February 29, 2024

Stacking up

Amid growing digitalisation, what should travel managers know about their TMC's tech, asks Nick Easen

Very few travel managers used to look under the bonnet and ask their TMC about the finer details of what powered their tech engines. Yet, increasingly, as more businesses become digitalised themselves and tech solutions have matured, this is changing. Travel managers now want to know a lot more, their expectations are growing and they expect transparency.

“Buyers now want insight into TMC tech, they want control or ownership, and they want to know what the overall tech stack looks like and what other solutions can be integrated,” explains Paul Tilstone, Managing Partner at Festive Road.  

“They also want to know who is behind their TMC’s technology so they can judge whether they will be getting the right content, in the right way, to demonstrate value from their travel programme and to their business, as well as bring a better experience to business travellers.” 

“Tech innovation is increasingly democratised and dominant global players do not have a monopoly on bringing new innovations to market”

Many big travel providers spend millions developing applications in-house, while others aren’t shy about using third parties. Their mantra is ‘why build it from scratch if it’s affordable and readily available’.

“Travel technology is far too fragmented and is therefore burdensome for TMCs on multiple levels. The industry is rife with providers and large-scale TMCs promoting their ‘tech stacks’, but in reality, these are a combination of multiple third-party vendor applications, white-labelled and consolidated offerings with complex and often unstable integrations,” states Scott Wylie, Chief Technology Officer at TripStax.

See our 2023 TMC Guide and Directory

In control

Certainly, trust and openness between the TMC and buyer is increasingly important. The days of black box solutions are long gone.

There are also pros and cons to an in-house or third-party approach. Where a TMC has developed its own technology, it has skin in the game. Buyers can often be more confident of a travel provider’s expertise in supporting that solution and how it works within the overall agency service since the TMC has pumped its own money into it. 

“Sometimes having control over their own technology enables a TMC to invest in those developments which they believe are most important to their specific customer base,” details Guy Snelgar, Global Business Travel Director at Advantage Travel Partnership.

He adds: “On the flipside, using a TMC’s in-house technology can limit a corporate travel buyer’s options and independence if they want to change something. The tech is tied to your partnership with that TMC, but harder to unpick if there is one element you want to change, or source elsewhere.”

“Data is also likely to power the future of TMC technology, so getting insight into how data is and will be used is crucial”

There are also many benefits to TMCs using third parties. Engaging an IT supplier specialised and focused on solving a particular business travel process efficiently and strategically makes sense. Travel management firms cannot do everything. Don’t forget it is also in a third-party’s interest to innovate continually, otherwise they won’t survive.

“Third parties might not only have a more advanced solution but also be more agile to maintain it, change and adapt, and upgrade it over time,” stresses Eric Meierhans, Chief Commercial Officer at HotelHub.

Smaller TMCs are more likely to use third party tech providers and with the right IT development operations teams they can sometimes be more agile, with much faster adoption rates than larger organisations.

Wider ecosystem

Whether a TMC is an ecosystem player is also increasingly important. Tech innovation is increasingly democratised and dominant global players do not have a monopoly on bringing new innovations to market. There are a whole plethora of companies, globally, offering best of breed solutions, many solving very specific challenges in the travel space.

API connectivity is also allowing TMCs to very quickly plug into new technologies. This is likely to become more prevalent over time. Plugging into these is vital for travel managers wanting to offer innovative services.

“This can range from travel data and reporting, NDC aggregators, smart meetings and events software, to ground transportation platforms and sustainability start-ups. They’re now empowering many independent TMCs around the globe,” points out Chris Lewis, CEO at Travelogix.

Moving goal posts

A TMC’s philosophy on technology is perhaps one of the most important gauges. Does it have a culture of innovation, research, development and internal disruption? It’s vital travel managers align themselves with those that are constantly evolving.

“TMCs must future-proof their technology. Expectations of technology are growing and we have to be able to meet the needs of our clients,” stresses Julie Oliver, Global Chief Operating Officer, Reed & Mackay.

“Technology needs to be able to flex to suit market needs most appropriately”

That’s because there is no single roadmap or blueprint as to what the future looks like in terms of the optimal travel programme. The goal posts are always shifting. A TMC tech environment focused on feedback from travel buyers, problem solving, accountability and continuous improvement is crucial.

“Buyers should also be curious about how core a product management cycle is to the TMC. How does the TMC value data insights for real-time improvements and how does it capture the voice of the customer? Purposeful planning, prioritisation and the use of data analytics and data science are vital,” says Mark Hollyhead, Chief Product Officer Amex GBT.

Data crunch

As many corporations go through their own digital, data-led and business transformation programmes, TMC technology and the data feeds that are now generated on a day-to-day basis need to be aligned to this evolution. Data is the new oil.

“Programme analytics have come a very long way in the last few years, which now arm travel managers with the most accessible and digestible real-time targeted insights into their programme’s success, compliance, and traveller wellbeing,” says Darcy Roessler, Product Operations Senior Director for Product & Technology at CWT.

“There is no single roadmap or blueprint as to what the future looks like in terms of the optimal travel programme”

Data is also likely to power the future of TMC technology, so getting insight into how data is and will be used is crucial. Travel buyers are asking for more data in real-time from travel programmes, especially in relation to their ESG goals.

“The increased focus on the environment means TMCs are under growing pressure to give customers the ability to easily compare and book multi-modal travel options, especially where these can make their programmes more sustainable,” says Stefan Cars, Chief Executive & Founder, Snowfall.

It’s also about intersecting other pillars of business travel, including risk and expense reporting, wellbeing, as well as diversity and inclusion, yet many of these data points sit at different stages of the booking flow. 

“I’m not convinced that many TMCs are well placed to handle those dataflows. I think another broader change is the recognition to regionalise global programmes. Technology needs to be able to flex to suit market needs most appropriately,” concludes Rob Cope, Chief Technology Officer at TakeTwo.

Top tips

  • Make sure that any important tech functionality or capability is aligned with your own travel programme requirements
  • Think about whether the tech solution is designed for third-party connectivity, workflow optimisation and speed
  • Consider which applications and content matters, either for commercial or operational reasons, and which do not
  • Align yourself with a TMC that is continually innovating and investing in technology
  • Ask about your TMC’s technology roadmap