NB: This is a guest article by Jochen Mundinger, chairman of RouteRank.
Six years ago – still a mathematician at the Swiss Federal Institute of TechnologyÂ in Lausanne – I had to organize a conference trip to Poland.
The institution did not work with a travel management company then and the planning and booking relied to a large extent on the traveller or their assistant using websites and agents.
I forget the exact number of websites that I visited that day, but they certainly included Google (and its maps), Expedia, EasyJet, Kayak, the Swiss and German railways, several Polish airport transfer information pages and a couple of rental car websites.
Neither the search nor the dedicated websites really did the job. And what a misery with all those browser windows open!
Perhaps the lack of a single solution was a result of the B2C-like approach. But different means of transport are equally separated across the entire travel industry, including business travel.
There are, of course, portals in either world that allow searches for both flights and rental cars, say, but then in different windows or tabs, and without integration.
The institute has since moved to managed travel, working with a TMC and an online booking tool. But as in the case of many, the traveller still has to essentially decide first on the means of transport – air, rail, (rental) car – and depending on this decision they can then go find and book that means of transport.
Besides alternate means of transportation, travellers need to be able to craft the entire journey, for example including their ground transportation and transfers, all through multiple possible departure and arrival airports.
Whereas leisure travellers may find this planning enjoyable. at least to some degree, business travellers view it as a productivity killer.
Perhaps the lack of a single solution was due to the technological challenge or the data challenge? The algorithmic complexity in the routing and the huge number of possible results, combined with the difficulty of obtaining and integrating enormous amounts of heterogeneous content certainly are substantial obstacles.
Perhaps there is also an element of different means of transport often used sequentially as part of the same trip competing in parallel on other trips, and the latter being the predominant view?
For example, a rail provider competing with an airline on one O&D-pair might be reluctant to collaborate with the same airline on other journeys even if they made for a good airport transfer (in sequence) there.
The Ryanair effect
In any case, if the traveller was informed of the different options of transport means and their combinations in advance, they might well arrive at a different decision in the end.
Even within air travel, flying RyanairÂ into “Frankfurt” (meaning Frankfurt Hahn as opposed to Frankfurt Main) might well lead to the cheapest flight, but not to the cheapest trip overall, as a result of potentially higher transfer costs from Hahn into Frankfurt or the actual destination.
Fare cast or cost saved?
And how about the time lost on the far longer airport transfer? Another limitation of existing systems â whether B2C or B2B â was the focus on cost in terms of the fare.
However, there is a limit to how much time travellers are willing to loose, unless perhaps that time can be used productively or for reading a good book.
And then the consideration of the environmental impact of at least the main leg of the trip has become standard. When talking detailed connections and trade-offs, this then enters a space where personal preferences also play a role.
(See recent BTN Research Issue on The Frequent Traveller].
Whether to the traveller or the company’s (triple) bottom line: the actual cost is much wider than the main ticket fare or even the sum of all the tripâs fares.
The full travel story
There are now solutions to do this, both in consumer and business travel. The company I started in the follow-up to the conference provides a web-based software solution for travel planning.
Unlike traditional sites that consider only one means of transport at a time, it addresses the entire travel route by integrating rail, road and air connections and their numerous combinations.
In a single search, the patent-pending technology finds and ranks the best possible travel routes, allowing users to sort them according to their priorities such as price (fares and availability), travel time, productivity and CO2 emissions â all in a single view on one screen.
Essentially, all business trips include more than just the single obvious air ticket (common sense). For the first time, the 2013 edition of the Advito Industry ForecastÂ specifically includes ground transportation as an area of travel spend and estimates that together with two other secondary categories this accounts for close to 20% percent of spend in the US.
The report admits that data is harder to come by â precisely because it is traditionally not considered from the beginning â so chances are they account for more overall.
Our solution has shown to scale in terms of traffic, content, as well as customization. It has also inspired other initiatives, startups such as Rome2Rio and Zoombu (later sold to Skyscanner) and projects from different industries, typically set up by people with a technical background and not previously associated with only one particular means of transport, putting them in a better position to overcome the challenges mentioned above, and it is safe to say that the concept is here to stay.
Now what do we call it?
In the above, I have avoided referring to the full travel story with any particular terminology, although it should be known under a widely accepted name, of course.
In particular, with the next generation of extensions on accommodation planning and on meeting optimization already available in beta and in need of more naming, it will help to have conventions on the basics in place.
A poll by PassengerFocus in the UK asked what people would call it, specifically:
“Imagine a journey on public transport where you have all the information you need, seamless connections and integrated ticketing. What would be the best way of describing this?”
At the time of writing this article the answers yielded a near-even split between the three alternatives proposed:
- 29% – end-to-end journey
- 37% – door-to-door journey
- 34% – from A to B
Other candidates include ‘address-to-address’ search, ‘entire route’ planning or ‘total trip management’. In business travel, âend-to-endâ already has another meaning referring to the process. âFrom A to Bâ and âentire routeâ planning might be perceived as somewhat vague.
So perhaps “total trip” is most appropriate â capturing both the door-to-door aspect and the wider interpretation of the trip cost.
And what do you call it?
NB:Â This is a guest article by Jochen Mundinger, chairman ofÂ RouteRank.