The Myth: Any one “trusted” travel provider is capable of always providing you the gamut of available options to choose from, as well as the best price available in the market.
The Reality: There is no such thing as “Provider Dominance”. With the right sourcing strategy, you can make an appreciable saving on budgets. Or better still, you can travel more or enhance the experience of your travellers within the same available budget.
Travel is on the cusp of recovery, aided largely by the vaccination progress across the world, which is expected to help Governments reassess the border restrictions within and between countries. There is a great deal of pent-up demand, as already evident from the spurt in leisure travel. Select airline routes are now running at full capacity, whilst hotel prices are showing an uptick. Markets such as US are already seeing a sharp rise in business travels alongside the “return to office” effected by several corporates.
Travel suppliers such as airlines and hotels, and travel providers who enable distribution, are also getting prepared. They are investing heavily into customer experience and embracing nimble operating models, where technology is becoming the backbone. Further, travel suppliers are being pushed towards getting creative in their pricing models, leveraging data and customer behaviour insights. This is fundamental to extracting the best prices from travel buyers or travellers.
The complicated economics on the travel supply side could now present interesting opportunities for the demand side. Corporate travel buyers and leisure travellers can secure the best deals, as long as they are looking in just the right places. Leisure travellers who are flexible with their schedules can afford to wait and watch for the right prices to show up. Whereas business travel is typically time bound, and buyers target the best deal available “right now”. In such a scenario, the biggest mistake corporates can make is to narrow their horizon of searches and settle on too few providers to source their travel from.
Our research provides ample evidence that “provider dominance” – the assumption that any one trusted travel provider is capable of always providing the most relevant options and the best deal for a specific itinerary – does not exist.
Let us now examine the imperatives for corporate travel buyers to improve bottomline.
1. Ensure that all options available in the market are on your menu
Of the top 8 travel providers covered in our research, the providers on an average missed out on 15% of the total inventory available in the market, i.e. 15 in 100 flight/hotel options were not even displayed to end users of such providers. Whilst this means that a lower cost option may not even have been available for selection, the value of business travel to a company is also dependent on the right timing/duration of flights and right location/amenities of hotels available. Making sure you book the right flight or hotel for your traveller at the right cost would therefore require a wider access to the market!
2. Verify each fare for competing bids from multiple providers
Even for flights and hotels that did show availability with the providers covered in our research, some degree of price disparity (variance in fares across different providers for the same product) existed in 97% of the instances for flights and 99% of the instances for hotels. That means out of every 100 itineraries we studied, only 1-3 options had the same fares across all providers. With travel being a dynamically priced product, this disparity would remain over time, as seats are shifted from one fare class to another and changing demand keeps prices on the move.
For instance, the price leader for international flights in our research offered the best fares around 32% of the time, which means that in 68 of 100 flights even they lost out to other providers. One provider that gave you the best fare once upon a time is not likely to repeat this again the next time around. You need to look far and wide in the market to ensure the best deal for your company.
Price leadership – the ability of a travel provider to offer the best fare in a particular instance – is a tough proposition in the Indian market, as our research shows. But it is quantitative in nature and the extent of the advantage offered is easily measurable. As per our research, the price savings for flights ranged typically from 10-20% with a maximum saving of 48%, whereas the price savings for hotels ranged typically from 15-30% with a maximum saving of 39%.
3. Look beyond prior performance of the provider
In a market with price disparity, an obvious strategy on the demand side is to check each offer with an additional provider to see if they can match or outdo it on a regular basis. Or one may tend to trust the provider who gave the best fare on a previous occasion. However, our research reveals that in the Indian market there is far too much dispersion in pricing, to allow best deals to come from only one or even two providers consistently.
4. Look for intangible advantages beyond the cash fare
Any platform which compares providers strictly on price without any additional variables would rank a fare of $100 as clearly preferable to a fare of $101 without considering any other factor of the itinerary that would make a difference to the corporate or the concerned traveller.
However, a corporate may attach a great degree of value to flights of shorter duration, convenient timings, journey duration, proximity of hotel to place of business, additional amenities, etc. Traveller wellness and convenience may have a direct correlation to the business outcomes intended from the travel. Therefore, it is critical to consider these intangibles alongside the “cash saved” instead of straightaway purchasing the “best fare”.
Clearly, the evidence from our research is strongly against the existence of any significant level of provider dominance in the Indian travel market. To the typical business looking for consistent, predictable and impactful savings on their travel costs, the solution lies in a broader horizon of travel providers.
A travel sourcing strategy, where the travel options are evaluated from across multiple providers, offers the highest chance of success, but poses logistical challenges for effective management. This points to a technology platform capable of collecting data from the right sources and an analytical layer which matches the available inventory to your preferences as a customer. The market is ripe!
Footnote: Research Methodology