What is it about online adoption, or the lack of it, that creates so much confusion and contradiction? If you believe what you read in papers, industry journals and technology company surveys you would expect it to be the booking mechanism of choice but it isn’t. Why is that? Why do people still want to pick up the phone to a TMC or do their own thing?
I think we first need to agree what ‘online’ really is because there is much confusion. In travel management terms going online is not going on the web. When travellers go direct on the web management, control, compliance and measurement go out of the window. Yet I would wager that the average traveller sees this as going online and defines it as such in surveys and the like. From a travel management perspective online is defined by the use of a company selected self service booking tool that delivers all required elements of a corporate T&E programme. No wonder figures can seem contradictory!
It is not just different definitions that create misunderstandings. It is the motivation of the main stakeholders and the execution of their chosen methodology that counts. In the main travellers want two things which are cheapest price and choosing and doing things to suit their preference. Going on the web for simple bookings is the perfect answer for them. Why? Well they can then select exactly what they want to their best advantage with very little risk of interference plus avoid paying any internally levied TMC transaction fee.
Corporations should have a real issue with web usage. I have seen irrefutable evidence that many very major organisations are losing control over as much as 20% of their air bookings alone because travellers are circumventing company policy by booking online direct. An ongoing reluctance to mandate traveller behaviour in this area is much of the cause as corporations continue to be either unable or unwilling to enforce policy. Simply introducing a managed self booking tool is not the answer either as that too exerts control and cost on a reluctant traveller.
The problem is tougher to resolve as the traveller is understandably absolutely convinced that he is going about things the right way. Very often they will find what they think is a cheaper fare and they have also saved their company the cost of paying a middle man. What they do not realise is the impact their behaviour is having in many areas from policy to billing and security to MI as, by booking direct they have disappeared from the corporate radar screen. Also, let’s face it, a corporate tailored self booking tool is more restrictive to travellers than a phone conversation where they can try and rationalise. You cannot rationalise with a bespoke automated system that will not let you book certain things in a certain way and record your response.
As always the big issue is about service cost. Travellers seem to believe that web bookings do not attract booking fees which is of course nonsense. It takes only the barest of scratching around to see how actual cost can mount around a seemingly low lead price. What they resent is being charged a transaction fee for what they see as a simple ticket that requires minimal work in their mind. What they do not know is the vast majority of agency fees are to pay for what their company wants from the programme not the booking part alone.
These days I would guess that over 80% of any booking fee is for company not traveller benefit. Yet do companies explain this to their travellers? Do the majority of senior directors and executives know, understand and buy into this? The answer is no to both questions. So how on earth can you expect a traveller to if they are not encouraged, communicated with or damn well told to comply with company instructions in travel like any other business discipline.
This comment started with the question ‘Is online adoption going to grow?’ The answer is ‘Yes’ but not in the best sense in relation to travel management. The consumer understanding of online which is direct internet use will continue to flourish. The proper and organised use of online self booking will continue to lag way behind the web unless companies grab the thorny issues of communication and mandate by the throat. Control, or lack of it, is going to get worse as suppliers step up their drive to promote third party sales with direct customers to the detriment of corporate policy and control.
If you agree with me what can be done? Well I could devise a convincing justification, as well as an effective communication strategy with compelling arguments and controls standing on my head so I presume most of my corporate readers could do the same. It would be well worth their while. And if you do not agree with me? Well that’s good because this is no problem for you!