Hear Xaveer speak at the Business Travel Show on Tuesday 20 February, 1345-1500 about The great hotel rate non-availability crisis – what can buyers do about it?
How long have you been working in corporate travel?
I’ve been focused exclusively on corporate travel for the last few years as part of my role with Booking.com for Business, and have been interested in the business travel space since I started my career in the hotel industry with Hilton over 13 years ago. I was struck by the amount of business travellers I saw coming through the properties where I was working. My understanding of the importance of corporate travel, especially at the individual property level, then deepened further after I joined Booking.com in 2008. Today, in my role as Regional Director of Business Travel, I lead a team dedicated to building and nurturing partnerships with Booking.com’s corporate travel partners throughout the EMEA region.
What’s the biggest change you’ve seen in that time?
By far the biggest change I’ve seen over the last decade has been the impact that technology, particularly mobile, has had on the entire travel industry. Travel is continuously getting easier, faster, and more transparent. You can now book an entire holiday in just a few taps on your smartphone, something that wasn’t really possible even 10 years ago. This incredible flexibility and personalisation is having a profound effect on the corporate travel space as well. Business travellers want the same freedom, ease of use, and choice that they’ve become accustomed to when travelling for leisure. For us, that means making sure a seamless customer experience is at the core of all of our solutions for business travellers and travel managers. We believe that booking a business stay should be every bit as smooth and enjoyable as making plans for your next holiday.
What tips would you give to any new entrants (suppliers/buyers) into the industry?
My biggest tip would be to listen carefully to your customers and try to really understand their needs. Are you removing complexity and opening up additional freedom and choice? If you’re not, then perhaps it’s time to pivot your efforts. As I already mentioned, business travel is undergoing a transformation inspired by technology, which continues to positively disrupt how we all plan, book and stay, whether travelling for leisure or business. The entire industry is moving towards an even more traveller-centric future that provides a seamless, personalised and easily adaptable experience, all on the go. At Booking.com, our aim is to make business travel easier and more enjoyable—and I think that should be the goal of the industry as a whole, whether you’re a new entrant or have been operating in the space for decades.
What’s the biggest challenge the industry is currently facing and why?
I think the biggest challenge the industry needs to address is the ongoing dilemma that many organisations still currently face: maintain control, duty of care and whether to consolidate travel spending or provide the enhanced choice and flexibility their travellers demand. From our perspective, the two don’t have to be mutually exclusive. A traveller-centric approach that provides optimal flexibility and choice doesn't mean sacrificing oversight or duty of care. With the right platform, tooling and technology, buyers can keep up with travellers' ever-evolving expectations and needs with the confidence that they're making the right choices, all while maintaining the desired levels of control. At Booking.com, we have made our content available through all the major travel management companies, as well as various online booking engines, thus empowering organisations to deliver the choice their travellers want, while still encouraging them to book via the organisation’s preferred channel.
And what’s the most exciting opportunity and why?
If you give travellers the personal choice and flexibility they crave, it not only means happier travellers and more productive trips, it also means peace of mind and efficiency for buyers, not to mention more travellers booking their travel within policy. It's all about leveraging the right tooling and finding smart solutions that are tailored to modern business needs and a workforce increasingly on the move.
How are things going to look for travellers and travel managers/suppliers in two years’ time?
The good news for business travellers is, I think, we’re going to see more and more companies putting an increased focus on delivering traveller-centric solutions, including better tooling for the travel managers who oversee it all. If you consider the high amount of rogue, out-of-policy travel that many organisations are currently dealing with, the existing solutions need to seriously consider the evolving needs and expectations of the individual business traveller even more.
Is the lack of preferred rate room availability a problem and what can suppliers/third parties do about it?
Several of the corporations that we partner with have shared that although they spend a lot of time getting these preferred rates in place, it’s often difficult to guarantee last-room availability. In addition, these negotiated, preferred rates are frequently not the best available rates when it actually comes time for their travellers to book. With Booking.com, we hold the direct relationship with more than 1.5 million properties in every corner of the globe, with whom we work continuously to provide the most attractive rates and availability via our online marketplace. From our point of view, due to the aforementioned challenges, we recommend reducing the reliance on preferred rate rooms to a minimum.
What is your top tip for surviving/making the most from Business Travel Show?
Network as much as possible. I am really looking forward to being a part of BTS, as it's a great opportunity to connect with more of our customers and share ideas with other like-minded companies in the business travel space. We always learn a lot from the discussions that occur and leave inspired with additional ideas to keep innovating and enhancing our product offering further.
What are you hoping to see on the conference programme this year and why?
Business travel is not always as glamourous as some people might think. I’d really like to see more discussions on the conference programme about how the industry can better support the needs of the individual business traveller to create an even smoother and enjoyable experience.
What drives you mad about corporate travel? What would you put in Room 101?
If I had to pick just one thing, I would say that the user experience for both business travellers and travel managers is in general still too complex and more frustrating than it should be. Even though too much friction remains in various parts of the overall business traveller journey, I’m confident that together we can make it significantly better for everyone involved.