Travel buyers that are able to effectively use data, deriving the optimum amount of value from it, will find themselves having a distinct advantage over competitors. Enrolling the travel management company (TMC) to assist in this process is an even smarter move. Liesl Venter finds out more.
Business travel and its costs are intrinsically linked. This means low fares and low rates make for a great relationship between travel buyer and TMC.
In a data-driven world, one should however, be looking much further than the immediate savings achieved by low costs and easy booking. One can after all only make so much lemonade from so many lemons. Serious value can be derived from optimizing one’s TMC when it comes to accessing data and the analysis thereof.
Howard Stephens, chairman of the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA), believes that travel buyers can work far more closely with their TMCs to access data that (if used effectively) will benefit their travel programmes significantly.
“Data is incredibly important in the modern business environment and has changed the face of travel,” he says. “Data does far more than just deliver information and trends to our desks. It is the why factor. It tells you why certain things are happening.”
It is clear to see that once there is an understanding of the why, it becomes possible to deliver the wow factor.
Yasmeen Khan, head of business development: corporate at Wings Travel Management agrees, saying consistent and accurate data is key to achieving optimisation on a travel programme along with an advance reporting tool so the travel buyer is not always completely dependent on the TMC to provide such information or statistics.
“At Wings Travel Management, our reporting is able to give travel buyers an immediate view of bad traveller behaviour, highlighting missed savings, non-compliance with travel policy, booking lead times per traveller and such, per department, both pre- and post- travel. Exception reporting is what ultimately drives the change in behaviour by our being able to ‘name and shame’ within the organisation to achieve better compliance.”
According to Stephens travel buyers need to build relationships with their TMCs based on high levels of trust. “It is a partnership more than anything else and that is what the approach to the relationship should be from the get-go,” he says.
There is no denying that cost and cost-savings are important elements of the equation, but cost should only be a small portion of the decision making when choosing a TMC as a partner, explains Stephens.
“From the beginning of the relationship the travel buyer needs to empower the TMC. They should be involved in all of your negotiations with suppliers. In fact they should be in the room during the negotiations. They can play a significant role, to your benefit.”
He says data for the sake of it has no meaning and access to data is easy enough. But by using their TMC more effectively corporates will find themselves having access to the right information that will ultimately translate into better policy and programmes.
According to Stephens there is significant knowledge to be gained from TMCs’ ability to access different data sources.
“TMC’s by their very nature have access to different data. They have their own booking tools, a general ledger, or the information from the various service providers. They are also in a position to give you comparative data as they are looking at travel for more than one client. That does not mean they have to divulge who the particular customers are that they are deriving it from,” he says. “But comparative market data can be very valuable. Their overall view means you are able to implement a better policy, a safer environment with less risk for your travellers.”
Which is why the partnership approach is so important, says Stephens. “You have to have confidence that they are giving you the right information and you have to have the confidence to share your own data with them.”
Working with a TMC, he says, buyers can interrogate the data far more intensively and use it far more wisely, coming to understand travellers’ behavior better and guiding strategic decisions around travel optimally.
Khan says there is a definite move towards buyers and TMCs working together more to extract data. “It is however, not always consistently managed with a structured and targeted approach on what the ‘end result’ should be. This requires a formal business plan to be jointly agreed upon, with clear measurements on how the objectives, once identified,
can be met.”
According to Khan it is essential for a TMC to have a clear understanding of the travel buyer’s objectives. “Detailed analyses of the previous travel spend needs to be conducted in order to identify savings opportunities to maximise on the overall travel programme incorporating both direct and indirect cost savings from an efficiency perspective. An example would be to validate the perception that ‘booking earlier will produce greater savings’ - the proof is in the data. Top routes are identified and the organisation's average airfares can be viewed within each window period (eg. 1-3 days compared to 7-10 days) to prove the savings available to travel bookers as well as travellers on their travel spend. Once communicated throughout the organisation, these can then be measured on a quarterly basis along with exception reporting, ensuring the objectives are met.”