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Data and A Very Old Story

Data in Travel Management

There is this old Pennsylvania Railway Company story about reporting. Here, management asked for reports. New management asked for new reports. The trouble was, no one looked at the old reports to decide if they were still needed. Upshot was an ever growing department producing more and more reports; many, that nobody wanted.

In the age of computers, with the ability to store and process vast amounts of data, this may not be quite so noticeable. One may as well keep data, just in case.

Is the story still relevant today?

Our apparent thirst for data may be leading to a burgeoning and perhaps, unwanted area of cost. All that computer power costs money and then you need the technical know how to manage it, to work the systems, to analyse the data. You then need the marketing people to tell you how wonderful all that data is and how much you can do with it - but to what end? To supply customers with information, which is invariably related to their last purchase using criteria which can be built by using historical data? The accrual of data must be driven by the purpose of the data; the danger is, we harvest data for data's sake.

In travel, there are two issues. The first is that, even if I go to Amsterdam three times a month and have done so for the past 3 years, chances are, all I am ever going to receive, are offers relating to Amsterdam - even though I would dearly like to book a week in Ceylon (or Sri Lanka, as it is now known - a wonderful and fascinating place, by the way). You see, all that reporting cannot guess what I would really like to do. The second relates to the nature of the reports. Just because one client wants a breakdown of hotel nights spent in Washington, DC in US dollars along with related restaurant spend, does not mean that every client wants the same, nor does it mean that you have to employ extra staff to make sure all clients can have the same (in case they suddenly want such a report at 5 o'clock on Friday). Like in the Railway Company story, reports need to be relevant.

But still, the key to good travel management does not rest with having good data. The key to good travel management rests firstly in any firm's overall culture and attitude to travel and secondly, in making sure that the person making any physical booking knows how to recognise value. Value is not only relevant in terms of the cost of a trip, it is the value to the firm of any outlay which a person wishes to make. If you do not have a culture (and system) which can recognise value that travel bill will be going one way only - up.

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