideration you need to ensure that whichever online booking tool you select also provides access to this non GDS content. This can be through:
- Low cost carriers: There are online booking tools that provide access to up to 80 low cost carriers
- Aggregators: This is access to content from providers that specialise in providing access to aggregated content (e.g. Lido AADX+ and AOT)
6. Integration with other systems
Lastly, you should ensure that the OBT integrates with your key internal systems. Most important of these are your HR system for streamlined traveller profile management and your Expense Management System for faster reconciliation. Considering all of the above, I’ll leave you with two final pieces of advice:
- Shop around to find what fits with your organisations travel program. Being able to book international online is great, but if your travellers are travelling to regional Australia, you’d be better off looking for an OBT that integrates with someone like Lido for regional accommodation content.
- Make sure it works! This may seem obvious but OBT providers have a lot of functionality in the pipeline. If they can’t demonstrate it live or allow you to test it then chances are it is in development.
We've put together a checklist of Online Booking Tool functionality to help you choose the best one for you. Download it here!