Tony O’Connor On The OBT Obstacle Course

From The FieldThere is much to think about when selecting an online booking tool for your corporate travel program. A good choice is one that travelers will want to use and travel management companies can effectively support — today and tomorrow. Travel management consultant Tony O’Connor recommends taking the long view and highlights a few things to consider now, possibly years before they become challenges.


Do you remember those obstacle Olympics-type television shows we were subjected to in the 1970s? One was called “Almost Anything Goes.” Hapless contestants would hop through hazardous obstacle courses, often confronting things like water tanks, greasy poles, foam and giant swinging inflatable baseball bats. The last season was a celebrity version. I remember the bizarre sight of Alice from “The Brady Bunch” throwing pink rubber elephants at John-Boy Walton. It reminds me of the situation we face with online booking tools.

I’ve been managing TMC and OBT tenders for corporates for 20 years. Your choice of OBT is an important issue, more so than ever as the tools become the cheapest and best way to handle an increasing majority of your travel bookings.

The OBT you implement today will likely be your main booking system for the next three to eight years. You can change earlier, but it is an inconvenience. It also might not sit well with your TMC. Changing things too often midstream is not a good look for the procurement department. Here are a few midstream issues that don’t get a lot of airtime.

Upgrades

The market for OBTs is hyper-competitive. Suppliers must issue regular enhancements to stay up with the pack. But every few years, or maybe once a decade, they release whole new systems featuring “new open architecture” that replace current products. You may then face a problem. The problem is that the outgoing product you love, or at least like, will no longer have the support and improvement resources behind it. The rate of enhancements will slow and then stop. The new system will no doubt cost a lot more, at least for a year or two. And its range of new functions might make it click-heavy and slower, at least at first. Despite its NDC readiness, your travelers might not warm to it, but you don’t really have a choice. You have to leap onto the next greasy pole to avoid the baseball bat.

TMC Support And Compatibility

Quite a bit of time and money is expended by the TMC in integrating with each OBT on its menu. The extent to which they fully integrate, support and deliver all the useful functions varies per OBT. They typically have one “primary” OBT in which they have invested the most effort and have the most attractive commercial deal. This is the one they will sell you if left to their own devices. Fair enough. (Be careful if considering a combination between a TMC and its secondary OBT.)

Tony O'Connor, Butler Caroye
Tony O’Connor, director, Butler Caroye Asia Pacific

An entirely new, upgraded OBT can disrupt this historic happy harmony of suppliers and cause difficulty, at least for a year or two. This is certainly the case with secondary OBTs but it can also happen with a TMC and its primary OBT. As the OBT supplier rushes its new system to market to grab market share, and the TMCs follow suit, the wiring up of TMC and OBT systems can still be a work in progress. The switchover to the new product can create a temporary muddle in the middle. Pioneering new TMC-OBT pairings can be perilous.

Global Schmobel

Everybody obviously wants to sell their products globally. But OBTs, even the newer open and adaptable ones, confront a disparate array of travel products and technology environments in different countries. This is one of the reasons there aren’t more GDSs. The barrier to entry is costly and high. You have to customize and adapt in so many countries. So, and this is not new, it’s a very good thing to know the origins and geographic rollout history of an OBT, including the actual version under consideration. Fully functional and adapted multi-market OBTs are becoming more available. But if that is what you’re after, make sure that it is the case in the countries in your scope. Important details like this can get smoothed away in the TMC sales pitch.

New and better OBTs make travel and travel management better. But there are a few inflatable baseball bats along the way.


Related
• Caroline Strachan On The Move To Attribute-Based Online Travel Shopping
• Louise Miller On Considerations For Online Booking Tool Selection
• Evolving Travel Policies Challenge OBTs
• GBTA Study: Business Travelers Less Satisfied With Online Booking Tools Than Supplier Sites

Author: Tony O'Connor

Tony O'Connor is the founder and CEO of Airocheck, the fare auditing company specialising in audits for TMC fare markups. Airocheck issues the FairFare accreditation to TMCs that prove good practice through a detailed process, and also conducts audits for travel buyers directly. For 20 years, Tony has also been the managing director of Butler Caroye Asia Pacific, an independent travel management consultancy. Tony manages the Global Business Travel Association in Australasia and is a frequent speaker at global events. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

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