For all the talk of innovation in business travel, there’s still a gap in the retailing technology used by the sector.
That’s the message from Paul Tilstone, managing partner at Festive Road, speaking on the state of online booking tools (OBTs) at The Beat Live in New York earlier this month.
Although OBTs have been around since the dawn of the internet, Tilstone says the “peak of inflated expectations” came after the technology rose to dominance in the late-2000s, about the same time as the widespread introduction of the API and the arrival of the iPhone in 2007.
“From then on, the disillusionment set in as the B2C experience developed fast and the gap between it and the more clunkier B2B experience widened,” he says. “And we believe that satisfaction with the OBTs has been diminishing ever since.”
To make the case, Festive Road surveyed and interviewed 100 top buyers in the business travel sector from the United States and Europe.
“What we heard acts as a serious wake-up call to the OBT community,” Tilstone says.
What buyers say
About three-quarters (73%) of travel buyers say they feel corporate tools are inferior to travel tools available to their travelers elsewhere, the survey finds.
Buyers also say the content is insufficient, even in anchor segments like air and hotel: While 79% say they feel they get content from multiple channels, only about 50% say they get sufficient core content in anchor segments.
Some 51% say content is sufficient in air, and 53% for hotel. However, there is just a 10% satisfaction rate with the amount of content in the alternative accommodations sector.
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The survey also found that tools aren’t intuitive for travelers, with under half of travel buyers saying they feel OBTs offer an enticing and intuitive interface.
They rate OBTs a 5 out of 10 for sharing their roadmap; a 3 out of 10 for engaging the buyer community on identifying improvements; and a 3 out of 10 for adding new features at the right pace.
Additionally, buyers aren’t satisfied with engagement from OBTs, both in the present and in future planning.
Only one-third of travel buyers believe sourcing and contracting with OBTs works well, and just half feel implementation is effective.
As online travel agencies, which continue investing in product development and marketing, become more attractive, OBTs need more dynamic offerings, which Tilstone says could be accomplished through APIs.
APIs will help to further democratize distribution, which will accelerate change and make distribution richer and wider, he says.
“We believe that many more providers are beginning to drive distribution change from ‘first mile’ to ‘last mile,’ from the source of the offers at the PSS/CRS level to the consumption of the offers at the point of retailing.
“This consumption will also move beyond today’s browser-based OBT through a variety of channels like WhatsApp, Outlook, LinkedIn, Salesforce, etc., to be where the traveler is.”
The change could come from large tech companies, startups in the OBT space, existing travel technology companies or GDSs, OBTs or TMCs themselves, he says.
Tilstone also believes the continuous drive toward attribute-based shopping will accelerate. Although the concept is already being introduced into the business travel world, there’s much more that can be done around things like sustainability, productivity and industry performance indicators like on-time performance.
He says he also expects to see policy polarization. With the rise in ancillaries and diversity of products, corporations will either have to simplify their travel policies to allow OBTs to interpret and apply them easier, or policies will need to get much more sophisticated to cater to an increasing number of variations, which will require OBTs to develop sophisticated policy engines.
Ultimately, this API economy will help drive the concept of a “corporate consumption engine” to create dynamic corporate controls to break legacy policy and authorization processes.
“We will see the inevitable reshaping of OBT business models,” Tilstone says. “And this will help achieve the desires of business travelers within a managed environment of their corporations.”