ABTN talks to Snelgar, head of business development for the Sabre-owned booking tool, about the latest online and mobile booking trends
How are bookings holding up for Get There so far in 2012?
I think that everybody in the industry is wary about booking volumes due to the current economic climate. But the trend we have seen is that our bookings are holding up and growing. Industry figures show that bookings were up by 3 per cent in the first quarter compared to last year. We’re not seeing the sharp drop that many had predicted. Get There is not seeing any reduction in travel and in some cases it’s going up. But the average spend per trip is going down as companies operate more stringent travel policies. There are fewer opportunities to book fully-flexible business class fares. Many are now just booking the lowest fare available on the day and take the risk that they may to change it.
What other trends are you seeing in the corporate market at the moment?
Travel has gone away from being the exclusive preserve of the travel manager to becoming a procurement role. These people are not looking at the internal value of travel and whether employees are travelling for the right reasons. They are now travelling more often at the right price and travel policy is getting more sophisticated. This complexity has given us a challenge.
How has Get There’s booking tool evolved in the last few years?
We started as a booking tool to bring the costs down because you pay less for an online booking than for a manually processed booking, which is basic economics. But now we focus on becoming a travel management tool although the savings still exist. We have a set of rules and parameters that can be configured to match the increasing complexity of travel policies – for example, the system can show the traveller whether they should book certain hotels or the cheapest flights. It can also include approval rules, profiles, department codes and preferred suppliers.
What’s your latest strategy on using mobile technology?
We have Get There mobile which allows users to do everything on mobile that they can on the desktop. But it’s not an app – we chose to use a mobile browser instead. We looked at apps, which are great for certain things, but a browser is a better option as we update it every six weeks or so.
What are the next steps in making your products more attractive for the business traveller?
We will see the continued consumerisation and personalisation of business travel. The big development is to make corporate booking tools as appealing as the ones that are available in the leisure market. General usability is very important and we’re working on the personalisation – we want to take a leaf out of the books of Amazon and iTunes who both do recommendations very well. We are trying to bring that into the corporate booking tool. For example, if somebody is travelling to the New York office for the first time, a search will bring up six preferred hotels - all of which are approved by the company with negotiated rates. But then the system would look at the traveller’s profile and if it sees that they like to go to the gym, it will recommend the hotel with the best gym facilities. The idea is to make booking easier and more personal, so it’s less of a chore, but still stay inside the travel programme.
Any other major developments planned for the next few months and years?
We are working with Sabre Virtual Meetings on creating an alternative to travel which would effectively be a GDS for video conferencing options. At the moment, we work with Regus which has got a great tool. But we want to create one interface to enable the booking of meeting rooms and video conferencing suites, which would include inhouse meeting rooms as well as those in hotels and other third-party companies. We are currently in the development ‘beta’ phase with this and it’s going to evolve over the next two or three years.
Would this reduce the amount of travel that firms will do in the future?
It’s not a travel replacement – it’s offering an option for booking a meeting room and avoiding an airfare. We don’t think that this means spending less on travel as we believe that companies will travel the same but may choose alternative options for some types of meetings – maybe internal ones. They can choose when it’s most appropriate to travel and use the travel budget for the meetings that really matter.