Will COVID-19 solve Travel Leakage?


Travel program leakage is the bane of any travel program manager the world over. Before COVID-19 hit, businesses were seeing dollars and productivity hour’s march out the door as employees chose to book outside of the travel policy and expense claim back at a later date. But now COVID-19 has all together paused business travel, we find ourselves in a unique position where we are able to hit the reset button on booking behaviour.

What is travel management leakage?

Despite a travel management company’s (TMCs) daily efforts to create the best possible travel program for your business some bookings still go astray; sometimes travellers won’t book through your preferred channel or they’ll book their own choice of hotel direct with the supplier or online. When this happens, gaps start to appear in your data and your reporting abilities.

While many organisations with managed travel programs have mandated policies in place, leakage through your preferred booking channels or suppliers can cost your company significantly in the long term.

Why do people book outside the travel program?

At face value, airline or hotel websites can be appealing to a traveller with simple travel needs. There are the perceived benefits of convenience and simplicity, and of course, the perception of ‘lowest rates’. Travellers may think they are doing the right thing for their company by booking themselves something direct if they spot a cheap deal. But by booking outside of policy, the overall cost consequence for a travel program can be significant if leakage is widespread among employees:

  • You end up paying more in the end;
  • Visibility over bookings decreases;
  • Supplier negotiations are affected;
  • Expense reconciliation takes longer; and
  • Traveller safety and security is compromised.

The good news is that there’s consensus in the business travel world that leakage will decrease post-COVID-19. Let’s step through some of the likely scenarios that will play out over the coming months as businesses return to booking travel.

More eyes on the travel booking process

Businesses in this new economic climate will be more cost-conscious, so they are likely to place more emphasis on stamping out leakage.

There will be more emphasis on what the value of travel means to a business, so in turn, there will be a higher level of scrutiny of travel pre-approvals. This will provide more visibility to the company before travel is even booked.

Duty of Care will become number one

Businesses’ duty of care responsibility will become a top priority right across the globe. Employees will have a minimum expectation that their employer will revise their travel policy to have a duty-of-care focus.

To help ensure companies can provide this level of care; employees will need to have a clear understanding of their businesses travel policy. Companies will need to know at any given time where their employees are, as we’ve all seen how quickly borders can close, leaving travellers stranded with no way home.

The travel landscape post-COVID-19 is going to look very different. But that doesn’t mean it has to be harder for travel program managers. By working closely with your TMC you can start to take important steps now to ensure your travellers understand the risk by not complying with your travel policy when the world opens up again for travel. 

Technology will become king (again)

Business travel tools and information help you manage, book and travel with ease. It will also become more crucial for decision-makers to help provide the visibility to track and report on spending. 

When it comes to traveller safety, companies will have more emphasis on data integrity. They will want to know who is travelling and where, in a live and up-to-date platform which TMCs will be able to provide if people are booking within the travel policy.

Companies will also be investigating other tools to keep an eye on cost and compliance.

There are multiple benefits of booking through an online booking tool like Stage and Screen’s SAVI. Automated approval and expense management are just a few, as well as access to our award-winning mobile app SAM. 

Stage and Screen can offer direct access to our reporting suites, allowing real-time analysis by finance teams to compare travel booked through Stage and Screen with overall travel expense reconciliation to address leakage. Stage and Screen can also work with clients on expense management policies to ensure that only bookings made through Stage and Screen can have travel expenses claimed back.

Pennies will be counted

In times like COVID-19, cost consolidation is very important. If leakage is minimal then there is better visibility on cost control which will be paramount in this economic climate.

Less leakage to alternative accommodation providers

Pre-COVID-19, there was always the argument that booking direct with alternative accommodation providers such as Air B&B saved money.

However, increased hygiene protocols will become paramount to traveller safety, so travellers will be more cautious when booking with providers who cannot guarantee increased hygiene practises.

Customer service will reign supreme

There are increasing stories of businesses whose employees have booked directly with suppliers or an online travel agency and haven't had a response back - and end up wasting hours of company time on hold to call centres for hours and hours. It has proven difficult to establish what is happening with refunds, cancellations or credits, and they are spending too many hours working on a solution that should be quite simple when managed by an experienced travel consultant. When you book through a TMC like Stage and Screen who offers multiple communication options, including direct emails and phone numbers, you know that help is only an email or phone call away.