There is a bewildering array of online travel booking products on the market. Catherine Chetwynd finds out how to choose the best one for your business
Choosing an online booking tool (OBT) is not just a matter of assessing the capability and content of the main players and going for the one with the greatest functionality. Having decided whether your travel management company (TMC), travel bookers or travellers will be using the tool, then consult stakeholders: it is crucial to define to a “T” what you and your bookers need from the tool.
In addition, “these needs may change in line with the evolving workplace”, says Egencia’s Adrian Whitcombe, who also advises that not every trip will be best served online. “The ability to flick between offline and online is key,” he says.
And be careful not to be seduced by salesmen with all the bells and whistles. “It is important to get the operations people who are going to use it in your travel agency to show you how it works,” says director and managing consultant of Corporate Travel Partners, Robert Daykin.
Some TMCs have their own tools, some may have a relationship with a provider or, like Portman Travel, may be “systems neutral” – another area to research.
The main options are as follows: US expense management company Concur; Get There, tool of US global distribution system Sabre; Rearden (US); Cytric (German), largely used in Germany and the Nordic countries; KDS (French); Amadeus E-travel Management (AETM), tool of European GDS Amadeus; Egencia’s (European) own online tool; and HRG Online (UK).
All these tools multi-task but there are also dedicated services for air, hotel, car rental, taxis and rail. Where these are used by an OBT, it is important to check that all data from their use is fed back to where you want it, ensuring coherent management information (MI).
The tools’ functionality and their road map is variable. “Speak to existing customers to find out whether [OBT providers] deliver what they promise,” says managing director (London) for HRS, Jon West. “It is better to go with a pre-determined definition of what you need delivered. If you need a particular rail or hotel supplier, do they provide that content? And do they provide it in the way you need it?” And will it talk to your expense management system?
Geography and ownership come into play in relation to content. In the US, 80 per cent of properties are owned/run by the major hotel chains and are on GDSs. In Europe, the converse is true and many companies use non-GDS hotels. Get There shows non-GDS hotels next to GDS listed properties and these are bookable through an integrated system that allows users to shop, book, modify and cancel all hotel itineraries within Get There, while a policy engine evaluates all bookings. AETM also lists non-GDS and GDS properties together, but bookable direct from the site. Concur also brings in non-GDS content via HRS and Hotels.de. If you need budget accommodation, ask about this, too.
Allocation, last room availability (LRA), preferred rates and city caps – plus the flexibility to allow bookings above a city cap for a conference, for example – should all be available, plus standards such as free wifi, parking and breakfast.
Rail is an even thornier issue. A pan-European booking tool has long been notable by its absence and rail content varies considerably from supplier to supplier, so check you can get what you need.
And as mobile technology plays an increasingly important part in business travel, apps need to do everything the service offers online. In short, as Corporate Travel Partners’ Daykin puts it: “There is a lot of grubby homework to do.”