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A snapshot of business travel

The Association of Corporate Travel Executives (ACTE) has joined forces with KDS to identify elements that most impact the effectiveness and satisfaction of business travel professionals worldwide


The Online Travel Survey, which recorded the experiences of 170 ‘road warriors’ from across the globe, examined key elements that affect a business trip from the point of booking, to travellers’ experience on the road, to the expense reimbursement process upon returning to the office.  The results of the survey serve as a unique look into the mind of today’s travellers, and they will form the basis of education sessions and reports to be shared with ACTE members during the association’s upcoming Global Conference in Atlanta, as well as future events.

Findings indicated that managing travel spend is becoming more important with each passing year, as online capabilities make booking easier and business travel in general continues to be on the rise. Research from PhoCusWright supports this idea, as that firm’s independent research showed that unmanaged European travel spend has increased from €7.7bn in 2002 to €28.6bn in 2005. In the US, PhoCusWright determined that online corporate travel bookings grew from $18.8bn in 2003 to $36.5bn in 2006.

The KDS/ACTE survey demonstrates that with this rising spend comes a corresponding rise in customer needs. Travellers were polled on their opinions on a number of topics, including how strongly they feel about changes in the business travel sector that affect their life and the way they travel. The issues covered in the survey ranged from practical, internal issues areas such as how knowledgeable travellers are of their companies’ travel policies and how often they use online, self-booking tools, to more global issues such as whether mobile phone communication should be allowed mid-flight.

Respondents were well-seasoned travellers, with 31 percent taking more than 20 trips annually and 33 percent taking travelling 10 to 20 times annually. The travellers polled came from a cross-section of the globe, including Africa, Asia, North America, Continental Europe, Eastern and Central Europe, and the UK. The majority of survey respondents work in Continental Europe (32 percent), the US (31 percent) and the UK (25 percent). Fifty-five per cent of survey respondents work at firms with more than 5,000 employees.

The online factor
Among the most revealing indicators of how business travellers’ habits have evolved over the past few years is the widespread use of online, self-booking tools. The industry-wide push toward the use of self-booking tools to improve traveller efficiency and collect more accurate management information has begun to pay off. The survey found that more than half of travellers (53 percent) use their company’s self-booking tool to execute their travel plans.

Not everyone is online, though: a number of travellers (30 percent) still prefer to book direct through their company’s travel agent. This may be explained by the fact that many senior-level executives do not make their own travel bookings and most large corporations still have a dedicated travel department to facilitate senior-level travel requests.

The majority (67 percent) of those who are using a self booking tool report their experience has been either good, or “rather good”. Only 1 percent reported a bad experience.

Yves Weisselberger, CEO of KDS, explains that the increasing use of self booking tools is attributable to two key factors:  
– the market has changed in terms of economic structure, where online tools have proven they can deliver substantial savings, both in terms of direct costs of yielding a lower average ticket price, as well as indirect costs in terms of improving employee efficiency.
– the online industry as a whole is reaching a mature stage, where travellers are more accustomed to using such tools. “Each market has a curve of adoption,” Weisselberger observed, “and there is always an initial phase of hesitation, followed by a period of substantial acceleration. We are now in the middle of that acceleration period.”

The good news is that the adoption of online booking tools in Europe is likely to continue to rise, and will soon match the high adoption rates seen in regions such as the United States. A big driver behind further adoption will be the increasing use of online tools for personal reasons  (i.e., online grocery shopping), Weisselberger explained. “As more people buy online in their personal lives, they become more accustomed to this way of business” said Weisselberger.  “When they come into the office they take these new competencies with them and find it much easier to apply the comfort of online transactions to the work environment.”

User-friendly advances in technology also help to boost adoption. Over the years, companies such as KDS have made vast improvements to software with a focus on enhancing the traveller experience.

However, the survey found there is still room for improvement. For instance, 13 percent explore fares on consumer web sites. Dr Keith Mason, Director of Business Travel Research Centre, Department of Air Transport at UK-based Cranfield University, notes that companies should be concerned about travellers booking direct – outside the management tool, either through a consumer site or a travel agent. “This represents a group that companies could potentially save money by directing towards self-service reservation tools,” Mason observes.  

“The results clearly suggest that to drive up online adoption, self-service reservation tools should offer full content (perhaps requiring data aggregation from various sources).  The respondents of this survey clearly are willing to adopt online booking given the right tool – and so doing will push down costs.  Perhaps a better online expenses system integrated into the in-company expenses systems might drive higher adoption rates,” says Mason.
The area of expense management also has room for improvement in terms of automation. According to the survey results, 44 percent of travellers do not use an online expense reporting tool. 39 percent of respondents said they have a dedicated online expense reporting tool, while 8% use the same tool to settle expenses as they do to book travel.

Weisselberger believes expense management will be the next big area of focus, as companies aim to close the gap between manual and automated reporting. In this way, he said, “It is important for software companies to offer a comprehensive solution to corporate customers so that the booking tool, expense solution and management information are delivered in a unified component and all elements of the travel process are handled seamlessly.”

The business travel management industry – the fourth most important component in a corporate arsenal of great products, motivated sales support, and cohesive communications — is increasingly subject to pressures from both outside and inside the travel industry.

Business travel managers and procurement specialists are compelled to explore new methods of cost-containment in a highly pressurised global business environment. The art of balancing traveler productivity, return on investment, and cost containment is typically complicated by fuel spikes, political developments, and economic surges that constantly change the value equation.

Certain issues that ten years ago did not factor into a corporate travel policy are now shaping policy. These issues include privacy, security, technology, and corporate social responsibility. How do issues like this impact cost containment?  Government regulations on privacy and security drive up cost and time where business travel is concerned. Changing technology always comes with implementation, training, and expansion costs, which must be offset with a promise of return on investment. Moreover, topics and trends such as corporate social responsibility can reclaim dollars in the conservation of resources like fuel, while emerging as a crucial part of a new business ethic.

The hidden challenge of the business travel management industry entails incorporating all of the above into a finite number of weekly work hours, a certain portion of which must be devoted to fare negotiation, GDS issues, technological evaluation, and monitoring and reporting, and matching travel resources to changing corporate objectives. This is only possible if the work load is distributed between a number of experts… 2,500 experts in 48 countries, to be exact.

Barcelona will become the ultimate destination for the international business travel industry on 22 October through 24 October 2006, through the Association of Corporate Travel Executives’ Global Education Conference. Leading global experts on government, industry, transnational issues and economics will present the current state of the business travel industry to allow you to bridge the cost-value gap.

Daniel Calleja y Crespo, Director, Air Transport Department Directorate-General for Energy and Transport European Commission, will address the Commission’s current initiatives dealing with Air Service Agreements worldwide and the balance between a regulatory free market approach; improved aircraft positioning and communication technologies; and sustainable mobility initiatives and passenger rights issues in the EU and their impact on the travel and transport industry.

Dr. Frank-Jürgen Richter  Former Director, World Economic Forum,  Asian Affairs & President, Horasis, will detain steps essential for sustainable corporate strategies, in the face of economic shifts in Asia. Dr. Ricardo Baeza-Yates  Director, Yahoo! Research – Europe and Latin America, will illustrate how today’s business travel management experts are uniquely positioned to harness the next generation of internet  tools to streamline travel procurement and distribution, integrate legacy systems,  and add value to service delivery.

Six distinct educational tracks will put theory to practical application through presentations covering, technology & data management, relationship management, category spend management, financial management, global Management, and ACTE  Advisory Committee Findings. Conventional wisdom will be challenged with sessions focusing on credit card merchant fees as another way of cutting distribution costs, stronger fiscal accountability through tighter contract management, and hotel distribution in a fragmented market.

This is only scratching the surface. Topics at this event run from the cerebral (The Travel Effect: Why Achieving Work-Life Balance is Good Business) to the purely mathematical (Business Intelligence:  Leveraging Your Payment and Travel Data).

The ACTE Barcelona conference will be more than a business destination in October.  The Barcelona conference will be the origin of a new business philosophy, distributed throughout a global industry, in three days of open dialog and education.

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