From The FieldCorporate online booking tools have their detractors. Everyone has an opinion on how to make them better. That includes Festive Road managing partner Caroline Strachan. In this guest piece, she explains the challenges faced by the makers of corporate tools, how some products overcome them and why she sees 2019 as a year of big change in the space.

I’ve been observing the online booking tool market and sense a long-overdue shift. For years the OBTs have faced underinvestment versus consumer travel sites. No doubt there are many reasons why, and I’d guess that a starting point is the lack of millions in commissions the consumer tools rake in. You can’t mingle with travel managers for long before the conversation turns to how frustrated they are with “clunky tools” and lack of progress.

Mainly driven by external forces, change is afoot. There probably is much work underway behind closed doors, and I predict we’ll see a string of improvements announced in the year ahead. Here’s why.

In the main, an OBT has three purposes:

1. Source supplier content, i.e., seats to travel in, beds to sleep in, cars to drive, etc.
2. Provide a shopping and booking interface for the traveler/booker
3. Provide corporate controls regarding policy parameters, rate access, etc.

The OBTs are facing change in all three areas.

Airlines and hotels are reviewing distribution strategies. Content is published in many different ways. Traditional aggregation won’t be enough moving forward so OBTs must rethink their content access strategies.

Booking interfaces are stuck in the 1990s. At the most basic level, schedule or price has driven the shopping experience in corporate OBTs. Now, though, consumers are used to shopping experiences where they can, for example, search for a sofa by size, color or fabric. Consumers can filter shopping for pajamas by short or long sleeves, age of the person using them, color and even by unicorn design (a prerequisite in my home).

Policy settings and application will need to changeLowest logical fares will go away and OBTs will need to filter options based on corporate needs. They already can remove all “basic” fares. They’ll also need to display only those that include add-ons like inflight Wi-fi, checked bags and so on.

OBTs need to invest in all three areas and move to attribute-based shopping models.

To quote Finnair chief commercial officer Juha Järvinen, onstage recently at the GBTA Europe conference, “We need to be able to offer our full product suite for the consumer to choose from.” The OBT that can enable this “shopfront” becomes most appealing to the supplier. Look at what Skyscanner enables for Finnair to give you an idea.

In pursuing a true marketplace view, there are bright sparks of hope. Here are some* examples:

• Short’s Travel has an online booking tool allowing the user to attribute-shop hotels. If having a gym is the most important factor to you personally, you get to check a box and immediately your results are updated.

• New Zealand-headquartered Serko brought its Zeno booking tool to the Northern Hemisphere. In doing so, it moved to multi-source content (e.g., adding Air Canada NDC content via the ATPCO/Sita NDC exchange) and you can also apply policy based on air shopping attributes.

• TripActions, the shiny new kid on the block, is heavily focused on a booking interface receiving much positive feedback from early adopters.

• Routehappy by ATPCO claims to power the next generation of flight shopping. I’m a little bit in love with how much further it can add to the booking experience. Look at what it’s done for Expedia, for instance, with so much more to come.

In summary I believe 2019 will be a fascinating year for the OBTs. They should be ramping up their sales teams as I think we’ll see a higher volume of corporates go out to bid, looking for that next-generation shopping interface. Might this also be the year that buyers are prepared to look at different commercial models for those OBTs that drive a better user experience? Or maybe the OBT market will become so competitive that traditional fees will disappear? As a buyer, when considering supplier change, you have to constantly consider the increased customer/cost benefit versus pain/cost of change. I think we may well have reached the tipping point necessary to endure the pain of change.

* No doubt others have these functionalities too. These company examples are not Festive Road clients.

• Caroline Strachan On The Real Traveler Of The Future
• Evolving Content Needs Highlight Differences Among Self-Booking Tools
• Louise Miller On Considerations For Online Booking Tool Selection
• Much-Maligned Corporate Booking Tools Attract Competition
• GBTA Study: Business Travelers Less Satisfied With Online Booking Tools Than Supplier Sites


  1. Caroline, well written article and many good points in here. I agree that the decades-old OBTs are beginning to show their age and corporate travelers are growing increasingly frustrated with the booking experience. I believe that the significant investments announced last year in this category will allow “the new kids on the block” to transform the user experience, addressing many of the issues and shortcomings that the legacy platforms have yet to overcome. Newer technology platforms with faster agile development cycles will allow for improved booking features with an attractive speed to market advantage. The problem with decades-old platforms is that they reach the point where it becomes difficult to scale and keep up with new developments like NDC. Those who are first to market supporting this new data format will be well positioned to shift share in this category. Corporate travel buyers are demanding a better overall experience for their travelers and will begin making purchase decisions with technology providers that can deliver this.

  2. Hello Caroline. Good points all! Very much agree on the possibility of 2019 being a defining year for improvements in content presentation and user experience for corporate OBTs. Now that industry expectations are morphing into demand, the timing is right. Thank you!

  3. Good stuff! I would add that we’re starting to see some corporate travel managers question whether they need an OBT in the first place. With the proliferation of data capture tools and API integrations directly with suppliers, the #1 item on the list (sourcing supplier content) becomes redundant in some cases — travelers can get the same (or better) rates directly from suppliers. Elite status travelers also may get better support directly from the suppliers (ie, automatic rebooking, upgrades, no wait times, etc). And with instant data integration for supplier-direct bookings, that data can be seamlessly synced with duty of care, expense management, reporting tools, etc. so travel managers actually gain more real-time visibility into their program activity. Suppliers are definitely closing the gap here.

    While this more open and flexible approach may not work for everyone, it could be an option for smaller companies, or even for select user groups within larger companies who need less hand-holding (ie, road warriors). There will always be a need for comprehensive tools from TMCs and OBTs, particularly when it comes to comparative shopping across suppliers and comprehensive itinerary management — but that’s no longer the only path to consider.

    1. Thanks Cara and yes I agree with your viewpoint, no longer is a TMC/OBT combo the only option. However, I’ve yet to meet a buyer/company who doesn’t want some form of comparability. That’s not to say it isn’t a valid use case, I might just be talking to a specific group. We should find time to debate comparability with a whiteboard … (and wine!)

  4. Caroline, I agree with you that ABS is the next shift in shopping. Thank you for raising this!

    However, most of the examples you’ve listed are attribute-based filtering where a traveler can use faceted search to get results that are pre-filtered with just the content (room type – rate plan combinations) that meets the filter conditions. This has been around for some time.

    Real ABS at a hotel, for example, allows guests to start a shopping cart with basic run-of-house room and then add in each attribute (e.g., ocean view, king bed, balcony, wifi, breakfast, etc.) to the cart and see the fee for each. They can choose exactly the attributes that matter to them for that particular trip and only pay for what they want. This makes it valuable for the guest, but it also provides hotels with far more data about each customer and allows for revenue management on an attribute basis and personalization on an individual basis, which leads to higher profitability. Everybody wins! I read a good article some time ago from our partners at Hudson Crossing. Author is George Roukas.

    1. Hi Greg, sorry I missed your comment. Yes you’re right this is filtering. The greater power is in the right recommendations in the first place (see my previous article on this) filtering is the start then bringing this to the display comes next … which is what TripActions just announced yesterday

    1. And they keep coming. Sabre NGS. PSGR1 NGS. TravelBank NGS. It seems my crystal ball was working … 2019 is the year of improved air shopping (I said I wasnt ready to call it NGS, seems I changed my mind when you have to type it 3x)

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