by Mark Mullis
With an unusually active hurricane season, the US travel ban, and terrorist activity worldwide, 2017 was a corporate travel manager’s nightmare. But while corporate travel managers were focused on the safety of their employees and duty of care, the business travelers themselves had other priorities: freedom and affordability.
A recent survey by the GBTA Foundation and Concur polled 735 business travelers in Germany, France, and the UK about their booking habits, revealing that only half of them regularly booked through their company’s online booking tool (OBT). In addition, more than 3 in 5 business travelers booked outside of their company’s official channels at least once in the past year, even when they had access to their company’s OBT. The same study revealed that travelers knew that doing so affected their safety by making it more difficult for their company to locate and help them if something went wrong.
The survey confirmed a trend away from booking through approved channels, despite many companies improving the user interfaces of their OBTs in the past few years. But despite the prevalence of booking elsewhere, respondents didn’t show a clear preference for one particular booking tool. When asked their preferred booking channel, the answers were a fairly even mix between supplier direct, OTAs, their OBT, and travel management company. The conclusion seems to be that travelers want the freedom to choose the best option at the time they book – not a strong preference for one channel over another.
Another example of how business travelers’ booking practices have impacted the corporate travel industry is the trend away from luxury hotels to less traditional options. As travel budgets have been cut, travelers are looking to get the most value for their money. A recent survey of 243 travel buyers conducted by the Business Travel Show and the Association of Serviced Apartment Providers showed that 28% booked fewer stays at five-star hotels in the last 12 months, when compared to the year before. Meanwhile, buyers are booking more at budget and mid-range hotels and are also exploring less traditional options, such as serviced apartments, and the sharing economy, such as Airbnb.
The sharing economy, while still a small segment of business housing bookings, is expected to see strong growth in the coming years, driven by the influx of millennials into the workforce. According to a report by MMGY Global, millennials take more business trips than any other generation – 7.7 trips in 2015-2016. This is significant because the report also showed that 70% of millennials were interested in alternative options like Airbnb, a much higher percentage than other generations.
Instead of ignoring these trends, corporate travel managers are listening. Many companies are expanding their travel offerings and including services such as Airbnb within their online booking tool. Airbnb itself has also made it much easier to book for business trips, with a “business travel ready” designation for appropriate rentals, and tools to make expensing easy.
It’s clear that business travelers want to book the way they want – with the tools that are most convenient for them and the types of accommodations that fit their budget and personal preference. Successful travel managers recognize that the best way for employees to stay compliant is to build plenty of choices and flexibility into their travel programs. By offering options that work for their employees, they gain greater insight into costs and can keep track of their employees more effectively when something doesn’t go according to plan.