Business Travel Management
How One Decade Changed Online Travel Forever

How One Decade Changed Online Travel Forever

Samantha Shankman

21 Dec 2022
4 minute read
how one decade changed online travel today

Online travel agents play a critical role in the evolution of corporate travel and corporate travel management. While online booking became a great option for the casual traveler, corporations needed 24/7 expert support to transition to a modern, online travel management company (TMC). We’ll start by looking back at the beginning of OTAs, online travel agents' roles, and where we are today.

Thank you, agents, for all you do today and every day!

The Importance of Online Travel Agents

An online travel agency (OTA) is a third-party booking engine that sells travel to consumers by listing airfares, hotel bookings, car rentals, and more. Most people have undoubtedly used sites like Expedia, Orbitz, Travelocity, Priceline, Hotwire, Skyscanner, or to book travel, including package deals, cruises, car rentals, or last-minute vacation rentals. 

The debut of online travel agencies in the late ’90s and early 2000s reimagined what travel planning could look like by allowing consumers to compare pricing and schedules, read peer reviews, save preferences, and access flexible cancellation policies. OTAs highlighted multiple travel products and service providers on one website instead of users visiting individual airline and hotel sites. These metasearch engines also added value with vacation packages and extended check-in options. These online travel agencies revolutionized the travel industry, the staid distribution system, and how consumers booked travel. 

While OTAs came with plenty of benefits, they also had some drawbacks—especially regarding business travel. Early in the OTA revolution, as business travelers moved away from traditional travel management companies, they discovered that customer support and personalization levels differed. They traded experienced travel agents for the ease of online booking and security for spontaneity. 

Online travel agents working for the major OTAs at the time meant well but could not provide the customized support that business travelers once had when working with a single agency. The experience could be likened to booking a less-vetted Airbnb or B&B versus staying at a property where the hotelier knows your organization and has met dozens of colleagues.

For corporate travel and spend programs, it was clear that a new solution was needed to match business travelers’ needs and expectations. No employee, let alone an executive, was going to sit on the phone for an hour to get support for a booking, nor were admins comfortable or capable of enforcing policy on a broad spectrum of unmanaged OTA sites. It was time for a new kind of corporate travel agent.

Despite the travel services and breadth of choice offered by online travel companies like or, an organization managing business travel on a global scale could not trust these sites. 

However, these brand names had a billboard effect similar to social media, which is why employees with previous travel experience would often abandon their provided travel management company to book their next trip with a consumer OTA. But this option offered no way to track policy, maintain duty of care, provide adequate agent support, or communicate with travelers. 

Online Travel Agents Were Critical in the Shift to Online Booking

Fast forward to today, and we understand how it’s possible to have online booking paired with support on par with luxury travel.  This provides peace of mind, perks, breadth of inventory, travel insurance, and more — all at the best prices.

A modern travel management company like Navan takes the elegant UX and freedom of choice provided by the Expedia Groups and Agodas of the world and intuitively combines them with policy and support requirements to meet global corporations' travel needs

In addition to sourcing content from direct suppliers and Global Distribution Systems, Navan incorporates all the inventory from consumer online travel agencies to ensure that travelers have the options they’re accustomed to on consumer travel websites—whether for airfare or hotel bookings.

Navan is the only cloud-based, end-to-end global travel and spend management solution that includes online booking and expense management in a single global platform—but all of that means little without the 24/7/365 expert agent service.

Navan travel agents work solely in our agent support portal, Navan TravelXen, which is an end-to-end, all-in-one, proprietary software product built specifically for in-house agents and travelers. This portal gives agents direct access to travelers’ information and partner networks, enabling agents to provide a world-class support experience. By offering this all-in-one software, Navan enhances agents’ skills with technology, so travelers are supported quicker than is possible with any other TMC.

Navan supports delivers premium personalized service to travelers with less than 60-second hold times on chat or voice and a customer satisfaction rating of greater than 93%. Also, traveler issues are resolved quicker with Navan than with any other TMC. Navan TravelXen was designed to give peace of mind to everyone, from agents to travelers and travel managers.

Download the Skift Report: The State of Corporate Travel & Expense 2023.

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