Why Hasn’t Gamification Taken Off?

By Katharine Williams, Director of Marketing & Communications

A few years ago, gamification was the big buzzword in managed travel. There was hardly an industry conference to be found that didn’t feature several sessions on the topic. Recently, however, our team has noticed that what used to be considered the next big game changer in the managed travel space has gone a little… quiet. So where does gamification stand today, what should travel managers consider when exploring whether gamification is right for their program, and where is it headed in the future? Let’s explore:

Gamification Today

We consider RocketTrip, Upside, and TripActions to be the three main competitors in the gamification space today. There are, of course, proprietary travel management company tools available as well; however, for the purposes of this article we focused on independent tools available on the market. While there are variations between all three, the basic premise is that travelers are given a “budget to beat” for each trip. If they come in under budget, they are rewarded, either monetarily (via cash or gift cards, for example) or with rewards that can be redeemed for use on future trips.

The concept sounds great, but in informal polls our partners and consultants have done during recent speaking engagements, adoption tends to be low – typically less than 10% of those in attendance. These gamification tools can benefit the travel manager, travelers, and larger organization, so why the hesitation?

What to Consider

  1. Corporate Culture
    What is your company stance on travel policy compliance? Do you tend to influence travelers with the carrot or the stick? Or are you expected to guide behavior without either tool at your disposal? We’ve found it to be pretty common for travel managers to find themselves in the latter position – unauthorized to influence with the stick (i.e. withholding reimbursement for out of policy spend) or the carrot (i.e. gamification tools to entice travelers with rewards, etc.). Unsurprisingly, gamification tools fit best in a corporate culture that makes use of the carrot when it comes to corporate travelers.
  2. (Near) Irreversibility
    The risk of implementing any product of this nature is the possibility that travelers will grow accustomed to it and strongly resist its removal, if/when any number of factors such as the corporate climate, broader economy, etc. changes, making its elimination necessary. If you are planning on employing a gamification tool, we recommend testing with a small test group before diving into widespread implementation to gauge how travelers will receive it and act in response to make sure the decision is the right one.
  3. Unintended Consequences
    Be sure to discuss the implications of utilizing gamification tools with the appropriate departments in your organization, including HR, finance, legal, and others. There may be wide-reaching consequences such as tax or HR-related factors that need to be thoroughly considered and vetted before implementation. Does the tool disproportionally financially reward those employees who travel over those who do not? A GoldSpring team member recently recalled a company scrapping their tool when legal action was threatened by non-traveling employees. Safe to say, it’s important to make sure everyone has weighed in on all of the potential benefits, and repercussions, of a gamification tool.

Where is Gamification Going?

We see the gamification space continuing to grow, largely within the unmanaged or smaller travel program space – at least in the near future. As to why, we have seen that, in general, this space has been ripe for innovation. Smaller or unmanaged programs may have more flexibility, allowing them to quickly adopt the “latest and greatest” in travel technology. While gamification provides many benefits such as driving travel policy compliance, capturing invisible spend, and rewarding travelers/reducing traveler friction, it’s important to consider the items above before diving in.

That being said, gamification offers one way for travel programs to strategically partner with travelers to reduce spend – an increasingly crucial point of focus as, apart from cutting travel, demand management has the largest impact on overall travel costs and therefore provides the largest area of opportunity. Perhaps with the recent focus on reducing friction, paired with more companies moving travel under HR, the gamification space will be poised for a resurgence in the next several years. In any case, it will be an interesting area to watch develop, particularly as these companies mature and address the challenges outlined above.

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