Buyers Demand Industry Change In 'Corporate Travel Manifesto'

It's not every day that a "manifesto" lands in my inbox. Product pitches, sure. Press releases, absolutely. But a manifesto? Those are angry tomes banged out on typewriters by malcontents in the woods.

From decidedly different origins, this one presents seven tenets hashed out in January in Miami by a dozen corporate buyers, including travel pros from Amdocs, Tokyo Electron, Blackboard and US Foods. "Our overriding common concern," according to the 10-page document, "is that the innovation gap is growing wider between the services offered to leisure travelers and corporate travelers."

The manifesto proposes solutions to bridge that gap. More on that in a moment, but first, a word about the event's sponsor: Farelogix hosted the two-day forum, attended by CEO Jim Davidson and moderated by Tom Wilkinson of KesselRun Corporate Travel Solutions.

It might be hard for some to separate the Farelogix agenda, not to mention the often iconoclastic and occasionally divisive Davidson, from the contents of the manifesto. The company no doubt agrees with quite a few of the buyers' conclusions. So, sprinkle a dash of salt if you must, but tune out the voice of buyers, especially if they're your clients, at your own risk.

One buyer attendee and co-crafter of the manifesto, Steven Mandelbaum of The Advisory Board Company, told me that while Farelogix hosted the event, "it was amazingly not Farelogix- or direct connect-focused at all." Wilkinson made the same claim.

Back to the manifesto. I won't try to sum it all up; you can read the full document here. However, here is a summary of its seven key points.

First, the authors argue that there is a "shift in traveler buying expectations driven by technological innovation and a growing comfort with self-servicing." They note that "adapting to this change is critical," even if companies adapt in different ways, contingent on their size, culture and industry.

Second, "constant innovation in booking tools and interfaces make inflexible platforms unrealistic." To cope, companies either can modernize their tools or "extend access to new channels and content," while devising ways to keep the latter within a managed travel framework.

Third, the relationship between the corporate client and the travel management company "must change to meet the unique needs of individual corporations." The authors argue that TMCs not only need to sell things like ancillaries and provide access to content, but also "to service travelers no matter where bookings are made," even if it's outside of the channels they provide.

The fourth tenet: Companies need transparency, and that means the ability to comparison shop "regardless of channel, including ancillaries." Complete access to content "to all supplier products and services" is also key, the authors argue. Increasingly important is the "support personalization based on traveler/loyalty status and corporate relationship."

Now, number five: "A corporate-driven 'Big Data' repository is essential." That means aggregated data "from all sources related to all corporate trips and travelers," including booking, card, expense and vendor data. They also want better analytics, data mining and "real-time access for QC, reporting, and analysis."

Number six also deals with data; the authors claim that "relating all the data elements of individual trips is a best practice." They want to understand the full per-trip cost across their organizations.

Number seven, "Supplier post-booking/reservation processes (exchange, refund, discount, etc.) need to be decoupled from booking channels, simplified and reallocated back to the corporation/traveler." That, the authors argue, would allow "companies to calculate and manage the overall spend across multiple channels." Similarly, "corporate rates should apply regardless of source."

So, the biggest question is: What are the next steps?

Wilkinson this week called the manifesto many things: "an invitation to a dialogue" ... "a roadmap" ... "a shopping list" ... "an instruction manual for buyers to manage all of their suppliers more effectively." He said the authors hope the manifesto will prompt "viral uptake" of these issues within the industry, even if "some of the economic and business questions that come up could be wrenching and difficult."

During The Beat Live in Las Vegas last September, several buyers, including a couple who affixed their names to this manifesto (Advisory Board's Mandelbaum and US Foodservice's Jennifer Steinke), demanded a "seat at the table" when it comes to supplier decisions that impact their companies. This position paper, Wilkinson said, is an outgrowth of that and other discussions initiated around the industry.

The authors claimed the manifesto has and will be "an evolution."

"While some travel managers will agree with all of the tenets, some will only agree with a few, and others might not agree with any," they wrote. "But the important thing is to keep the conversation and discourse going. If we're always talking, our voices will always be heard."