Capturing Loyalty in Business Travel

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Travel operators have room to improve as they try to own the direct relationship with the customer, according to a new Keynote Systems study. The study examined the habits of 1,500 business travelers. The study concludes that experienced travelers tend to gravitate to supplier Web sites and call centers, because they have already chosen a regular flight-route selection and are looking for loyalty amenities. Today, roughly one in seven business travelers conduct their search and purchases directly with airline and hotel supplier sites. The remainder of carrier loyalty came from frequent travelers who rated the experience and their loyalty rewards more important than pricing in their travel search. By comparison nearly half of the study participants relied on agencies alone. Curiously, a perception of better pricing also factored heavily into traveler decisions to choose between online travel agencies like Expedia (the leading business traveler choice), Orbitz, and Travelocity, even though in most cases the agencies all draw from the same product and pricing pools set by the airlines. Eighty-five percent of participants rate price a "leading consideration" compared to 48 percent who said a primary interest was participation in loyalty programs. Most important is the news that with so many choices, there is still no one way that business travelers prefer to buy business travel. More than one third of the participants used both agency and supplier sites in booking travel. A significant portion of buyers also still work through multiple channels. "We found that there is a tendency to plan online and then pick up the phone, as well," particularly in hotel booking, says Bonny Brown, Keynote director of research and public services. As services like high-speed Internet and expanded workspaces have become additional differentiators in the hotel space, agencies (and to a lesser extent the supplier sites themselves) have struggled to keep up with all the important information, although the hotel operators have an advantage. "Business travelers are developing a lot of [new] preferences about what will make them happy in a hotel room," Brown says. "There tends to be more information available on the supplier site, including information about upgraded room availability."
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