Op Ed: Paul Tilstone On New TMC Needs In A New Era

Festive Road’s Paul Tilstone interprets recent survey results about corporate clients’ relationships with travel management companies suggesting that even in the face of current market pressures, TMCs need to stay on their toes and grow investment in servicing and content.


In 2017, we surveyed the sector on the TMC sourcing process and discovered there was a better way. Given the deep-reaching impact of the pandemic on buyer expectations of their most important travel program partner, the travel management company, we figured the time was right to listen again.

What we heard tells us that not only is there considerable, continued demand to source differently, but there are also some strong majority opinions when it comes to what travel buyers want from their partnerships in the future. Leaving the sourcing process aside for the moment, we thought it important to take a look at what some of the data tells us.

Content Is More Kingly Than Ever

Ninety-one percent of 114 travel buyer respondents stated interest in their TMC providing more air content via API distribution. The call for content doesn’t stop at air, with 88 percent and 79 percent looking for integrated accommodation and ground transport content, respectively, in this way. This tells us that, whether accurate or not, many buyers perceive existing TMC channels for content as insufficient. They simply think they’re not seeing all the options. TMCs have to get better at sourcing content, ensuring their clients know how far they go to do that and keeping a close eye on when attractive content appears outside their channels. If ever there was a topic that should sit as a standing item on TMC client reviews and advisory board agendas, this is it. 

New Servicing Opportunities

The opportunity for TMC servicing to extend beyond the air, hotel, rail and car categories remains a big opportunity. Ninety-two percent of travel buyers are looking for TMCs to provide enhanced, real-time servicing during trips. The period of time between when a booking is made and when travelers return home is the land of opportunity for TMCs.

Other opportunities exist to broaden TMCs’ offerings. With 89 percent of respondents looking for sustainability services from their TMC and 85 percent looking to the TMC to undertake post-booking re-shopping, there’s plenty at play in the evolving sector. 

A Signpost For Investment

During the course of the research, we focused on what buyers were looking for from their TMCs because the TMC has traditionally been their primary partner. But does the changing world mean that TMCs shouldn’t be complacent about that lead role?  

Festive Road

Paul Tilstone, Festive Road managing partner

We asked travel buyers, “How likely are you to reconsider your company’s need for the TMC as your primary partner for content distribution and booking services?” According to two-thirds of respondents, “The TMC is still our primary servicing partner, alongside our OBT, and that won’t change.” What about the other third?

A quarter of total respondents said they were considering alternative service delivery options because of technological advancements. That could mean an online booking tool-first approach, or running one’s own user interface backed by TMC support. That they may look beyond the TMC as that all-encompassing provider is a signpost for the TMC sector to look for investment. Whilst not every travel buyer will have the time, motivation and money to work towards alternative servicing solutions, that a quarter of surveyed travel buyers indicated this is in the cards is by no means a minor blip.

Of course, calling on TMCs to invest money and resources to develop and cater to the buyers’ evolving needs is an easy thing to say. It doesn’t fully consider the reality of the financial impact and resource pressures every TMC is experiencing right now. Yet we are seeing investment in the sector now, including acquisitions for strategic purposes, and so we shouldn’t underestimate the power of hard times to drive innovation.

The new era dictates a new need, and whilst travel buyers are undoubtedly not expecting an immediate and spontaneous evolution of the TMC proposition, the numbers are compelling. As we have seen before, where there’s a demand and the money to pay for it, someone will cater to the new, post-pandemic need.

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Paul Tilstone

Author: Paul Tilstone

Paul Tilstone is one of two co-founders of consultancy Festive Road. Prior to this he acted in senior roles for travel management companies for 13 years, CEO for the Institute of Travel & Meetings UK for seven years and chief global development officer for the Global Business Travel Association for a further five. In July 2017 he was appointed to GBTA's board, the first elected international director in the association’s history. Paul has received the U.K. Buying Business Travel Diamond Award for services to sustainability and was listed by the magazine in the industry’s 2013 “Hot List” as one of 30 professionals driving change in the industry. He has twice been listed as one of the world’s top 25 business travel industry influencers by Business Travel News for work in advocacy and sustainability. Connect with Paul on LinkedIn.
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