Last week at the 2004 Ultramar Travel Technology Conference hosted by Ultramar Travel Management representatives of GetThere discussed the importance and challenges of striking the right balance between online and offline travel management services. Industry experts from JetBlue Airways, InterContinental Hotels Group, and travel managers from two of the top ten law firms in the country also participated in the discussions.
Travel management continues to evolve, and companies are constantly faced with difficult choices when managing travel suppliers and costs. One of the big challenges facing companies is determining the right mix of online technology and offline travel agency services. When making this decision, it’s critical that companies consider their unique business needs and how they plan to measure the success of their travel program.
Online booking technology can provide significant cost savings. In the GetThere 2003 Corporate Online Travel Benchmark Survey, companies reported 15% average airfare savings and 46% average agency fee savings for business trips booked online.
Peter Harrison, Ultramar Conference presenter and vice president of strategy for GetThere, discussed how online savings is only part of the picture. He pointed out that companies need to consider the types and levels of service their employees require to balance the value of their time and the costs to the company. Harrison also mentioned, since many travel managers wear multiple hats, companies should look at the right mix of technology and personal service to help maximize the value of their travel department.
“The key for corporate travel programs is to balance proven online advantages and cost savings with higher-touch offline agency services,” said Harrison. “While 80% online booking adoption is a typical goal for most large corporations, 50% online adoption may make sense for smaller professional services firms who need a customized and flexible solution from a business partner like Ultramar.”
Meeting the Needs of the Individual Business Traveler
Another trend discussed at the Ultramar Travel Management Conference, was the shift many companies are taking to focus on the individual traveler. Many companies are developing specialized online and offline services to ease the booking process and provide tools that meet all the individual needs of the business traveler, while continuing to address the needs of the travel manager and company goals.
“There has been a shift in the corporate travel industry with product development focused on meeting the needs of the individual traveler,” said Peter Klebanow, president of Ultramar. “Ultramar has developed specific functionality that supports travel manager needs while improving the overall experience for individual business travelers.”
InterContinental Hotels Group, who spoke at the Ultramar Conference, offered this view on the hotel booking experience. “We want to provide travelers with the best rates and best service, which is why we’ve partnered with Ultramar Travel Management,” said John Morris, director for BTA revenue programs at InterContinental Hotels Group. “Through Ultramar [email protected], travelers have access to our unbeatable amenities and prices, in an easy to use environment - online or offline.”