Title image for article Credit cards meet fax machines
TEXT Anke Pedersen · PHOTOS Jens Gyarmaty

Credit cards meet fax machines

Is there anything the hotel industry could do better? If you ask a travel manager this question, you'll always hear something about "payment" or "invoicing". Benjamin Park, Director of Procurement & Travel at the contract research organisation Parexel International, is no exception. He is particularly bothered by how backward many hotels are in dealing with virtual credit cards and in invoicing.

Mr Park, what could the hotel sector do to make your life as a travel manager easier? 

The sector should cooperate better with travel agencies and payment solution service providers like Conferma, Itelya or Conichi!

With Conferma et al., it's about – roughly speaking – paying with virtual credit cards*. What exactly is it that annoys you? 

What I think is the worst thing is that most hotels can only accept a cost transfer for a hotel booking, i.e. a virtual credit card, via fax or e-mail, because the back-office systems still aren't electronically connected. Because in an ideal process, the back-office systems would actually be able to "talk" to payment solution service providers' systems. Instead we have a disruption in the media used, where virtual credit cards meet fax machines at the reception desk. 

That means we often don't receive confirmation from the hotel that it's received the cost transfer. The fax lands in a tray somewhere, and neither the travel manager nor the traveller know right up to check-in whether the cost transfer has been received by the hotel. As a result, our staff are confused: "Has the cost transfer worked?" Providers all respond to complaints if a hotel has not received the cost transfer and contact the hotel individually. When you look at the number of hotels worldwide, however, it's not a scalable solution, it's just a plaster over the wound. We urgently need widespread, verified acceptance of virtual credit cards.

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That does sound a bit outdated. 

And that's certainly not all! The hotel bill is often incorrectly addressed, because the hotel doesn't receive the information about the cost transfer directly from us, but from a third-party provider instead. We instruct a travel agency to process a booking, for example, and the travel agency then instructs a service provider to generate a virtual credit card number and send this to the hotel with confirmation of the cost transfer. The hotel then puts the name of one of these third-party providers on the invoice, not our company name and address. 

In my view, this could be avoided if the hotel were aware of how the process works with virtual cards: the business travel agency or third-party provider are never the clients. Hotels should know that! Just as they should know that the company name must be on an invoice. 

Can you think of anything else? 

My request to the hotel industry is: offer different options for breakfast! Option A is to offer the room for EUR 100 and breakfast for EUR 15. But it would also be possible to offer a business package for EUR 120 that includes breakfast. I promise you, the majority of travel managers would rather pay five euros more! Otherwise you have disgruntled travellers, and no one wants to risk that. And the extra five euros won't go to the traveller.

*When a booking comes in via the HRS corporate customer portal, the AirPlus payment solution A.I.D.A., which is integrated into HRS' Global Payment system, automatically generates a virtual Mastercard number for the company account that has been saved and forwards this to the hotel that has been booked, together with a cost transfer declaration. 

Providers would need to clarify some of the points you've raised directly with the hotel industry. However, what you've said also makes it sound as though they're often banging their heads against a brick wall. 

I’ll give you an example. I think Conichi's business idea is brilliant, for example. However, the process only works in those hotels that are connected to Conichi. How are we supposed to explain the following to a traveller: "If you book our partner hotel A in Berlin, then this process will work, but unfortunately it won't work for hotel C in Munich." So we need a solution that works for eighty per cent of partner hotels, and at a global level.

But that's more the hotel's decision than Conichi's.

Yes, but what's wrong with it? Cost transfers and payment by virtual credit card guarantee the hotels money! Even in the event of a no-show! It's not that difficult to understand, is it? It also saves checking out at reception.

Mr Park, thank you for talking to us.