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The future of government travel and travel planning depends on the successful integration of the Electronic Travel Systems (ETS) with the Travel Management Center (TMC) in order for the government traveler and the government as a whole, to achieve ultimate satisfaction in customer service and price. In 1998, the Defense Travel System (DTS) was developed. The system was designed to provide end-to-end authorization, travel reservations and the voucher filing processes in compliance with the Joint Federal Travel Regulation (JFTR) and, a number of financial systems. The system was designed to accommodate up to 3.5 million DoD military and civilian travelers with distinct travel requirements. In 2002, GSA introduced the ETS for civilian agencies. Like the DTS, it was designed to create an end-to-end travel service to connect travel authorizations, reservations and expense voucher processing.
Nonetheless, there remains a need for the TMC and Commercial Travel Office (CTO). The TMC and CTO are names given by GSA and DoD to accredited travel agencies under contract with the government to provide travel services for official Temporary Duty (TDY) travel. By definition, travel agencies are professional organizations that must be accredited by the Airline Reporting Corporation (ARC) to sell airline tickets and other travel services. Travel agents, acting as agents for the airlines: make reservations; issue, refund, and/or exchange tickets; and receive payment for the tickets. In order for the travel agency to remain accredited, it must follow all of the rules established by each and every individual airline for issuing, refunding, exchanging or pricing tickets.
Also, travel agents that are responsible for government travel accounts have travel and Global Distribution System (GDS) experience and receive special training on policies and procedures for official TDY travel. The GDS provides travel agents with access to the Federal Travel Regulations, allowing the agents to comply with those regulations when making reservations for the government traveler. The agents assigned to the government account have air travel, hotel accommodation, rental car and destination experience, which greatly facilitate all trip planning and ticketing processes.
However, it is required that government travelers use a Travel Management System (TMS) or they risk the costs associated with not using a TMS. A TMS is defined in the Federal Travel Regulations, Chapter 301, Temporary Duty (TDY) Travel Allowance as:
A service for booking common carrier (e.g. air, rail, and bus confirmations and seat assignments), lodging accommodations, and car rental services; fulfilling (i.e. ticketing) reservations; providing basic management information on those activities and meeting other requirements as specified in §301-73.106 of this title. A TMS may include a TMC, CTO, and electronically available system, other commercial methods of arranging travel, or an in-house system.
Furthermore, Chapter §301-73.106 describes the minimum capabilities of the TMS, as follows:
(a) Include a TMC, CTO, an in-house system, an electronically available system, or other method(s) of arranging travel, which has the ability to provide the following as appropriate to the agency’s travel needs:
(1) Booking and fulfillment of common carrier arrangements…; (2) Lodging information …; (3) Car rental and rail information …
(b) Provide basic management information, such as –
(1) Number of reservations by type of service; (2) Extent to which reservations are in compliance with policy and reasons for exceptions; (3) Origin and destination points of common carrier usage; (4) Destination points for lodging accommodations; (5) Number of lodging nights in approved accommodations; (6) City or location where car rentals are obtained; and (7) Other tasks.
As a note to Chapter §301-73.106, the ETS fulfills the basic requirements of the TMS. Nonetheless, the agency has the option to use a contracted travel agency, but it is that agency’s responsibility to ensure that the travel agency compliments the ETS in an efficient and cost effective way.
It was projected in the beginning that the use of the electronic travel systems would entirely replace travel agencies. However, due to the large amount of variations and exceptions to the process of traveling, including the constant state of change of the travel industry, many government travelers will continue to need personal service in order to meet their own mission requirements. Changes, delays, cancellations, over-booked accommodations have simply become everyday occurrences that must be handled by a travel agent who is a travel expert. Additionally, most ETS and DTS contracts require TMC/CTO support for ticketing, full service, 24/7 emergency service, quality control, traveler tracking and notification to insure official TDY travel is successful and cost effective, therefore insuring the need for travel agents well into the future.
The TMC always must establish certain agreements and electronic interfaces to insure the accurate and timely flow of reservation information that is necessary for ticketing. The TMC and ETS vendor sign non-disclosure agreements to protect both entities from the release of information that is proprietary or sensitive. Security and privacy protocols are also put in place to insure protection of the information.
Although the ETS in many ways streamlined making one’s own travel reservations and was designed to perform many of the services of the TMC/CTO in a more cost effective manner, there remains a need for the human element of a travel expert to facilitate the travel planning and ticketing processes. For a government traveler that does not travel frequently, it would be almost impossible for him or her to know all of the procedures involved in government travel. If a problem were to occur, like missing a flight, the flight being cancelled, or a hotel being overbooked, etc., it can be quite a frustrating process trying to figure out what the next step is with only an ETS. That is why it remains important for the government traveler to have the option to call the TMC and speak with a travel expert who can help them with any of their travel questions and requirements, anytime of the day. Consequently, the future of government travel and travel planning depends on the successful integration of the ETS with the TMC in order for the government traveler and the government as a whole, to achieve ultimate satisfaction in customer service and price.
By: Ian Petrulli