Blog Part 1
In the coffee breaks of conferences and buyer-to-buyer discussions the FESTIVE ROAD team have heard, more than ever, the rumblings of discontent with the ability of the OBT to service the existing and future needs of the travel manager and their travellers.
So, we set out, as we always do, to undertake a deep listening exercise across North America and Europe.
After surveying and interviewing over a hundred business travel buyers and conducting interviews across the OBT community during a 6 month period, we can tell you that there’s discontent all around.
Not enough, and that’s the problem. Travel buyers are faced with pressure within their programs from travellers and their everyday consumer experiences. Also, they are unimpressed with the developments of the OBTs compared to leisure travel experiences. Of course, you could put that down to the different complexity required in OBTs versus their leisure counterparts, but that doesn’t seem to rub with the travel managers.
So, naturally, we then asked them what led to that dissatisfaction. It’s clear that it falls across three broad areas, the fundamentals if you will of the OBT. Content, Consumer Experience and Control.
THE 3 C’s OF THE OBT
Given the ever-rising trend of Content fragmentation, we tested this first. And whilst the majority (79% but even this feels low) responded that their tools did consume content from multiple channels, a deeper dive showed broad dissatisfaction with the amount of content provided, even in those categories where we would all expect decent levels.
When we asked the buyers if their current corporate tool provides sufficient content across the following categories you can see that satisfaction levels start to drop.
When it comes to Consumer Experience, the story isn’t any better. The provision of enough details about products and services is low and the expectation for personalisation is high. From a traveller’s point of view, the tools scored more than 50% satisfaction in only five (5) of 32 different user experience areas by sector/service and only one of these was more than 66% (display of hotel ratings).
Of course, the user experience also extends to the travel manager and the application of policy. So, we tested this too. 56% of respondents said that corporate booking tools applied their company’s requirements for control and authorisation in a way which suits their company needs. Certainly room for improvement. But interestingly this falls by a further 12% when we asked them about their confidence in OBTs to do this in the future.
So, when it comes to the application of policy, there’s clearly work to be done. But other aspects of control don’t work well either. We asked the buyers about sourcing and contracting an OBT, implementing it, how the financial arrangements worked and how positive they felt about the independence/ownership of OBTs by other parties. Tool implementation achieved the most satisfaction (51%) and buyers’ satisfaction with the independence of the tools fared the worst (18% satisfaction), with all other elements in between.
But it’s not a one-sided story. The OBT providers aren’t happy either. Challenged by limited development and marketing budgets compared to the Online Travel Agencies (OTAs), they just can’t seem to compete with User Experience and getting into the hearts and minds of travellers.
They are also challenged by connecting with the right decision makers who understand the travel environment and all its complexities, and there are diverging views amongst their customers on what is needed for the future. All this and the suppliers’ products and services are becoming more and more differentiated, which causes pressure on the OBTs’ workflows and User Interface. Plus, the commercial models act as both an asset and a potential hurdle. Re-seller agreements with TMCs provide them with access to the market and tech support for customers, but ensuring the client has the latest module or access to the latest content is out of their control.
In the meantime, different models in the intermediary sector are emerging to challenge the formats of existing providers, but more to come on that.
Now that you’ve read this far, I suspect that you would agree with two things that we at Festive Road have to say:
Firstly – The OBT is more vital than ever to our success as a business travel community. It is the shop window between all of the complex travel management work we do across suppliers, intermediaries and the corporate buyer. It is the key to control and service. It is the manifestation of a travel programme to travellers.
Secondly – Something has to change.
Of course, it’s not like us to just highlight the challenge and not suggest a solution. In our keynote presentation at The BEAT Live on 17th Sept in NYC, we outlined our vision of the potential for the OBTs to fulfil the needs of the modern travel buyer. We’ll share this and what we intend to do to bring that vision alive in our next post.
In the meantime, if you’d like to download an infographic of the results just click here. Alternatively, if you have a passion for travel technology and want to find out more about our research or how we can help create change, just drop us a note to firstname.lastname@example.org
“UPDATE: On 3rd January 2020 a follow on to this blog was posted as an Op Ed in Business Travel News – it highlights the opportunity in hand for Online Booking Tools. Read it here. “