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Filter in or out as many as 200 cities, as well as hotel and car rental class and meals of the day and watch as the per-diem calculator automatically adjusts per diems to your program. Drill down into cost breakdowns and export the results.
- BCD Travel senior vice president of strategic marketing April Bridgeman last
month here at The Beat Live travel business conference sat for a live
interview, fielding questions from BTN
editorial director Jay Campbell and audience members on mobile technology, "open
booking" and the evolving role of the travel management company. Edited
Tell us about some new initiatives you've been working on.
We're focusing a lot on mobile. We just finished a refresh of our strategy and our mission and vision, and we are doing a lot of work on analytics. There are lots of small areas too. We're doing some work on new shopping experiences for corporate travelers and some other services.
Some TMCs are building apps, and some have partnered with providers. What are you up to with that?
We are looking at our options right now. We're very far down that path. But one thing that we recognize is that we are not a technology company, and we don't necessarily have the scale required to build our own, maintain it over time and make sure that it stays up to date and meaningful to travel populations. We've been focusing on mainly looking for partners that have enough of a platform that we can leverage to help us manage our cost but at the same time help us stay on the forefront of mobile capability. Today, you expect your mobile app to be state-aware. Mobile apps you use today know where you are. We need to make sure our mobile capabilities reflect what people experience in other aspects of their lives.
You've done a lot of research on twentysomethings. The industry faces a difficult position with stereotypes and generalizations, but not a lot of meat in terms of how to tackle it. What have you learned?
It's getting back to the whole idea of customer segmentation. Whether you have four or five generations in the workplace, or you have people traveling frequently on business or people who don't travel so frequently, you have different people who have different expectations, and we still as an industry need to make sure we're thinking of the different populations that we actually have to manage. I think the Millennials have very much influenced the need for the consumer focus in business travel. That's a very good thing, because if we have that consumer focus, then we're focused on not just the Millennial but the different types of customers we need to serve. Look at what Amazon and Google are doing with data and personalization. Anybody who uses those tools now expects those ecosystems to understand them as a consumer, as a person and what they prefer. That's an expectation that transcends those two environments and is something that business travel has to recognize and has to incorporate into our own traveler experiences, into our tools.
We've heard some corporate buyers say that this isn't something that they want to adjust to, that they have corporate structures that employees should fit into. Have you seen cases where this seems the right way to go forward?
I actually don't see a conflict, quite honestly. You can have a structured managed travel program but still recognize some of the preferences some travelers have while they travel. They don't have to be the preferences that are going to violate your policy or go against your program rules.
What about the traditional policy of booking through the TMC? There are new models where, in theory, you could book somewhere else and there is still some management. What do you think about those that have emerged?
I've thought a lot about what I might do if I were a travel program manager right now, and there were new technologies coming into the market that enabled a new type of program that people have been buzzing about for a while. I would probably step back a bit and let others try some things out so we had a much better understanding of what the impacts would be on my program if I made some changes. For example, what happens if you allow everyone to book hotels outside of the channel? Yes, it might do some good things, and you might get more information from a risk-management standpoint, but what does that do to the procurement process? I'm not sure we know that. Would I feel confident about going to leadership and saying, "I think we need to do this?" I don't think I would, because I would want to have a few data points from a few companies that had done it so I could have even a guesstimate on how this would affect my program. Back when I was a corporate travel manager, and knowing what a lot of my clients go through just to make one small change in the travel policy, it's pretty complicated. And I also know that it's really difficult for companies to really mandate something, and in order for you to be able to go out into the open booking world, you have to mandate that everyone gets that data back or you lose complete control. And that, for most companies, is a really big hurdle to jump over. There are a few companies out there, and some of them are our clients, that are absolutely going to take steps and open up aspects, if not their entire program ultimately. We're going to work with them and figure out how to make it work. I don't see, though, that the lion's share of clients will go that far. I would also focus on the things I can control, and I do understand making sure the settings in my online booking tool are set to drive the best customer experience possible within the expectations of the program. I would try to mine my expense data like crazy to look for new savings opportunities and use some new technologies that aren't so difficult for people to take on perhaps to try to drive some change there.
We've been talking about gamification for a couple of years now. In what ways do you think it will take hold in managed corporate travel?
I think that depends on the market. Working in a global company myself, I see even how different the requirements are around measurement, management and data at the individual employee level in markets like Germany in particular, which makes it very difficult in managing a multinational program to be consistent with the way you may want to gamify anything around travel. I think it will be interesting as it pertains to open booking to see if a program will be as successful as Google has in keeping costs reasonable without giving a really significant incentive to the employees to do so. Will I always be incented to get that very lowest fare online if I'm not going to get 50 percent of the difference between the benchmark fare going to some pot of points that I get to spend in a variety of ways? I hope so.
What are travel management companies not doing that they must do to continue to be perceived as valuable components of the travel booking value chain?
I think there needs to be much more significant recognition of this dichotomy of the customer that we have. We have the customer, which has always been our corporate client, absolutely, and we also have the customer who is our traveler. For a long list of reasons, as an industry we have not marketed to that traveler. They have had to use us as opposed to necessarily wanting to use us. There needs to be a pretty significant shift. We are already beginning that process and that shift, but it needs to be more extreme in that we have to recognize that the traveler absolutely is a customer. We need to market to them; we need to promote ourselves to them. We need to be able to try to drive loyalty with that customer the same way that airlines, hotels and others do.I also think we need to be as a sector much more service-oriented. This is not just because of open booking, but we talk about the fact that bookings that go through the offline channel are more complex. How do you make sure we're not there just to deal with the complex aspects of the booking, but also to make sure the traveler feels well taken care of? That's a challenge.This report originally appeared in the Oct. 8, 2012, edition of Business Travel News.
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