Title image for article "Individuality is important to us"
TEXT Jürgen Baltes

"Individuality is important to us"

What does a hotel need to offer to be attractive to corporate customers? Naturally it needs a good location and accessibility, fast, ideally free WLAN, professional service and – individuality. The latter is at any rate important to Christoph Carnier, a travel manager at the science, technology and pharmaceuticals group Merck.

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Christoph Carnier, Merck: Find your 
favourite hotel through the specified channels

Christoph Carnier has a soft spot for individual hotels. "I like staying in owner-operated hotels when I'm on the road, where you sense straight away that they're being run with a lot of dedication and with blood, sweat and tears," the travel manager says. At Merck, he is globally responsible within procurement for the areas of travel, events and fleet.

Carnier does not want to dictate to his over 15,000 travellers that they must always stay in a hotel belonging to the chain XY simply because the company has negotiated a framework agreement with this chain. Naturally Merck cooperates with preferred partners, the travel professional says, particularly at its own sites. Nevertheless, he explains, the company tries to offer travellers a choice of at least two or three or if possible even more hotels in all locations.

"Requirements vary widely," Carnier says. "Some people appreciate good, healthy food and attentive service, others a trendy environment, while still others just want large portions or a comfortable bed." The specific situation is also important. "If I'm falling into bed at night after my last appointment and then I have to leave again straight away in the morning, a good standard hotel is absolutely fine," says Carnier. But if you're hanging around for two or three days for a conference, he explains, you'll appreciate a hotel that has atmosphere, where there's a sense of hospitality and you can feel good all round, to ensure you achieve optimum results for the company.

In short, every traveller should have the opportunity to find exactly the right hotel that best fits their respective needs. Merck employees who are travelling for work are therefore given few guidelines, but are allowed to choose their favourite hotel within specified budget limits – provided that they book it using the specified channel. Again and again, Carnier notices large shifts in booking behaviour when "a really good hotel has opened somewhere".

"However, I have the feeling that individual hotels are dying out a little," the travel manager says. He is frequently seeing individual hotels with a long tradition closing and being replaced by standardised chain hotels. "I don't want to condemn that," says Carnier, who grew up in his parents' hotel. He finds it completely reasonable and understandable for large hotel chains to focus on standardisation, for cost and efficiency reasons. "Just as we too want to organise our travel management as efficiently as possible."

Companies need detailed billing data

Nevertheless, he says, it would be a "great shame" if the personal relationship between guest and host were lost. "How often have I stood at a reception desk with the feeling that I'm disturbing somebody at work, and unconsciously started wondering where the nearest alternative hotel is?"

But does that actually have anything to do with whether a hotel is privately run or belongs to a chain?
It shouldn't do. My general view is that the hotel is providing a valuable service for our travellers and should therefore receive the payment it needs for this service. Unfortunately, private hotels often have more difficulties in the market and also with meeting the demands we place on them as companies.

What demands are you talking about?
It concerns our processes in particular. Payment and the processing of invoices, for example, are important issues to us. We're in the middle of switching to centralised payment. The aim is that travellers will no longer pay on site, but instead the bill will be handled by our central company credit card. That would reduce costs for us and in the hotels. And as the billing data is stored, there would no longer be any incorrect invoices either.

So where's the problem here?
Errors occur, that's human. Something might be sent to the traveller's home address, or meals or other extras might not be correctly accounted for, which means we miss out on refunds of VAT, for example. We always have to weigh up whether to complain – which wouldn't be cost-efficient, at EUR 3.50.
As a business we simply need correct invoices, for tax reasons if nothing else. Even if the beer at the bar or whatever doesn't involve large sums, it's important for us to keep business and personal expenses, as well as different VAT rates, for example for overnight accommodation and meals, separate from each other – to ensure our accounting is correct and because, over thousands of journeys, things ultimately add up.

What would you like from the hotel industry?
It would be perfect if, when handling credit card billing, we immediately had the detailed data for things like overnight accommodation, restaurants, bars, wellness facilities or parking. That information is available in the hotels' back office systems. But that's got less to do with the hotel industry than with the systems used by the acquirers, which simply carry out the overall payment and don't care about such details.