GUEST: ASTA's Meader: Virtual Card Quandary Continues To Plague Hotel Industry

The American Society of Travel Advisors SVP of industry affairs and education Mark Meader writes in on the ongoing challenges of virtual card processes in the hotel industry.

Mismatched credit card processes and technologies in the hotel booking arena continue to plague the corporate and leisure traveler in ways that ought to have been addressed a long time ago. Case in point: a traveler makes a hotel booking through their travel advisor or travel management company using either a virtual credit card or a corporate card not in the traveler's possession. The hotel front desk expects the traveler to produce the card used to guarantee the booking upon check-in and settle the bill at check-out. All too often, the traveler simply can't do that, as the card__used for travel and other purchases by the company__resides with the company's travel or finance department and sits in that office, not in the traveler's wallet. Or, in the case of a virtual card transaction, it simply is not accepted by the hotel, especially at hotels outside the U.S.

Many times, the traveler merely does not possess a credit or debit card to make purchases. What to do? If the virtual card transaction doesn't go through or the traveler doesn't have a personal card to use to pay the bill, he or she faces a real dilemma. Couple all this with being in a city far from home, perhaps even in a foreign land, and you have the makings of a dicey situation for the traveler.

The solution? Never fear, simply have your TMC or advisor fax a copy of the credit card and confirmation detail to the hotel's front desk: That should solve the problem. But wait__fax? Credit card data, booking data__fax it to the front desk? Fax technology, first commercialized in the early 1960s, isn't the solution in today's world given Payment Card Industry data security compliance expectations and, to some extent, General Data Protection Regulation requirements. The security of this unencrypted data__now sitting on a fax machine at a hotel's front desk or elsewhere, often for long periods of time, is extraordinarily vulnerable. And with a virtual credit card, the information submitted is dynamic, meaning every time that virtual card is used, the verification data changes. Faxing simply can't be the solution here.

Several technology companies have evolved one-off virtual card solutions specifically to address this issue, but critical mass in terms of hotel acceptance isn't there and is far from where it needs to be. So, while virtual credit cards are intended to make consumer credit card data more secure, the practicality of their use in the often-occurring situations described above makes the issue untenable. Separately, faxing unencrypted credit card and authorization detail to a hotel as proof of guarantee remains mindboggling and archaic as a solution in today's world.

ASTA and its Hotel Distribution Advisory Committee, made up of senior ASTA member experts in the hotel sector from a representative sampling of all agency types and consortia, challenges the industry__hotels, credit card providers and global distribution systems__to more expeditiously align on the standard and solution needed to overcome this untenable obstacle which has been afflicting the traveler for too long.

In ASTA's view, a solution must:

  • Be industrywide, not one-off
  • Adhere to security protocols, i.e., PCI compliance, etc.
  • Consist of a single manageable standard agreed to by all relevant players: GDSs, credit card companies, hoteliers and any other impacted entities
  • Address not only the virtual credit card application but also static corporate cards that may not be in the possession of the traveler
  • Provide for a global solution relevant regardless of hotel or traveler location
  • Be created, tested and adopted quickly and be applicable to all traveler and card types

ASTA stands ready to assist by bringing together the right players to resolve the issue once and for all. Who will join us?