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The concept of ‘open booking’ is a highly debated topic in the travel industry, with many travel management companies condemning it as a threat to compliance, and others sensing an opportunity to evolve and embrace the change in the landscape of business travel.

Let’s first take a look at what is meant by the term ‘open booking’. Put simply, the definition of open booking is a booking made outside of the preferred channels as defined by your travel policy. If you look at the way you might book your leisure travel; you’ll perhaps go onto a price comparison site, or use an app on your mobile smartphone or tablet to assess the various options, or you might have even used Air BnB – a popular choice for leisure travel. This trend of using any and every platform available to you to receive a plethora of choice is migrating into the business travel world.

However robust your travel policy and online booking tools, there is still a percentage of your travelling workforce Travelthat will book outside of your preferred channel. Concur estimate this figure to be around 40% although for some organisations, there is a chance that this percentage may be significantly higher. There are host of reasons as to why a traveller might choose to book outside of policy; preference, loyalty schemes and use of mobile-booking and apps, to name just a few. One of the most common reasons for travellers choosing to book directly with a supplier is that they believe they can get a better deal than their travel partner can offer, and that it’s actually more cost effective to book outside of policy!

How will an open booking world work for my organisation?

A key area to consider when you’re assessing your future business travel roadmap is the demographics of your travelling workforce. The Millennial Generation, also referred to as ‘Generation Y’ are a demographic of tech-dependent individuals born somewhere between the 1980’s and early 2000’s. These millennials will become our next generation of business travellers; in fact, it’s estimated that by 2025, 75% of our travelling workforce will be from this generation, so it’s certainly wise to listen to what they’re asking now and shape your travel policy to include their requirements. These tech-savvies are 50% more likely to book outside of mandated policy than their predecessors, as their wants and needs are vastly different. They search for cost-effective deals, free Wi-Fi and upgrades, great loyalty schemes that benefit the individual rather than the company as a whole, and most importantly, they want choice – and lots of it.

The idea that an organisation would have a relatively ‘loose’ travel policy in place, with travellers booking wherever they please (likely with spend caps in place), is daunting to many organisations, and understandably so. The challenges in place to implement an open booking policy are widespread and certainly not to be overlooked in this decision-making process. Whether you internally manage your travel with a team of bookers, or out-source to a travel management company, there are some serious considerations and requirements you’d need to make it work for you.

duty of careDuty of care is a huge factor to consider; how will you track your employees and risk assess them whilst they’re travelling, without knowing the basic ‘when and where’ elements of the travellers trip? Today you might receive a breaking-news bulletin, run a report on the online booking tool to see who is in the area and then, communicate with the traveller. If there is an open booking philosophy in place, how will this booking data be stored accurately, and where can you access it within seconds? The real fear amongst organisations making this decision to go into an open booking world is that with travel data coming from so many sources, how is it possible to provide robust risk management on every booking?

This is really important question to answer, before you consider any kind of world where your travellers are booking outside of the safety net of a travel management company. Since 2008, duty of care is a legal obligation and should an organisation not have the appropriate protocols in place during an emergency situation that could affect the health and safety of travellers, the organisation could be fined up to 10% of their annual turnover. It’s definitely not something to be overlooked and if you’re considering an open booking programme, you’d need to ensure that you have suitable risk management software in place to track open bookings and communicate with the traveller efficiently.

Another traditional function that would require serious consideration is the reporting element of any travel programme. Senior management require detailed budget analysis in all areas of the business, and naturally travel is no different. In fact, studies show that Travel and Expenses represent the 2nd biggest outgoing for most businesses, exceeded only by salaries, so your finance department will want as much transparency as possible on how your travel budget is being spent. How can you capture the different elements of the trip to provide the relevant people with sophisticated management information (MI)? MI is critical for a number of reasons; not just for forecasting and budget allocation, but also for leveraging great deals with airlines and implementing a preferred hotel programme. If you have the right people with the right expertise analysing your travel data, you can make significant savings.

Ultimately, if your travellers aren’t supporting your preferred booking methods, and you’ve tried workshops, travel communications, and educational sessions explaining why the travel management company has been chosen, then perhaps you might need to start looking around to see what other kinds of travel programme might work for you. Essentially, you need something that gives your travellers the freedom they demand to book anywhere, whilst simultaneously capturing the financial data for reporting, analysis, and duty of care fulfilment; in turn enabling you to carefully balance the important elements of your travel programme.

Business Travel Direct see open booking as the next logical, evolutionary step in our industry. As with all things technology-based, natural progressive steps are taken and generations adapt to the tools around them. We’ve been assessing the industry for some time now and forecasting what we believe will be the next generation of managed travel. We’re already taking steps to move away from the standard ‘travel management’ label and instead identify as a partner that can help you manage your travel. You might be thinking there’s not much difference between the two but to us, there’s a big difference. We don’t necessarily need to book your travel to add real value to your travel solution; instead, what we can offer you, is the tools and expertise that will help you manage it yourself.

That’s one of many reasons we decided to partner with Concur; to have global support in addressing these progressive changes. We’re investing in a brand new world called Concur Compleat that enables your travellers to have full control over where they book and with which suppliers, without losing insight into your travel programme. It’s a huge step for the managed travel industry and one that we’re keen to lead. There are essentially three important stages to this new world of ours, and personally, we think it ticks all the boxes on what an organisation considering open booking might need from us:

Booking and Reporting

A traveller can book wherever they choose, with any supplier, and from any avenue. One of the reasons some travellers prefer to book directly with a supplier is that they believe they can find a better deal outside of what we can offer. This might be for a host of reasons; better room amenities, upgrades, free Wi-Fi, avoiding the travel management fee, or beneficial loyalty schemes that are aimed at the individual rather than the traveller. We understand that this happens and once a traveller has decided that they’d rather book directly, it can be very hard to persuade them otherwise.

So we’re implementing TripLink, a whole new platform that enables the traveller to book wherever they choose and simply forward the email confirmation on to us so we can do the rest. I know what you’re thinking, that’s all they have to do? Yes, that’s all they have to do! Simply forward the email to a dedicated email address and we’ll capture the data for analysis and policy compliance. We can set price benchmarks within the system to create an approval process for large spend, identify when a preferred supplier has been used, and analyse the data to spot behavioural trends and negotiate better deals with your favourite suppliers on your behalf.

So, your travellers are satisfied that they’re getting the organisation a great price; the finance department hasTravel Data 100% transparency over where the travel budget is going (and no doubt their productivity will go up as there’ll be a serious decline in travellers filling out expense forms to reclaim their travel costs!); and your managers still have control over approving expensive trip costs.

Depending on the demographic and culture of your travelling workforce, we can also turn up the Gamification mode within the TripLink system. Gamification essentially means ‘making a game out of a non-game setting’ and in applying this philosophy to business travel, there are some savings to be made without reducing any of the freedoms of open booking. The system can set benchmarked ‘prices to beat’ and your travellers have complete autonomy to take to the internet and find your organisation a better deal online. And, if they do, they can be rewarded however you see fit; free upgrades, a mention in the company newsletter, a top spot on a ‘travel leader board’ held on the company intranet – the options are endless for a little bit of healthy competition. Gamification aims to encourage positive traveller behaviour that makes travel booking a little entertaining for the booker, and cost-effective for your organisation.

Duty of care

The Concur Compleat system is remarkably clever and efficient with handling your data, and a large portion of it is entirely automated. Once a traveller sends in their trip confirmation, it’ll automatically dissect the relevant management information data for analysis, and it’ll also place the booking directly into our SMARTtrack platform for risk assessment and tracking, fulfilling your duty of care obligations and giving your travellers confidence in our ability to look after them whilst they’re travelling.

SMARTtrack is one of the best tracking platforms the industry has to offer; offering real time risk assessment from over 160,000 news sources in 220 countries, best practice and compliance messaging, and two-way communication capabilities (if you’d like to read a case study of how we used SMARTtrack during the Brussels attacks earlier this year, you can do so here).

Whilst we offer a number of travel services to a wide variety of organisations, we believe duty of care is one of the most important functions we can offer as a travel partner. In a world of rising threat and unpredictable weather, it’s critical that we are able to share information and communicate with all of our travellers during an emergency, and SMARTtrack has a unique capability to enable open bookings to be tracked as well. It’s certainly a novel idea; tracking bookings that weren’t necessarily made through us, but it’s one that we see as vital for our travellers.

Open BookingWhilst we’re not quite there yet, we’ll be live with Concur Compleat by the end of the year. In the spirit of listening to the traveller’s requirements, the real difference between travel management and managed travel and the inclusion of an open booking world, is a strong focus on comfort and convenience for the individual. That doesn’t mean that cost-savings and risk management are being deprioritised, in fact we’d argue that it’s far from it. Instead, it just means finding a balance between what travellers want and need, and what we can do to give you full visibility, keep your costs down , and keep your travellers safe – regardless of where they make their booking.

It’s important to note at this point that the managed travel approach is not going to be for everyone. There are a host of factors to consider; from traveller demographic, booking behaviours, locations, risk, size and budget of travel spend… the list could go on. We have no plans to discontinue the usual service offering, we are simply expanding it to include organisations that are struggling to compete with the allure of direct booking.

Open booking, whilst a remarkably new concept in itself, is an industry-reflection of a generational consumer battle of old – the balance of compliance versus freedom, to create a remarkable experience for the individual, and the corporation, and we believe Concur Compleat does exactly that.