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Online travel booking tools are becoming a way of life for some companies that find it more convenient and cost-efficient to have business travellers handle simple transactions with the click of a mouse.

Access to thousands of hotels, easy changes of schedule and instant booking confirmations are just some of the benefits corporate travellers have come to rely on to speed up the shaping of their travel itineraries.

While New Zealand is reportedly out of recession, the pressure on costs remains, so Kiwi exporters are trying their best to keep business expenses under control.  Using online travel booking systems has become a way of life for some companies needing more efficient ways to organise work travel.

Some businesses have found ways to travel less.  However, for most exporters, travel continues to be a core part of the business, and travel is expected to increase as overseas markets show signs of recovery.

The trend over the past decade is upwards.  Business travellers multiplied by 16% to 281,000 between 1999 and 2008, according to the Ministry of Tourism.  Over 80% of them depart from Auckland, 11% from Christchurch and 9% from Wellington.  They go away for an average of 14.2 days, mostly to Australia (56%), the United States (6%) and China (4%).

Online accommodation bookings, according to a 2009 Ministry of Tourism survey, have risen to 58% from 42% since 2007, while phone bookings have fallen to 30% from 44%.  Pre-trip research has increased by 39% since 2007, and much of this is being done online.


So what is causing the shift?  Many New Zealand exporters are using online booking tools to save time and money.  A popular tool is Serko Online, which automates the process so a corporate client can make a booking in less than two minutes, says SERKO chief executive Darrin Grafton.

It’s not just the speed of booking but also the cost saving offered by online tools that is attracting users.  “For an offline booking the average internal cost to make the booking is $150; to make an online booking the cost is around $20,” Grafton says.

And there’s more to it than that.  “Not only is there an internal saving, but there is also an external saving by implementing a buying strategy.  The strategy helps a corporation to book travel the way they work and travel.  This enables cheaper fares to be booked where travel will not change, etc;  this saving can be as high as 30%.  On average, corporations will save 27% by using Serko Online from moving from an offline travel procurement process to an online procurement process.”


One organisation that has reaped such savings is New Zealand Trade & Enterprise.  “[Serko] has the functionality we need as a large organisation with multiple travel bookers,” says Julian Moore, group general manager of New Zealand Trade & Enterprise.

Online tools are said to be up to 10 times faster than traditional booking methods.  “Online booking saves time because it eliminates double handling and, as a result, also reduces our agency fees,” says Moore.  With an annual spend of about $1 million of travel booked online, NZTE has made considerable savings.

For a rushed executive, online booking also offers the advantage of instant confirmation.  “Booking online provides real-time availability, which saves time because we’re not waiting to hear back for confirmation.  It allows us to be in control of our bookings; for example, we can change departure times on flexible airline tickets prior to ticketing,” says Moore.

Another tool in the market is Sabre.  It gives access to 400 airlines and has pricing tools that make it easy to find the best fares.  Sabre can also be used to book rooms in more than 88,000 hotels.

Online tools are also popular with travel management companies like HRG.  HRG can process online bookings for clients more quickly, says senior manager e-support services Grant McConville.  “As such the savings we make operationally are passed directly to the client.  Obviously this is quite a significant saving as most of the decision work and actual processing in creating the booking is done by the user and the tool, instead of a consultant.”


But online tools are not always the best bet.  While handy for straightforward travel bookings, it can be necessary to speak to a travel specialist for complicated itineraries.  “Online booking saves time on simple domestic and transTasman flights.  However, it is more cost-effective and efficient to deal with our travel agent for more complex and long-haul bookings,” says Moore.

Also, the adoption rate needs to be very high for organisations to get the benefits.  And not all organisations can achieve a high adoption rate.  SEEK used Serko for a while, but stopped.  “The move from the booking tool was a secondary result of changing suppliers,” says Brigid Carey, SEEK manager of administration.  “But SEEK staff who manage travel bookings do prefer to speak to a person rather than use a booking tool, which, at the time, could be a little clunky, slow and inflexible.”


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