Tony D’Astolfo On Witnessing, And Possibly Enabling, The Demise Of The Managed Travel Program

Serko’s Tony D’Astolfo channels his inner Col. Jessep to ask if the travel management profession can handle the truth about self-inflicted wounds.


I was watching “A Few Good Men” the other night and just after Jack Nicholson’s memorable courtroom scene, a thought popped into my head: This reminds me of today’s managed travel program.

I find a lot of symbolism in movies. You might be thinking this one is a stretch but allow me to explain. 

In the 2019 Business Travel News salary survey, when asked what they do, travel managers’ top responses were selecting suppliers, managing costs, setting corporate policy and negotiating rates. More respondents indicated their companies measured performance based on cost savings or avoidance than any other factor.

Play that against a changing business travel environment that now accommodates — and in some cases even promotes — off-channel bookings, where IATA’s New Distribution Capability enables supplier-direct initiatives, and where the Holy Grail is the integration of travel and expense data.

Tony D'Astolfo, Serko
Tony D’Astolfo, Serko senior vice president, North America

Have we simply accepted that program leakage is a given? Do we not care that while a preferred supplier’s direct website provides negotiated rates, those might not be the best options available? Should we accommodate a model that might lower distribution costs but sacrifices comparison shopping across many suppliers at the point of purchase?

Some argue that the market-leading online booking tools are to blame. These critics point to OBTs’ lack of investment in building “consumer-grade” solutions that mirror supplier.com and OTA sites. Citing high dissatisfaction among buyers about content and user experience, a recent Festive Road study suggested OBTs needed to “wake up and smell the coffee.” Airline merchandizing initiatives exacerbate the content problem because global distribution systems — the OBTs’ primary source for content — have not kept pace. 

Questions abound as the industry forges ahead. 

What about all these new tools available to manage leakage? Are they free? Do they come with any hooks that might impact data privacy requirements? What about the data you are used to getting? Will supplier.com provide the same level of detail? Can you still capture the rates not selected by travelers at the point of sale, compare them to the selected rates and determine if policy needs tweaking?

As new models and solutions emerge, more questions need answers. Has the total cost of running your travel program increased? Where do your travelers go when a snowstorm wreaks havoc on your supplier’s operation to the point of having 60-minute hold times on customer service lines? Who manages the residual value on the ticket if the traveler managed to get rebooked but found themselves downgraded or missing an element of the purchased airline “bundle”? Are we witnessing — even enabling — increased costs, added risk and the dissolution of managed travel as we know it? 

I will close by offering a slight modification of the Jack Nicholson monologue:

We live in a world that has policies and preferred suppliers, and those policies have to be enforced by OBTs and TMCs at the point of purchase. Who’s gonna do it? A supplier.com site? An expense tool? An itinerary aggregator? A new blockchain smart contract? The OBT/TMC has a greater responsibility than you can possibly fathom. You weep for GetThere (for its dated UI), and you curse Concur (for system performance and an equally bad UI). You have that luxury. You have the luxury of not knowing what I know, that the application of policy at the point of purchase, while tragic to some rogue travelers, protects the company, and that the OBT’s existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to some, saves money.

You don’t want the truth because deep down in places you don’t talk about at GBTA, you want the OBT on that wall, you need the OBT on that wall. You use words like compliance, control, duty of care. The OBT uses these words as the backbone of an effort spent defending the basic tenets of the managed travel program. I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain my tool to an industry who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the cost containment and duty of care that I provide and then questions the manner in which I provide it. I would rather you just said, “thank you” and paid me my transaction fee (actually a raise in the base fee would be appreciated). Otherwise, I don’t give a damn what your rogue travelers think they are entitled to do. You want the truth? Can you handle the truth?!


Related
Corporate Travel Managers Take Noncompliance Into Their Own Touchy Feely Hands
The Year In Polls: Booking Channel Policy Compliance Offers Results, Opportunity
Squabbling Some, Online Booking Tool Providers Address Negative Perception
Concur/GBTA Report Urges Travel Managers To Inspect How TMCs Configure Booking Tools
GBTA Study: Business Travelers Less Satisfied With Online Booking Tools Than Supplier Sites
Teleconference 3: Online Booking Tools
Louise Miller On Considerations For Online Booking Tool Selection

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Tony D'Astolfo

Author: Tony D'Astolfo

Tony D'Astolfo is a 35-year travel industry veteran and an accomplished executive with deep expertise in travel and technology. In 2018 he joined Australasia-based online travel and expense company Serko to lead efforts in North America. Tony was previously chief commercial officer at Deem, where he was responsible for developing and driving the commercial strategies for all sales, marketing and customer-related activities. Prior to joining Deem, he was managing director of research and consulting firm Phocuswright. Tony's career started with United Airlines, where he spent more than 19 years in leadership roles. He also worked for GetThere and GroundLink. Tony is a long-time member of GBTA and ACTE, and a former member of the Board of Directors of ACTE and Board of Directors of WINiT (Women In Travel). Connect with Tony on LinkedIn.

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Mat Orrego
Advisor

Bravo Tony! It seems that we have declared a “code red” on ourselves. Not sure we all understand the cost of innovation for the sake of disruption.

Steve Reynolds
Advisor

Nice article. Can’t wait to see some of the quotes above taken out of context. “I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain my tool…”

Erik Mueller
Subscriber
Erik Mueller

LOL

Rick Meisner
Subscriber
Rick Meisner

lol

Thomas Tulloch
Advisor

Best article ever written for and published by The Company Dime. Entertaining, creative, TRUTHFUL!

Bravo, TD!

Dave Lukas
Advisor

Truth delivered in classic Tony D. style! We as an industry have made things more complicated than they have to be. It’s time to get back to the basics and focus. The 80/20 rule works for a reason. 20% of the things you focus on generate 80% of the results you want. 20% of your data holds 80% of the results you are looking for and so on. These tools handle the 20% great and will deliver the 80% results if really focused.

Erik Mueller
Subscriber
Erik Mueller

Love you man! Nailed it! I’ve seen great technology come and go for lack of the corporations’ willingness to change and adopt, but I have also seen millions of dollars lost in chasing after the latest “trend.” I have to admit, I am not a fan of our current industry’s distribution and aggregation landscape or lack of standards, but when applied/implemented strategically, it succeeds and produces measurable results for those brave souls on the front lines that I call friends. We are all employees, travelers AND LEADERS. We have to be the change and make the adult decisions to protect… Read more »

Adam Kerr
Subscriber
Adam Kerr

That’s a great article! Great points and very entertaining!

Philip Dunphy
Guest
Philip Dunphy

Great analogy Tony! In today’s world of (process innovation?) and technology, I very rarely see the words “customer service.” I am still waiting for the in-depth study for OBT customer time online from initiation to ticketing. The BCD service team for Pfizer used to handle a booking in just under three calls and three minutes. How long do six-figure travelers spend online for one booking?

Richard Clowes
Subscriber
Richard Clowes

Love it Tony. Someone who is not afraid to call it as it is! We are our own worst enemy. While travel was in many ways very innovative back in the day, we have seen industries evolve and do a better job being able to hit the market with the new and latest technology and yet survive. The travel industry for the most part has always had to live with the weak link(s). You may think I’m pointing at the GDS, but I’m not. I blame three things: the airlines’ archaic fare infrastructure (Have you ever printed out a fare… Read more »

Sara Eastwood
Guest
Sara Eastwood

Amen!

Robert Haislip
Subscriber
Robert Haislip

Brilliant … simply brilliant!

Steven Schoen
Subscriber
Steven Schoen

Very astute observations, Tony . . . as usual.

Larry Silman
Subscriber
Larry Silman

Spot on, my friend!

Tammy Krings
Guest
Tammy Krings

Two thumbs up!

Sara Martinez
Subscriber
Sara Martinez

Great article Tony. How do travel managers accomplish everything they need in a program without partners to support them! We (OBT/TMC) don’t take our responsibility lightly.

Michael Jacques
Advisor

Hey TD, next up let’s work on Jerry McGuire…SHOW ME THE MONEY!

PS: Well done.

Arlene Coyle
Advisor

I guess that article will ruffle a few feathers, but it is what it is. Thanks for flying the flag Tony for all of us, even those who were not mentioned. I am with you.