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The concepts of ‘open booking’ and ‘unmanaged travel’ are highly debated in the corporate 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.

Firstly, let’s 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 – an ever-increasing 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 and there’s very little you can probably do to stop it. A famous philosopher, Sun Tzu, once infamously said ‘don’t depend on your enemy not coming; instead, depend on being ready for him’. Whilst that sounds rather dramatic and much like a war-cry, it’s a great philosophy to adopt towards change – particularly one that could seriously affect your bottom line.

However robust your travel policy and online booking tools, there is still a percentage of your travelling workforce that will book outside of your preferred channel. Concur estimate this figure to be anywhere between 40%-50% 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; supplier 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 for the organisation to book outside of policy.

Whilst this isn’t necessarily true, particularly if your travel partner is shrewd with their daily rate and fare monitoring activity, the fact remains the same: nearly half of your travelling workforce are booking their trips outside of the safety net of your TMC. That’s nearly 50% of your spend that is unreconciled (and no doubt, significantly increasing the number of expense claims being made through your finance department); 50% of your travel data that you could use to leverage better deals with your preferred partners and most importantly of all, 50% of your travellers who are not risk assessed within your duty of care programme.

So, what can you do about it? Here at Business Travel Direct, we think that there are three important steps to tackling the issue of unmanaged travel.

  1. “Admit you have a problem”. It’s a classic line – perhaps not one often associated with business travel! – but nonetheless, it’s so important to address the issue that a proportion of your travellers will book their travel outside of your preferred channels, regardless of how many educational sessions you hold or how much you try to clamp down on compliance. That figure could be 10% or it could be well over 50%; either way, your bottom line will be affected as you’re losing insight into key data that should convert into significant savings. Clamping down on compliance and directing your travellers to read your corporate travel policy inside and out is simply a short-term solution to a long-term problem and now is really the time to be joining the conversation.
  2. Embrace the future of managed travel. We genuinely believe that open booking may be the next logical, evolutionary step in our industry. That doesn’t mean that the standard TMC services cease to have relevance, in fact far from it! For many organisations, an open booking solution may not be the answer, but your travel partner should recognise that there is now a strong focus on comfort and convenience for the individual traveller and be able to give you the tools to help you manage your travel. It’s a delicate balancing act between understanding what your travellers want and need, and what your TMC can do to give you full visibility, keep your costs down, and keep your travellers safe – regardless of where your travellers make their booking.
  3. Revaluate what’s important. If you had to list your top five business travel objectives, what would they be? Does security and risk management come first for you? In a world of continuous rising threat and unpredictable weather, it probably should. Perhaps your top priority is buying smart and reducing cost. Or maybe, just maybe, ensuring you have a happy travelling workforce and a good grasp on traveller friction is your number one travel objective for 2016.

We think it should be all three.

As you rebalance your priorities, you’ll find that the technology around you will rebalance in your favour too. Using Concur, you can make sure you balance all of your travel objectives and achieve complete visibility, trust and confidence to make your unmanaged travel, manageable, regardless of where it was booked.