Is personalisation a threat to managed travel, or a benefit that’s being delivered too slowly? Both, it seems…
The potential impact of personalisation and the use of data on the managed business travel industry has been much debated in recent years, but when will it really start to bear fruit? And will it mark the start of a bright new dawn in the way companies operate their travel policies and programmes?
We have all seen how data is being increasingly used by companies to target us as consumers – search for one product or company online, and then a short time later you will probably see its adverts popping up on a completely unrelated site. Similarly, supermarket loyalty cards are using data about our shopping habits to bombard us with personalised offers.
While personalisation is permeating into our everyday lives, there are only a few signs of it taking root within corporate travel. In fact, several buyers have criticised the failure of suppliers to keep up with up with these consumer technologies, particularly with products such as self-booking tools (SBTs). One buyer even decried the technology of some travel management companies (TMCs) for “still using green screens”.
One of the biggest projects based around personalisation within the industry is the much-vaunted New Distribution Capability (NDC), created through the leadership of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), which has the long-stated ambition of offering an ‘Amazon-style’ shopping experience for those booking flights through a TMC or other third-party supplier.
Even to the casual observer, progress with NDC has been painfully slow, although several airlines are undergoing pilot projects, including British Airways. These trials have been mostly based around replicating the sort of services that are already available for direct customers using individual airline websites – BA, for example, is using NDC to allow seats to be selected through trade portals.
Institute of Travel and Meetings (ITM) chairman Mark Cuschieri probably spoke for many buyers when he said that NDC – and personalisation generally – was “not happening fast enough”, during a panel session on the subject at the Business Travel Show earlier this year. “With personalisation, the frustration is that it takes a very long time to change,” he said. “Buyers are not averse to change but I don’t think they have tools in the market to enable that to happen.”
TMCs have defended their progress by explaining the complexities of producing online platforms that combine multiple feeds from different travel suppliers.