Part II − Inside the mind of a travel buyer: How one company manages its hotel program

December 7, 2016
Reading Time: 2 minutes

In our last blog, Onyx CenterSource talked with Geert Behets, head of global travel, meetings and fleet management for the Belgium-based pharmaceuticals company UCB, about how his company selects hotels for its preferred provider program.

This week, we get his views on relationships between corporate travel buyers, hotel suppliers and the service companies that help buyers like him manage travel programs to ensure their employees are getting the best prices at safe, convenient hotels.

When it comes to hotel agreements, what defines a true partnership?

Hotel companies often say their relationship with corporate clients isn’t one of buyer and supplier, but one of true partnership. Behets, however, is unconvinced: “I hear all this talk from hotels saying they want to partner with me, but I don’t see that.” Behets believes any hotel that wants to be a true partner would agree to two of his most important criteria: two-year discount deals and no blackout dates. “If they don’t do that, then hotels are commodities,” he said.

For hotels that agree to those criteria, Behets reciprocates. For instance, he promotes favored suppliers to UCB employees on the company’s internal social media platform.

What about dynamic pricing?

Behets is not a fan of this pricing model, which he said is one-sided, favoring hotels. In his view, dynamic pricing means clients like him guarantee hotels business while “hoping” they, in turn, give him a discount. Behets said his preference is for negotiated discounted rates.

How important are travel service providers, and how do you measure their success?

UCB outsources its hotel negotiations to HRS, which ensures that the company’s negotiated rates are available through its travel management company, BCD Travel, and through UCB’s online booking tool. Telephone bookings can be made through BCD Travel or HRS. It is common in Europe for companies to use a general TMC to manage the majority of their programs but to split out the lodging element and give it to a specialist like HRS.

Regardless of which channels employees use, Behets says it is critical that rates be competitive so employees are not tempted to book through brand websites or online travel agencies. Around the world, travel managers continue to struggle to keep travelers booking within authorized channels, even when they have a clear travel policy. Leakage of up to 40 percent from programs, even well-managed ones, can be commonplace for hotel reservations.

“It is very important for me that our travelers feel they are getting the best price when they look at HRS or BCD,” he says. “We tell travelers that if they find a better deal they can have it, but it has to be done through HRS or BCD for security reasons. But if employees look only at price, they may not compare booking conditions. Or they may receive an incredibly good rate but they don’t realize they have to pay up front and can’t cancel.”

What is your view of the partnership between travel bookers and hotel suppliers in the corporate travel space? How do you think relationships can be improved?