KDS and the Association of Corporate Travel Executives (ACTE) have identified elements that most impact the effectiveness and satisfaction of business travel professionals.
Findings from the Online Travel Survey 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 the firm’s independent research showed that unmanaged European travel spend has increased from €7.7B in 2002 to €28.6B in 2005. In the U.S., PhoCusWright determined that online corporate travel bookings grew from $18.8B in 2003 to $36.5B (projected) 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% taking more than 20 trips annually and 33% 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%), the US (31%) and the UK (25%). 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%) use their company’s self-booking tool to execute their travel plans.
Not everyone is online, though: a number of travellers (30%) 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%) of those who are using a self booking tool report their experience has been either good, or “rather good”. Only 1% 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% 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% of travellers do not use an online expense reporting tool. 39% 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 convergence of applied technology and booking options have come together to make corporate travel policies more palatable for both travel managers and travellers. An overwhelming majority (86%) of respondents said their company has a written travel policy in place and nearly all believe their company’s travel policy to be fair. 13% of survey respondents said their company’s policy is tough on travellers, which suggests that many of the costs-savings initiatives put in place over the past few years - such as more restrictive business class travel policies - may be taking a toll on traveller comfort and morale.
Productivity, however, has not yet suffered, as 79% said they do not believe restrictions in their company’s travel policy diminish their effectiveness on the road.
The Road Warrior Experience
Regardless of how smoothly the booking process goes, a traveller’s productivity can be affected by a number of factors once they leave the office, such as airport conditions and the in-flight experience.
London’s Heathrow outshone the rest of the world’s airports by offering the best facilities for travellers. Detroit, Amsterdam, Copenhagen and Frankfurt were also viewed favourably. Among the least desirable airports cited by travellers in the survey are Paris Charles de Gaulle, London Stansted, Moscow, and all three major New York ports of entry (Newark, La Guardia and JFK).
When asked what travellers thought about lifting the ban on the use of mobile phones in-flight, the majority (80%) said they were in favour of keeping restrictions. Of those, 41% said they would only agree to lift the ban for Internet and text messages.
These findings suggest that safety is top of mind for most road warriors - a conclusion further evidenced by the 50% of travellers who are “somewhat anxious” about health and security when travelling. While health and safety were certainly factors for the vast majority of North American travellers following the 9-11 terrorist attacks, this new survey indicates that security is a global concern, as more than half of respondents are from either the UK or Continental Europe.
Mason points out that security is certainly an area that travel management companies can assist companies in, as they can provide instant information on traveller locations in the event of a natural disaster or terrorist attack.