What’s the Best Way to Communicate with Your Travelers?

Communicate with Your Travelers

Good question! It’s one that comes up a lot in the corporate travel industry; after all, you can have an exceptional program in place, but if your communication tactics to your target audience miss the mark, all of that hard work can fall short of expectations. So, what’s the answer? It depends on several factors, such as your corporate culture, audience behaviors, and tools at your disposal, among others, but there are some standard best practices we’ve outlined below. Enjoy!

  • Meet them on their home turf. Is your audience active on social media? Do you have an internal company communications portal they use? Do they read and comment on your blog? Is signage by the water cooler the way to go? Or is in person communication/training what really resonates? Wherever your travelers are getting their information today, that’s where you need to be. With the advent of social media, the general population is no longer actively searching out information (or, if they are, it tends to be for a specific question and needs to be easily accessible… as in, the top 5 search results) they are looking for it to be pushed to them.

  • Go easy on email. Just because today’s workforce generally expects information to be pushed to them, this does not mean that travelers are looking for a heavy-handed email marketing campaign. Information shared needs to be relevant to the traveler, or it will be ignored, or worse, marked as spam or unsubscribed from. Hone in on relevant information by doing some email campaign testing, or ask your audience to make selections on the type and frequency of emails through your email marketing system. Diligently protect this communication tool for only the most urgent, relevant communications, and utilize other tools (social media, blogs, internal portals) to distribute everyday updates. By doing so, you’re doing some of the filtering for your travelers, and are almost guaranteed an uptick in open rates.

    Let technology lend a hand. Do you have a recurring list of commonly asked questions? Utilize “canned response” email templates to easily, quickly, and thoroughly answer them… and then point your audience in the right direction for more information. This will help ease your daily email overload as well as remind your audience about where to find additional resources. On the social media front, there are several scheduling tools that can help organize posts throughout the week. And if you find you’re better talking through a blog post, or find it faster than typing, check out dictation tools that can convert your spoken word into text (it takes some getting used to, but can be a lifesaver). This is an area that is always changing and growing, so keeping up to date on advancements and continually learning is key.

  • Craft a message that sticks. I completely understand that communicating travel policy can be a drag… but it doesn’t have to be! Maybe you are naturally a charismatic, energetic, hilarious individual, and if you are, my hat is off to you. For the rest of us, however, cracking jokes that make you the life of new employee orientation may not be in your comfort zone – and that’s ok! Tell a story, share a funny video or image, or lean on other resources, or people, at your disposal to help you communicate your message and make it resonate.

  • Think about medium. Video, audio, images or text? We recommend a strategy that combines all four. Do some initial testing to see what resonates with your audience, then utilize the results to drive your content creation moving forward. Continual testing is key in crafting an effective, agile communication roadmap that can remain relevant as inevitable changes occur over time.

And there you have it – we hope you’ve enjoyed some of our best practices to communicate with your target audience, whether that be travelers, new hires, executives or others. Are there any other tactics you’ve found effective? We want to hear about them! Please send us a message or comment below or via our social media channels, and if you’re looking to improve your communications strategies, feel free to contact our team at Dots & Lines here. We’re an energetic, creative team dedicated to helping our clients achieve their objectives through effective marketing strategy, communications, and branding solutions.

Travel Technology Versus Mother Nature

Travel Technology

If you’ve traveled by air over the past few weeks anywhere from northern Florida to Maine, it’s likely you experienced a delay or cancellation due to weather. Between the “bomb cyclone” that grounded over 4,000 flights in a single day and the recent unusual snow in Atlanta that brought TSA operations to a crawl, 2018 has already seen plenty of travel disruptions due to Mother Nature.

In the managed travel realm, the impact goes beyond traveler inconvenience. Meetings are missed and productivity is lost as travelers wait in long lines and hold for hours to find new flights. Costs go up when they are grounded and need additional hotel nights. The good news is, technology is making a positive impact. Freebird and Flightsayer are among the new services meant to improve the travel experience and help businesspeople make their meetings. The emergence of these players is not happening at the expense of traditional travel management companies. Rather, collaboration between them means a better situation for all.

“TMCs are not going anywhere anytime soon,” said Freebird CEO Ethan Bernstein. “Corporations are going to continue to rely on them for travel services including negotiated rates, customer service and support, and duty of care, among others. The mindset for travel technology providers should be, ‘How can we enable TMCs to provide tech that matters to travelers?’”

Heading to the Global Business Travel Association convention in Boston last year, one of our partners used the Freebird free trial. After a flight cancellation on the day the conference kicked off, our partner (somewhat forgetting he had signed up for the free trial), was resigned to waiting in the long line forming at the airline customer service counter when he received a text message from Freebird. He was offered a selection of new flights to get him to Boston. With a few clicks he had selected a new flight on a different airline set to arrive just 45 minutes after his original flight. He was even upgraded to first class.

Because Freebird covers last-minute, one-way tickets users need, airlines realize additional revenue. Bernstein, though, noted that about half of Freebird users in need of rebooking use the same airline with which they originally booked. That’s because Freebird’s fast response time lets them bypass airline customer service lines.

According to the company, its “first-time reply” to users during the early January snowstorm on the East Coast was seven minutes compared with airline phone hold times of more than two hours.

In addition to paying for a new ticket on a different airline, if that’s what the user selects, Freebird refunds the cost of the original ticket once a waiver is issued. During the January storm, impacted users on average saved $1,369, according to the company.

GoldSpring partner Mark Williams called the outcome positive for TMCs as well as travelers because it lessens call volumes during disruptions. It also means travel managers deal with less noise while better serving road warriors and senior executives.

In another example of travel technology coming to the rescue, Flightsayer saved my trip to moderate a panel at the GBTA Nebraska-Iowa chapter meeting this last month. Flightsayer sends users up-to-the-minute predictions on flight disruptions.

The weather forecast did not look promising the night before my trip, which had me connecting through Charlotte, an airport that rarely experiences snow. After signing up for the Flightsayer free trial, I started receiving updates on my flights. When I went to bed, the probability of a delay was a six (out of 10). When I woke up the next morning, I received an email that it was now at an eight.

I called the airline, which honored my travel waiver and rebooked me on a slightly later flight with a layover in Dallas, allowing me to skirt the weather. Turns out, my original flight to Charlotte was cancelled.

Had I not used Flightsayer, I likely would have missed my meeting.

We predict these types of money- and time-saving services will only gain more traction as more efficiencies are realized through artificial intelligence and voice-activated technologies.

GoldSpring partner Will Tate foresees AI handling cancellations and rebookings, and contacting related parties with changes – with all steps in the process cascading throughout the traveler’s calendar. “All the information is already digitized,” he said, “so the logical next step is application.”

A New Strategy for Hotel Sourcing

Strategy for Hotel Sourcing

It seems we just wrapped up hotel RFP season, but here we are again, just a few short months away. When thinking about your approach this year, perhaps it is time to consider a new strategy for the process. By adopting new technological solutions, you can help lessen the number of hours and time needed to craft a successful hotel program. As you prepare for your hotel sourcing exercise this fall, consider the following approach:

Traditional Sourcing for High Volume Markets

Depending on the size of your hotel program and volume in your top cities, traditional sourcing remains a good tactic for your top 30-50 markets, measured in terms of room nights and spend. Leveraging your room nights and spend with an individual hotel or shifting spend within a high volume market remain good tools to employ during the negotiations process. In addition, the following actions are recommended to optimize your traditional sourcing negotiations:

  • Evaluate the various data sources available. Merging information from various sources can compromise data and their interpretation, so the best way to assess the program is to select the source with the most complete data, a choice that can vary between different programs.

  • Obtain and evaluate traveler feedback. Through a survey or some other method, such as focus groups, solicit and review your travelers’ feedback. GoldSpring offers this service to clients through our SpringBoard Survey™ tool, which provides the information required to optimize your hotel program.

  • Expand your bid list. Adding more properties to your bid list is a good idea in general, but it is even more critical if you choose to introduce intelligence price tracking tools to the equation. Expanding the number of properties included in the traditional negotiations process for your largest markets ensures you have options if historical suppliers won’t adjust, or macro conditions are driving up rates in a certain geographic area.

Intelligent Price Tracking Tools to Drive Program Savings

Dynamic price tracking tools like tripBAM and Yapta’s RoomIQ allow you to set parameters by which the system continually checks for lower rates and automatically offers to rebook travelers. In coordination with traditional sourcing methods, these tools help ensure low rates in major markets and eliminate the need for traditional negotiations in lower volume cities. Although a departure from traditional sourcing methods, this strategy offers the following benefits:

  • Expect lower rates in key cities. According to tripBAM, New York, Chicago, Austin, Palo Alto and Atlanta realized the greatest frequency of savings, while New York, Tel Aviv, London, Washington and San Francisco had the greatest average savings per night. If these are among your top cities, take note.

  • Anticipate beating the negotiated rate. When shopping across a wide variety of rates, tripBAM reports that the negotiated rate was the best only 7% of the time. Compare that to the best available rate, which was the lowest 51% of the time, and the commission rate beating a negotiated rate at 31% of the time.

Things to Consider

Traveler education is key to adopting the plan above. Explaining why and how the system works is critical for successful implementation, along with executive level support. Some other things to consider:

  • Consider your company culture. Some more traditional travel programs may be less receptive to this technology than others. Utilizing a search for same hotel shopping (like for like) could be a solution for those reluctant to dive straight into a hotel cluster search. As reported by tripBAM, this tactic can still provide significant savings – 7.8% of the time a lower rate is found, and the average savings is $68 per night. Using this method, companies can also reference the rate data captured to improve their negotiated rate program in the future.

  • Implement the tool in stages. Once comfortable with a search for same hotel shopping (like for like), companies can expand the tool offerings. According to tripBAM, the majority of companies using the system for several months will shop the same hotel and consider a change in bed type (one step down) and apply a cluster of preferred hotels and brands if the traveler is staying at a non-preferred to improve compliance. Again, savings can be significant – same hotel shopping with a variance (change in bed type, room type, etc.) identified a lower rate 16.3% of the time, with an average savings of $89 per night.

  • Note changes by some chains and their impact. According to tripBAM, rates that are discounted for loyalty program members can be included in the search. The issue, however, arises when the lower rates are not listed within the GDS and must be booked direct. Typically, if a company obtains tripBAM’s service through an agency, these rates are not included, but if a company purchases directly, loyalty rates may be included. If these rates are booked, the agency is notified so they can create a passive segment in the GDS – not ideal for the TMC as there is a cost to create the passive segment.

With the development of dynamic price tracking tools like tripBAM and Yapta’s RoomIQ, travel managers have new, innovative methods by which to get the best hotel rates. With a hybrid model of traditional hotel sourcing and these new tools, travel mangers can more efficiently craft a successful hotel program and realize savings for their company.

Four Travel Technology Trends on the Horizon

Travel Technology Trends

By far one of my favorite topics to learn about at industry events is technology. It is amazing to hear about developments in this area – one that is constantly changing and evolving with something new to learn about each time I attend an education session. Although this constant state of change can be hard to keep up with, here are a few trends to keep tabs on:

  1. Wearables
    Wearables are just getting started. From 2014 to 2015, the wearables market grew from 35.5 million shipments in 2014 to 85.0 million in 2015, a year-over-year growth of 139.4%. Recent predictions show shipments increasing to 560 million by 2021. Technological developments in this area are also expected to increase. Technology in development, such as Cicret and Vue, could substantially change how we interact with our devices. How will this translate to the corporate travel space? Capabilities are already available through certain apps for Apple Watch, such as gate change notifications, delayed or cancelled flight updates, and hotel reservation reminders, among others. Look for an expansion of these services as the variety of devices available to travelers continues to expand.

  2. AaA (App as Assistant)
    The AaA, or “App as Assistant” trend will continue to increase as Artificial Intelligence (AI) capabilities improve. Need suggestions for a weekend trip with friends? Copy in hello@hipmunk.com to your group email to get suggestions on flights, hotels, etc. sent to everyone in the group from Hipmunk’s AI travel planning assistant. Called Hello Hipmunk, it is easy to see how this scenario could translate from a group of friends to a group traveling to a client or a company meeting. Hello Hipmunk also integrates with Facebook Messenger and Slack so travelers never need to leave the comfort of familiar apps. As common with developments in this area, the question becomes how to drive compliance while allowing travelers to use tools they love. Perhaps Concur’s recent acquisition of Hipmunk will allow this type of technology to make the jump to the corporate travel space.

  3. Biometric Security
    Retina and full handprint scanners sound like the stuff of James Bond films, but the technology allowing for biometric identification is rapidly becoming more affordable, which should lead to more widespread use. Today, Touch ID on the iPhone (used to verify mobile payment through Apple Pay) and Global Entry handprint scan kiosks are already available for everyday use. Look out for the broader adoption of these features to benefit travelers with more secure identification methods.

  4. On-Demand Services
    In the on-demand services world, Uber and Lyft have moved on from their disruptive days of revolutionizing the ground transportation industry to established players. Expect the trend to continue along the vein of “Uber for X” with companies such as DUFL (luggage), AirGrub (airport food), GrubHub/Seamless (food delivery) and Jettly (aviation). As more of these services become available and used for travelers’ leisure needs, expect demand and questions concerning them to increase. A review of travel policy in light of these new suppliers may be beneficial to effectively handle inquiries.

    Overall, the technology space and its effect on our everyday lives, as well as the corporate travel field, promises to continue to be an exciting one. No doubt more advancements will be revealed as we enter 2017 – just in time for more education sessions on developments in this exciting and dynamic field.

Oh Baby, Baby it’s a Mobile World

Mobile World

Back when Cat Stevens’ “Wild World” first hit the airwaves, Richard Nixon was president of the United States, the Ford Pinto had just been introduced to the market, and the first New York City marathoners were lining up for the starting gun. And just over one year prior, in July 1969, man landed on the moon using computing technology 120 million times less powerful than the mobile devices we hold in our hand today. Needless to say, times have changed.

The considerations of travel managers have changed substantially over this period as well. In the 1990s, the Internet and its impact on the industry was undeniable, fundamentally changing the travel booking process. Today, mobile technology is being adopted eight times faster than web adoption was in the 1990s and early 2000s. For the savvy travel manager, this is certainly not fresh news. What developments are in store for this sector, however, and how can they successfully be incorporated into your travel program?

Mobile Use Surpasses Internet
According to the International Telecommunication Union’s 2016 Information and Communication Technology (ICT) report, the number of mobile broadband subscriptions has surpassed the number of households with Internet globally. Although the rate of mobile growth has slowed in the recent past, there is now an estimated 95% of the global population (around seven billion people) living in an area covered by a basic 2G mobile-cellular network. The prevalence of mobile and its importance to all industries, including travel, is therefore on pace to increase substantially.

Travel Industry Impact
Mobile technology research from CWT demonstrates that travel managers are well aware of this phenomenon, with mobile technology identified as the highest-impact trend for travel managers. Survey results showed that 92% of travel managers expect mobile technology to make an impact, and 72% consider this impact to be high.

Actions to Take
All of this is well and good, but what should travel managers do to take stay on top of, and take advantage, of this trend?

  1. Ensure Seamless Multichannel Access for Travelers
    Confirm that your website or mobile app is compatible with multiple devices, as this will continue to be the norm in the future, especially as Millennial business travelers become the majority in the next five to ten years.

  2. Solicit Feedback and Make Any Necessary Changes
    The importance of soliciting traveler feedback has been well documented, and mobile is certainly no exception. Survey your travelers regularly to ensure your mobile presence, whether an app or an optimized website, is user-friendly and address any issues with your travel management company or online booking tool.

  3. Communicate New Features and Developments
    Make sure travelers are aware of any new features or developments for mobile apps or optimized websites by communicating the changes and clearly outlining the benefits.

In looking to the future, it’s an increasingly mobile world we are going to find ourselves in. By taking some proactive steps to capitalize on this trend on pace to substantially increase worldwide, travel managers can set their program up for success in 2017 and beyond.