The Beat Letters: Report Sparks Debate On 'OTAs' And Corporate Travel

Re: Survey: 'OTAs' Unable To Meet Many Firms' Needs

Monday's article about a survey of corporate travel managers by UBS Investment Research drew immediate and opposing responses from two former managers of (online) travel (agencies) management companies ... [more]

"Your story on 'OTA's' was frustrating. I just don't understand why you would cover this out-of-date hatchet job. The only thing I learned is that UBS had an agenda and proved it to their own satisfaction. 'We've viewed OTAs as leisure travel brokers ...' Come on! No travel management professional who has read a single proposal from any of the companies named--who understands the variations in models, reporting capabilities and other services available, or who knows the long list of clients ranging from pretty small to pretty big--could possibly reach this conclusion. '... and our survey results do not change this opinion.' Well at least they convinced themselves!

The first clue to their agenda was the headline. Most of the industry has moved beyond the semantics of iTMCs (we're just as good as the old guys), versus OTAs (those upstarts are just travel agencies but we are travel management companies!), versus TTMCs (really old and archaic). I guess UBS is just learning about all this. The only reason I don't think some 'TTMC' ghost-wrote the study, is that even they know that the three named players are another part of the competitive landscape. They have strengths and weaknesses, and will appeal to some buyers, but not to all.

That's not news or analysis--it's just a self-serving hatchet job by some folks who are late to the party. If UBS did a survey to justify their agency selection, that's their business. Lots of companies pick agencies without understanding the industry. It's hardly newsworthy."

~ TRW Travel Consulting's Tom Wilkinson, formerly of Travelocity Business

"Can anybody seriously be surprised about [the UBS] findings? The only people I can think of are the airlines who thought this would be a cool way to sidetrack an intermediary, or the financial institutions who continue to judge managed travel the same way they do unmanaged SME (small and medium enterprise) or leisure. Quite simply, there is no logical way that OTAs can handle managed travel on a national, let alone international basis unless they provide a full specification product and there is not an online product on the planet that can do that. It is unlikely that such a detailed, RFP-driven, individually tailored service can ever be people- or manual process-free.

The whole concept of managed travel is that it needs to be managed and requires the intellect-driven blend between online booking, manual intervention, tailoring of processes and 'management.' How can any pretty standard and possibly supplier-biased online solution do this? How is that solution going to link with a corporate's exact demands for system linkage, security, policy and all the other requirements that usually take up to 50 pages of an RFP document to list?

It is time everybody got real over this and stopped wasting time and effort. Major organizations have identified this; hence, the survey result. But I suspect surprise will continue to be expressed as to why corporations do not select a standard, or dummied-down package from a total online solution. As my own experience of too many years in a TMC showed me, whatever anyone says, there is practically no such thing as a totally 'untouched' booking. That is why managed business is called managed."

~ MPA Executive Counsel's Mike Platt, formerly of Hogg Robinson Group