Crucial (and exciting) times for Online Booking Tools (OBT)! You should know by now, at FESTIVE ROAD we love to challenge our industry. I must say, as both a traveller and travel manager advocate, I am very well aware of the challenge travel suppliers face at this time. But, I reckon that for OBTs it’s not only about bridging the gap between consumer and corporate worlds any more. It’s also about articulating their true value.

Pre Covid-19 era, we sensed a growing wave of broad discontent with online corporate solutions – confirmed by our report “Oh BT! Why OBTs Need to Wake Up and Smell the Coffee” which highlighted that 73% of buyer respondents were less satisfied with Corporate tools than Leisure tools. As a result of that study, we figured every corporate tool needs to have the right balance and focus on three essentials: Content, Customer Experience (CX), and Control.

In our new, Covid-19 world, it’s clear that the present crisis is acting as a technology accelerator, revealing two very interesting differentiators:

  1. Agility: The necessity for speed of development through agile sprints provides a glimpse of who the most relevant players are. The velocity at which changes are now able to be made is a game changer, more than ever: welcome to the 2020s!
  2. Point Of Sale (POS) Capability: The transformation expected now is how to enable Permissible Travel at POS, and beyond. How do you use technology in a Covid era for your company’s travel while ensuring your people feel safe and looked after? Let’s face it: relying on humans to manage the complexity isn’t scalable!

The acceleration of travel technology developments is a result of the rise of the API economy in our industry, combined with decentralized distribution and focused retailing strategies. This will amplify the differences beginning to emerge in a pre-Covid-19 world between the Online Booking Tools.

Introducing the FESTIVE ROAD OBT Personas

One of the biggest issues we see is that not many OBTs are able to truly articulate the distinct value they bring. This is our industry call to action. It’s perfect timing for every OBT to think about the model they are today and more importantly who do they want to be in the future. And crucially, for buyers, it’s important to assess how their chosen OBT fits their strategy. 

So, after scanning the OBT landscape, we have developed ten personas to help buyers determine the type of technology and services that echo their needs. 

You might be surprised that we identified ten OBT personas, are there really that many out there? Maybe you’re not looking hard enough: there have been plenty of new entrants into this space! See for yourself:

  1. Consumer First – These tools concentrate big efforts on UI (User Interface) and exhaustive content. Historically these were leisure travel tools which have migrated to the corporate world so they aren’t strong on policy controls.
  2. Product Junkies – The best for both worlds: the traveller and the company. Consumer-like mindset and a CX that leads to affinity: a product that users love creating high adoption and satisfaction, with new features available at a fast pace.
  3. Curfew Controllers – Traditional players: designed purposefully to manage costs and employees. Claim their strength is robust rules to enforce policy. Limited focus on end-user needs. Enterprise first.
  4. “Same-Same But Different” – Trying to move away from the traditional approach but don’t have a strong enough USP to stand out. Usually connect data to an ecosystem, e.g. Travel & Expense, “content hubs”.
  5. Two-for-One – Fully integrated Platform TMC with proprietary technology. UX/CX maniac: dedicated to offering an enjoyable customer experience and joined up thinking with solid native mobile capabilities.
  6. Side-Car – Extension of an existing corporate IT solution outside of travel. Have identified an opportunity to build an OBT feature out of another core component of travel management (e.g. sales, HR). Have a strong USP.
  7. Niche – Address one specific segment with a technology that tackles market specific sectors/customer needs. Can be standalone or an extension of technology services offered by a TMC.
  8. Mobile First – Delivers comprehensive services and supports travellers through their journey (pre/during/post trip). Can be standalone or proprietary technology offered by a TMC. Capabilities and scope vary depending on the model.
  9. The Magnet – aka “Managed Open Booking”. Capture booking data made by travellers “off channel”, such as through dotcoms. Can offer access to corporate rates and corporate payment methods to enforce policy.
  10. The Horizon – “Know me, be where I am and tell me only what I need to know.” Not a booking tool as we know it, more a behind-the-scenes engine which integrates with existing everyday tools like instant messaging, emails/calendar, Internet browser… and relies on API connectivity.

Of course, it’s important to note that you may see several personas components in any single OBT, it’s not that every provider just fits one persona.

Buyers: Assess Your OBT’s 3C’s

Buyers and travel managers need to evaluate the OBT response to the current environment. We suggest they take the “OBT essentials approach” and think in terms of 3C’s: Content, CX and Control:

  • CONTENT – what’s the OBT capability to provide relevant, real-time information and travel/Covid-19 proof content? Think about cleaning standards, information on supplier services available – or not, government information/regulations and all sorts of attribute-based shopping that go far beyond Covid-19…
  • CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE –the (technical) challenge of bringing new rich information at Point Of Sale, in a user-friendly way, is one thing.  In my opinion, what’s next is employee wellbeing. How can OBTs focus on the safety and security of the traveller? Post-Covid-19, what are they doing to make travellers WANT to use them?
  • CONTROL – what is company agreeable, in this new world? How does the OBT empower you to support your travellers while meeting your duty of care and financial obligations?

Let me share a few examples of how I can see things shaping up:

  • Pre Covid-19, the relevance of Curfew Controllers was starting to be questioned because of the rise of the voice of the travellers. Could they have an opportunity to thrive now? Will that be enough to make travellers happy if they don’t provide enough of the right content and an enjoyable CX?
  • Product Junkies already started to go loud pre Covid-19. Could it be that their laser focus on their users needs and their speed of development will accelerate the OBT transformation?
  • Wellbeing, safety and sustainability are topics high(er) on the list as we are to re-define travel strategies. At FESTIVE ROAD we call that “People & Planet enablers”. I see an immense opportunity here for micro-services to thrive.

Agility is (finally) the new normal, and I must say, this feels good for our industry. Challenging times like these push us to have higher expectations. What is clear is that the challenge presented to us right now can, and will, result in positive and quicker technology upgrade in our industry. 

The question is – are you clear on how those changes match your needs as buyers? Drop me a line, I’d be delighted to explore where we can push ourselves a bit more!

Written by Aurélie Krau, FESTIVE ROAD, France