Article: Listen & Learn About SBTs

Colin Brain director and CEO of Management Solutions, answers an anonymous buyer's query over whether suppliers of self-booking tools fully understand buyer needs

Reproduced from the Business Travel Magazine, March/April 2012

HOW can a buyer balance the needs of bookers, travellers, travel buyers and the business when implementing a self-booking tool? In my view, suppliers don't entirely get what travel managers need.

IN answering that question we would first have to ask other questions: what is it that the client really needs? why does a booker need an SBT? do travellers want an SBT and if so why? what is the travel buyer hoping to achieve? is the company going to benefit from adopting an SBT?

Once you have asked these questions you can begin to put the case together for utilising and adopting a self-booking tool. Believe it or not, SBTs have been available in the UK since 1986 and depending on the culture of the company they are introduced into, have met with varying degrees of success.

If a travel arranger needs to give answers to his or her traveller about flight availability and trip planning quickly then an SBT provides all this information at his/her fingertips and even allows the travel arranger to 'look good' by being able to confirm the travel bookings within two to three minutes.

Travellers of the 'Road Warrior' fraternity now not only have access to their SBT on their laptop but also on other mobile devices and smart-phones. They can therefore order tickets or book hotel rooms or amend their itinerary while on the move.

The travel buyer is no doubt hoping that the SBT will reduce costs by subtly enforcing the travel policy. It has been calculated that each percentile point of SBT adoption helps a corporate to reduce their air spend by a similar sum. The main reason for this is 'visual guilt', where the booker is able to see the cheaper options but make their own choice to purchase the more expensive alternative or to book the cheaper option.

This action is also used to empower the corporate travel policy as many SBT providers have built this element into their tools. Users of SBTs are now faced with having to make the physical action of booking out of policy and in some cases having to state their reasons for doing so at the point of booking.

The biggest boost to user numbers in the UK coincided with the launch by (then) Harry Weeks Travel of the Travelpack online / Evolvi project which allowed bookers and travellers to look for, book and even issue their own rail tickets - and in so doing make a saving of around 30 per cent on their rail spend.

The overall corporate need for introducing an SBT must be first and foremost financial, followed by the economics of time taken to find out information and, thirdly, the ease of use and round-the-clock access.

Can the money saved on cutting down TMC transaction costs make it a worthwhile investment, both in financial terms and training costs for staff? These days the SBT is virtually bulletproof and anybody that can read and type with just two fingers can find their way around the complexities of an SBT.

As for the savings on transaction costs, this is something you have to discuss and negotiate with your TMC, who is normally delighted to be able to reduce their staffing costs and make the reduction in transaction or management costs for 'No Touch' transactions.

While looking at self-booking tools it is also worthwhile considering the options offered by hotel booking agents. These online booking engines are free and simple to use and can also bring substantial reductions in costs for the corporate traveller.

Overall, the use of technology is based upon company culture. If the view of the travel arranger is "This is not my job, we pay travel agents to check this out/make this booking etc", then you can forget an SBT. However, if the travel arranger is of a mind that says, "I want this information now and I don't want to waste my time on a phone call to a third party", then make way for the SBT.

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