Many travel management companies and tech firms are working to process more of their clients’ hotel bookings. Continuing its push, Carlson Wagonlit Travel is rolling out a simplified rate aggregation system and using loyalty points as incentives.
Brennan described it as less a database and more “a hotel engine that racks and stacks all the rates and categorizes them.” It pushes out to points of sale content from CWT’s private rates, global distribution systems and Booking.com. The aim is to connect all online corporate booking tools globally. Brennan sees three in five CWT hotel bookings being processed this way by year-end.
Like other providers, CWT is using data on past behavior to surface the most relevant, policy-compliant choices while also letting users view more. It’s organizing rates into four general buckets: “value-added” prices that include amenities, upgrades or extra points; budget rates; GDS and loyalty program rates; and negotiated corporate deals.
“It shouldn’t matter whether you’re originating from China, Australia or San Diego,” Brennan said. “If you’re looking for a hotel in Cartagena, we should be putting the same hotels in front of you — assuming you have the same preferences — in CWT To Go, online booking tools like Concur, GetThere or Serko, or through the offline phone service center. If you’re meeting a colleague who lives somewhere else, they should see the same hotels.”
In a future release, Brennan said, CWT expects to attach to the rate displays guest feedback from its Hotel Intel program.
One intriguing element of CWT’s plan is “Loyalty Boost,” in which it buys points from big chains or even airlines to dole out as rewards for in-policy, in-channel bookings. If a booking is with a boutique property that has no loyalty program or a less-than-popular one, CWT may offer airline points instead.
“We have no interest in creating a CWT loyalty program,” said Brennan. “We have run three or four betas with Hilton and we’re in the midst of a test with IHG right now. About four months ago, we ran a test using Amazon gift cards.”
Tempting as they are for marketers, claims about breadth of hotel content using total numbers of properties generally are derided as meaningless. “The number doesn’t matter,” said HRS CEO Tobias Ragge, even as his company was tweeting its number during an Association of Corporate Travel Executives conference last month. “Just piping in content APIs is worth nothing.”
What does matter, he said, are relevant and bookable rates payable using preferred processes.
Managed travel providers must ensure rates exposed to business travelers are business-travel friendly. Road warriors (typically) don’t need the “Romance Package.” Most aren’t interested in pre-paid or otherwise restricted rates.
So when the likes of CWT or a booking tool provider hooks up to a Booking.com or Expedia, there’s filtering and/or messaging to be done.
“We screen out more than we put forward,” said Brennan. With some of the Booking.com rates, he said, “we call out that it doesn’t come with points, etc., so the traveler is aware that’s the case.”
A Deem spokesperson said the company’s travel tool, which connects to GDSs as well as Booking.com, “excludes pre-paid properties and properties that have restrictive cancel rules.” Short’s Travel Management in March announced it would offer Booking.com rates through its proprietary booking tool. An official said the TMC can “restrict pre-paid and non-refundable rooms.”
Brennan acknowledged other technical issues to watch out for when sourcing hotel content outside traditional channels. One is determining which confirmation number to display to travelers. In some cases, the aggregator attaches a confirmation number to the booking but at check-in, the hotel wants to see its own. Also, some intermediaries don’t allow for online changes in certain cases, resulting in phone calls and possibly associated fees.
HRS North America director of sales and account management Eric Hofer said the confirmation number issue can cause confusion, though rarely. At worst, he said, front desk personnel should be able to find the reservation by looking up the guest’s name — which is usually what they first ask for anyway. Are there cases where changes or cancellations require phone calls? “It depends on the timing of the booking,” said Hofer. “If you have reached a point where you’re past the cancel date, then you have a situation where you need to pick up the phone and call the TMC or HRS to make that cancellation. But in most cases, the traveler can go online and make a change like they would any hotel booking.”
Despite any such hurdles, corporate travel distributors from Concur (with Booking.com) and Sabre (with Expedia) through to TMCs have been adding hotel content sources at a speedy clip. Citing Euromonitor research, HRS indicated there are about half a million hotels but just 23 percent are available in GDSs.
Altour this month announced a global content deal with HRS to complement its own negotiated rates, GDS rates and the Radius global hotel program. Content including specially negotiated HRS business travel rates will be available in all supported OBTs, according to Altour EVP and COO Barry Noskeau. Agents in some cases will toggle to the HRS agent portal from their usual GDS interface. Noskeau said he has observed no confusion about confirmation numbers.
TMCs want to not only add hotel content, but also change perceptions. Travelers have the impression “that to get the lowest rate, sometimes you have to go outside the program,” said BCD Travel CEO John Snyder during an April interview. “We want to bring them back into the system.”
BCD claimed it has the leading hotel platform in the market, though it declined to disclose its sources of content beyond GDSs because that information is considered competitively sensitive. “We have broadened the type of rates we offer our customers and provide fully flexible, restrictive, pre-paid, package and wholesale rates,” according to a company official.
BCD last year acquired GetGoing to boost its capabilities. GetGoing’s products now are exclusive to BCD Travel.
CWT’s Brennan recommended that travel managers focus on why travelers book outside managed programs. Is it “old-fashioned loyalty program greed” or that the rates are simply not in the preferred systems?
In promoting its new middle market initiative, American Express Global Business Travel claimed that it “beats the leading online travel agencies 90 percent of the time in price and availability.” The figure came from a study by RateGain Technologies that compared GDS rates with OTA rates. Collected in November for travel Nov. 9, 2016 to Dec. 7, 2016, the sampling of pricing for one-night stays in standard single rooms excluded pre-paid and non-refundable rates.
Such studies may be helpful in addressing misperceptions. Regulatory oversight can help, too. The European Commission last month announced that about two-thirds of the 352 travel shopping sites it checked provided misleading information about prices. In about one in three cases, prices listed on comparison pages were not the same as prices ultimately displayed. Thirty percent of the sites failed to display the total price including taxes.
Additional info: The CWT gift card and points programs are not related to its partnership with Rocketrip, which also offers rewards for compliant booking behavior.