THE Swiss bank UBS has a very mature travel programme with online booking in place for almost 15 years. Kevin Carr, the bank’s corporate travel manager, said the company implemented a new online booking tool five years ago, with Amadeus’ Cytric.
With the implementation, UBS moved away from different tools in different regions. “Prior to the current partnership, we had different tools in each region, but we decided that we wanted to globalise as there are lots of benefits around having global servicing standards,” he told BTN Europe.
While Cytric is UBS’s online booking tool from global distribution player Amadeus, the bank contracts directly with Travelport as its GDS and American Express Global Business Travel as its travel management company, which typically works with Sabre.
“It is ultimately about owning the relationship,” says Carr. “If you have a decent-sized programme you want to be influencing the partner. You don’t want the TMC to be driving that partnership and development falling onto the TMC’s roadmap. You want to be influencing the provider and prioritising your strategy.”
Do you find the best TMC and best OBT and try to work them together or find the partnerships which might have some compromises or less content but is a better connection? “We have always worked at having the best in the market for that service and forcing them to work together,” he said.
Carr also points out that it is clear that certain OBTs and TMCs work better together, despite most TMCs saying they work with every tool in the market.
“This idea of being agnostic is a bit of nonsense really,” he said. “Ultimately, we all know there are always complications and you do lose certain functionality and features if not using the right GDS, TMC or OBT.”
DO YOUR HOMEWORK
With many vested interests in the market – preferred supplier deals can distort what TMCs offer and even what consultants suggest – so buyers have to rely on other more independent sources. A good place to start is in your personal network of buyers or through association networks like ITM or GBTA, he suggested.
Carr said, “Travel is inherently complicated because of the various commercial models, and you never know who gets what from whom.”
He recommended for those not in the position to contract directly, identifying the content and functionality that is a must-have for the corporate is vital since sometimes the ultimate choice will involve compromise.
“It is all about understanding what the needs of the programme are – the destinations and markets you want to cover,” said Carr.
He added, “Rail as a specific category has become much more important because of sustainability. Whereas it might not have mattered previously if you didn’t have rail in some countries, now we are very concerned to have it.”
In this case, the content requirement has made choosing an OBT provider slightly easier. “Everyone has GDS, Booking.com, HRS and Expedia but not everybody has got rail,” Carr said.
GET USERS INVOLVED
When UBS vetted Cytric, the bank was careful to include users of the OBT in helping specify what was required and asked travellers after each trip to score the trip and the booking experience.
“We have a category council, a sourcing group where we and the procurement function and business divisions talk about travel, the programme and budgets, so we have a lot of touchpoints across the business,” said Carr.
Asking regular users of the online booking tool what they want can be important. In some corporates, there are groups of frequent travellers and bookers who might have input into the selection process while a survey of all travellers might throw up particular desires or concerns.
While access to the right content and user experience are crucial, Carr acknowledged they are hard to balance.
“We have two conflicting strategic objectives: We want to offer a world of choice, giving people as much content as possible, but then you have personalisation, trying to personalise the offer much more to what a traveller is looking for. Which of those is best and do we want to be responsible for taking this decision?”
Carr feels that while innovations can be quickly copied, providers are coming up with useful functionality. “The tool we are using today is integrated into Microsoft Workplace, so it is available in Outlook and Teams. [While this] is not around the core product, it is a nice innovation [that] helps provide a more efficient and seamless experience,” he said.
More can be done, he believes. Increasingly, corporates will want their tool to present sustainability options at the point of sale, Carr said, citing demand management needs for business travel. He envisioned a configured booking tool that would ask travellers why they are travelling, whether it is necessary to travel or should they be doing a virtual meeting instead? If travel is required, the tool could then monitor flight choice – should the traveller choose this airline when the CO2 emissions on that aircraft are double those on another airline and aircraft?
“The OBT is the window into our travel programme and strategy. If we want to stop people travelling on certain routes, then we want to integrate that into the shopping experience but there is only a very limited opportunity right now,” said Carr.
Carr noted that even though the current tool was chosen only five years ago, things are moving quickly.
“The marketplace is rapidly changing due to more digitalisation and innovation in the online booking tool and the TMC space,” he said. “More consolidation across the marketplace is having a big impact. Trying to work the OBT and TMC together is always very challenging. Now buyers have the option of one partnership that could manage both.”
Technology is also becoming more open, and Covid has demonstrated that the industry can work in a more collaborative fashion.
“Open technology means that as a buyer you can architect your own programme and slot things together in a ‘plug and play’ way,” he said. “But we still have the heavyweights that want you to fall into their roadmap. For example, Concur and Amex are not particularly open – they don’t want to be.”