• Corporate market backs away from direct 

Business travellers were returning to using corporate booking tools after a move into using suppliers directly, according to a study from SAP Concur and GBTA.

The shift was caused in part by more options now being available to the corporate platforms, as platforms such as Airbnb have been integrated.

The report found that booking flights and accommodation direct from suppliers had falling over the past year, from 81% in 2017 to 69%.

The number of European business travellers who booked flights directly with an airline fell from 79% in 2017 to 68% in 2018. During the same period, the number booking hotel accommodation directly dropped from 83% in 2017 to 70%.

Convenience and pricing were the two most popular reasons for booking directly with suppliers in the UK: both chosen by 48% of travellers. At the top of the list in France, convenience (chosen by 45%) was slightly more popular than pricing (chosen by 44%). In the Nordic countries, pricing was by far the most popular reason for making a direct booking – chosen by 42%, compared to 36% who went for convenience.

Pierre-Emmanuel Tetaz, EMEA SVP & general manager, SAP Concur, said: “The research tells us that 62% of business travellers believe their employer is somewhat or very advanced when it comes to the travel booking technology they offer. That may account for the move away from direct bookings and the high and relatively steady use of online booking tools in 2018. However, there is more that can be done to encourage greater use of these corporate channels to the advantage of both the traveller and their employer.”

Last year saw Airbnb expand its relationship with Concur. In addition to working with Concur to help companies using Airbnb to manage travel and track expenses through TripLink, Concur incorporated Airbnb listings into its search and booking tool, marking the first time Airbnb listings appeared on a corporate travel partner’s platform.

The group said that the number of SAP Concur customers expensing Airbnb stays increased by 42% from 2016 to 2017, and included 63% of SAP Concur’s Fortune 500 customers.

“We can offer big open areas for collaborations, while still giving employees their own private space,” said David Holyoke, global head of business travel at Airbnb. “We think this offers a more meaningful business trip and it saves the company a lot of money.”

In a separate study, based on a survey of travel managers in the US, the GBTA found that, on average, 37% of hotel bookings, and 15% of air bookings, were made outside of a TMC or online booking tool. In interviews, business travellers mentioned several reasons why they book outside of company channels. These included earning better loyalty rewards, finding a more convenient hotel, planning a complex international trip, and wanting to stay at a hotel where a conference was taking place.

Even when travel programmes had strict policies in place, they still experience leakage, estimating that 35% of their hotel bookings, and 13% of their air bookings, were made outside of corporate channels.

Loyalty programmes were a sticking point, with 71% of travellers commenting that they believed that, if they gave up their time to travel, they should have the ability to earn loyalty points and over 51% would risk being reprimanded for booking out-of-policy if it meant they could book a hotel where they could earn loyalty points.

Loyalty played a bigger role in the US as 25% of US business travellers said the ability to earn loyalty points was a factor in choosing where to book and 52% said they would never consider booking a hotel where they could not earn loyalty points. This compared to 37% in France and 31% in the UK.

HA Perspective [by Katherine Doggrell]: At the recent Explore ’18 event in Las Vegas, hosted by Expedia Group, Rob Greyber, president, Egencia, told Hotel Analyst that duty of care was a rising issue for corporate travel managers, illustrating his comments with a story about how the product was able to alert a travel manager that two of their employers were heading into a location where an active shooter was present. Truly, who’d be a travel manager.

That responsibility aside, persuading your employers to book where you can see them rather than going off-piste remains a challenge and one which the hotel operators were happy to collude in. That loyalty points was an issue should come as music to their ears – someone values them enough to risk irritating the higher ups.

Airbnb too has been working with Concur, but it has also been developing Airbnb for Work to help attract buyers direct.

Back to the fretting travel manager in a crisis, there is some consolation to be had. A growing emphasis on duty of care has seen a growing emphasis on using the tracking capacity of corporate smartphones to tell exactly where your employees are at all times and send them appropriate alerts if required. Something that would never be abused, we’re sure.

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