Online booking of travel is one of the earliest business applications to come out of the internet explosion and is clearly one of the most successful. There are so many options when it comes to booking travel online, it is a wonder how anyone can keep them all straight. There are new booking tools coming online all the time. What makes one different from another, and when should I use one versus another? There are two different kinds of travel, and two different kinds of sites to consider. Leisure travel bookings have certainly done very well on the internet, but this article will focus on the many options for corporate booking online and what you should look for if given the task of finding the right solution for your company.
First of all, you certainly have the option of going directly to an airline website to complete your reservation. This is a great way to do it in certain circumstances. You may be familiar with the flight you need and know exactly what the fare should be from previous experience. Also, the airline websites sometimes offer mileage bonuses for booking online, and there is no fee in most cases for booking directly on the airline site. Sounds great, right? But actually there are many shortcomings by going directly with the airline websites. You are likely getting the lowest fare available for that airline, but you will usually have better options if you look at many airlines simultaneously. By going with a solution that looks at all airlines at once, you’ll guard against a traveler using their preferred airline for the mileage benefits without regard for price. What you will pay in booking fees with one of these solutions will likely be more than made up for by the lower fares you will find on multiple airline searches. Booking sites like Orbitz, Travelocity and Expedia are examples of this kind of travel search engine.
Most people are familiar with these websites for leisure travel, but there are also business travel divisions of these companies with excellent alternate websites specifically designed for business travel use. What can you expect from a business travel site that differs from the leisure sites? You will get multiple traveler profile information stored on the site, as well as corporate reporting capability. You will see the ability for a travel coordinator to book travel for someone else, using a variety of credit cards. There will be some additional business friendly options, including options to book a car and/or hotel along with the air reservation. One of the best reasons to utilize an online system like this is that you can take care of the entire business trip in one shot instead of visiting multiple sites or making additional phone calls. So what exactly should you be looking for in a corporate travel online system? Let me give you my thoughts on the biggest issues.
Can it be customized? This is a must for any company that really wants to get a handle on the travel program. There should be the ability to input corporate contracts for negotiated airfare (with detail down to the market or fare class level). This is also crucial for car contracts and individual and chain-wide hotel contracts. The reason this is so important is two-fold. First, your travelers need access to the absolute lowest fares and rates possible. Equally important but often overlooked, is the fact that in order to keep your current contracts, you need to perform to certain standards. If you need to drive 35% of your business to American Airlines, for example, you need to ensure that your online booking tool will help drive volume in the appropriate direction. This also holds true for the number of room nights you have agreed to with your hotel partners. Some of the newest online tools will automatically drive the volume to the right places based upon your input. While many are not this sophisticated, there are still ways to remind travelers of their corporate obligations as they are booking through pop-up reminders, banner headlines, etc.
Can it be integrated and branded? For many companies this is an important way to drive adoption of the tool. If you can brand the site with your logo and other design options, your travelers will be more likely to use the product. Brand identity is important both inside and outside your organization. Also, if you have a corporate intranet that travelers are used to using on a daily basis, you should be able to integrate the system using a Single Sign On application so users can access travel booking internally without having to remember another password for another system.
What kind of reporting can be generated? If the whole idea of an online system is to better track traveler activity and spending, you need to be sure the available reporting meets your needs. Many corporate systems may offer some baseline reporting, but it probably won’t be anything close to what you are used to, especially if you’re working with a Travel Management Company that customizes their reports to your specifications. Make sure you have access to the information you need as it’s being generated.
What kind of backup support it offered? This is perhaps the most critical issue you’ll come up against. The larger online systems like Travelocity and Expedia have call centers to back you up in emergencies. But do you need a better level of service in these situations? There are many reasons to utilize a Travel Management Company’s online system instead of going with a larger, better marketed company. If you partner with a TMC that offers an online system, you can get the support you need not only for complex reservations and emergency situations, but you’ll also get better support in programming your system. Which brings us to another area of importance.
Who is responsible for programming the site? Travel program changes happen all the time. You’ll have travelers coming in to the company and leaving. Your contracts, if you have them, will be renewed and canceled. Your company policy will change, and it’s different for different level of employee. In all these changes, your online booking system will also change. When these changes happen, who is responsible for updating your system? If it’s left up to you, do you have anyone that is trained in how to make the changes you need? If it is the TMC’s responsibility, how quickly can they implement the changes? And remember, an online booking site is only as good as it is programmed, no matter which way you go. So who takes responsibility for programming errors?
Who takes care of training users? Just as a system is only as good as it’s programmed, travelers can only benefit from the system insofar as they’re properly trained. Most of your travelers are likely familiar with online booking either for personal travel or in previous business travel, so it shouldn’t be difficult to train them on a basic level. However, each site that you investigate will have different strengths and weaknesses that travelers need to know about. Online training can be effective, but personal training is even better. Is your representation at the company local or willing to send a trainer to your location(s) for more in-depth training? This goes for both end user travelers, travel coordinators booking for others, and anyone that needs to know programming of your site.
There are many things to consider when considering online travel booking tools. And it can be a daunting task especially given the myriad of choices that are available. I hope that this article has shed some light on some of the issues you’ll face. My advice would be to understand exactly what you are trying to accomplish with the system. If you need further information on some of the specific options open to you, I’m happy to be a resource for you and discuss the possibilities further. Feel free to contact me if you have specific questions about any aspect of online travel booking.