Getting employees to make in-policy hotel bookings is a battle every travel manager encounters. But why do business travelers book outside the corporate online booking tool (OBT) and what are travel management companies (TMC) doing to improve the experience? These are questions our partner Expedia Affiliate Network (EAN) set out to answer in a report it recently published, “How TMCs Are Keeping Up With the Corporate Traveler,” for which it surveyed a panel of business travelers as well as executives from several TMCs, including our very own Wes Bergstrom, vice president of hotel value and revenue management at American Express Global Business Travel (GBT).

Here’s what Bergstrom had to say — and the ways GBT is meeting travelers’ expectations.

Booking behavior

EAN’s survey found that 68 percent of polled travelers booked half or more of their travel outside approved tools. One factor driving the trend? The fact that travelers have developed consumer-like tastes for their business trips.

“Corporate travel behavior is evolving. Travelers want options and flexibility while they travel,” Bergstrom explained to EAN. “The other thing that we’re seeing is that traveler personalization is big — offering different things to different travelers based on either their status with a chain or their travel preferences.”

How GBT is meeting travelers’ expectations: In addition to our extensive portfolio of properties and rates offering travelers millions of lodging options (more on that in a moment), our Neo™ booking tool, a smart app with machine learning technology, delivers a customized booking experience, pulling up content based on travelers’ personal preferences from previous booking behaviors. So if they prefer staying at a Hilton hotel that’s within a certain distance of their meeting location (and it’s a compliant choice in your travel program), Neo will pull that option right up!

The right content

EAN’s study also indicated that online travel agencies and direct channels tempt travelers who are seeking a better price, wider selection and loyalty incentives to deviate from their company’s managed program. All this time they’re spending searching for content can eat away at productivity.

“Travelers are out there looking at 10 or 15 different sites to see if they can find different accommodations and rates,” Bergstrom explained.

“One of the things that we’ve tried to do,” he added, “is make sure that we’re integrating all the content that is important for travelers and clients.”

The problem is, travelers may not be aware of all the content that is available to them — which is why Bergstrom believes it’s in a company’s best interest to show all the rates in the online booking tool, even those that fall outside policy.

“In some cases, we have companies saying, ‘I want to opt out of that content because I don’t want prepaid or nonrefundable rates in my system.’ That causes problems down the line because we then have travelers saying, ‘I can find a better rate outside of my managed travel program,’” he said. “Our push is to help corporations understand that having all the content in the system is the most important thing to do, even if they put some systems and processes in place in terms of how people book. Restricting content can cause travelers to ask, ‘Am I really getting the best deal going through this channel?”

How GBT is meeting travelers’ expectations: In terms of price, clients can access low hotel rates through our Property Hub inventory. These listings include our own negotiated rates, hotel properties and rates from our partners at EAN and and any rates clients have requested we upload.

As for the selection, we’ve got you covered there, too. In addition to the more than 400,000 EAN properties we have available through our booking channels, we also have more than 1 million properties, 90,000+ Airbnb Business Travel Ready accommodations and 610,000+ WWStay corporate apartments as well as content to the world’s top hotel chains. So to boost compliant bookings, perhaps you should consider opening up more of these options to your travelers.

Finally, travelers will indeed receive their hotel loyalty incentives when booking via GBT. As long as their loyalty number is in their account, their points will be transferred automatically. What’s more, travelers also may receive additional perks — like free Wi-Fi and/or breakfast — if the hotel they’re staying in is a part of our Preferred Extras™ program.

Booking tools

According to the EAN study, 40 percent of respondents reported a neutral or negative view of their employer’s booking tool. Almost half (46 percent) wanted to see improved functionality, citing enhancements such as the ability to make changes to existing reservations (37 percent) and new or improved mobile booking features (31 percent).

In addition to a user-friendly booking tool, travelers want the ability to contact a live agent when a travel disruption of some sort occurs, the study found.

“When something goes wrong on a trip — weather, family emergency, cancelled flight — people want and expect to have an agent to help them fix that issue. People want to be able to talk to somebody,” Bergstrom said.

How GBT is meeting travelers’ expectations: Again we go back to our booking tool, Neo, which allows travelers to make changes to their existing reservations seamlessly. All travelers need to do is click on the “Modify” or “Cancel” buttons. And as for new and improved mobile booking features? Well, Neo certainly didn’t earn the title for 2017 Business Travel Awards for Best Self-Booking Tool for lack of innovation. In fact, it takes a whole other article to really understand why Neo is far superior to other OBTs.

And when travelers need to speak to a live travel counselor, all they need to do is tap the click-to-call button in our Amex GBT Mobile app. Or if their company is enrolled in the Proactive Traveler Care™ program, they will receive a notification automatically to see if they’d like to speak to a live representative.