The views of Robert Daykin, senior partner with the Corporate Travel Partnership, that many companies could manage their travel with much less reliance on an agency and, in the process, save themselves money, brought a predictably warm response from agents.
“He seems to focus purely on the booking which is fine for the individual but not for the company,” Mike Platt, managing director of BTI UK, said.
That, succinctly, gets right to the point of the major grievance of the travel management company (TMC). In the far off days, that might well have been their main task, just issuing tickets.
But with the travel world changed and changed so quickly, they argue with considerable justification, that their job is now considerably more than that.
It is the fabled “added value”, the expert advice, the expertise that gets the lowest fare, the skill that wins the better discounts from airline and, possibly, hotel deals.
Mr Platt cites the travel research consultants Topaz. “They check whether TMCs are charging the right fares and they consistently say that you get lower fare going through a TMC than through searching the web.”
Independent research for Carlson Wagonlit Travel last year found that it was considerably more likely to get the best hotel room rates than the much vaulted hotel booking companies. It got the best or equal best for 70% of the time while online bookers managed it between 5-20% of the time.
One particular point Mr Platt took up was rail bookings. Mr Daykin said he would never advise a company to use an agent to book a rail fare. But BTI books millions of pounds worth of rail trips a year for clients.
The use of trains is growing among business travellers in the UK, thetrainline.com has a good booking engine which provides detailed MI for its corporate customers and BTI, thanks to its agreement with them, has access to this technology, in preference to the creaking ELGAR system.
But thetrainline.com also charges 9% for a booking so it comes down to a balance between time and money where the customer can take his choice. A small company with just a few bookings would probably do its own, those with a large rail spend might feel happier calling on BTI or anther TMC to do it for them.
“It's a puzzle to me that Robert Daykin thinks that rail bookings are so simple. We take out the complexity and we make it a one stop shop which includes billing, MI and an automated procedure,” Mr Platt said.
On a similar theme, Mr Platt said that TMCs had access to most air fares. BTI has in particular an access deal with easyJet. It made 60,000 bookings a year with low cost airlines for its clients.
“But we do the whole travel management procedure of which booking is an integral but small part,” he said.
“He mentioned companies that are frittering away money on travel. I'd be jolly interested to know who they are and whether he could give me a list. Most companies we deal with are too careful to fritter money away.
“This is not the same industry that we are talking about. We have got a lot of time for consulting companies, particularly his. We see them as an integral part of travel and there is room for both although sometimes the lines can get blurred.”