For most C-suite executives and travel managers, the pandemic has revealed the importance behind the systems and partnerships that keep their corporate travel program running. From unused ticket tracking to the speed and personalization of agent responses, the strengths and weaknesses of many organizations’ travel management company (TMC) partnerships have been tested.
Hotels have been among the industry segments most impacted by business travel decline, with pre-COVID-19 levels not projected to return until 2023. However, despite the challenging circumstances, TMC-Hotel partnerships can produce winning results for travelers, hoteliers, and the industry as whole. To tackle the complexities of this topic, we’ve tapped into the insights below of Donna Brokowski, Direct Travel’s Executive Vice President of Global Supplier Management and Consulting.
Harnessing the Power of GDS
Even prior to the pandemic, hotels and TMCs had a clear goal to show business travelers the value of booking within the framework of a managed travel program. While one-off rates from online travel agents (OTAs) can create appeal by displaying apparent savings, those savings do not always reflect services fees and taxes or provide a safety net for trip disruptions. Savings are still important, but safety and security have taken precedence, with trip approval automation being used to foster policy compliance and further reshape travel policy.
From the hotel standpoint, the Global Distribution System (GDS) should be utilized to provide richer and more relevant content to corporate travel advisors as well as travelers through their online booking tool. This ensures that hotel guests have the flexibility and lodging experience they are looking for. As an example, Brokowski points to hotels that list standard amenities like a hair dryer in their GDS description, but fail to touch on the elements that matter most to travelers now, such as keyless entry and sanitation measures. In fact, nearly two-thirds of travelers would rather use their smartphone as a form of hotel entry in place of a traditional room key.
As a TMC, Direct Travel is uniquely positioned to bridge this gap between hotels and travelers by offering visibility into all major GDS platforms and online booking tools. Our team has built a new property assessment to help hotel partners that are part of the Direct Global Hotel program identify the unintended consequences of the ways in which they are distributing their product. This provides more accurate expectations for travelers and further increases growth within the managed travel ecosystem. (Click to learn more about Direct View Consulting.)
Improving the Traveler Experience
The behind the scenes elements of the booking process are integral to providing business travelers with a safe and improved experience. When travelers book outside of a managed program powered by the GDS, key elements are disconnected from their hotel stay.
Aside from posing a security risk and limiting an organization’s ability to fulfill Duty of Care responsibilities, a one-off booking created by a traveler using an OTA does not allow for a frequent guest number and the mobile app features connected to that guest number. This can create unneeded friction at the front desk when a traveler's reward status is not honored due to booking through an OTA.
Brokowski highlights the further challenges this poses in light of COVID-19 since information on mask requirements, social distancing expectations, and other related requirements are often pushed to individual travelers via the mobile app or email directly from the hotel in advance of their trip. Hotels have also invested in touchless technologies tied to guest numbers and mobile apps, like keyless entry, that travelers won’t always have access to if booking through an OTA.
When booked through a managed program, many of these details are also available in user-friendly TMC channels of information, like Direct Travel’s Direct2U mobile app. This makes it easier for travelers to stay informed on the road and simultaneously provides travel managers with a security check-in feature in the event of a crisis.
Ultimately, TMCs and the GDS are built for business travelers with the needs of business travel in mind. This is of course even more so the case as the new normal of travel necessitates increased flexibility and added security measures.
As Brokowski puts it, we’re better together instead of moving separately in our own siloed strategies. Hotels will continue to price with demand, businesses will continue to look for savings opportunities, and TMCs will continue to advocate for the importance of a managed travel program, but there’s no question winning partnerships can be formed that bring value to all partners involved.
Thanks in part to our team’s deep wealth of expertise and wide range of travel industry experience, Direct Travel excels at creating such partnerships. The Direct Travel team can help you form a hotel negotiation strategy based on your new leverageable spend to ensure you’re sourcing the best possible hotel rates and amenities—contact us to get started.