Airline Distribution is put in the Spotlight at Special ITM Buyer Knowledge Exchange Session

20 Mar 2024

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 buyers are experiencing within their organisations regarding airline distribution today, according to a poll of travel managers at a special ITM Buyer Knowledge Exchange (BKE) session.

Over half of buyers 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 focused 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 in 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 has not aligned well with corporate travel requirements, workflows and servicing capabilities.

“A consistent concern for ITM’s buyer members centres 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.”

For a full download of the special Distribution Buyer Knowledge Exchange, visit the ITM Resource Centre to access the notes from the session. A dedicated BKE session on OBTs will also be hosted by ITM at the empower Conference in Brighton on 25 April 2024.