Analyzing traveler data is a necessary part of improving corporate travel programs, but gathering good data is not always easy.

In fact, many companies are using spotty and one-sided metrics in an attempt to evaluate the success of their travel programs, according to a report from the Association of Corporate Travel Executives in collaboration with BCD Travel. The report found that travel buyers were more likely to prioritize financial data, even though measures of traveler experiences are often just as valuable, if not more so.

Over 90 percent of managers interviewed said they used spend and savings numbers to measure travel program success, while only 52 percent said they were open to more holistic data, including trip success, traveller friction, and traveller engagement.

Compounding this problem is the fact that experiences are much harder to quantify, and companies are not always sure how to measure it.

“Unlike traditional financial measurements, these types of metrics pose a unique challenge for travel buyers – they are inherently subjective to the traveller and there isn’t a single, industry-wide definition for them,” said Miriam Moscovici, senior director of research and innovation at BCD Travel.

Almost two-thirds of travel buyers said that experiential data was difficult to measure accurately, with 29 percent saying that this data was fragmented and 21 percent saying it was unreliable. Because of this, many buyers end up drawing conclusions from disjointed and incomplete data sets, contributing to a much greater margin of error when making changes to their travel policies.

Part of this unreliability comes from the way this data is gathered. The majority of companies rely on self-reported traveler feedback, collected through post-travel surveys. This is despite the fact that many find this type of data particularly unreliable. Forty percent said such data was misleading and 33 percent said that the response rate to the surveys was often very low.

Traveler experience is gaining increasing importance within the world of corporate travel. Over the past few years, startups such as Travelperk and TripActions have grown by emphasizing the traveler journey, aiming to make the experience of booking work travel similar to that of booking leisure travel.

Yet experiential data is notoriously hard to measure, and a similar challenge is being played out within the adjacent world of conferences and events. Planners, hoping to improve upon their meetings each year, seek to gather numbers on attendee engagement, but so far most methods are incomplete.

Despite the barriers, the majority of travel buyers acknowledged the need to measure their travel programs in a more complete way. “Travel managers are deeply committed to improving their travel programs, and generally agree on where they want to go,” the report stated. “But they still need help on how to get there.”

The study suggests that the first step to more reliable data is to build industry consensus about what a good traveler experience looks like. Once companies have these key performance indicators, they can better measure employee feedback.

“This study creates a unique opportunity for the industry to come together and transform the way we measure the quality of travel programmes,” added Leigh Bochicchio, executive director of the Association of Travel Executives. “Creating a well-framed rubric for gathering objective and subjective data will provide a more balanced view of the value and success of a corporate travel programme – and the corporate travel manager.”

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Photo Credit: Bored passengers wait for their flight out of Houston Intercontinental Airport. dwighta3 / Flickr