By allowing business travellers to build their own itineraries, OTAs present a serious challenge to the TMC business model – you only need look at the demise of leisure agencies to see just how serious the threat is. According to Google research, 77% of business travellers now use OTAs – a sobering statistic for the TMC sector.
Why? Because by sacrificing the personal touch provided by a TMC, technology has allowed business travellers to take advantage of rock-bottom prices and book flights without having to speak to anyone. This self-service approach is particularly popular with younger travellers who are already well-used to such systems. Since the global financial crisis, people have been much more cautious about pinching pennies, too.
But here’s the thing. People might be willing to put up with a cookie-cutter customer experience for personal travel, but when it comes to business, they still need an expert opinion. Especially if they’re making regular bookings for top-level team members or handle a high volume of business trips each year.
Quick Buck vs Steady Savings
OTAs might offer cheap deals, but these are one-time offers. They aren’t interested in helping customers establish long-term, helpful arrangements over time, or making sure you’ve negotiated ongoing discounts with vendors. But their costs are lower because they don’t have to provide corporate policy compliance, VIP handling, or deal with preferred suppliers.
OTAs want to make a quick sale, whereas TMCs are about steady savings.
“The trouble with OTAs is that removing all of the trained and tenured professionals is not best for a corporate travel program. It’s only best for the OTAs. By not employing qualified experts to field calls or create customized online booking tools, OTAs are increasing their profits, and theirs alone. While it may seem like these savings are passed through to the consumer (or in this case a business/corporation), it’s simply not the case.”
Where TMCs are focused on accounts, OTAs can use their technology to connect with individual travellers more effectively – the OTA business model is built on one-to-one relationships with their customers.
This means that business travel is where TMCs really shine. Unlike OTAs, you can build meaningful, long term relationships with clients, helping them establish arrangements that save them money in the long term, while catering to specific needs. To survive and thrive, TMCs will need to take advantage of mobile platforms that allows them to replicate those connections too.
Save time, strengthen relationships
But while the TMC model is better for business, it’s not perfect. Companies need a bespoke, professional service, but they still expect the perks that a convenient online booking system allows. Today’s business traveller has a shorter attention span and far more access to information than ever before, so if you don’t provide a rapid response and an easy way to get to what they need, they’ll move on fast.
From your end, too, you need to be able to handle thousands of calls, emails and other queries at high speed. You need to automate where possible and cut out as many mundane administrative tasks as you can, leaving you to do the thing that makes TMCs so valuable in the first place: offering detailed, in-depth expert advice to business travellers.
TMCs can own the business traveller
Your business travellers already have access to thousands of travel apps and tools like Google Trips to manage itineraries their own itineraries, which means that a TMC’s agents are their biggest asset and differentiator. An effective digital strategy will combine your agents’ unique skills with technology to fulfil every travel need, giving you the “in” required to own the business traveller.
TMCs are constantly being challenged to provide more and cut costs; your agents’ time is more precious than ever. A strong mobile strategy will eliminate time spent on basic operational tasks. Agents are then free to amplify and extend their expertise into mobile channels, improving customer service and making the business traveller experience even smoother.
And that means one thing: it’s time to take the plunge. You’ll have to shift as much of your business to where business travellers can most easily engage with you and where you can provide as much real time support as you possibly can.
In short, you need to go beyond online. You need to go mobile.
Stealing the OTA’s one-stop-shop app approach
Developing a mobile-first strategy allows you to own the end-to-end business travel experience. Building solutions with a smart mobile partner who really understands your business, will allow business travellers to quickly and easily access itineraries and other travel information, make changes where necessary and contact agents speedily, round-the-clock, without leaving your app.
To best meet the preferences of your customers, you need to be available across a range of communications channels. Phone, email and web channels must be augmented by an effective mobile app to cover every preference. You will also need to engineer a consistent experience across them all, reinforcing the value of your service and giving customers exactly what they want, through the channel of their choice.
When implemented correctly, communicating via YOUR app will actually make clients feel more connected to the corporate and their TMC, deepening trust relationships with your brand in the process.
A mobile first strategy means converting all of your client accounts to a new mobile platform. They are already using mobile – it’s now down to you to transition your platform so all of your services are available in the palm of their hand.
What’s more, going mobile opens up exciting opportunities for continuous improvement. Once you digitise and mobilise, you are closer to the individual traveller. You can accurately track engagements and rebookings, giving you the background data required to better tailor services to individuals.
This data not only helps you to keep improving the system to delight your customers in the long run, it also enhances your internal reporting, giving you a clear and up-to-date snapshot of how your TMC is performing and whether you’re hitting your KPIs.
Not only different, but better too
In short, this isn’t about just mimicking OTAs. It’s about better leveraging the TMC’s value using mobile digital technologies. Ultimately your goal is to take some of the developments in efficiency and ease-of-use that online and mobile-led companies have brought to the industry, and use them to improve your delivery without undermining your offering.
You continue to provide the personal touch and to build on years of invaluable experience – you just do it in a way that the modern clients appreciate and understand.
Want more great advice to help kickstart your TMC mobile strategy? Download the free guide here.