Online booking tools (OBTs) have become the backbone of corporate travel management — the most recent research shows that this is the case in around 76% of businesses. But some employees still resist using them. A closer look at the reasons why reveal some users feel constrained or limited, either by lack of choice, or sub-standard usability.
While these reasons are understandable, there are excellent business reasons to adopt an OBT, not only for travellers, but for companies as well. It all boils down to changing behaviours. We can take a lesson from recycling. As a society, we've changed our habits concerning waste because we now know that recycling plastics helps save the environment. Now we all marvel at how much less waste we produce when we recycle. Similarly, learning that using a good OBT helps a company may reduce resistance to OBTs and make travellers love the personal benefits they bring.
According to the recent American Express GBT/ACTE study, the top reason travellers gave for not using the company OBT is the belief that they can save money by booking trips on other platforms. Far from wanting to ride high on the company dime, this shows travellers are genuinely concerned with saving their company money and want to play their part by choosing lower fares wherever they can. Educating them on all the ways the company OBT brings savings beyond the cost of the fare will certainly go a long way in motivating them to acquire a healthy OBT habit.
Getting more for your money
Consider the many other factors that contribute to cost — hidden ancillaries, being a good example. Companies can configure an OBT to include negotiated benefits and ancillaries from suppliers. Not only does this help avoid unexpected charges, it enables the company to meet contractual targets and maintain good partnerships with suppliers.
Cancellation and change fees also contribute to costs and may not be taken into consideration when looking for the cheapest fare. For business travellers, this is particularly important. Plans change and they need to be flexible. Commercial sites are built to promote these cheaper fares. Business OBTs are built to give the business traveller what's best for them and their company.
So, a price that may seem higher in the OBT at the moment of booking, actually ends up costing less in the long run because of the other benefits it brings to both the traveller and the purchasing department.
Taking care of yourself as you're taking care of business
These benefits also contribute to traveller well-being and safety during a trip. Travellers should remember that often the aim of their trip is to help the company grow. A business trip is not just about the cost: employees should travel safely and comfortably to be as productive as possible. But booking on another platform to get a cheaper price may carry a cost in terms of traveller experience. Reservations made outside the OBT may not be recorded in the company's traveller tracking service and may prevent travellers from getting TMC support when their plans change unexpectedly. Rogue travellers usually end up on their own during times of disruption. This incurs costs that go well beyond the perceived savings of a cheaper fare.
It's not as bad as you think
Citing other reasons, travellers mention negative user experience with corporate tools and a lack of choice. But there are far fewer who mention this compared to those who cite price concerns. Maybe five or 10 years ago, this wouldn't have been the case. We should remember the industry has made considerable headway in recent years in terms of adopting consumer-like experiences for corporate travellers. With SaaS-based tools, progress has become even faster. Product updates are continuous and technology companies are more agile in pushing out improvements across to users.
The industry is also progressing on ways to present content through new channels while continuing to maintain a vital business layer of control and service. The buzz around new standards, such as NDC, have created a sort of FOMO among travel managers. They are afraid of missing out on content being made available via this distribution channel if their booking tool and travel agency are not providing access to NDC content. The business travel industry is working to provide such content in a corporate travel friendly context with the service and scalability needed.
In the meantime, we should consider that above all, what travellers need is the best option, not necessarily all the options. A good OBT parses through a plethora of content and applies preferences based on the company's travel policy. It can also apply user history, co-worker behaviour and personal preferences, while taking trip-specific details into consideration, such as the time of a meeting and how far it is from the airport. This is value that goes beyond the price of a ticket.
There's nothing wrong with specialising
Many of the negative perceptions on usability and choice come from comparing consumer booking sites to corporate booking sites. You might as well be comparing apples and oranges. Consumer sites don't have the same motivation that business booking tools do. A commercial site wants you to sign in and stick around, leaving your cookies behind. The more you shop, compare and hang around for a chance to get upsold on an added service, the better the tool works.
Business booking tools are different. They should be designed to get you in and out with an entire trip booked in a flash — while taking into account policy and capturing the data needed for good business intelligence for your travel program and of course duty of care for your travelling employees. This experience is specifically designed to maximise productivity but may be a new and different one for the user. Positive reinforcement is, therefore, crucial to success.
Choosing an OBT that is focused on a great user experience and helping users do everything they need for business travel in one place is a great way to start to increase adoption. But equally important is communicating the reasons why it's good for the company and good for the user. This really is vital to the success of an OBT implementation.
Once users understand the value of using an OBT for themselves and for the company, the experience becomes more satisfying. They understand the reason a cheaper basic fare may not be the best option. They consider how loyalty to a corporate negotiated rate may benefit them with perks in the long run. That positive experience will keep them coming back and should create good habits, delivering savings across the company and a healthy investment for growth.