Travel Data 101 (part 3): Data Reporting

(I originally posted this article on Supply Excellence)

Good data is one of the two must-haves in any successful travel sourcing project.  (The other is effective people, but that’s another story). The question here is how do you go from acquiring your travel data and scrubbing it, to getting good data reporting?  The answer is that it depends a lot on your data reporting tool (click here for a list of the better-known travel data reporting firms).  Here’s what you need to look for:

  • Consolidation: You want to store your travel agency booking data with your corporate credit card and expense reporting data.  Your data tool should be able to acquire data from just about any travel agency’s back-office program, any corporate credit card file and any expense reporting tool.  The more automated these handoffs, the lower the cost for you.
  • Normalization:  Your data tool should transform data from multiple formats into standardized data records wherever possible. The tool may apply data scrubbing and scrapping rules.  That’s OK, as long as you know the rules that were applied and which data was scrapped.
  • Quality Control: Look for tools that have built-in QC logic.  This will help spot missing data feeds, errors in currency translation, double-counting (or worse) of re-loaded data; ridiculous air fares and room rates, etc.  (I once saw a travel report showing the buyer’s hotel spend at $13 trillion per year – yes, trillion with a T!)
  • User Interface: It’s hard to find the right balance between ease of use and powerful flexibility.  Most buyers should favor ease of use.  Fortunately, most travel data tools have plenty of canned reports that you can run.  These reports cover the bases for most standard travel data reporting duties. Those buyers that need to write a lot of custom queries and reports are pretty much going to be stuck in quasi-techie land. Don’t be fooled by slick webex demos done by highly-trained sales engineers.  Most of these tools’ custom reports are not as easy to use as you’d like.
  • Dashboards: Don’t be a sucker for graphical eye candy.  Yes, dashboards are an important selling feature, but pretty doesn’t mean valuable.  Look for dashboards that convey key information in a meaningful context.  Context can mean over time, or against a budget, or compared to target values…you get the idea.  Pretty bars and dials that report dumb data (like average ticket price or total spend by supplier) are not a good use of dashboard real estate.
  • Fit for Duty: Be sure the tool will suit your needs.  Typical travel reporting duties include:
    • Spend monitoring – by supplier, country, category (air, car, hotel) and budget owner
    • Contract management – by supplier (mostly for airline contracts)
    • Policy compliance – by traveler and budget owner, pre-trip and post-trip. Can include pre-trip approvals
    • Traveler security – the location of each traveler according to the itinerary and credit card transaction
    • Carbon footprint – the amount of CO2 associated with each trip and/or traveler
  • References: Possibly the most important element when shopping for a travel data reporting tool.  Get at least three references on the phone.  Be sure they have reporting requirements similar to yours.  Drill into issues of reliability, accuracy, customer service and ease of use.

You need good data reporting for a successful travel sourcing project.  But typical travel data reports will never deliver the analytical insights you need to put yourself in the best negotiating position.  For that, you need data reporting’s sexy cousin, covered next in Part 4 of this series: Travel Analytics.

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