BTN Europe research shows travel managers are generally happy with their TMC partners, but some challenges persist

After all the work undertaken by travel managers to conduct an RFP to identify the right travel management company for their organisation, it will come as a relief to both parties that most buyers are happy with their selection – but that’s not to say it’s always a marriage made in heaven, as some buyers’ comments showed. Our research also looked at satisfaction with different aspects of TMCs’ services, as well as how corporates select, pay and contract their agency partners. The research was conducted by BTN Europe and Business Travel Show Europe in April and May 2022. Results comprises the selections and opinions of 163 travel manager respondents predominantly based in Europe.

Buyers mostly satisfied

Two-thirds (67 per cent) of the travel buyers surveyed said they were quite or very satisfied with their TMC, while one in five (22 per cent) declared their satisfaction levels neutral. Nine per cent said they were somewhat unsatisfied with their TMC and, for three per cent of buyers, relations have soured to the point they declared themselves not satisfied at all.

Digging into buyers’ comments in the open-ended section of the survey, a wide range of issues were identified – both positive and negative – as well as some common themes.

Many buyers praised their TMC for the information and service they have provided around Covid travel restrictions, recognising the challenging circumstances: “They have unfailingly helped us through the nightmare of Covid travel legislation when we travelled throughout the pandemic,” said one buyer. “They have been brilliantly helpful and responsive,” said another. Another buyer said their TMC “took Covid as an opportunity” and really proved their value as an indispensable partner. Others pointed to their TMC’s assistance in managing cancellations and unused tickets and a smaller number highlighted their TMC’s role in formulating a “back to travel strategy” with their organisation.

Asked what improvements travel managers would like to see at their TMC, staffing levels and response times led the field. “They need to replace the lost staff and knowledge,” commented one buyer. Another called for “more staff and quicker turnarounds”. And another: “Improve the offline service and have enough consultants to meet the agreed SLAs.”

Sustainability information at point-of-sale and better reporting were also mentioned several times, but most comments were of a more specific nature. “Include Ryanair content in the offering,” said one respondent. “Make ‘pay as you fly’ available for online bookings”; “implement reshopping solutions”.

“Travel is so complex, with EU regulations and ongoing Covid restrictions, but the TMC still doesn't provide an advisory service for travellers and bookers that sufficiently supports colleagues before departure. They need to be more than simply a ticket booking service,” said one buyer.

Breaking it down

We asked travel managers to rate their satisfaction levels with 12 elements of their TMC’s services, costs and support in a range of areas. Again, results showed buyers are generally happy with their TMC’s performance but some categories divided opinion. While 69 per cent of buyers said they were happy with online servicing – the highest of any category – it was also one of the categories where buyers were most unhappy (16 per cent). Account management (66 per cent happy; 18 per cent neutral; 16 per cent unhappy) and total cost of travel (66 per cent happy; 16 per cent neutral; 18 per cent unhappy) also polarised opinion. With the survey conducted during a time of well-documented staff shortages at TMCs, it was perhaps not surprising that nearly one in five buyers (18 per cent) were unhappy with their TMC’s offline servicing.

Cultural fit is key

The need for a global TMC was the reason most frequently cited by buyers (51 per cent) when asked why they chose their TMC, which is an indicator of the survey respondent types, as is – to some degree – the need for local operations in other markets (43 per cent). More telling is that cultural fit remains key in the selection process, according to 43 per cent of buyers. Interestingly, overall value (36 per cent) was more important than lowest transaction fees (26 per cent). Meanwhile, availability of NDC content was named by 30 per cent but overall breadth or appropriateness of content by only 26 per cent. The survey also showed that a TMC’s expertise in a particular sector was less critical (18 per cent) to buyers.

Service history

More than one in ten buyers (12 per cent) have selected and implemented a new TMC during the Covid-19 pandemic, having worked with them for less than a year. One-third of buyers have partnered with their TMC for one to three years, suggesting a fair amount of movement in the market. Some 40 per cent of buyers have worked with their TMC for four to ten years and 15 per cent have long-standing relationships of more than ten years.

Paying up

For all the talk of new subscription fee models, only six per cent of respondents have such agreements in place with their TMC – though that could increase as existing contracts expire and new deals are sealed. Transaction fees remain the most popular option (63 per cent) while 12 per cent of buyers had transaction fees based on volumes in place.

Going to market

Some 14 per cent of respondents were working on a TMC tender when the research was conducted, with a further 24 per cent planning to issues an RFP within the next year. More than a quarter expect to go to market beyond that timescale but, in contrast, more than a third (34 per cent) have no plans to issue an RFP at all.