The Holy Grail.

A business traveller calling his travel agent to book a flight, or the reception to reserve a suitable hotel room – that is an increasingly rare occurrence. Instead, companies nowadays oblige their employees to utilise booking channels that are traceable. The objective: what is known as "total trip management".

text: Jürgen Baltes und Anke Pedersen  //  photography: james arthur allen

They do still exist, the secretaries who call up their favourite hotel to book the room in person for their boss for the upcoming annual general meeting. As usual, with the view onto the garden and the upgrade for regular customers. Maybe there will be a short chat about the weather – after all, they have known each other for years.

However, such telephone calls have become the exception in the business travel management divisions of today's companies. Travel management offices and secretaries' offices generally book flights, hotels or rental cars online. The options available are displayed in their company's own online booking system, for example the flight times and tariffs of various airlines or the prices, services and reviews of various hotels. Parallel to this, the system displays individually negotiated corporate rates and service providers preferred – generally for strategic reasons – by travel management. With only a few clicks, a suitable offer is selected, and the business trip is booked.

That means that companies increasingly rely on central booking systems and fall back on indirect booking channels, meaning OTAs or travel management companies like CWT or American Express. This does not necessarily make it easier for the individual hotelier to stay in contact with his corporate customers. If both the call to reception or a booking on the hotel's own website fail to materialise, then he must go to where his corporate customers gather – the existing ones, but also the potential new ones. HRS, for example, offers this access. However, not just because of the multiplicity of companies who use the hotel portal directly, but also because of its integration into the company's own online booking systems (= online booking engine, or OBE; see box). Thus, for example, all HRS Group hotels can be found in the OBEs of Cytric, Onesto and Get There, through which thousands upon thousands of companies in turn book their business trips – whether from their desktop or a mobile device.

Innovative booking technologies will become increasingly widespread, experts are convinced. Because companies are pursuing one objective in particular with this: They want to make their business trips efficient and always retain an overview of them. Every business trip should proceed as optimally as possible, for example with regard to costs, time, but also the traveller's satisfaction. "Total trip management" is the business travel sector's catchword for this. "Total cost of trip" becomes the key factor in this process. Travel management expert Claudia Unger explains the challenges that today's travel managers still face:

Ms Unger, companies are currently directing their focus at what is known as "total cost of trip" management. What does that mean?

Claudia Unger: To me, "total cost of trip" means that travel management gets an overview of all the costs incurred by a business trip. So not just the flight or the hotel, but the entire trip. And it is not just the travel manager who needs this overview - the traveller himself does too. Because he can only judge whether it was proportionate or too expensive if he gets a feeling for the overall price of his trip.

Another catchword in travel management today is "traveller centricity" – meaning taking the needs of the business traveller into account.

"Traveller centricity" primarily stands for communication. Many travellers contravene their travel cost guidelines because they do not see the sense in them. But particularly Generation Y, the Millennials, need a lot of explanations. So a lot more is being questioned. Above and beyond this, today's travellers have much better access to offers that they can book as private individuals – and simply and cheaply too.

Does that mean they book their hotel or their flight where they also make their private bookings?

Yes. Many employees have no idea what happens in the background in a business travel agency or in the travel management department. For example, they do not know that there is a contract in place with a hotel according to which the breakfast is included in the room price. Or the cancellation even on the day of the booking. Many of them know nothing about their travel manager's duty of care either. About the fact that he has to know precisely where his travellers are in order to be able to support them in an emergency. So when they find and book a cheaper rate for an overnight stay on the internet, they do not realise at all that in doing so they are completely contravening their travel guidelines and making the travel manager's work more difficult.

So how can travel management make its travellers adhere to the rules?

With what is known as traveller engagement. That means that I provide the traveller with ways and means that animate him to the correct behaviour. For example, there are many good apps for this nowadays with which a company can indicate to its employees: "We will support you, and we will look after you." Above and beyond that, it's a matter of communication. Many rules are good, but frequently written in academic or other incomprehensible jargon. That means they are read and forgotten. For that reason, it is important that travel management explains to its travellers the reasoning behind these rules. That is the essence, in my opinion.

So how can the hotel industry make the travel manager's job easier, or make the traveller's stay better?

As soon as travellers walk into a hotel, they have to fill out forms with their data. At this point, hoteliers should be sure to ask immediately at check-in for the name and address to which the invoice should be issued. That takes all of three seconds and can improve the process for all involved. Changing all of this retrospectively involves immense time and effort.

That is not really a challenging task. Another issue is virtual payment.

Virtual credit cards will become increasingly widespread because they provide much better data. In addition, they are much less prone to abuse, because a virtual credit card number is only valid for a specific time period and has a euro limit. However, it is important that not just the employee in the accounts department, but also the employees at reception understand what a virtual credit card is. Because then the guest will no longer have to be asked for his plastic card when checking in. For example, if a company uses the paperless.travel service offered by HRS and Airplus, the hotel receives a virtual number directly after the room is booked. Then the employees in the sales department or back office should pass this number on to their colleagues at reception to ensure smooth check-in and check-out for the traveller. For this reason, I would appeal to the hotel industry: Offer your employees training courses! So that they don't say during check-out: "But you can't pay with this."

Your comments underscore the theory that the hotel industry has to remember its core competence: service. Do you have any more tips?

I used to work as a stewardess with Lufthansa. They used to drive into us that we should address our passengers by name. To do this, we were given a list with the names of the frequent flyers and learned them by heart. I believe that employees in a hotel should also know who is coming to stay with them. That could be done in the daily briefing. Because I generally know which companies are booking with me. I can assure you: It does something to you when you are addressed by your name. And another thing: You know when a guest has booked the corporate rate. You could take the opportunity to say to him: "You're from XY company, aren't you? Here is your WiFi password, and don't forget that your breakfast is included in the room price." Particularly hotels whose corporate customers are located in the immediate vicinity could also explain to their guests the best way to get there. This is one way for the hotel to demonstrate how much it values the corporate customer.

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