Self-booking tools save time and money, so why is everyone so slow on the uptake? Catherine Chetwynd investigates the pros and cons of the industry's offerings
WHEN AMADEUS and Cranfield University undertook a study on the adoption of corporate self-booking tools over a two-week period 18 months ago, the results were pretty depressing. Although 66 per cent of the companies polled had some form of SBT, only 53 per cent of their air tickets were purchased online, even though these were the most purchased item via the booking tool.
The highest level of adoption progress was seen in the fi rst year (39 per cent), after which it fell back year on year. Transport, logistics and telecoms (65 per cent), service industries (61 per cent) and consulting (67 per cent) showed the greatest take-up, with others ranging from 10 per cent (agriculture, utilities) to 59 per cent (IT, hi-tech).
Worse, ITM research in the same year, suggested that a mere 13 per cent of business travel expenditure was being captured by SBTs, against an expected adoption rate of 56 per cent. And more than two-thirds of companies did not have an SBT or had only just implemented one.
Almost two years on, the choice of SBTs has proliferated, covering air, hotel, rail, and rental car bookings, plus tools dedicated to any one of those elements. With companies under ever increasing pressure to save money, it is something that is hard to achieve without the requisite management information that is gathered by using SBTs throughout the organisation. But where to start?
What's on offer
SBTs that handle air, hotel and car bookings are Cliqbook by Concur, Resx from TRX, HRG Online, KDS, ETAP-On-Line's Ulysse, Amadeus e-Travel Management (AeTM) and GetThere, the latter two being provided by GDS operators Amadeus and Sabre respectively. All interact with GDS to provide bookers with Sabre, for example.
Most tools also combine with expense management technology to create an integrated system.
GetThere and AeTM are purely booking engines, but Concur's Cliqbook provides expense management through to booking, HRG has integrated Spendvision into its product to the same end and KDS has KDS Expense to complement KDS Corporate.
However, a modular solution is essential, says director of technology product development, business technology for HRG, Paul Saggar. "Some companies we deal with have SAP or Oracle, which cost millions of pounds and may offer an expense management solution, so the client may just want a booking engine that talks to the expense management tool," he says.
But there are cultural differences - or preferences - between the tools. For example, GetThere and Cliqbook are popular in North America whereas KDS, AeTM and HRG Online do well in Europe. ETAP is France-based and currently most of its clients are French.
"We manage a lot of European locations for US corporate clients and as Cliqbook has a greater share of the US market, clients tend to request it in Europe," says director of sales and marketing for Chambers Travel Fiona Vandersluys. In addition, some tools are specific to certain regions, including Cytric in Germany and Serco in ASPAC and Australia.
Regardless of the perceptions, director of sales and marketing for GetThere Europe Annette Forbes-Marsden is confident the tool matches its competitors. "We are as qualified to address market requirements as any other tool out there," she says. "And we have invested time and money bringing in additional content, European rail and low-cost carriers, to give users a one-stop shop." GetThere handles non-GDS hotels through a link to BSI's hotel booking tool and other hotel booking agencies, and online services also have relevant tools.
"Return on investment (ROI) is usually good - 50 per cent of companies get payback within the first year, according to our research," says Nigel Turner, director of public sector for Carlson Wagonlit Travel. "Typically, expect to see 10 per cent savings: five per cent on travel content - air, rail, hotel - and five per cent on booking fees." However, chief operations officer for ATP, Gary Hance, warns: "Some 95 per cent of a travel budget is air fares and five per cent is the cost of agency services. If the customer wants to use an online tool to reduce the cost of the agency, they are only looking at a potential five per cent saving."
Rail travel is generally accessed by one of two tools - Evolvi, owned by Capita Business Travel, - and The Trainline - and this represents the greatest growth in the market, says Nigel Turner. And according to head of sales for Capita Business Travel (CBT) Raj Sachdave: "The Trainline and Evolvi will search the same fare database and collate the same information. The difference is how results are displayed to end users: Evolvi is geared up to show the cheapest ticket first."
Evolvi is the powerhouse behind railooto, part of CBT's suite of business products travelooto. Company-specific information is accessed via myooto (Resx); fly and hotel ootos front AeTM and meetingooto is powered by CBT's own tool.
And ATP's Ticket Window Dashboard allows clients to sign on to all their technology products in one fell swoop, rather than having to access each one individually. It also filters out unnecessary information, so an Executive Dashboard might incorporate MI reporting tools or a Booker Dashboard would provide access to all booking facilities.
In the third annual AirPlus International Travel Management study, 44 per cent of respondents (nine European countries and the US) expect travel managers to absorb ever more event management, so planning tools will start to play a greater role. StarCite and Arcaneo give access to a company's internal meeting rooms as well as external space and provide an end-to-end service, although most companies use it only for online registration, communication and budgeting of individual events. ABC Connection allows users to add in-house space. The company is working with a client to include expense management and this will then be available to other customers. Other services include Direct Meeting Booking from HRS, ex-act from Expotel and HBI Mentor Extranet, which allow users to book meetings on line according to time, date, venue, etc.
Payments solutions provider AirPlus analyses airline spend, providing detailed information it claims is not available elsewhere. It is broken down into journey sectors, how much was spent with each airline on each leg and, for British Airways, Lufthansa and Austrian Airlines, even showing which tickets were used and which were not. In addition, a partnership with Infotel Solutions now allows equally incisive hotel bill data.
Technology has failings. "Trying to get full content on the screen is the biggest challenge because our industry has become fragmented. There are lots of distribution channels for hotels and airlines, and some suppliers' prices may only be on the internet," says CWT's Nigel Turner. And Gary Hance warns that there are still 10,000 fare changes every day and a booking tool will not always choose the most advantageous fare or combination of fares.
Functionality also varies and plays a key role in a tool's popularity. "If you require European rail, your choices become slimmer," says HRG's Paul Saggar. "And very few booking tools will let you book a non-GDS hotel."
Interfaces with non-GDS sites can also be a problem because some tools punch users out to the supplier's site, with the attendant vagaries of its unfamiliar design and response rates. And where a tool provider incurs costs from, say, booking rail segments or a low-cost carrier, it may pass them on to the customer.
The drive behind online booking tools came from being able to book holidays online - and no one needed a training manual to use Expedia. On the basis that corporate tools are designed to be equally easy to use, training requirement is minimal and is generally given on a `train the trainer' basis, so that a few super users or experts are given a day or two of training and they pass on the information.
However, if users throw in the towel at the slightest problem and pick up the phone to an agent, they incur charges that defeat the object of buying the tool, so sufficient training on add-on facilities such as how to implement online authorisation is important.
Take-up is still slow, but things are improving. Chambers Travel claims just over 55 per cent across its client base, which Fiona Vandersluys says is about double the TMC average "because we have a big footprint in the technology industry and technology companies take it up more quickly".
Geography and type of travel also play a part. In North America and Australia there is up to 90 per cent adoption because of the prevalence of domestic point-to-point traffic. In addition, in the US, most of the hotels are owned by the major groups and are therefore listed on GDS.
"On the other hand, in Europe, there is a variety of additional services, low-cost carriers, language and currency constraints, passport and visa issues, so adoption in some countries may be up to 40 per cent, but typically it is between 10 per cent and 20 per cent," says HRG's Paul Saggar.
At the other extreme, in Asia/Pacific, adoption is at best in low single digits, particularly because "labour is still very cheap in large parts of Asia, so it is cheaper to pickup the phone and have someone book it for you than it is to go online and incur a transaction fee," says Saggar. And in Africa, take-up is almost non-existent because not everyone has access to the internet.
|HOW TO BUY|
Buying any kind of booking tool requires more knowledge of your own travel requirements than it does an understanding of the technology. The following advice comes collectively from the head of global commercial operations for Amadeus, Frank Palapies, head of customer servicing online for Portman Travel, John Dick, and HRG's Paul Saggar:
- Understand and estimate volumes
How many travellers do you have and how many bookings do you need to process?
- What is the corporate philosophy?
Will the company mandate use of the SBT or do you have to seek buy-in from all travellers? If you mandate, you will achieve ROI much more quickly.
- Understand the value of integration
If you have less than 20,000 bookings per month, the ROI in an integrated chain is questionable.
- Tell potential suppliers 'this is what we want'
If you ask for a set of features, you won't learn what it doesn't do.
- If you use hotels and rail, your choice may be more limited
Is it a high percentage of your travel?
- Build it and they will come - maybe
Education is an important part of installing booking tools.
- Involve your TMC
Remember, your TMC will fulfil or service any transaction made on the booking tool, and they will have to pick up the pieces if the tool you buy doesn't do what you want.
Says Peter Reglar, chief executive of Business Travel Direct: It is all too easy to make mistakes when selecting a self-booking tool and buying the wrong thing. As a result, we developed something that was solely ours and gave us the flexibility to adapt it to a client's specific needs. It's a case of thinking it through to satisfy both current needs and those of the future as much as possible."
New kid on the block
Click Travel has produced a free self-booking tool for clients, which provides MI reporting on and offline. "Other providers have built booking tools on the model of how agencies work, ie on GDS," says managing director Simon McLean. "We realised the corporate needs more content than that: low-cost carriers and hotels such as Premier Inn don't distribute on the GDS, therefore they are typically not available.
"Our software lets us connect to a lot of content providers from Galileo to low-cost carriers, hotel chains like Premier Inn and Travelodge, websites and booking.com, which provide a massive network of independent hotels. A GDS will find you one hotel in Aberystwyth, but our tool will get 10 properties from £32 a night."
McLean says client Macmillan Cancer Research makes 100 per cent of bookings online and Caffe Nero 97 per cent. Additional services such as AirPlus and SAP can be integrated into the Click Travel tool and travel policy, airline rates and hotel programme tariffs can then be loaded into it.