< PrevNext > Is 2023 the Year We Finally Challenge Managed Travel’s Challengers? By Tony D'Astolfo, SVP N. America, Serko / January 24, 2023 Share Tony D'Astolfo, SVP N. America, Serko Since the inception of managed travel, challengers have appeared in the form of travelers who insist they are better at planning, searching and booking travel, and from suppliers who offer content or perks for booking directly on their websites. 2023 is the year to finally challenge the challengers. We all know that across established organizations, there are business areas that provide designated tools to employees. These tools are chosen by subject matter experts within these areas. Think HR, IT, Finance. Employees may not like these tools, but they use them. Preference for something different is not an option.Here’s an example. During the latest benefits open enrollment period, I needed to enroll and manage my benefits through a company-provided system. Getting into it was a chore. I had to reset my password. That password needed to be at least 12 characters, include a capital letter, number, special character, and it couldn’t be anything I’d used in the past three years. After half an hour of trying, I took the path of least resistance: I did nothing. I maintained my current benefits. Yes, I’m very happy with the benefits my company provides, but I do find the benefits tool lacking. And while I trust that our HR benefits specialist is always looking for ways to make the program better, I had no choice but to use the tool (or do nothing with it, in my case). Similarly, it’s probably safe to say nobody enjoys doing an expense report most of the time because the tool or process by which we do so is cumbersome. Yet, as with HR benefits, expense compliance is not an option. If you want your money, you will grind through it, as we all do. And there's no way I’m getting out of the two-hour training course the IT security guy makes me take, despite the fact that it’s been years since I tried to help that Nigerian prince get his $700,000. Getting back to travel, most of the griping comes at the front end where you plan, search and book. Often the complaints are about the online booking tool or with the service levels of the travel management company. If travel were like any other business area, the subject matter expert—the travel manager, in this case—would be trusted to select tools, and employees would be told they have to use them, even if they don’t like them. Yet, employees have broadly and historically been allowed to do their own thing when it comes to travel. Having been front and center with corporate OBTs for years, I would submit that what these platforms do is far more complex than any benefits or expense application. And while there is always room for improvement, they get the job of booking travel done. While travel managers should always be looking for ways to improve their programs and should be judged in part by the tools they provide, program compliance should not be optional. Anyone who challenges the program should be challenged back. Don’t like the OBT because it’s not as easy or as fast as your favorite consumer travel site? Too bad (and, by the way, let’s see how fast that consumer site is after they add policy, negotiated rates and everything else your corporate OBT does). You can find what you want easier on a supplier.com site? Too bad, we have all your favorite suppliers in our program (and, by the way, the extraordinary level of status you have with our airline and hotel partners was likely the result of tickets and hotel rooms we paid for). As to the other challenger, the supplier, I would offer that whatever you provide in the way of price or perks should be available in the chosen distribution channel of the customer. They are the customer, after all. For those suppliers that say they can more effectively display their products through their own supplier.com sites, I don’t necessarily disagree. But I would counter that they are not better for the corporate customer. Customers lose the ability to compare, apply policy, track spend or maintain duty of care. Is that worth the return that better product display brings? And while I agree that some of the legacy distribution channels have work to do to accommodate your content, I say we challenge these challengers to focus on bringing all the parties to the table to fix the situation versus exacerbating it by continuing to drive travelers away from approved channels. I think it’s high time travel managers started owning their subject matter expertise in a way that challenges the challengers. After all, who knows more about travel than you do?