Monthly Archives: November 2014

Beyond The Panic Button: Risk Mgmt. Firms Explore App Customization, Integration

International SOS and iJet International upgraded their mobile apps this year while a new Healix app features distress signals with photos and audio. A “panic button” may not beat a phone call in an emergency, but apps can offer translation, destination training and document storage. Providers now also are exploring client customization and third-party integration.

Customizing an app can be a big project. “Mass app customization at the scale of our client base is incredibly complicated,” said International SOS chief digital officer Rich Gallagher. “But we’re now working with our leading clients who are guiding us.” Clients may be empowered to add branding, manage content and designate crisis calling and language preferences.

Panic ButtonThe International SOS Assistance App has “hundreds of thousands” of activated users, Gallagher said. It’s available on the Android, iOS, BlackBerry OS and Windows Phone platforms. Development work via the Android Runtime environment will enable BlackBerry 10 support by year-end. Next up in the standard feature set is itinerary integration, more languages and localization.

Version 2.0 of iJet International’s WorldCue Mobile debuted this spring on Android, iOS and BlackBerry OS. BlackBerry 10 is under consideration. The app is free to users of iJet’s WorldCue Traveler service. Mobile product manager Caitlin McVeigh said one distinguishing feature enables clients to “view the individual’s itinerary information and relate that to alerts.”

She added that iJet now is exploring how to customize the app with client-approved vendors, office locations and travel and security policies. Integrating risk management services and intelligence into clients’ homegrown apps also is on the roadmap.

Third-party integration is a big part of the next phase of development.

International SOS, for example, is looking into whether it can connect users to their personal doctors. “Others have tried to create a ‘Swiss army knife’ app with weather, currency and translation,” said Gallagher. “We’ve focused on how best to connect our app users with our core medical and security assistance services.”

Some corporations seek sophisticated GPS tracking and satellite phones for top execs or extra risky trips. International SOS has partnered with Vismo for its GPS tracking application.

Officials at iJet also are arranging partnerships for GPS tracking and satellite phones. But the company’s first third-party app integration is a partnership with TripLingo on a separate language translation app, called Worldcue Translator. It’s “deep linked” into the Mobile Traveler app so users don’t have to log in more than once. McVeigh said partnering on a separate app enabled iJet to get the product into customer hands more quickly. Travel management companies including Travel And Transport and Travizon also recently added TripLingo to their portfolios.

Built by Maxwell Lucas for Healix International and its U.S. unit HX Global, the Travel Oracle app debuted this year. Its panic button triggers “situational photographs” and an audio recording, and sends them with location information to a crisis center. It can also store medical profile info and copies of passports. Travel Oracle now has 25 corporate customers and approximately 25,000 users, according to HX Global. Clients pay in tiers based on the number of users.

Not A Replacement For Service

Much as some app users might like to avoid talking to a human, it’s not a best practice in a crisis.

“Solutions providers are pouring a lot of money into app development,” said FCm Travel Solutions senior director for global risk management Charles Brossman. “Some are interesting, but they must not overlook the fundamentals of travel risk management. If I’m in trouble, I don’t want to type on an app. I want a number or a panic button that puts me through to crisis response support via phone if possible. Every company should have a crisis hotline, and not all of them do.”

“Duty of care has a natural place in the mobile phone market, but it’s also about the service that supports it,” said Travel Leaders Corporate president David Holyoke. “If it’s just ‘click to call,’ are you then in a hold queue? If it’s tied to geolocation, provides instant communications with a risk management professional and offers reporting in seconds to the corporation, that’s pretty powerful.”

Developers acknowledge the limitations. The iJet International app displays the crisis phone number on the panic button itself so users can try a different phone if their cell signal is down. International SOS officials assert that theirs is the only “truly global, integrated call center because, yes, it’s what happens after the call that matters,” said Gallagher.

Here’s a look at some of the more comprehensive apps.

Risk Management Apps

 WorldAwareTravel OracleWorldcue Mobile Traveler 2.0International SOS Assistance AppSmartTraveler
ProviderAonHX GlobaliJet InternationalInternational SOS
U.S. State Dept.
iOS Update2/18/20147/14/20148/22/20149/17/20141/7/2014
CompatibilityiOS 4.3 or later, Android 1.6 or lateriOS 4.3 or later, Android 4.0 or lateriOS 5.0 or later, Android 2.3.3 or later, BlackBerry OSiOS 5.0 or later, Android 2.2 or later, BlackBerry OS, Windows PhoneiOS 5.0 or later, Android 2.3 or later
Security alerts
Destination profiles
E-learning
Document storage
Panic button
Safety check-in
Embassy locator
Table updated Nov 2014.

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For Green Travel, Progress And Lip Service

For corporations and individuals looking to reduce their carbon footprints, business travel is a troublesome contributor. Chasing sales opportunities and growing revenue often requires travel. For some companies, business travel is the single biggest source of carbon emissions.

In the middle of the last decade, green travel initiatives seemed to have momentum. But then the global economic recession pushed many good intentions to the back burner. Now, economies are stabilizing and environmental news is getting worse. There are some green travel management programs, but more often than not in the United States, sustainability continues to play little to no role.

Green TravelAbout one in four North American travel managers are responsible for green travel policies and practices, according to a September GBTA Foundation poll. It was the least common among 19 listed areas of responsibility. A July 2012 GBTA Foundation study found about four in 10 U.S. travel managers thought environmental responsibility was growing in importance. Four in 10 also said they would be doing something about it, and about one-third expected to start using environmental sourcing criteria.

“More and more travel buyers are including sustainability in their programs. Is it their number one priority? No. But it’s generally in the top three or four,” said Bernard Harrop, head of sustainability at GBTA’s Project Icarus, which recognizes exemplary work in this area. “It’s getting better each year as more people get involved.”

Many companies have taken a first step by measuring greenhouse gas emissions generated by business travel. But the data often is forgotten after it’s sent to sustainability officials for corporate reporting.

There are success stories. Software maker Autodesk worked with its travel management providers and Hertz to rent more fuel-efficient cars. “The process was seamless to employees,” said Autodesk travel operations and technology manager Mark Papale. “One day they picked up a Camaro, the next day they drove off in a Prius.”

The company is aiming to cut emissions from cars rented in the U.S. by 35 percent between 2011 and 2018. This meant updating travel policy and reconfiguring the online tool. When travelers book rentals, the system first presents a hybrid vehicle if one is available. If not, the traveler must book a midsize or compact vehicle, or seek exception approval. Hertz allocated more hybrids to airports in Autodesk’s top markets and stopped allowing Autodesk employees to upgrade to big cars and SUVs.

Since Autodesk launched the program last year, 71 percent of rented cars had fuel ratings of at least 28 miles per gallon, Papale said. That helped reduce by almost 14 percent the company’s carbon dioxide per rental mile driven. On a rolling 12-month measurement, Autodesk cut $130,000 in refueling costs while spending about $1 more per rental.

The program is “a baby step with big results,” Papale said. “Getting started is really not too difficult.”

In lodging, hotel properties have LEED certification or other eco-designations to point buyers in the right direction. Many companies also include sustainability questions in requests for proposals sent to hotels. Green credentials rarely are a deciding factor.

“We put sustainability questions into the GBTA hotel RFP because we are being asked for a consistent way of measuring the environmental performance of a hotel,” Harrop said. “The intention is to get a simplified version so you are not asking many questions and ignoring them. You’ve got a small number of questions that are meaningful and actually can be taken into account. Buyers are unlikely to make a decision based purely on environmental factors, but more are finding it important to consider.”

Comparing airline environmental performance in specific markets is trickier. Younger, more fuel-efficient fleets help. According to their trade group, U.S. airlines between 2000 and 2013 carried 17 percent more traffic but used 8 percent less fuel. But at the point of sale, travelers care more about schedules, availability and price than fuel efficiency.

Papale is a member of the GBTA Sustainability Committee. He said many travel managers who are not involved with sustainable travel programs are “reluctant to ‘take on additional work,’ have no clue where to begin or are simply unaware of who within their company can help champion the program.”

In February, one-third of executives polled by McKinsey said that not enough of their co-workers were accountable for sustainability, up from 23 percent in a similar 2012 study. McKinsey highlighted “the absence of performance incentives and the presence of short-term earnings pressure that’s at odds with the longer-term nature of these issues.”

Green travel efforts tend to lose out to bigger corporate priorities, the first being cost control. The most effective practices, like replacing travel with remote conferencing, also save money. But other methods, like promoting greener options like hybrid car rentals and using carbon offsets, can cost more.

“Cost is very much still the number one priority and while there is a great deal of lip service paid to sustainability, when it comes down to it, the majority of decisions are made based on price,” according to a summary report from last month’s Responsible Travel Management Conference in London. “Perhaps a slightly higher investment in the short term could result in longer-term savings while supporting a sustainable strategy.”

Additional info: Sources included a poll of 79 travel managers and discussions with another dozen. The September GBTA survey received 341 North American responses. The 2012 research included responses from more than 300 travel buyers. McKinsey based its findings on a February 2014 survey of more than 3,300 executives.

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Global Hotel Content Access For Travel Management Is On The Rise

Marriott’s plan to offer free Wi-Fi on direct bookings by loyalty members will cause channel conflict for many in business travel. Yet, it’s an oddity as the recent trend points to greater rather than reduced hotel content access for managed travel programs.

As of 2010, each of the three major global distribution systems listed between 80,000 and 90,000 hotel properties. Including all the big brands, these listings offered plenty of coverage in North America. But travel bookers still had to call independent hotels, particularly in Europe. Specialized hotel booking agencies (HBAs) grew by aggregating those independent properties. Led by HRS, these HBAs took from TMCs the hotel work for many corporate accounts.

Hotel content accessDuring the past four years, though, GDS companies boosted their hotel content access. Acquisitions and partnerships with HBAs, wholesalers and other aggregators contributed. Travelport now claims more than 600,000 properties. Amadeus has 235,000 and Sabre next year will offer 225,000 following a new deal with the Expedia Affiliate Network. Company officials quibble about how each competitor counts the properties. A Sabre official, for example, stated that there are only about 440,000 unique hotel properties in the world. But any way you look at it, GDS figures have grown.

Offering a property is not the whole story, of course. Properties may exist in a channel but put certain rates in another. Hoteliers can differentiate content based on amenities like Wi-Fi.

Challenges can arise from aggregating aggregators. These include issues with network latency, passenger name record (PNR) integration and customer service. The TMC may need to consider a bilateral contractual arrangement with the booking source.

These are not show stoppers, and more properties in the system is only a good thing.

Travelport reported that in the September quarter, users booked a hotel with 45 of every 100 airline tickets, up from 42 a year earlier. Called the hotel attachment rate, this metric also helps corporate travel buyers measure their policy compliance efforts.

“Lack of access to hotel content and rates has been the story for the past couple years,” said Miriam Moscovici, director of emerging technologies at BCD Travel. “And while it’s been a significant challenge, the industry has made meaningful progress that begins to solve that problem.”

Another issue is displaying rich hotel property content, which requires a change to the booking interface. GDS firms for years struggled to get their agent end users to change interfaces. Travelport officials said BCD Travel and Carlson Wagonlit Travel use its Smartpoint product, relaunched last month.

Startup GetGoing focuses on the hotel content access problem and has BCD Travel piloting its interface to connect approximately 400,000 properties. The tech firm uses upwards of ten sources, including the GDSs. GetGoing’s website also lists Carlson Wagonlit Travel as a client. CWT declined to confirm the name of its partner for a pilot designed to add 300,000 properties to the GDS-based hotel portfolio.

Activating Passives, Again

“We do have more content now, but the GDSs have limitations,” said Jack Reynaert, global travel manager at automotive component manufacturer Meritor. “I have to look at other ways to capture that.” The company requires employees to send in any bookings made outside the program, so an agent can build a passive segment and hold together the PNR. Meritor just achieved its highest-ever monthly hotel attachment rate, at 70 percent.

GetGoing co-founder and CEO Alek Vernitsky said his firm could enable direct connections if clients solved the related commercial considerations. “It’s being actively considered,” he said.

Before its TripLink direct connect program, Concur, too, signed on with aggregators to broaden its lodging content.

Marriott’s motivation to offer direct-booking loyalty program members free Wi-Fi may be to better compete with online travel agencies, but as a consequence the new policy favors anyone who can connect directly. Coincidentally or otherwise, the hotel company is lined up to enable TripLink. Starwood Hotels & Resorts already is live. “Like all companies, we continue to look at this and will have our position clarified in the near future,” a senior Starwood manager indicated when asked about the Marriott Wi-Fi move.

That industrywide consideration of this policy is underway adds to the anxiety among business travel management companies. Frustratingly for them, it could amount to a step back just as they had achieved two forward.

“I thought, as an industry, we were over this battle,” lamented Corporate Travel Management regional president Robert Polk.

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Starwood May Be Next As Marriott Wi-Fi Move Catches Corporates In OTA ‘Crossfire’

Starwood Hotels & Resorts appears poised to drop Wi-Fi fees for loyalty program members booking through its apps, websites and call centers. A similar plan at Marriott International announced last month and due to take effect Jan. 15 is upsetting many travel management professionals. This is collateral damage for Marriott, which is aiming to build traveler loyalty and better compete with online travel agencies.

Starwood officials did not respond to inquiries about its plan, which six industry sources mentioned in general terms during the past week.1

wireless-150420_1280Supplier moves to enhance direct channels at the expense of corporate ones frustrate travel managers and travel agency executives. Along with smartphones, Wi-Fi is just about the most essential business tool for travelers. Companies with clout already convince hotel properties and chains to include it in negotiated rates. Travelers staying at certain limited-service and full-service brands often get it for free anyway. There is good reason to believe that the days of paid basic Internet access at hotels soon will be over, across the board.

But not yet. There still is some money to generate from this captive audience. So, for now, some of the higher-tier chains that still charge guests for Wi-Fi are using loyalty programs as a means to provide a value-add. InterContinental Hotels Group offers free Wi-Fi to all loyalty program members with no channel conditions.

There are indications that Marriott and Starwood are assuring some corporate accounts that 2015 preferred rates would include Wi-Fi for all their travelers. Why not just advance the inevitable and make it free for all? For starters, property owners want to see a return on their technology investments. Increasing membership in loyalty programs also is an obvious goal. Providing greater value through such programs can mean deeper relationships with customers. When available rates are at parity, perks in lower-cost direct channels can make the difference.

“There is a good economic justification for giving up the high-speed Internet access revenue but decreasing the cost of the transaction,” said NYU hospitality and tourism professor Bjorn Hanson. “From the traveler view, though, it just looks like the brands are being too directive, too controlling in how the reservations are made.”

Marriott’s Gold and Platinum-level members already get free “enhanced” Wi-Fi, regardless of booking channel. The new policy impacts basic and Silver-level members. Marriott officials told some travel management sources that about 15 percent of bookings through global distribution systems for Marriott-brand properties are by nonmembers or basic or Silver-tier loyalty program members. Marriott’s public relations department declined to confirm the figure.

“Since we handle small and midsize accounts, we’re running anywhere from 20 percent to 25 percent that are affected,” said Travel and Transport Partner Solutions Group general manager Donna Brokowski.

Caught In The Crossfire

Christopherson Business Travel CEO Mike Cameron referenced a “constant negative tension” between travel suppliers and online travel agencies that spills into corporate travel. “We get caught in the crossfire,” he said.

Travel management pros struggle to understand why Marriott would disadvantage higher-yielding corporate booking channels. They say suppliers should favor tight programs with strong policies facilitating mutually beneficial relationships.

Given that travel buyers and hoteliers are in the midst of negotiations for next year’s rates, the “timing couldn’t be worse,” Brokowski said. “Most customers are trying to wrap up acceptances right now, so they can get rates loaded and audited and maximize savings for bookings starting January 2015. This is extending our negotiations. If you extend even by a week or two, it’s going to push your rate loading into January. That’s lost savings.” Travel and Transport is advising small and medium-sized accounts to negotiate property by property for Internet access. They might also reconsider their preferred suppliers or use mobile data plans for tablet and laptop tethering, Brokowski said.

Carlson Wagonlit Travel Hotel Solutions global project manager Lisa Maloney said large global accounts “almost always” get Wi-Fi in negotiated rates. Some smaller-volume clients already have switched to brands in lower tiers that provide free Wi-Fi to all guests, she said. “In general we have not yet seen the impact [of the new Marriott policy] on smaller-volume accounts but it’s still to be determined,” Maloney said. CWT is a subsidiary of Carlson Companies, which also owns the Country Inn & Suites and Radisson brands, among others.

Though Marriott did not make available an executive to help explain its thinking or confirm attempts to appease corporate buyers, a spokesperson wrote in an email that “we respect the responsibility travel managers have with duty of care for their travelers, as well as executing all aspects of a managed travel program. Our announcement is a Marriott Rewards member benefit for those to who can choose how they book travel. It is not to encourage travelers to break company policy and book out of compliance.”

According to an initial prepared statement attributed to Marriott International chief marketing and commercial officer Stephanie Linnartz, “Free Wi-Fi is a meaningful way to reward our most loyal customers and continue to attract next-gen travelers.” The “next-gen” reference is about “a lifestyle of people who are most dependent on mobile technology in their daily lives,” the spokesperson said.

That sounds like business travelers of all ages. But not all will receive the benefit, at least until complimentary Wi-Fi is ubiquitous.

1 A senior Starwood official subsequently responded by email: “At the present time, we are not in a position to comment on our Internet stance. Like all companies, we continue to look at this and will have our position clarified in the near future.”

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Car Services Struggle With Disconnected Tech In ‘War’ With Uber

Atlantic City — No one in the fragmented and diverse ground transportation industry underestimates Uber anymore. For chauffeured car execs meeting here last week at a Chauffeur Driven magazine conference, “Uber” was the four-letter word everyone could not help but say. The rhetoric was dire, with operators described as being at “war” and destined to suffer many “casualties.”

Tristar Worldwide Chauffeur Services CEO Michael Fogarty described Uber’s impact. “Lead time on new reservations is shortening,” he said during a panel discussion. “Uber has reset customer expectations. If you don’t have the technology, you need to invest in it. Clients want reservations in an app. They want to see the vehicle approaching. They want immediate billing. There always were low barriers to entry in our business. Now they’re even lower, and it’s impacting our ability to attract and retain drivers. I’m sure there will be consolidation.”

aiga_taxi_bgFogarty suggested operators double down on areas where Uber isn’t competing, such as with high-touch clients, events, road shows, weddings and proms. “We need to maintain that share,” he said.

Share in corporate travel is slipping. Two travel management experts separately offered the example of a business traveler who schedules a pickup to the airport when traffic is heavy, but now uses Uber when it’s light. Its easy to imagine how useful Uber can be when tooling around at a conference. A spokesperson said Uber is seeing “strong weekday daytime usage, in particular on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.”

Taxi and limo officials are attempting to counter Uber through public relations, lobbying and support of legal action. But nowhere does the industry need to compete with Uber more than on technology, and it may be too late.

‘Politics And Agendas’

Technology in ground transportation is messy. Fragmentation in the industry keeps the dozens of booking systems used by different sedan providers from communicating. This limits operator capability to offer corporate clients greater coverage through affiliate relationships. Several providers in recent years have tried to integrate capabilities, but nothing has grabbed consumer attention like Uber.

Part-owned by Concur, Curb launched in 2007 aiming to connect consumers with both taxis and sedans. It offers an app-based hailing and payment experience that’s a lot like Uber’s. Curb attempts to distance itself from “ridesharing” services by reminding users it “works only with fully licensed, insured, professional taxi and for-hire drivers.”

Making a similar distinction, GroundLink is an 11 year-old network of operators. It now provides an app including car tracking and, in New York City, a “ride now” service. Other aggregators like Limos.com and Limolink offer apps, and dozens of operators have their own.

The Atlantic City show last week featured a new industry platform. Called CoNext, this system connects the booking software of car service companies in large part to enable end-user and driver apps. It allows operators to share client information and car locations. It can free up drivers for on-demand pickups when they have excess capacity. Such “switch” technology to pass jobs to affiliates already exists, but has limitations that prevent an Uber-like experience.

CoNext’s first booking system participants included Livery Coach, Fasttrack Cloud, The Hudson Group and SedanMagic. These providers support more than 1,000 operators with 31,525 cars running 68 million rides a year, supporters claimed. The Ground Widgets system has since joined.

Software company Gridd Technologies invested about $5 million to build CoNext during the past three years. It joined with strategy firm Drive Profit this summer to market the product. CoNext supports mobile apps developed by operators, but also will offer an off-the-shelf app. Officials expect next year to provide an interface for corporate travel departments. Gridd will charge transaction fees to operators or their tech partners. Cost-sensitive and skeptical operators are keen to find out specifics.

The effort is like what Limo Anywhere, a Groundlink subsidiary, offers to about 3,500 small and medium-sized operators in 46 countries. At the conference, one attendee asked proponents whether CoNext connects Limo Anywhere. The answer was yes, but the speaker later corrected herself.

CoNext officials called their effort a “neutral platform.” They said Limo Anywhere participants risk exposing competitive information to GroundLink and its operators.

In another sign of competing interests, one operator during the CoNext presentation whispered to The Company Dime that his firm is developing its own switch technology to work with affiliates.

“The technology is the easiest part,” Gridd CEO Amir Zafar said. “The challenge is more about human politics and agendas.”

‘Not Enough Connectivity’

The car service operators who want to beat Uber, rather than join its UberBlack network, will need to cooperate if they hope to offer similar availability for services on demand. This includes funding for technology. Some speakers at the Chauffeur Driven show called on the industry to join up with taxi services to create a universal app.

“Unfortunately, we allowed someone else to do what we should have,” said EmpireCLS CEO David Seelinger. “We’re still somewhat of a cottage industry, with lots of small and medium-sized operators. There’s not enough connectivity. When a corporate travel manager comes to a limo company, it’s not easy to get all the assets under one roof.”

Speaking separately, GoundLink CEO Dean Sivley argued CoNext is not the answer for on-demand capability. “The challenge is on the supply side,” according to Sivley. “To make it work, all affiliate operators would have to require that their drivers activate their GPS location data. Based on our two-year experience, operators are simply not yet willing to show their competitors where every one of their vehicles is located. With only 1,000 operators on the network, there really isn’t adequate supply to deliver on demand on a consistent basis. It will be a huge challenge to gain consumer demand, because there is not a unified brand or marketing budget to drive it.”

Deem Ground offers the Saturn reservation platform and connectivity to corporate booking tools and global distribution systems for Saturn and other software. It claims more than 1,900 corporate customers. Deem provides switching technology through its Affiliate-Connect and Transponet products. Rivals say the systems have limitations that do not allow for end-user apps.

“We’d encourage the industry to avoid recreating the wheel when we are here to help move everyone forward and quickly,” according to an email from Deem CEO Patrick Grady. “The providers do not have time on their side and corporate customers are demanding innovation now.” He acknowledged Deem’s technology does not currently enable Uber-like apps. “We’ll be rolling it out in 2015 along with additional location-based mobile capabilities,” Grady indicated.

Richard Clowes is travel operations director at SAS Institute, which uses some Deem products. “We allow Uber as an alternative to a taxi. We don’t normally allow black car services as they are so expensive, so I see this as a compromise. What I don’t like about all these apps is they’re not integrated.”

Additional Info: Sources also included more than 100 corporate and university travel managers, Limo Anywhere, the New York Taxi and Limousine Commission and nearly a dozen ground transportation industry execs.

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Despite Concerns, Uber Is Winning

Car hailing app Uber offers a new kind of customer convenience that hits you on the first try. Now it’s often better to tap at your device than do the driving yourself or call a taxi. No need to step outside until a driver you superficially already know has arrived.

Uber and the like are winning over consumers and, more slowly, gaining the endorsement of employers. Corporate travel managers across the United States said they’re noticing an increasing number of charges for Uber in expense reports, and loads of them now are working with risk and legal departments to review this new option.

media-470346__180There are lots of concerns, particularly about Uber’s pricing, legal, labor and regulatory challenges. It’s not officially permitted to operate in many locales, notably from many airports.

Plenty of corporations are waiting to see how these issues play out. Some companies prohibit Uber and other transportation network companies (TNCs) like Lyft and Sidecar. Some even decline to reimburse ridesharing expenses due to liability concerns.

Yet, most companies contacted by The Company Dime are not so hesitant. They’re either saying nothing about Uber or they’re embracing it. They report significant usage. Deutsche Bank, Morgan Stanley and Salesforce have named Uber a preferred supplier.

Uber this summer launched Uber For Business, which establishes a company card for direct billing and already is available in 45 countries. Travelers can then ride without having to pay out of pocket or use their own cards to get reimbursed. This is helpful for business travelers who do not have a corporate card. The Uber business account also offers administrative control over authorized users. It produces reports on “time of day, start and end location, city, duration and product type (i.e. uberX, UberBlack) of all employee trips.” There’s an optional ID field that admins can enter into user profiles to sort data by department, location, project or other characteristics.

Negotiable corporate discounts are not part of the program. As a rule of thumb, taxis and ground transport account for single-digit percentages of corporate travel spending. That historically has contributed to a lack of attention by corporate travel departments, but Uber is raising interest.

Uber could make its corporate account program more sophisticated. The company hired travel management veteran Margaret Brady to run its own travel procurement program. Surely it will seek her counsel on account management.

The business program for now seems most useful for small and medium-sized enterprises. Some larger companies disapprove of central pay options, worried that it encourages loose spending. One San Francisco travel buyer said Uber accounts for almost half his company’s taxi expenses, but the firm has not enrolled in the business program because it’s reluctant to endorse Uber.

Uber’s business account is not the main value proposition here. It’s on-demand transportation that uses data to improve service levels. It’s paid for by credit card, and sent straight into expense reports. Goodbye, receipt fudging. Goodbye grumpy cabbie scoffing at your desire to use plastic. According to Uber, approximately 55 percent of the U.S. population is 10 minutes from an available car. In larger cities, it’s two to three minutes.

Uber also hooked up United Airlines’ mobile app, the Sabre TripCase itinerary tool and Concur for enhancements in expense processing.

A Big But

But all this does not mean the corporations waiting to address their duty of care concerns are in the wrong. They’re simply more risk-averse. They have multifaceted insurance requirements for business travel. While they don’t know whether there are greater risks with Uber than a taxi or black car, the unanswered questions and a lack of regulatory frameworks create too much uncertainty.

Many of the issues with transportation network companies have yet to play out, since they’re in the courts. There are claims about labor law violations, personal injury and insurance issues, contractual disputes, false advertising and racketeering. In one California case, Lawrence v. Uber Technologies, an injured cyclist is suing not only Uber and the driver, but also the passenger. Here’s a summary document of pending litigation, provided by the decidedly anti-Uber law office of former New York City Taxi & Limousine commissioner Matthew Daus.

Other issues await new state and municipal regulations. These could subject Uber drivers to fingerprint-based FBI background checks or create more rigorous standards for safety inspections.

Uber’s rapid growth and its willingness to just absorb fines has policy makers on their heels. The platform comes with a novel self-regulating mechanism that allows both passengers and drivers to rate each other. Ferocious lobbying is taking place around the country.

Risk management firm iJet International recently took a look at Uber and other transportation network companies. It found that “in general, TNCs’ driver screening processes are less rigorous than those used by taxicab companies.” And those typically are less rigorous than at the chauffeured services.

The National Limousine Association claims accidents and crimes occur “in higher proportion in TNCs than in regulated transportation industries such as taxi and chauffeured transportation.” Such incidents involving Uber drivers get a lot of media attention, but the NLA did not cite evidence for its assertion.

Concerned firms need to examine information about insurance, driver background checks and safety. Some may conclude that Uber’s programs are insufficient, particularly for top execs. These companies patronize the highest end of the limo industry, which itself could be tooling up to compete.

Other Issues For Business

Regulatory and legal matters aside, Uber’s offering has other challenges in the corporate market. For one thing, its attitude has attracted scrutiny. Aggressive competitive tactics, including alleged calls to its competitors for fake rides, put some people off. Attendees said Uber’s appearance at the Global Business Travel Association convention this summer was awkward.

Uber’s “surge pricing,” in which rates skyrocket at times of peak demand, will not win favor among expense cops. Uber is often cheaper, but not always.

Additional Info: Sources also included more than 100 corporate and university travel managers, two travel management company officials, consulting firm Drive Profit, the New York City Taxi & Limousine Commission, the Taxicab, Limousine & Paratransit Association and nearly a dozen ground transport industry execs.

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Hotels Try To Streamline Risk Management In Preferred Property Selection

[UPDATE, April 8, 2016: We published new information related to this article here.]

Corporate obligations on business travel safety are taxing the already hideous hotel request for proposals process.

While some companies rely on brand reputations or assume travelers won’t stay somewhere unsafe, others ask hoteliers to answer hundreds of questions about each property’s lighting, first aid, surveillance and fire safety. As a result, it’s often sales departments that answer questions meant for risk experts.

Shooting for simplification and standardization, two separate initiatives have made advances this year.

CCTV_FixedThe American Hotel & Lodging Association and the U.S. State Department’s Overseas Security Advisory Council published a self-assessment risk checklist for hotels that could save some back and forth with clients. As awareness is negligible, the document may not be a factor in 2015 rate negotiations.

Based in Sweden, Safehotels Alliance is breaking out from its 12-year existence as a local and limited standard by signing a major chain deal, with Carlson Rezidor. The 10-person company employs independent contractors and security professionals to audit certified properties. Safehotels now is expanding to create global hubs, the first in Dubai.

Experts pointed to several challenges to creating a standard. A “one size fits all” approach is imperfect when properties differ by location, business model, size, brand, jurisdiction and risk profile. If a standard isn’t specific enough, though, corporations still could benefit if it helps narrow the field.

Travel manager Joel Barry said his former company did not have the resources to audit every property. “We had a large deal in Mexico City last year and found only two hotels we felt were safe enough,” said Barry, who is now at software maker DivX. “We need like a LEED program for safety — some sort of industry standard.” LEED is a “green building” certification program.

Many firms ask their own travelers to report back on any unusual local conditions. Large companies sometimes send security teams or consultants to check on preferred hotels when they’re in risky towns.

“Even for big companies, it costs them a lot of money to do the due diligence,” said Paul Moxness, vice president for corporate safety and security at Carlson Rezidor. “Say you’re a big company and going for the first time into Mumbai — there are like 400 hotels. How do you decide what to do due diligence on? Can you check them all? It’s an expense for all these companies. What chance do small and medium enterprises have? But they have the same legal requirements before they send customers or employees out.”

Moxness is one of the founding members of the OSAC Hotel Security Working Group that helped put together the AHLA-OSAC document. Carlson Rezidor will present its self-assessment program to Safehotels for approval, certification and auditing. Participating hotels pay Safehotels a certification fee. The Safehotels criteria include items related to fire safety, staff training, medical care and security routines. The company’s auditors visit each certified property at least once a year, unannounced. Safehotels Alliance president and CEO Hans Kanold said, “We created the standard to make sure the hotels that invest in security get competitive advantage. We make it easier for travel managers to identify hotels that meet a wide range of criteria.”

Another challenge is that standards do not address liability. Lodging industry veteran Flo Lugli called such certification efforts “tricky.” Organizations would seek to ensure “there would not be liability on their part,” argued Lugli, now principal of Navesink Advisory Group. “The AH&LA conveys that the form is only an assessment, and clearly states that it should not be viewed as an audit or inspection. And Safehotels has a legal disclaimer stating the information is only good as of the date of posting.”

International SOS and iJet International, which offer property vetting services, supported both the AH&LA and Safehotels developments. But officials warned that such programs could be only a starting point. In some cases, they said, corporate clients are looking for something more customized or even unique to a given business trip. Also, it’s difficult for certification programs to keep the information current. Properties change hands. Renovations are common.

Kanold said it’s his firm’s job to be in touch with the approved properties and revisit them in the event of such changes.

Additional Info: Sources contacted for this article also included several corporate travel managers, a travel management company risk management expert and a hotel RFP tech firm. AH&LA did not respond to questions about its efforts to publicize the OSAC document.

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Thirty Months On, Concur’s Direct Connect Seeks Footing

Concur’s TripLink direct connect program could upend corporate travel distribution if it works. So far, it doesn’t.

The TripLink concept resonates with corporate clients concerned about hotel booking channel compliance. About 35 percent of lodging bookings at companies with travel managers go outside the preferred channels, according to research by The Company Dime. Many of these are for conference rates not loaded into the global distribution systems or properties that don’t list in GDSs. Booking confirmations emailed into TripLink capture limited data to enable some management capabilities.

The case is not compelling for air travel. Concur claims “as much as 28 percent of a company’s airline bookings are considered ‘invisible spend.’ ” But at companies with travel managers, the same figure is in the single digits or even zero.

Low demand is one reason for TripLink’s limited progress and traction since Concur described the predecessor “open booking” program two and a half years ago. But there’s more.

Getting Help Is Clunky

When Concur in May 2012 started talking about open booking, it already had acquired TripIt and its email itinerary-parsing solution. This offered the capability to pull in itinerary data from off-channel bookings when travelers remember to forward an email. This original incarnation of TripLink might be useful to travel departments if they can get travelers to forward any such bookings to a central location. If there’s a cancellation, though, travelers need to remove the booking from two places if the company wants clean data for, say, risk management. Seems easy to forget.

This version of TripLink is like a company asking travelers to email off-channel bookings to a particular travel agent. In that scenario, the counselor would add relevant information to GDS records. It’s less automated, but enables servicing and reporting whereas TripLink’s equivalent capabilities are incomplete.

Concur TripLink Direct ConnectA Concur official called that first version of TripLink the “primitive” one. The more integrated and synchronous version is TripLink Direct. Travelers connect their Concur profiles with participating suppliers’ loyalty programs. Then they may book their companies’ negotiated rates on those suppliers’ websites and populate expense reports.

However, when the booking originates at supplier.com, getting help from a company travel agent requires a few steps. According to a TripLink user guide, travelers can click a button to “change a TripLink segment into a passive segment, which allows a travel agent to modify it. This will allow the TMC to take control of the passenger name record (PNR), be able to see it in the GDS and update accordingly. It is important to note that once Concur creates a passive segment PNR, the TMC now holds control and all changes must be called in directly to the TMC. It can no longer be modified within Concur Travel. Once this is implemented and agency assistance is used, the TMC must manage all changes and this could cause touch fees for the customer. After this action, the TripLink segment can no longer be modified by the user.”

Concur officials last week said the company is working on better automation for reporting, agency servicing and account management. The use of passive segments, they said, will not be the only solution for bringing together an itinerary from bookings made in multiple places. They declined to put a timeframe on the improvements.

Wanted: Demand, And Supply

On the supply side, the email/itinerary version of TripLink boasts a long list of supported vendors. TripIt sometimes has to prompt users to type in the data because a supplier is not supported or has altered their itinerary format, but that’s infrequent. Automated parsing from a forwarded email normally works.

As for connecting corporate travelers to supplier websites, only InterContinental Hotels Group and Starwood Hotels & Resorts are live. Bookings made with mobile apps or by phone are not supported. Air Canada, Airbnb, Avis, Marriott and United Airlines are planning to join. Air Canada and United aim to go live in the first quarter of 2015.

Many nonparticipating suppliers say they’re waiting for the buyer market to materialize. In managed business travel, that market is proving slow to come around. The Company Dime polled 105 U.S. travel managers during the second and third quarters of this year, and two-thirds expressed little to no interest in open booking. About half of the rest showed some level of interest, while the other half was on the fence.

Every travel department has its own main concerns. If channel policy compliance is high, why fix what’s not broken? Do travelers even want to book outside the preferred system? TripLink notifies managers of policy violations post-booking, while corporate booking tools can apply filters on the front end. Comparison shopping, duty of care, unused ticket tracking and access to corporate discounts and commissions also are among the worries.

For many, TripLink is a solution looking for a problem. Concur and its partners allow that this is not for everybody. United Airlines officials see it as answering demand from some of the carrier’s tech clients near its San Francisco hub, although others have expressed interest as well. Boosters say slow progress is not unexpected, and hype over the program may have created an expectation gap.

There may be more interest among firms with no program or a lightly managed one. In this regard, Concur is extending TripIt’s corporate travel beginnings as an easily added service providing data on employee trips. Some companies want insights into their travel patterns and spending but not a mandate to use a single travel management company. There also are holes in managed programs, like when a company employs a small number of people in a particular country and has no need for a full TMC relationship there.

Still, TMCs handle a lot of unmanaged business travel and a lot of small and medium-sized corporate clients. As demonstrated by a history of failed GDS-bypass initiatives, it’s hard to convince firms with thin margins to give up a revenue stream (even in exchange for a new one). Maybe Concur can persuade TMCs to work with airlines on a new model, at least for those bookings that end up at airline.com. Air Canada and United Airlines seem to want to find out.

Continued Commitment

The evidence thus far points to a plodding and incremental disruption by Concur’s TripLink, if it happens at all.

Following SAP’s agreement to buy Concur, the latter in September reaffirmed its course. “Our vision, strategy and commitment to TripLink and our travel partners will not only remain unchanged but will also be considerably advanced by the global distribution scale of SAP,” according to Concur.

SAP CEO Bill McDermott explained the acquisition in part by rhapsodizing about Concur’s mission to “define the future of business travel.”

“A lot of times, [business travelers] go outside their corporate travel network,” McDermott told IDG News Service. “Now with Concur cooperating with all these [providers] the traveler gets the best service, within their companies’ travel guidelines.” He also called Concur “the cornerstone of the entire industry.”

Here McDermott is borrowing Concur’s language. Company officials have called open booking the “new normal,” and said TripLink is set to “define the future of business travel.”

Such gravitas is premature.

Concur’s success in expense management is not up for debate. Now undergoing a much-needed update, the travel booking tool also is widely used.

The rest, so far, is just marketing.

Additional Info: Sources also included Concur executives and documentation, more than 100 corporate travel managers and several airline, hotel, car rental and travel management suppliers.

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Introducing The Company Dime

The Company Dime offers in-depth analysis and reporting for the business travel audience.

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We’re journalists. We aim to relay how and why with relevance and authority.

Don’t look here for breaking press releases.

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That’s about it about us, but you may visit our About Us page for more.

Now, on to you … and thanks for your interest.

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Co-Founders

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