Flexibility in hotel travel policies can help save money and boost compliance, a conference was told.
Booking accommodation as part of travel policies is often based on negotiated rates that have been secured in advance by travel managers. However, Cristina Chimenti, global travel manager at Sky UK, told delegates at the Business Travel Show her travel programme also includes online booking tools such as Booking.com and Expedia, alongside negotiated rates.
“There are occasions where even my negotiated rates are not as good as online booking tool rates. If you have a negotiated rate, you’re negotiating based on an eventuality that the hotel is completely booked up. There are times where there are major cancellations everywhere in the world, like this week as people are panicking about the coronavirus,” she explained.
“Hotels are going to be quiet so the likelihood is the rate will drop. If I allow my travellers just book on the negotiated rate, my rate is likely to be higher than one I can find on Booking.com.”
Chimenti added that including online booking tools within the travel programme had also helped to promote compliance and prevented leakage (employees booking outside the preferred supplier and expensing it back).
“We like to give as much visibility and as much choice to our travellers as possible because they usually make the right choice and operate as if it's their own money when they're travelling. They are conscientious. If they have the option to pick something that's cheaper and save a bit of money, they'll probably do it,” she said.
Gavin Harvey, senior group buyer supply management at Sodexo, suggested using online tools as part of travel policies could present issues with data.
He said: “The challenge as the buyer is we may have good quality data coming in from our agency on room buys at particular hotels, but the hoteliers suddenly have very, very poor data because the person has booked at a Booking.com rate.
“When the traveller is at the reception desk, the hotelier has no idea which company the person works for. If you've agreed with the hotelier to upgrade employees wherever there is a vacancy, they don't know it’s your employee and you lose that benefit. I think that's one of the challenges we face; we haven't got an answer for yet,” he added.
Fiona Williams, account director, worldwide sales at Four Seasons, said leakage can be a double-edged sword from a supplier's perspective but transparency is key to maintaining good relationships with buyers.
“If we're getting business that's not in policy, it could be an opportunity for us to be part of that programme. But the flip side is it could shut down that revenue as well because we're out of policy and the buyer doesn’t want to add any more hotels in that city,” she explained.
“We want to focus on transparency and really trying to support the programme of the buyer and making sure that we're in line with their objectives, even if sometimes it doesn't quite play out our way.”
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