This decade has seen an explosion of new products and services oriented toward corporate travel. The degree to which program managers and their travel management company partners can embed such add-ons varies for many reasons. Charlie Mitchell of GoldSpring Consulting provides advice on how to take advantage of new technologies.

Today’s business travel industry presents buyers with terrific tech options for cost savings and service enhancements. They include online booking tools, mobile apps, off-channel data capture, price assurance, guest travel services and many more. While add-on products and services can bring value to managed travel programs, they also pose a big question for organizations: “Do we buy and manage on our own or do we continue to let the travel management company handle it?”

Startups are pouring into the travel space. This seems to make the innovation cycle move simultaneously at light speed and, unfortunately, at a crawl. These startups release plug-in-ready technology faster than TMCs can test, adapt and apply on a global scale. This is the underlying cause for the seemingly dragged-out process to apply new and different things. 

In most cases, the ability for travel program managers to test, adapt, and scale quickly comes down to cost and support. Through which type of relationship will you derive the greatest value for the technology in question? 

Charlie Mitchell, technology solutions consultant at GoldSpring Consulting

One could argue that no one knows a technology or tool better than the provider itself. So, it may seem obvious to opt for a direct relationship with a startup or other third party to find your ideal solution. Dealing directly can save money, but it also can sacrifice support. You need to consider customer service provided by the tech provider. Would you rather troubleshoot directly or have your TMC do it for you? This can be a complicated consideration when researching the best fit for your program.

Often it’s just as logical for the TMC to go to the provider on your behalf. The TMC’s partnerships and leverage can work in your favor. 

When it comes to working with third parties, TMCs themselves are evolving. They’re doing so around two primary models. One is amassing products and services on their own platforms (think Amazon) where it’s more about trusting the platform itself and less about who the actual end supplier is. The other is connecting buyers to products and services (think App Store) where buyers can be more selective about the product itself.

The question should be answered by the needs and wants of end users. This is where the voice of the customer plays a crucial role. What’s best for your culture and your travelers?

This brings us to a financial conversation: How much are you paying for what you don’t need? Some people don’t mind paying $3,000 for a laptop with extra bells and whistles even if it’s only needed for word processing. For others, there is value in being able to customize everything to their own degree. Some travelers, for example, pay for their own itinerary management solution even though their TMC offers a similar solution free of charge.

As new technologies and disruptors emerge, will the app store approach allow for easier transitions to innovative solutions? Will the emergence of those leading the innovation hold back TMCs that opted for the platform approach? Onboarding, validating and adapting third parties into an existing tech stack takes time and once it’s done the TMC is somewhat locked in.

My recommendation is to continue to be vigilant. Monitor and understand the granular details. Talk to your TMCs, to experts around you and to your travelers.  

Think about taking a fresh look at how your organization configured its technology. Lift the hood and examine your technology stack – including what you currently get and don’t get from your TMC. Run a diagnostic to see what’s working. Keep your eye on the marketplace to find the right partners that can help you optimize your program – especially where you may have value or service leakage. 

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