CWT Questions Open Booking, Concur Welcomes Discussion

A Carlson Wagonlit Travel survey fielded between November 2012 and May 2013 found that 87 percent of 149 corporate travel mangers had no plans to pilot an open booking program, with 9 percent saying they do plan to implement a pilot and 4 percent indicating they already have tested the concept.

For another CWT survey question, answered by a total of 99 corporate travel managers, 72 percent of those in Europe, the Middle East and Africa were "against" open booking, while 67 percent in North America were similarly opposed. Another 14 percent and 22 percent, respectively, were neutral while 6 percent and 8 percent were in favor and 8 percent and 3 percent had no opinion.

CWT on Tuesday released an 88-page report that included the survey responses and highlighted the travel management company's take on several notions used recently to support various initiatives characterized by some as "unmanaged travel." Profiled programs included Concur's Open Booking, Short's Travel's BookIt and KDS Maverick. CWT raised the most questions about the first of those, including:

"Will all or enough of a company's preferred suppliers be connected to Concur's cloud? Currently, coverage is non-existent on the air market and limited to less than 25 percent of the U.S. hotel market and 40 percent of the U.S. car rental market. Will companies dilute their negotiated discounts if they have less influence over travelers at the point of sale? With less control over travelers' booking process, how will companies be able to ensure safety and security for travelers? How complete and accurate is the data reporting? Will the booking costs associated with this platform be competitive?

"Will travelers still be able to benefit from TMC support, particularly when they need to change or cancel bookings? Concur says it intends to provide TMCs with exclusive technology and 'passive segment' solutions that would enable travel counselors to access travelers' itineraries on suppliers' websites and modify or create new bookings as necessary, but this is likely to be a rather inefficient way to manage changes compared with the one-stop shop of GDSs.

"Will travelers be able to pay using corporate lodge cards? For the moment, it appears that only personal credit cards can be used, which can be an inconvenience for travelers when paying for expensive trips, compared to corporate lodge cards."

Concur executive vice president for supplier management and advertising Mike Koetting told The Beat that CWT's comments about supplier participation in Open Booking reflected only those that have publicly announced their involvement, and that others have agreed to join the program. He also said that the type of connectivity__which Concur calls Open Booking Direct__is complemented by the emailed itineraries parsed by TripIt, known as Open Booking Indirect.

Koetting said negotiated discounts should not be diluted, safety and security should not be compromised and reporting should be more complete because, particularly in lodging, corporate buyers would have more coverage in their data sets. "A large number of travelers for whatever reason are choosing to book outside the traditional channel and are likely to continue to do so," said Koetting, a former CWT executive. "We think it's incumbent on the industry to bring that spend back under the umbrella."

But CWT referenced holes in data even when travelers use such email itinerary aggregators as Concur's TripIt or CWT's own CWT To Go (based on WorldMate technology). "Some emails cannot be read, some may not be forwarded by travelers into the app and some employees may not even register to use the app," according the CWT report. "Also, any data captured may be out of date if emails concerning changes are not forwarded." CWT also referenced concern that "inaccurate reports" could result from "misuse of professional email addresses for personal trips."

Koetting declined to disclose the fees that clients pay to participate in Open Booking, but said TripIt Pro subscriptions are included. He acknowledged that the harder questions pertain to agents servicing the traveler and forms of payment.

"Concur's strategy is to create passive segments on demand when they are required in order to enable the TMC to service the traveler," he said. "That won't be for every open booking, but we'll launch new features to enable on-the-fly creation of the passive that will give the call center agent visibility. The processes to service that reservation will be more manual in nature than transactions that were originated in the GDS, but compare that to the situation today, in which the TMC has no visibility."

Asked about CWT's claim on lodge versus personal cards, he said, "For the moment, personal credit card is the model that will be enabled at launch. We're in discussions with suppliers about enabling corporate lodge cards."

Overall Koetting said Concur is "encouraged by the attention being paid to this. We would look for every industry participant to invest in innovation and to develop solutions. We don't think that continuing to defend the status quo is viable."

He also offered a preview of research that Concur and GBTA conducted and plan to reveal soon. "The headline is, when travelers spend more than average, that spend is driven by their purchasing and policy decisions__not by where they made their booking," Koetting said. "The majority of out-of-policy purchasing decisions were made by travelers who used the preferred channel."

CWT's research included a poll of 459 corporate travelers and travel arrangers from five of its clients. That poll found that 61 percent always use preferred booking channels, while 30 percent usually do, 7 percent sometimes do and 2 percent never do. Among the 149 travel managers polled, 33 percent said travelers always book in the preferred channel, 64 percent said they usually do and 3 percent said they sometimes do. Ninety-nine percent of the travel managers surveyed by CWT said employees either are required or encouraged to book through preferred channels, and 54 percent said they expect compliance to travel policies to increase this year and next, versus 2 percent who expect a decrease.

Generally, CWT's report presented evidence that the traditional TMC/GDS channel remains the most sensible option, even as younger generations move into the workforce.

Fares booked through CWT on average are 9 percent lower than those booked other ways by a "global company that allows travelers to book travel through their TMC or on the open market as long as they respect specific price caps." The description precisely describes the travel program of CWT client Google, but CWT did not name the firm. CWT said it based the data on about 15,000 open market and 5,000 CWT bookings made in economy class on the unnamed client's top 25 routes, both domestic and international, between February and October of last year.

Meanwhile, even if given the freedom to book elsewhere, nearly two-thirds of corporate travelers polled by CWT indicated they would book through the preferred travel management company or authorized self-booking tool. The results varied little by age, with 62 percent of those under 35 saying so versus 64 percent of those over 55.

Also in support of the TMC model, CWT noted that ticket changes happen "more often than is generally believed," with a 45 percent change rate on 785,000 passenger name records created in Europe from February to April this year.