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TMC as Consultants – Are We There Yet?

For years a familiar theme heard throughout the business travel industry concerns the evolution of TMCs from order takers to true consultants for their corporate clients. I often classify TMCs into three groups- mega (Amex, CWT, BCD & HRG), 2nd tier and third tier. This is based on size of the company and their regional or global reach.

Late last year I gave a presentation to a group of TMCs who were part of a business travel consortium. The group was comprised mostly of 2nd tier and 3rd tier TMCs. As is my nature I talked about how technology was driving new business practices in the corporate travel market. This included my passion around mobile technology and its approaching impact on the business travel experience. I have given many talks over my 31 year business career and I pride myself on being able to read my audience. There I was prognosticating on how advanced technology would change the role of the TMC, when I looked out at the audience and I suddenly realized they were not getting it! So I paused and asked a simple question, how many of the TMC executives had at least 50% of their reservations being done online. No one raised their hands. Ok I said how about 25% of their volume online? Again only one agency owner raised their hand. Then it hit me. This group represented the famous “laggards” segment of the technology adoption curve.

Let’s face it, corporate booking tools have been around for over 10 years. The cost savings of these tools have been well documented, but here I was talking to a group that could not see their value. One of the more progressive agency owners (the one with 25% adoption) whispered in my ear that the current economic downturn might actually thin the herd eliminating those who don’t embrace technology. The bottom line is simple. If you don’t adopt productivity tools such as CBTs or BI dashboards, you will be left behind. More importantly, if you embrace these tools, the opportunity to move from a transaction processor to truly a consultant that helps corporate clients identify areas to reduce their T & E spend is significant. During 2005-2006, I worked with one of the mega-TMCs on overall technology and service strategy, recommending that they build a comprehensive dashboard for their clients and that they expand their consulting offer beyond the consulting unit within the company to make a part of the account manager’s core offering. I was pleased to see this mega embrace my advice, too bad this group of laggards is still clinging to the old way of doing business.