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Airline distribution is put in the spotlight at special ITM Buyer Knowledge Exchange session  


OBT optimisation will also be a key topic of discussion at the ITM Empower Conference  in Brighton on 25 April 2024.  “Platform 24” is an ssential and agenda-shaping ITM debate between four buyers and four suppliers discussing the economics, impact and realisation of modern booking platforms.

The increasing ‘noise’ from travellers wanting to book direct with airlines, and friction from stakeholders about the need to use a TMC, are among the greatest challenges that business travel buyers are experiencing within their organisations regarding airline distribution today, according to a poll of travel managers at a special Buyer Knowledge Exchange session, organised by the Institute of Travel Management (ITM).

Over half of ITM travel buyer members attending the recent session (57%) cited demonstrating the value of their TMC to stakeholders and travellers as the primary challenge right now. This was followed by lack of access to fares through their OBT (53%) and managing travellers who are price- checking and booking flights themselves (47%).

Buyer Knowledge Exchange meetings are hosted monthly by ITM to assist buyer members problem solve common issues, ask questions of their peers and benchmark their approach. The topic of airline distribution has featured so heavily during recent sessions, that ITM decided to host an extra BKE dedicated to the topic of distribution, the TMC and OBT. Global, EMEA and UK travel managers in attendance represented diverse industry sectors such as financial services, energy, food, technology, telecoms, consulting, media and entertainment

A key area of discussion focussed on protecting the travel programme and managing stakeholders due to changes in airline distribution. Buyers shared their current tactics for managing traveller frustrations. This includes allowing travellers to book a cheaper fare outside of programme, which must be flagged via expense processes in the month of travel, enabling visibility of the booking so that data can be tracked and duty of care protocol followed. Visibility of emissions was also recommended as a factor for driving traveller behaviour to stay within programme.

Discussions also turned to what is needed from TMC and OBT partners. Buyers agreed that they would like to have an open and honest dialogue with all parties involved. However, those buyers who have attempted this dialogue have so far struggled to bring together airlines, OBT and TMC due to the practicalities of gathering the right people around the table. Buyers in general still believe that some airlines’ roll-out of new distribution strategies have not aligned well with corporate travel requirements, workflows and servicing capabilities.

“A consistent concern for ITM’s buyer members centre around airline distribution, and the impact that changes to distribution models are having on traveller behaviour, the credibility of the managed travel programme, and internal stakeholders questioning the value of the TMC,” said Kerry Douglas, Head of Programme, ITM. “It’s a really big challenge for travel managers right now, and an area for discussion that buyers have raised at several of ITM’s recent monthly Buyer Knowledge Exchange sessions. We therefore decided to hold an extra Buyer Knowledge Exchange session dedicated to the topic of distribution to help buyers share insights into how to manage the noise from their travellers and other internal stakeholders as best they can in the current environment.”