Imagine your travel policy allowing travellers to book hotels or buy their travel through any available medium outside of the company mandated booking tool. While the thought of that alone is enough to terrify most travel procurement managers, 'open bookings' have become an approach made even more popular by the growth of travel booking websites and the fact that the upcoming generation of business travellers are drawn to consumer channels that seemingly make it easy to compare fares and rates and make instant bookings.
Many see 'open bookings' as chaotic, uneconomical and downright dangerous because organisations have no visibility over their travellers.
So why include 'open bookings' as part of company travel policy for employees?
On the positive side …
- It’s quick and easy and allows staff to use the booking skills they have probably honed for their leisure travel.
- It’s far easier to get compliance when you allow people to do what they’re comfortable doing.
- It may even be cheaper than using your preferred suppliers because some people are good at sniffing out bargains, and alternatives that may perhaps not occur to travel professionals. Some brave organisations have tapped into this by allocating budgets to specific trips and allowing staff to bank any savings towards other projects or expenses.
On the negative side …
- The savings may be a mirage, and online fares may actually be more expensive than negotiated fares, especially when you factor in any additional administration costs.
- When organisations give up the power to direct traveller choices, they lose leverage with suppliers. It’s almost impossible to negotiate discounted hotel rates without guarantees of minimum room nights.
- Organisations can lose visibility over trips when they are booked outside of a centralised system.
- What happens when travellers get into strife? Without centralised monitoring, it’s easy for travellers to fall off the radar. And the lack of monitoring also makes it hard to warn them if trouble is looming, or to help them when the proverbial hits the fan.
- Different suppliers have different invoicing and payment requirements. Some demand instant credit card payments which may provide a challenge to organisations not prepared to give every traveller some corporate plastic.
- It is an inefficient booking process as travellers are booking via disparate booking systems, re-entering their information and spending time checking different sources for fares and rates.
- Loss of control of data, as data needs to be transferred to third-party systems. Additionally, internal resources are required to facilitate and quality control the data.
Making it work
Open booking doesn’t have to mean chaos. If you see more positives than negatives, it is possible to maintain all the rigours of professional travel management and still allow your travellers the freedom to manage it themselves. But, to meet your obligations to all stakeholders, you need to have robust systems and practices to back up the booking free-for-all.
- You have to know who is travelling and what the trip is likely to cost. This can be achieved through a comprehensive approval system that ensures that all travel is properly authorised and budgeted.
- Organisations’ duty of care obligations mean that they need to know where their travellers are at any time. There are many third-party solutions for travel tracking and trip welfare.
- Without a centralised booking system, organisations will need the services of a data consolidator to capture and process all of the booking information and pass it on to their TMC, security service and/or expense management provider so that they can monitor and reconcile all trip data.
Making your booking system feel ‘open’ without giving up control
Open booking began almost a decade ago, when web-only fares were emerging as a cheaper option. At the time, many booking systems were limited to GDS fares and hotel inventory. So, travellers could often buy cheaper by going direct.
Fast forward to today, when corporate booking tools are available on mobile phones and can access almost unlimited airline tickets, hotel and ground transport inventory from multiple sources. Many would argue that the tools have been “opened up”, and there’s no longer any reason for travellers to look beyond the company-provided options.
The case for corporate booking tools has been strengthened by their rapid adoption of leisure booking innovations and many Online Booking Tools now share the look and feel of the leisure travel websites, but with all the control and data capture which organisations require.
So, before you throw out your policies and processes, check if your current providers can make them even more user-friendly, to the point where travellers don’t even realise they’re being “managed”.