As companies relaunch their travel programs, travel managers should evaluate the corporate online booking tool (OBT) to make sure they and their travelers are getting the most out of the features that can aid them in today’s environment. So, let’s explore ways you can optimize some of those functionalities.

Encourage travelers to view safety/health information

In the past year, your OBT provider may have revamped its tool to provide COVID-19-related guidelines so travelers have at their fingertips all the details they need to plan their trip, such as health, safety, and cleaning measures that airlines, hotels, and car rental agencies are taking to protect customers. It also may feature travel advisories and government regulations at the destination level so travelers can see what requirements they must follow (e.g., obtaining a negative COVID test or submitting vaccination documentation) to enter/exit the country. This way, travelers can easily look up itinerary-specific information while putting together their trip without having to leave the OBT platform.

If your OBT does offer this new feature, help travelers learn about it by promoting it in your return-to-travel communications and perhaps even providing screenshots to highlight where in the tool users can find this information.

Optimize the pre-trip approval capability

Most OBTs have a pre-trip approval feature that can flag itineraries that don’t meet the company’s policies and require approval from a designated approver before the trip can be ticketed. For instance, an organization could have all international travel or all air travel above a set price flagged for review. This feature can be handy when a new hot spot or travel advisory has been announced and the company wishes to halt trips to a particular destination swiftly.

One thing to consider when setting up a pre-trip approval system is how many trips you expect will be denied by an approver. If very few, you may prefer using pre-trip notifications instead of approvals, which won’t delay the trip from being ticketed and the traveler potentially missing out on a deal that’s gone tomorrow. With notifications, designated managers will receive alerts about out-of-policy trips and can follow up with the traveler to address noncompliant behavior if need be.

Whether you decide to have pre-trip notifications or approvals in place, communicate policy updates to employees so they know what kind of travel is within bounds. This will help reduce triggering alerts and the number of incoming messages to designated managers.

Educate travelers with targeted messages

To help traveling employees embrace new COVID-19 policy guidelines, we recommend taking advantage of the OBT’s on-screen messaging capabilities to train travelers on what they should and shouldn’t do when booking their trip. On-screen messages can be fully customized based on what’s going on in the world and what you are trying to enforce and promote.

For example, let’s say your company is forbidding international travel for the time being. You could display on the OBT’s home screen an advisory reminding travelers of this ban. Or, if cutting travel-related carbon emissions is a key program goal, you can encourage employees to book greener options, such as nonstop flights, LEED-certified hotels, and electric/hybrid cars.

Configuring the OBT to feature pop-up notices and warnings is just one part of a layered approach you can take toward policy, communication, and enforcement. You could also convey your point through the company’s portal or intranet page, and your travel management company’s travel counselors, who have access to your policy guidelines, can help spread the message to the travelers they are assisting.

Configure the OBT to promote greener choices

An indication that sustainability has become a core focus for travel managers, the number of corporate travel buyer requests for hotel sustainability information has soared in the past year. According to a recent Business Travel News article, Marriott International received requests from 100 customers for its carbon footprint with the hotel operator in 2020 – five times the amount from a few years ago.

Your OBT may be making it easier for travelers to select hotels that follow sustainable practices. For example, we now have a specially designed badge (a green leaf icon) in our OBT, Neo™, to indicate when a property meets certain environmental standards based on the client’s criteria of what qualifies as a “green” hotel. Clients can configure the tool to display hotel options with the badge to help travelers make better-informed choices.

Neo also has a filter that enables users to search for air and rail tickets based on carbon emissions. The filter factors distance and cabin class to assess the emissions level for a particular trip option. Users can also combine the emissions filter with other criteria ­– for instance, selecting the lowest-emission option under a certain cost level.

And just recently, we’ve introduced to the rental car segment the ability to filter by electric/hybrid vehicle, making it easy for travelers to find greener ground options.

Give the tool a test drive

It may have been a while since your travelers have logged into the OBT, so before they begin using it again, we suggest testing it out yourself to make sure everything is working properly.

In fact, this is an excellent practice to do year-round – periodically walking through the OBT booking process so you can see firsthand what the traveler’s experience looks like. You can simulate bookings to verify that the correct information is being populated and that any on-screen messages you have implemented pop up on the right screens and are consistent with your current policy.

We also recommend notifying your OBT provider about your plan to relaunch the program so they can also assist with configuring the tool and set it up according to your preferences, which may have evolved over the last year. And don’t forget to ask about any new features that may have been added since the last time your travelers were on the road.

New fare display in Neo

Give your travelers a consumer-like air shopping experience.