By Brent Blake, President, Acendas Travel
If there is one thing that can be said for the travel industry, it is resilient.
Over the course of history, it has been knocked down by weather, political unrest, economic struggles and pandemics. And though bloodied at times, the industry has bounced back and done so through innovation and advancement.
The Covid-19 pandemic was met by better air filtration in planes, increased sanitization of hotels, touchless service at rental car counters and other enhancements. Faced with the challenges, the travel experience became more healthy and safer.
Online Booking Technology
Another technological innovation has come in the improvement of online booking tools (OBT). These technologies have existed in a variety of formats for more than two decades, but developments over the past few years have made them a boon for the traveler and the travel manager. For many years, the OBTs were basic in nature, forcing travelers to use other apps and online tools to aid their travel planning and execution — and then contact an agent to complete the process.
The technological limitations meant travel managers could not track travelers, determine compliance with established travel programs, nor ensure proper expense management. The traveler was faced with surfing online a multitude of sources creating inefficiency without the guarantee of minimizing expenses.
Today, OBTs are the one stop for travelers and travel managers who utilize a travel program offered through a travel management company, such as Acendas Travel. No longer do travelers need to call an agent to conduct business, keeping them from tending to other business. Now, they go to an app and can secure a flight, hotel room, and rental car that fulfills the company travel policy. The app also includes information on the destination, protocols for traveling during a pandemic, entertainment options and more. Additionally, the apps not only enhance policy compliance, but also integrate with expense and allow for communications.
Ease of Use
In a conversation with Annette Cumming, vice president of channel sales for Deem, Inc., she says the changes to OBTs since the pandemic have advanced the technology more than in the previous 10-15 years. She points to the ease of use and the duty of care features as the most important developments. This is manifested in Deem’s newly-enhanced OBT known as ETTA, which stands for “Easier to Travel Anywhere.”
There is no argument that the improvement in the apps has increased their popularity among travelers. This growing use has been enhanced and facilitated by companies with training programs, ongoing communications, penalties for non-usage, support from travel management companies and developers, etc.
The improvements of OBTs have come from many sources, including the traveler. In fact, Cumming says the ETTA app has a feature to collect traveler feedback for app enhancements.
What might the OBTs include in the future?
With more countries and entities requiring proof of vaccinations or negative Covid-19 tests, health passports will likely become integrated with OBTs. Additionally, as business travelers look to pair trips with leisure activities, apps will include options to execute such plans. In terms of efficiency, the concept of automatic check in through the OBT for airlines, hotels, rental cars, and restaurants; and a chat feature to reach travel agents have been studied.
And, if you really want to go high tech, the concept of Artificial Intelligence used in OBT is likely just around the corner. What if others in your company previously traveled to your destination and the information was automatically entered as an option for you? Or, what if your itinerary included entertainment activities that matched your personal preferences that you could accept or decline?
The transformation of online book technology has been impressive. And it’s likely to continue as travelers and travel managers seek to make travel more efficient and productive.