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 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 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 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 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?!

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


  1. 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.

  2. 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…”

  3. 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.

  4. 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 our companies, employees and relationships with our partners. These are the pillars of success. Saving a few dollars and losing visibility and control of our travel programs is not the solution. The data shows it time and time again.

  5. 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?

  6. 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 rule? Who writes those things?); the industry players screaming for equality and access; and the usual financial payouts. These three things stifle. Yes, there are many factors and it’s easy to quote this and that and some classic movie lines.

    So purchase something on Amazon – is it that complicated? Do you go to different grocery stores expecting the same price for the same goods. No.
    Have you ever wanted to pay for a hotel for someone and use your card when you won’t be there? Arrghh. A whole cottage industry has risen up around this. Have you ever wanted to change a booking and go through that farce of penalties and explanations?

    I welcome change. Adapt/evolve and survive. Easy to say again, but what’s leading this is ability for the companies to survive and that means $$$$$ which makes turning this ship around to be a very difficult proposition.

    On a side note: customer service is not so easy to measure. Customer service to me is how you make the customer feel as they walk away after that interaction. Our expectations for efficient, professional and knowledgeable customer service have fallen so low. It’s not about handling each inquiry in the least amount of seconds. But that’s another topic for another day.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

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