How to...

Hoodwink your travellers

BCD Travel has published a White Paper entitled The Traveller Management Survival Guide. It’s designed to help those buyers with mature travel programmes who have exhausted all savings opportunities and who are now looking for smarter ways to manipulate bookers and travellers to make the right buying decisions


It will not be long before the prerequisites for any good TMC account manager will include being fully conversant in behavioural psychology. Also known as behavioural economics, this innovative programme helps buyers better understand the psychology behind how people make buying decisions.

“The more you understand about how your travellers think and make decisions, the better you can guide decisions to support the goals of your travel programme and company,” explains Tony McGetrick, sales and marketing director at BCD Travel.

“There’s some really clever stuff on the screen that allows buyers to manipulate travellers and bookers while still allowing them to do what they want to do,” he adds. Read on to discover a selection of the key behavioural economic concepts from the company's White Paper and learn how they can be implemented.

STEP 1: Eliminate comparison shopping
Travellers will use the first price they see as their benchmark for how much they should pay in the future. By setting anchors as programme-specific benchmarks from your own spend data – and presenting them before shopping results appear on the screen – you can guide travellers to purchase options within policy and eliminate comparison shopping.

It helps manage their expectations and signals the amount you think is reasonable to pay. For additional reinforcement, prepopulate the anchor prices into expense reports after manager authorization.

STEP 2: Exploit decisions by default
Travellers will often keep the status quo, resisting change and doing what they’ve always done; making these default options very powerful forces. Give travellers access to their own data and let them create or pre-select their own personalised defaults for travel. Keep options to those most often used by frequent travellers and based on traveller’s preferences..

STEP 3: Focus on loss rather than gain
Aversion to loss is stronger than attraction to gain, making travellers more motivated when they might avoid something undesirable, such as flight delay, rather than making savings. This bias affects choice of routes, modes of travel and so on, so it’s best to focus on what the traveller stands to lose by acting outside policy rather than touting financial savings.

For example, dangle the perks, rewards and status that travellers will lose by not booking preferred suppliers, and remind them what they stand to lose if they don’t reserve all components of their trip far enough in advance – eg, first choice of room, flight or seat.

STEP 4: Presentation is everything
It is critical to present policy compliance as something rewarding, otherwise employees may view policy as a loss of personal choice. With preferred hotels, for example, post high satisfaction ratings of preferred properties by other travellers.

Frame the impact of poor decisions as a loss of resources for the company and the employee’s cost centre. Have your CEO publicly recognise travellers who regularly help the company increase compliance. Include traveller’s programme compliance in annual reviews.

STEP 5: The power of ‘free’
People prefer something that’s free rather than an item that’s deeply discounted. Hotel compliance is typically the weak link in a travel programme so use the power of ‘free’ to enhance the perceived value of your preferred suppliers you want travellers to use by positioning some of the hotel services as free. For example, free high-speed internet access, free extended check-in and check-out times, free breakfast.

STEP 6: Use decoy pricing
If you want your travellers to choose the less expensive four-star hotel option then add a decoy price position – which is dissimilar – and this will draw your travellers to the in-policy option as the best relative option. For example, list two four-star hotels, one more expensive than the other, plus a decoy third, three-star property (that you don’t intend to use) that is the lowest price and the majority of travellers will gravitate towards the midpriced four-star option.

STEP 7: The good interruption
Intervening or interrupting the decision process at critical moments – even with seemingly irrelevant information – can steer behaviour.

Interrupt them with ideas about fiscal or environmental responsibility at strategic times during the purchase process and they will be less likely to spend or travel irresponsibly.

For example, indicate greener flights during the research process or leverage your mobile app to communicate just-in-time reminders on preferred airport parking suppliers before the day of departure, for example.

STEP 8: The IKEA effect
Based on the premise that if you help build something then you are investing in its success, travellers will find deeper enjoyment and value from their travel programme if they can be responsible for their own itinerary.

Provide them with door-to-door planning capabilities, highlight various in-policy, multimodal options which can be filtered by CO2 emissions, travel time, productivity and more, and use pictures, video and augmented reality during booking to enable travellers to visualise the travel components they have chosen. For example, Your Seat on seat maps or Your Car from the designated rental car class.

STEP 8: Recognition bias
In the absence of direction, travellers tend to opt for the choice that’s familiar to them if they’re indecisive, which isn't necessarily the right one for the company.

Remind travellers which brands or choices they last or most recently chose and which ones earned above-average satisfaction scores.

If you don’t have past travel data then remind your business travellers which particular brands and suppliers your most frequent travellers prefer.

Also, frequently remind them of your company's preferred booking channels and suppliers.

* The BCD White Paper lists 17 key behavioural economics concepts, divided by Leverage, Compliance, Productivity, Experience, Social and Security. To download the entire White Paper, go to