Monthly Archives: December 2015

Delta Corporate Bundles Are In Client Hands Via Travelport

New York — Delta Air Lines is offering corporate fare bundles to Boise, Idaho-based Micron Technology through Travelport in the first publicly disclosed realization of a long-held airline hope. Using Travelport’s Smartpoint interface, Micron’s BCD Travel agents next year will begin testing use of a special fare bundle including not only Micron’s Delta rate, but also certain ancillaries.

Delta and Travelport showed slides depicting the interface last week during a presentation to investors and media (see below right for sample image).

Gordon-Wilson

Travelport president and CEO Gordon Wilson

“Delta’s deal with Micron includes various additional capabilities like lounge access and pay-for seat assignments,” said Travelport president and CEO Gordon Wilson. “Delta wants to put tailored offers in the hands of the corporation and travel management company. As each company hires new employees, not all the new employees know that the deal with Delta has all these benefits for them.”

The functionality is available to the 139 airlines using Travelport’s Rich Content and Branding service. Travelport execs said there are pilots going on with multiple undisclosed airlines, travel management companies and client accounts.

In a different example shared by officials, a fictional bank has a negotiated deal with Virgin Australia. The bundle includes the preferred corporate rate, lounge access, two checked bags and free changes.

“Delta amongst others are heavily engaged” with Travelport’s corporate bundle capability, said Wilson.

Travel officials with Micron did not reply to a request for comments sent over the weekend.

Travelport last month announced the bundles, declining to name airline users. Along with its merchandizing efforts generally, officials positioned the corporate bundles as a quadruple win for airlines, TMCs, clients and itself.

Click to enlarge on desktop

Click to enlarge

“We’re working with airlines and agencies in a way that hasn’t happened before,” said Travelport merchandizing product director Steven Ratcliffe. “This works for all of us. It’s a shift. We’re driving away from old-school GDS discussions to ‘How do we sell this stuff? How do we keep customers happy?’ You’re encouraging the traveler to stay in policy.”

Ratcliffe said the development is done unless trials discover a problem. “It’s just a question of how to roll it out in scale,” he said.

The bundles can be displayed by corporate booking tools that connect using Travelport’s Universal API. Ratcliffe said “a couple very big names will be rolling things out in the near future, not quite tomorrow. You have to be able to describe that product within the corporate tool.”

Travelport’s presentation mentioned Concur as a corporate booking tool with “empowered selling” thanks to Travelport’s merchandizing.

“The final piece we’re working on is enabling it in mobile,” said Ratcliffe.

Other airlines and tech firms, such as Amadeus and Lufthansa, have announced special corporate products at the point of sale. Execs from American Airlines and Delta Air Lines two years ago began talking about corporate packages or bundles as a next step in corporate-airline relationships.

Areka Consulting senior consultant Norma Rohrbach said she’d imagine travel buyers will welcome the functionality, if cautiously.

“I think people are very frustrated with $25 here and $10 there,” she said. “It’s hard for companies to estimate these added costs. This way, if it’s bundled you have better control over what you’re spending. It brings transparency to what is being paid, which I think everyone’s been struggling with. On that aspect, it’s good.”

Rohrbach doesn’t see corporate bundles necessarily as representative of a new contracting model. She argued one could look at it as a rebundling following years of unbundling extra services.

“In some cases we’re going back to the way pricing was done initially,” she said. “Everything’s a circle.”

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Little Hope In Travel Management For Change In Marriott’s Ways

The corporate travel world’s opinion of Marriott is bipolar. Travelers love the loyalty program, but that can work against corporate program compliance. Many industry professionals respect the company’s success but get discouraged when it takes a hard line on various issues. Travel buyers like the idea of a consistent, high-quality product from a world-renowned brand but don’t like paying more for it than they do for similar brands. And now comes Marriott’s planned acquisition of Starwood.

The general assumption is that a reduction in competitors will toughen negotiations and raise prices. Worthwhile chainwide deals may become particularly hard to come by. Marriott hasn’t been easy to negotiate with in the first place, for chain deals or at individual properties. Marriott Rewards emboldens the company to maintain a my-way-or-highway approach. Some characterize it as arrogance. Just a few are hopeful it will change after this deal.

Marriott International CEO Arne Sorenson Image: Marriott International

Marriott International CEO Arne Sorenson
Image: Marriott International

Marriott officials told The Company Dime that the company “will be undertaking a thorough review of all partners and contracts to determine what is in the best interest of our clients and hotels consistent with our agreements with those partners.”

Marriott is looking at closing the $12.2 billion Starwood deal in mid-2016, and there are open questions. Among the biggest is the degree to which Starwood’s brands will maintain autonomy.

Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson appeared on CNBC on Nov. 16, the day of the Starwood acquisition announcement. “Our philosophy is to merge these companies as quickly as we can and run one company,” he said. When asked if Marriott will keep “all” of Starwood’s and Marriott’s combined 30 brands, Sorenson said, “To say all, it’s a little too soon for that.”

The frequency of properties switching flags, individually or in blocs, could escalate in 2016. Marriott could unload properties where it has too much overlap. Chains within other hotel companies could entice some properties to change allegiances. No one would be surprised if more hotel M&A deals surface, in addition to Accor’s recent deal to purchase the parent company of the Fairmont, Raffles and Swissôtel hotel brands.

In locations where Marriott and Starwood properties in the same tier have competed for the same corporate business, buyers probably will have a harder time securing favorable rates. For chainwide deals, TripBam CEO Steve Reynolds said large-market buyers often “play one off the other pretty aggressively. The big concern is that those days are over.”

Clients already don’t get much love from hotels.

Donna Brokowski, general manager of Travel and Transport’s Partner Solutions Group, said the company is advising clients to start 2017 hotel rate negotiations earlier in the cycle than normal, which for some could mean pretty soon. She said some buyers traditionally start as early as April, while many others wait until October or November. She also said travel buyers should stay close with hotel reps, check terms of existing deals (which may or may not specifically address ownership and/or brand changes) and develop contingency plans in high-spend markets.

At BCD Travel consultancy Advito, clients are getting similar advice, according to senior director and practice area leader Marwan Batrouni. He said buyers should “anticipate a completely different RFP environment. If a corporate client has a chainwide agreement with Marriott and Starwood, that entire agreement will change come the 2017 season.”

The Marriott Way

“Marriott has always been a company that has been stealthily innovative; they look at what is best for them and not just the status quo of the industry,” said Brokowski. “The power of the brand is second to none and they get a premium for that, and they absolutely should.”

As a result, few companies actually have chainwide Marriott deals. Some buyers with big volumes have complained they can’t make inroads. They use words like inflexible.

Marriott described its approach this way:

“We do not call them ‘discount programs.’ Rather, they are global recognition programs which include a financial component. We only offer these agreements to our top B-to-B customers who have the global, diverse spend that makes these agreements a good business decision for both parties. In addition, we offer this opportunity for our customers who want to partner with us on all aspects of their travel program (including groups and meetings).”

Marriott’s insistence on including group business is one of several things that frustrate travel buyers, beyond its rigidity in rate negotiations. They also don’t like the company luring travelers into direct channels. Other chains do it, too, but Marriott has been among the most vocal. They want Marriott to be more helpful with virtual cards and do a better job at account management.

Also, they said, the authority of Marriott’s account reps is limited by the corporate office.

A former Marriott travel agency sales director, BCD Travel senior director of supplier relations Kim Kearns said, “Marriott has more structure behind what they can and cannot do at that level. From an account management perspective, Starwood has had a little more leeway.”

“There are certain controls they have in place in terms of how hotels negotiate, in terms of how many rates they have and how they load rates,” said Brokowski. “There are several checks and balances. It’s different than you’ll see in other brands, where the property person can negotiate a rate, build a rate plan and put it into the GDS.”

Here’s Marriott’s explanation:

“All of our hotels have individual owners, so pricing is set by each individual hotel level. In order to make the pricing process easier for our customers, our sales force uses proprietary technology to collect the rates submitted by the hotels, and delivers it to our customers in one consolidated file. While our account leaders communicate the customer’s RFP instructions and any details the client wants us to share with our hotels about their travel programs, they do not negotiate rates on behalf of our hotels; however, the account leaders are in a powerful position to centrally and accurately articulate the value of the customer to our Marriott portfolio of hotels.”

The company also said account management teams are responsible for understanding each client organization. “They share this account intelligence with our regional teams and hotels to ensure we have one connected voice for our customers on a global basis,” officials wrote.

Executives at travel agencies and those who offer them hotel rate programs also critique Marriott’s methods.

Marriott confirmed that it pays commissions on neither “special corporate rates” nor “any rate booked to the end user corporation.” Some sources said that strategy is common around the industry, with net rates the norm.

But Tower Travel president John Smith said other chains in some cases will offer comparable commissionable and noncommissionable rates, while at Marriott it’s “a non-starter,” making the company “a distinct outlier.”

“Marriott pays less commission, period,” Reynolds said.

On the other hand, Smith praised Marriott for committing to a 10 percent commission structure so long as agencies play by Marriott’s rules, standardizing the collection process when commissions are owed and standing behind timely payments to agencies with a double commission guarantee.

The hotel company pays 10 percent commissions on BAR and retail rates to “preferred” agencies. Those “have agreed to treat all Marriott brands at point-of-sale at least as favorably as any other hotel or hotel chain,” according to Marriott officials. These partners have “at least one person accredited with our Hotel Excellence continuing education training.” All the rest get 8 percent on BAR and retail rates.

Potential Upsides

Some agency executives, travel managers and others suggested Marriott would be wise to soften it’s stance on some issues. To build and retain corporate business, it shouldn’t waste the goodwill Starwood has earned around the industry.

Marriott already has had plenty going for it. And now, for travel management pros and especially for some of their travelers, there is huge upside from the Starwood deal. Marriott would become more global, with more strength in China and Europe. Already big in select-service, mid-scale and extended-stay tiers, it would strengthen its luxury and newish lifestyle offerings. In all, it would encompass 5,500 hotels with 1.1 million rooms (and another 350,000 rooms in the pipeline).

“Until right now, no one player can be a very global partner,” said Advito’s Batrouni. “Most suppliers may be dominant in one region or a few but no one is dominant across the globe. But when combining Marriott and Starwood, we have that one potential partner.”

The same may be true for covering an account’s secondary and tertiary North American markets.

While daunting for buyers on the surface, Marriott’s girth may offer some other roundabout benefits. The more leverage it has to re-orient deals with online travel agencies, the less likely those OTAs can offer the cheapest rates.

“If Marriott can give meaningful discounts to corporations to shift share, and those are the lowest rates they can get, it will have an impact,” Reynolds said. “They want to get bigger so they can compete against these behemoths who are beating them up on the margins.”

Meanwhile, a bigger Marriott Rewards program could help rather than hurt hotel program compliance in some cases. If Starwood properties are preferred and Marriott loyalty members can earn Marriott points at them, some of the conflict goes away.

In turn, Marriott loyalists would have many more options for redeeming their points.

There’s plenty for Marriott to consider as it combines loyalty programs; Sorenson said the company will take the best of both.

Additional info: Sorenson in a Dec. 13 interview on Fox News said not to expect staffing reductions at the property level. At the headquarters level, though, “you see overlap,” he said. “We’ll find the biggest cost savings at the higher end of the overhead structure.”

In a Dec. 13 presentation at a Barclays investment conference, Marriott said some cost savings would come from adding Starwood to its U.S. shared services for accounting, IT, revenue management and other support functions, “where practical.” Marriott listed its strengths as “culture, multiple brand platforms, hotel development, owner and franchisee relationships, operating efficiencies and sales platforms.” It listed Starwood’s as “customer relationship management, SPG (Starwood Preferred Guest), lifestyle brands, international presence, international relationships and leisure presence.”

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KDS Adds To North American Client Base With Global Organization Education First

Global education company EF Education First in March installed the KDS Neo door-to-door booking product for U.S. travelers. During the past year, the organization brought Neo to various markets in the Americas, Asia and Europe. It’s now moving into Canada.

EF vice president Dennis Behnsen said the firm has used corporate booking tools in the past. But its in-house agents still made more than 90 percent of bookings. With Neo, re said, online adoption has tripled. Why? It’s easy to use.

Dennis-Behnsen

EF Education First vice president Dennis Behnsen

“Complicated itineraries are still offline,” said Behnsen. “But the take rate has increased on short-haul and simple destinations. It’s a quick turnaround time. When searching for a flight or hotel, it’s much easier. Now we can enter an address or office name. Say Boston-Zurich. They can enter ‘EF Boston’ or ‘EF Zurich’ and it gives them the options on flights, hotel and rental car all in one click. There’s also an estimate of costs on taxi or train for the entire trip. This makes it super easy. If they’re traveling with someone together, they can sit together. The seat map opens and they can assign seats if possible. It’s a nice service to offer the traveler.”

He said integrating with Outlook puts tickets, confirmations and other elements “all in one location.”

KDS introduced the all-in-one concept of Neo to cheers in the United States two years ago. The product “delivers complete, bookable, door-to-door itineraries and also predicts related expenses,” according to KDS. “Thousands of routes and options are analyzed, based on search criteria, company policy and user preferences. The user fills out the simplest possible form and a graphical timeline and preliminary expense report are displayed in seconds.” As of early this year, however, it hadn’t gained much traction.

“We are moving to plan and have a number of clients deploying in the U.S.,” according to an email this month from KDS CEO Dean Forbes. “Education First is a good example of someone we previously could not have deployed in the U.S. without our U.S. reach and capability. We also have clients like Shell deployed in North America, CGG deployed and even Amcor deployed using KDS for expense management.”

Switzerland-based EF has its own IATA-accredited offices and agents. “It’s a follow-the-sun strategy,” said Behnsen. “When Boston closes, Hong Kong takes over.”

The company has pre-trip approval requirements that he said KDS handles well.

“We link it to an order ticketing script,” said Behnsen. “Once approval is granted, it goes to auto-ticketing. Not every flight needs approval. With KDS we say for specific regions this is the approved price that doesn’t require approval from the manager. It’s a dollar threshold.”

EF first rolled out Neo beginning a year ago in Switzerland, Sweden and the United Kingdom. “We picked those markets because you have different currencies,” Behnsen said. “They’re also among our bigger markets. There are lots of low-cost carriers. It’s a good test environment to see how good the system would work.”

Access to Southwest Airlines in the United States also was important. KDS now reaches that airline’s content through software company AgentWare after its partnership with nuTravel ended.

EF uses Amadeus as its GDS, but Behnsen said the company appreciates the KDS multi-GDS capability in case that ever changes. It’s now looking to establish automated expense management, and KDS is a contender.

Fifty-year-old EF has more than 40,000 staff operating out of 500 schools and offices in more than 50 countries. It offers language learning, educational touring and cultural exchange programs. It arranges travel for these programs, but KDS is for internal staff only.

EF had reviewed online booking tools from Amadeus, Concur and Sabre before picking Neo, according to a KDS statement.

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TCG Consulting Hires KBR’s Travel Department In Outsourcing Deal, Picks CWT

CWT Energy, Resources & Marine now is spooling up newly consolidated business with KBR Inc. A year ago, the global engineering, construction and government services company had 13 agencies, according to officials with TCG Consulting. The TMC implementation is one of many projects contemplated by a broad outsourcing partnership in which TCG manages KBR’s card and travel programs, and some meetings. It could yet take on more.

TCG Consulting in July hired KBR’s travel and card management departments. Twelve KBR people joined the consulting firm’s new Houston office to boost its practice in corporate travel, meetings, payment and expense management, particularly for the shrunken oil and gas sector. For KBR, this team is working on program strategy, policy, expense management and supplier sourcing. KBR is streamlining corporate functions as part of a $200 million cost reduction program announced a year ago.

CWT’s energy unit offers a number of specialized services for the sector, including new logistics software. However, KBR has tasked TCG with some of what CWT typically does for clients. TCG global management practice director Philip Curran said this is one way program management savings come about in such an outsourcing arrangement.

TCG Consulting global management practice director Philip Curran

TCG Consulting global management practice director Philip Curran

“We looked at the agency relationship and said, ‘We don’t want what you normally give a client,’ ” said Curran. “We want to go line by line and decide whether we need it. In some cases we are already getting it because travel is outsourced through TCG. Global account management, for example — KBR shouldn’t pay for that. So we have stripped out some of those agency functions in addition to reconfiguring.

“Instead of looking at who does what, we look at what needs to be done for a program to be run optimally,” Curran continued. “It’s a client-centric concept, whereas typically we see an agency-centric approach. The management of travel, payment and expense can be internal, or they can be outsourced, or they can be co-sourced. If you outsource those critical functions, do you want to outsource those to a totally independent partner who has nothing at stake or a third party with its own agenda?”

In the first year, KBR will pay TCG a consulting-style fixed fee per project, with outsourcing work priced on a formula depending on decisions by KBR about what to pursue. After the first year, the partners will work on a fixed annual fee. KBR still directly pays its suppliers, including the TMC.

Former KBR director of global travel services Darcy Taylor introduced the outsourcing idea to KBR leadership. She’s now engagement manager for TCG.

“As the travel manager trying to keep a global program functioning, there was no way alone that I could move into a whole new strategic program,” she said. “You’re putting out fires every day. To do an organization justice and strategically develop an innovative travel program doesn’t exist in the old model of a travel manager running the show by themselves. Now I have a whole company behind me, helping drive this new strategy.”

The alternative, she said, was layoffs. KBR had cut headcount to 25,000 from 27,000 between 2013 and 2014. It hasn’t released a figure this year.

KBR CFO Brian Ferraioli during an August conference call with financial analysts said the company identified cost reduction opportunities in all areas, including real estate, IT, training and travel. “Without question and unfortunately,” he said, “the majority of the costs related to reductions in total staffing.” Taylor said many corporate support services were downsized or outsourced.

TCG had been advising KBR for eight years. “We wanted them as part of the TCG team but we knew that to deliver the cost savings we had to change processes, introduce technology and reduce the labor requirements to manage the program,” said Curran. “As we create capacity in that team of former KBR people, they’re now allocated to other TCG clients.”

In addition to cost reduction, better spend visibility using data management technology is a key tenet of the partnership, officials said.

Similar to other consultants and giants like Accenture and IBM, TCG provides outsourcing services to a number of clients. These tend to have a smaller scope than the KBR engagement.

KBR has operations in about 40 countries. It generated $6.4 billion in revenue last year, down more than one-third from 2010.

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Coming From A TMC Near You: Proactive Trip Disruption Services

If you’re a global travel manager and have not heard from your big travel management company about “proactive care” or “disruption services,” you likely will. American Express Global Business Travel and Carlson Wagonlit Travel are rolling out programs now. BCD Travel has had one for three years. The details differ, but what’s behind them is the same: operational intel and tracking from FlightStats. The question for many clients is, at what cost?

First of all, what is it? Say there’s a storm. You deplane from the first leg of your one-stop trip, and the connection is canceled. You’re staring at a huge line. The airline might be reaccommodating you already, but your meeting is first thing in the morning and its next flight with open seats won’t help. (Remember, airline load factors are off the charts.) There are options. You consider running around the airport, but then call your TMC. After waiting on hold for a bit, you learn they’re only just hearing about the disruption from you. Fingers crossed …

disruptionNow imagine powering on your phone and seeing a message saying you’ve been rebooked, go to this gate. Or, at least, a question: “We can rebook you in this way, would you like to accept?” Maybe it’s even within policy. It keeps duty of care data intact.

This is the pitch from FlightStats, a service provider so ubiquitous among TMCs that it would be easier to list which don’t use it than the more than 60 that do. FlightStats takes passenger name records from client agencies and watches for calamities among 98,000 flights a day. It uses data from more than 500 sources — weather, schedules and aircraft positions, for example — in an effort to hedge against data failure. It informs travel agents of what’s going on, ideally before travelers even know there’s a problem.

Sounds great, but clients are challenging the TMCs with questions: What’s the ROI? What if it fails? Shouldn’t the TMC be doing this anyway?

Pricing for these services is all over the map. Midsize TMCs often say it’s included. But as with TMC pricing generally, apples-to-apples comparisons are difficult. Some TMCs do not charge a discrete fee for proactive services. For others, it’s a few dollars on top of a typical booking transaction fee, or a monthly enterprise subscription fee in the hundreds.

For buyers, any additional fee is a struggle.

“It’s an interesting concept, but it’s also service I expect them to provide,” said National Instruments global travel manager Eric Brown. “For me, cost would be a huge component of it.”

“My CFO thinks it’s already their job to do that,” said Carey Ann Pascoe, senior travel manager at Dolby Laboratories. “Whenever there’s a fee involved with the TMC I try to offset it with an ROI. It would be difficult to do that with this.”

“Soft” benefits like being at home with your family when you’re supposed to be aren’t typically quantified despite the potential impact on job satisfaction. Being a hero and saving a key meeting is awesome, but anecdotal and occasional. Improvements in service and comfort are hard to sell. Historical service data to help at the negotiating table could come in handy — a twist on new airline performance guarantees, perhaps.

But these are all fuzzy. More transparent is the cost of a new ticket or extra hotel night, car-rental day or meal. Travel managers can make an estimate like that. FlightStats has ROI calculators for these extra costs. It says nearly 10 percent of flights last year were interrupted.

For TMCs, being more proactive means paying FlightStats on a transaction basis or monthly fees, but the brunt of the “cost to them isn’t what they pay us for monitoring and delivery,” said FlightStats vice president of business development Meara McLaughlin. “It’s how they staff it.”

“When the people are sitting idle, it’s costly,” said chief product officer Robyn Grassanovits. “We’re working to develop the next generation with a focus on [early warning signs] so TMCs can better prepare for the unexpected.”

Scaling up and down on staffing is tricky. Having excess capacity intuitively seems like the wrong way to go when so much new economic value nowadays is created on improved utilization, à la Airbnb and Uber.

FlightStats offers a task center to triage passenger issues, allowing for more agents to be trained and to step into the storm, as it were. American Express Global Business Travel aims to train lots of agents and offer the service to every traveler for no added fee (for now). Carlson Wagonlit Travel is creating a dedicated team, admittedly risking some idleness. BCD offers kind of a mix.

Whether to centralize a department or broadly train agents is a big question.

CWT in October finished a three-month pilot of its Disruption Services program with three large clients. It’s not meant to be for every traveler. Think of it as a version of VIP services but for road warriors and without the white gloves.

“We’re fully staffing it as a separate entity within our traveler services group,” said a communications official. “They’re not managing regular TMC calls. It’s a dedicated group of people.” These are at-home workers reporting to CWT’s Phoenix call center. The TMC will charge a yearly fee for access to the team, depending on client size, as opposed to an add-on per trip. Customers can create limits on how much can be spent to reaccommodate. Although getting clients to spend money is a challenge, about 10 expressed strong interest. The service launches next month.

American Express Global Business Travel is taking a different approach. With more than 6,000 travelers already enrolled from more than 20 U.S. clients, its Proactive Traveler Care is part of the core service offering.

“It’s not viewed as a revenue driver, really an efficiency and satisfaction delivery play,” said VP digital traveler Evan Konwiser. “It does involve training. Obviously when you have proactive service, it requires a different type of flow. They can’t be taking calls in the same way. When it gets to 100 percent of travelers, we’ll work out the workflow management process. But we’re not viewing it as a separate group or specialty at this moment. We view it as just good service.”

BCD Travel started its FlightStats-powered program more than three years ago.

“It’s a service we charge for,” said vice president for digital and product planning Will Pinnell. “There are different ways to pay for it, but when a traveler not enrolled in this service calls in, their company will incur a fee to talk to an agent. A lot of clients justify this investment because it’s offsetting the cost they would have had to pay. It’s a proactive service for travelers who more than likely would have dialed in anyway.”

He said some clients enroll certain travelers while others include every booking. As for the staffing configuration, some customers have dedicated agents who are trained on the disruption tools. Others are served by agents in the general BCD population, some of whom received disruption training.

If the other two are charging, there must be a string attached to Amex’s offer, right?

Some of FlightStats’ TMC clients may see the opportunity to capture more transaction fees just by being in the middle of things. Some might go for merchandizing and affiliate revenues, such as through promotions sent at the moment they matter. “Flight canceled? Going nowhere? Eat at the steakhouse you’re now going to be sleeping next to.”

But for Amex it’s not about that, Konwiser said. One thing that is valuable is the data, particularly for risk management purposes.

“We are trying to change the whole service paradigm,” said Amex GBT vice president for global service delivery Vinod Varma. “Customer effort goes down substantially. We believe customer effort is an important element driving customer satisfaction. We believe there’s value not just for customers, but also for us. If we can be predictive and scale up the service effectively, then we can take out a lot of inbound calls and be more efficient.”

Raison D’être

The perceived value proposition of travel management companies is constantly evolving. Authors of a November paper by the Global Business Travel Association indicated they were surprised that “improving the traveler experience/traveler satisfaction” was high on the list of what U.S. travel managers want from TMCs. It was in the top three of about ten priorities whose importance respondents rated in the context of the next five years. “This suggests they want TMCs to continue expanding beyond their traditional role,” GBTA wrote, as if servicing travelers is not a traditional TMC function.

GBTA asked about TMCs’ 24-hour services. These are the departments or outsourced partners often tasked with reacting to traveler contacts during disruptions. Nine in 10 U.S. travel managers told GBTA their companies rely on TMCs for such services. Buyer satisfaction with 24-hour services ranked 12th out of 16 categories — higher only than meetings and various data management functions. Second on the list, however, was VIP services.

Consultant Scott Gillespie of tClara wasn’t surprised that TMCs are looking to either close the gap or create a new tier between concierge and standard services.

“This will be table stakes for TMCs in a short amount of time,” he said. “File under ‘Traveler Success.’ It’s a good step. As for the client, this is not the CFO’s call. It’s the budget owner’s call — the EVP of sales, the VP of field services, whoever has travelers on their payroll.”

The comments echoed one suggestion from a veteran travel manager speaking during a conference call described as “off the record.” She suggested travel managers bring it to department heads as a chargeback.

FlightStats’ McLaughlin, of course selling but also knowing the market, sees this in more dire terms.

“Travel managers and TMCs are losing ground, but this is the moment,” she said. “How will machines take these irregular events and have empathy and savvy and negotiating power to fight the fight, understand the complexity and make a judgement in the way a human can?”

But agents are only human. Is there a danger here of setting expectations too high? In some situations there’s only so much an agent can do. What if the FlightStats info is wrong?

“The challenge TMCs will have is articulating what it is and putting fences around what it can and can’t do,” said KesselRun Corporate Travel Solutions partner Brandon Strauss. “Travelers already complain about things airlines do that are outside the control of the TMC. ‘I was 10 minutes late and they wouldn’t hold the flight for me!’ At the same time, it’s clearly a service enhancement. If they can do it, it does become a competitive advantage.”

Additional info: Polled by GBTA in September, more than 200 travel managers and a set of more than 7oo American, Australian and British business travelers also answered questions about online booking tools. Concur sponsored the research.

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As Its Delta Deal Downsizes, Alaska Airlines Ups ‘Joint’ Sales With AA

[UPDATE, Dec. 19, 2016: Alaska Airlines and Delta Air Lines as of May 1, 2017, no longer will share codes. The carriers also will cease frequent flyer program reciprocity. An interlining deal for ticketing and baggage connectivity will continue.]

Alaska Air Lines’ relationship with Delta seems about over as one with American is ramping up. Alaska and AA recently made reciprocal lounge access global and have been growing their codeshare arrangement. Intriguingly, an Alaska exec recently said there would be more joint corporate sales activities with AA.

Without antitrust immunity, such cooperation isn’t what buyers see from joint-venture partners. In those cases, allies make a single, combined offer with harmonized pricing and terms. Outside of JVs, airline partners may sell the benefits of a joint network made possible by code sharing. AA and Alaska already have been doing that in corporate contracts, and travel buyers should expect more.

SeattleAsked about Delta’s partnership with Alaska, a Delta press official said it is “still a valued partner.” Just not as valued as before. Delta last spring downgraded Alaska’s frequent flyer partner status. Mutual airport lounge access terminates Jan. 1 and codeshare cooperation is diminishing.

At a Dec. 3 investor event, Alaska indicated that the Delta code share in the year through October contributed $94 million, “over $100 million less than it was last year,” said chief commercial officer Andrew Harrison. “We have great confidence in the partners we have today, the partners we may or may not have tomorrow and the new ones we may or may not have tomorrow.” He added that Alaska “will continue to evolve and grow” the AA relationship while also acknowledging “obvious questions around the room” about others.

Sources don’t expect Delta-Alaska code sharing to end completely — at least not yet.

“I assume it will be Delta to end the deal, if anyone does it,” said PlaneBusiness Banter publisher Holly Hegeman. “But some money is better than no money.” (Delta has been following a strategy of unilateralism in many areas, and lately has been ditching interline deals with carriers that aren’t fully aligned.)

Egencia director of client services Nathan Brooks said Delta needs traffic connecting through Alaska Airlines’ hometown of Seattle to feed international operations. Delta now flies from Seattle to five Asian destinations and three in Europe. As Delta continues to build out its own presence there, “it will be very interesting to see if that code share survives,” Brooks said. For now, Delta sees Alaska as “a necessary evil. They want to give as little business as they can to Alaska while making sure they can fill their massive amounts of capacity.”

Delta also flies to Tokyo and Amsterdam from Portland, Ore., another Alaska hub.

Brooks pointed out that remaining code shares between Alaska and Delta no longer are part of corporate deals. “In terms of a joint offering, there’s really none,” he said. That leaves AA as Alaska’s only codeshare partner in the lower 48 to be included in corporate contracts. Egencia is “starting to see a lot more of that” from both carriers in the form of “two separate parallel offers,” Brooks said.

Alaska flew about 5,000 AA customers per day during the third quarter, up 10 percent year over year.

For AA, deeper ties with Alaska provide a stronger presence especially in the Pacific Northwest. Codeshare passengers represent “valuable local and connecting traffic for [AA’s] international flights and greater West Coast utility for their customers,” Harrison said in October during Alaska’s third-quarter earnings call. Congratulating AA on the successful US Airways res system integration, he noted “more to come.”

Joe Sprague, Alaska’s SVP who oversees corporate sales, responded to a question on “joint marketing” to corporate accounts. “We are doing more and more joint sales activities with American and we think that’s a big opportunity for us going forward,” he said. Pursuing higher yields, Alaska has been “working with American and our other partners with premium-product corporate customers and accounts. We are very optimistic about turning that on in a powerful way.” Alaska recently announced a new premium-economy service level, as did American for international flights.

Alaska officials wouldn’t elaborate on any corporate sales with AA.

An American spokesperson said “we hope to continue to strengthen our relationship.”

TCG Consulting partner Barry Rogers said the West Coast, and the Pacific Northwest in particular, “has been a hole” in AA’s network. He added that “AA has been including AS/AA* (Alaska flying with American code share) in their corporate agreements for some time.”

For Seattle-area companies, either Delta or American in conjunction with Alaska probably can get their travelers to most U.S. places they need to go. But Brooks pointed out that Delta/SkyTeam offers more international routes from that market than AA/Oneworld.

Additional info: According to Alaska stats, the airline in 2015 has about 275 daily departures in Seattle, up by about 40 from 2012, and market share was unchanged at 51 percent, while Delta more than tripled its departures in the same period to 101, nearly doubling marketshare to 20 percent (though Delta in September put the number at 128 daily flights). According to Alaska’s presentation, American now has about a 6 percent share in the Seattle market on 24 flights, nearly steady versus 2012.

Alaska in the past five years added 26 cities and more than 90 citypairs to its route map, including service to several East Coast business destinations. Transcontinental flying now accounts for 15 percent of passenger revenue.

Alaska also is forging partnerships with foreign carriers, “particularly here in Seattle and promoting those to corporate accounts,” Harrison said. Alaska’s other codeshare partners include British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Qantas and the Latam Airlines Group carriers — all AA partners and Oneworld alliance members. Alaska also shares codes with Delta SkyTeam allies Aeromexico, Air France/KLM and Korean (Korean now also shares codes with AA). Alaska’s independent codeshare partner roster includes Emirates, Icelandair and China’s Hainan.

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Snack Giant Mondelēz International Takes Jumbo Bite From Travel Spend

When a CFO says the company will cut its more than $100 million travel budget in half, only suppliers need to panic. For travel managers, it’s like a power-up.

That’s how Ike Ihenacho has spent the past year and a half of his professional career — unleashing newfound power at $30 billion snack maker Mondelēz International. Thanks to data consolidation from United Kingdom-based Pi, the company’s budget leaders conduct monthly reviews of spending and operational KPIs, and adjust policies and reset targets as appropriate. Using BCD Travel’s Advito and Concur Messaging, the travel department refreshed its communications program, reducing travel consumption and increasing compliance. Mondelēz enjoyed additional savings from better procurement and expanded videoconferencing.

Mondelēz International global travel expense and meetings manager Ike Ihenacho

Mondelēz International global travel expense and meetings manager Ike Ihenacho

Ihenacho joined Mondelēz in March 2013 as global travel expense and meetings manager. “I was in a department that allowed us to explore innovative ideas that would benefit the travelers,” he said. That’s sweet enough, but last year the company embarked on a major overhead reduction program. Framed by consultants at Accenture as “zero-based budgeting” and articulated to shareholders by senior executives, “the ZBB opportunity gave us an exponential new lease of life,” said Ihenacho. “It took it up tenfold in visibility and seniority.”

According to a Feb. 2015 presentation by CFO Brian Gladden at the Consumer Analyst Group of New York Conference, Mondelēz targeted a travel spending cut of 45 percent on 35 percent less travel. The moves were part of a wider assault on various categories of indirect spending. “We determined we didn’t benchmark very well,” he said. “Our historical approach to overhead reduction wasn’t sustainable. We needed to turn up the intensity with a new toolset and a different mindset.”

After benchmarking through Accenture, the company determined it was “spending way too much money,” Gladden said. “We began to implement some significant changes in mid-2014, and we had some quick wins. We’re starting to see a change in our culture as colleagues become more conscious and concerned about how they spend shareholder money.” Mondelēz last year reduced overhead as a percentage of revenue by about 0.7 percent, and Gladden said it’s well on its way to a reduction of at least 2 percent by 2016.

New spending policies, consolidated sourcing and tighter controls on consumption all contributed improvements in various spending categories. Gladden said most of the 45 percent reduction in travel would result from traveling less. That’s made possible by broad use of videoconferencing which has “really become the way we run the business,” he said. “We found through benchmarking that our travel policies and practices were not competitive, and we fixed it.”

The rest of the savings comes from “traveling smarter,” Gladden explained. That includes restricting business class, dumping airline club reimbursement and “better leveraging” purchasing volume with hotels, airlines and rental car agencies.

“Our travel policies resulted in a 25 percent reduction in traveling costs for the second half of last year, so we’re off to a good start,” said Gladden.

During 2015, Mondelēz has found it was exceeding cost-reduction expectations. In September, Gladden revealed the company raised its travel spend reduction target to more than 50 percent.

Senior Support, Employee Engagement

Ihenacho’s part in achieving the harsh targets established by ZBB was about behavior modification.

“You can do what you can with procurement,” he said. “When you put policies in place, coming from a business culture where travel wasn’t mandated, it’s incumbent on people to want to do the right thing. To have people do the right thing you have to give them the tools.”

Compliance to preferred booking channels and adoption of self-booking were not really a problem, but Ihenacho two years ago determined the company’s travelers needed to better understand and follow policy, consider alternatives to travel and plan further in advance.

With the backing of the ZBB program, Mondelēz presented its challenge to global travel management company BCD Travel. BCD’s Advito consulting unit came up with a “fun way” to effect change, said Ihenacho, and Mondelēz became one of the first clients of Advito’s traveler engagement practice.

Advito and Mondelēz worked to fix the travel department’s communication program, which they described in a case study as “piecemeal” and reactive. It was not well-coordinated across intranet postings, email, internal social media and printed communications. They embarked on a policy awareness campaign including workshops, created a brand identity to be used in all travel department missives and refreshed the intranet pages with an eye to brevity and ease-of-use.

These “conversationally written instructions for staying in policy,” as the case study put it, were “more visual, more inclusive, more communicative,” said Ihenacho.

“Have some banter,” he recommended. “Try to get those boring messages on policies out in a more palatable way.”

He said the new collateral grabbed the employees’ attention, as did new en-route messages.

“We got information to them when they needed it,” said Ihenacho, referencing use of the Concur Messaging tools to text people “at the point of need, specific to what they’re doing and where they work. For the most part they adhere to what is requested of them.”

Examples include landing at an airport and receiving a message with the hotel’s address and a note that the rate should include WiFi and breakfast. Another mentions where to find the shuttle, rather than taking a taxi. A third reminds employees of the meal allowance for that location.

The Concur system — formerly conTgo, also designed for risk management — is fed by booking data from BCD Travel. “There are algorithms that say, ‘If this person is in this place and they haven’t received this message, then send them this message,’ ” said Ihenacho. “It even tells you the tipping protocol for particular locations, and there’s a keyword aspect where you can text ‘office’ and the city, and it gives you back a list of our offices in that city.”

Better awareness, as well as a pre-trip approval system, helped cut by almost 45 percent the number of flights purchased less than 14 days before travel.

In general, Ihenacho said, savings have come from “more focus and seniority overview. Better reporting, from a company called Pi, really gave us the visibility in what we’re doing. We can combine booked travel and expense data, and provide reports. We actively question people. It’s never been so visible.”

Deerfield, Ill.-based Mondelēz has more than 100,000 employees and manages travel in more than 80 countries. Annual global travel spending now is at about $130 million. Its next projects include a rollout of Concur Expense and a new initiative in meetings.

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United Trying To One-Up Delta On Performance Guarantees

[UPDATE, Jan. 19, 2017: United for this year added baggage handling and carbon emissions to its performance guarantee for corporate clients. Delta also now includes baggage handling in its service commitment but United said its environmental component is an industry first. If United’s 2017 carbon emissions per available seat mile isn’t lower than both American’s and Delta’s, it will pay corporate accounts based on their individual United carbon footprints. United is using data reported by each airline’s Carbon Disclosure Project response or CSR report. For 2015, United said its carbon dioxide equivalent per million ASMs was 152.8, American’s was 156.4 and Delta’s was 161.3. Meanwhile, Delta today said its on-time performance metric for the operational guarantee now is based on A0 (meaning the flight landed exactly on time or early) rather than A14 (arriving within 15 minutes of the scheduled time). United’s program has used A0 since it launched.]

United Airlines is following Delta’s lead in backing operational performance with compensation for some corporate accounts. Like Delta, United is measuring on-time performance and completion factor. It committed to paying up when operations lag both of its two primary rivals. Unlike Delta, United is including regional operations, international flights and all delays and cancellations regardless of cause.

Delta’s been winning accolades in the past few years, even drawing recent praise from an arch rival. It introduced its performance guarantee from a position of strength, at or near the top of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s operational rankings.

Image: United Airlines

Image: United Airlines

But big rivals aren’t standing still. With a smooth US Airways reservations system migration behind it, AA will start rolling out new initiatives. And United’s been busy this year. During 2015 it started an employee engagement program to help achieve service standards, created custom emissions reports and carbon offset options for corporate customers, worked with Visa to send ancillary spending data, began implementing new automation to handle disruptions and worked up an “uncheck-in” function on its website to help agencies do the same.

Now United seems encouraged enough by improving operational metrics to guarantee them.

United senior vice president of worldwide sales Dave Hilfman said the airline watched with interest this summer as Delta brought its program to the market. “If we were going to do something in a similar vein, we wanted to do something that is better and expand upon it,” he said. “We don’t just have domestic mainline customers. We have customers all around the world.”

The airline’s Global Performance Commitment is applicable to corporate accounts that have marketshare deals in place including U.S. points of sale that are valid “for all of 2016.” As with Delta’s program, the account also must achieve aggregate 95 percent compliance to its contracts during 2016. Compensation would come in the form of United Service Funds, which can be cashed in for things like fee waivers and upgrades to the carrier’s premium-economy product.

Besides measuring performance across global networks rather than domestic mainline only, United’s commitment differs from Delta’s in a few ways. On-time performance measurements use the A:00 rate, meaning flights arriving exactly on time or early. Delta uses A:14 (on-time performance based on arrivals within 15 minutes of schedule), which is what the U.S. Department of Transportation reports.

“We need to differentiate and hold ourselves to a higher standard,” Hilfman said. “We decided to use the tougher metric because it is the right one. It is what we put in the schedule.”

Flight delays of every sort are part of the mix, including those “outside of the airline’s control, such as weather or air traffic control reasons,” according to United. Same for completion factor.

“We mean exactly on time, not ‘up to 14 minutes late,’ ” according United materials. “A canceled flight is a canceled flight, regardless of the cause.” Delta’s performance guarantee does not factor in disruptions from weather, air traffic control and security delays.

United and AA both have a hub in Chicago, which hardly has airline-friendly weather. But United’s huge operation in Newark is more exposed to bad weather and ATC delays than Delta’s primary hub in Atlanta.

Including ATC and weather delays “is pretty bold,” according to Kelly Christner of Strategic Sourcing Travel Consultants.

Like Delta, United will pay accounts if doesn’t meet “at least one” of its goals. In other words, to avoid forking over compensation, all it must do is beat American or Delta on on-time performance or completion rate.

Unlike Delta’s, United’s formula for compensation is the same for all valid corporate accounts. There’s a sliding scale based on the delays and cancellations that eligible travelers endure during 2016. If that number is 500 or less, the account receives $1,000 in Service Funds. If it’s over 35,000, compensation is $250,000. Obviously the bigger the account, the more travelers are affected by disruptions. Delta uses algorithms that also account for a client’s volume.

Another difference is the data source. While Delta is using published DOT data, United will rely on an unidentified “independent third-party vendor” because DOT reports A:14 rather than A:00.

This year through October 31, United said it canceled 35,730 flights, down by almost half from 2014. Its A:00 arrival rate improved about 11 percentage points to 58.2 percent. The airline will track delayed and canceled flights via each account’s ticket designator code and/or tour code. Any Service Funds owed to accounts will be credited during the first quarter of 2017 and be valid for two years.

“We think it’s highly unlikely we’ll have to pay,” Hilfman said. Delta said the same when it announced its program.

Asked about measuring United’s performance specifically on routes that individual accounts fly, Hilfman said the sheer number of corporate contracts makes that pretty difficult to manage.

What about extending the performance commitment past next year? Hilfman said United wants to “do a great job in 2016 and see how things go” before determining whether to maintain the program beyond that.

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GBTA Study: Business Travelers Less Satisfied With Online Booking Tools Than Supplier Sites

New research by the Global Business Travel Association, sponsored by Concur, affirms that business travelers think online booking tools are merely satisfactory. Nevertheless, few surveyed travel managers said their employers are ready to allow for alternative booking options.

Among 710 American, Australian and British business travelers working for companies with managed travel programs, 85 percent were satisfied when booking directly with airlines and hotels. The figure drops to about 75 percent for those using online booking tools. Fifty-four percent of 135 U.S. business travelers who had made a direct booking during the past year said they were “very satisfied” with that option. Thirty-six percent of the 227 U.S. business travelers who used an OBT said the same.

Moreover, among 107 U.S.-based business travelers who during the prior year had used OBTs and direct supplier sites, 25 percent said they prefer direct always, 37 percent said they do “in many cases” and 22 percent said “in some cases.” Seven percent said they never prefer direct and another 7 percent said they rarely do.

online-booking“This presents a clear opportunity to improve the OBT offered to travelers by understanding what they like about booking direct,” GBTA advised. “Exploring the traveler’s preferences when booking direct and then integrating as much as possible from their experience into booking through an OBT can increase the level of satisfaction and even compliance with the corporate tool.”

Most surveyed business travelers were confident that OBTs offer policy compliance, easy payment and the right hotels or flights for their needs (see table below). But fewer were satisfied with the technology’s speed, details on travel options and overall design.

GBTA also polled travel managers on the topic. Among more than 200 surveyed in the United States, about three-quarters said they were satisfied with online booking tools. More than half were satisfied with the speed of the technology, but less than half were satisfied with customer support, data reports and rail content. Most respondents (79 percent) deemed car rental content satisfactory, while 70 percent said the same of airline content and 62 percent agreed on hotel content.

The researchers asked travel managers whether their companies would alter policies to more often allow off-channel booking.

Two-thirds of U.S.-based travel managers said their organizations do not ever allow travelers to book through supplier channels or online travel agencies. This was true at 81 percent of companies that annually spend more than $50 million on travel. Among those spending less than $10 million, 59 percent don’t make such allowances. Among in-between spenders, the figure was 63 percent. When companies allow booking through alternative channels, they generally do so rarely or “in some cases,” the study found.

On the other hand, just one-quarter of U.S.-based business travelers said their companies never allow the use of hotel websites, and one-third said the same of airline sites. GBTA attributed the disparity between the traveler and manager results to possible differences in the survey samples or a lack of travel policy awareness among employees.

Of those U.S. companies that allowed direct booking at least in rare cases, 28 percent of respondents indicated their company would be more likely to allow it five years from now, while 34 percent thought it would be about as likely to allow it and 38 percent less likely.

Table: Percentage Of Business Travelers Satisfied With Selected Aspects of Online Booking Tools

Confidence that bookings comply w/travel policy90%
Ease of payment process89%
Finding flights and hotels that meet needs79%
Clear description of reservation Ts & Cs78%
Ease of booking78%
Finding right price75%
Seat/room selection72%
Ease of using reward points72%
Design/layout of tool71%
Time needed to book vs. other methods69%
Ability to learn about/compare options68%
Source: Global Business Travel Association Sept., 2105 survey of 226 U.S. business travelers

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Orbitz For Business Clients (Sans IBM) Will Move To Egencia’s Platform

Following Expedia’s acquisition of Orbitz Worldwide, leaders of Egencia and Orbitz for Business have been meeting for about six weeks. On Nov. 16, they informed Orbitz for Business clients they would migrate “in waves” next year to Egencia’s booking systems and other technology.

This won’t include IBM, which was one of the biggest Orbitz for Business clients although it used only the company’s self-booking interface, not its fulfillment operation. IBM has decided it would move to Concur Travel, complementing its use of Concur’s expense system.

Image: Thinkstock

Image: Thinkstock

Losing the only client for the Orbitz for Business standalone booking tool doesn’t mean Egencia will get out of that business, noted a company spokesperson. After all, it owns France-based travel booking and expense software provider Traveldoo.

“There are no decisions for sure in the near future in terms of moving away or changing that strategy,” said the press official. “This is a natural time to consider these things. We will support IBM through Nov. 2016 as they transition to Concur.”

The official said Orbitz for Business customers were “excited” about Egencia’s pre-trip approval system, native mobile app, new hotel booking interface and reporting solutions.

Egencia is still evaluating how it will proceed with regard to human resources. Orbitz for Business uses a blend of dedicated agents and a call center run by Serco. Egencia has dedicated agents and uses call center providers Teleperformance and Working Solutions.

The world’s largest corporate travel account according to Business Travel News, IBM is a client of American Express Global Business Travel. That TMC obviously has a lot of clients who use Concur for travel bookings, as it does internally.

IBM has used the Orbitz For Business booking tool since agreeing last year to deploy it in 90 countries as part of a deal that was set to run through 2020. Orbitz announced the agreement in May 2014. That was the same month Concur and IBM announced the strategic expense management partnership which heralded the end of the IBM GERS expense system.

Some former IBM expense customers, including Lockheed Martin, moved to Concur while others, including Anthem, picked different vendors.

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Travel Risk Management Firms Explore Single Sign-On Access

Passwords are annoying. Resetting one in the midst of a crisis is particularly frustrating. But that’s exactly what many corporate managers need to do before finding out if any of their employees are impacted.

IJet International on Jan. 1 will offer single sign-on to its systems using credentials that clients store themselves. Part of the travel risk management provider’s technology overhaul, it means users will be authenticated by their corporate systems rather than each iJet application. Users logged into their corporate applications need not log in again when accessing an iJet application.

“All products will be on the same federated security infrastructure, so customers have the option of having their users’ credentials stay with them,” said iJet CTO Nuno Pereira last month at the firm’s headquarters in Annapolis, Md.

Not needing to manage multiple IDs is a convenience that other TRM firms also have enabled or are considering, but they said organizations should be mindful of some practical matters and security issues.

At International SOS, many clients during and immediately following the Paris attacks last month were unable to access the TRM firm’s systems without requesting help. International SOS executive vice president Tim Daniel said the company is considering client-issued SSO credentials.

“Part of the challenge we face is the wide range of login criteria that clients’ security policies dictate for third-party systems,” Daniel explained. “We aim to comply with the most stringent requirements but at the same time support flexibility. Even with SSO there are varying approaches.”

Anvil Group draws distinctions. The U.K.-based TRM firm has SSO options for certain clients, allowing travelers to access authorization tools and country risk info services.

SSO access for traveler tracking and incident management tools, though, “needs careful consideration,” said Anvil Group managing director Matthew Judge. Protecting critical data in those systems means relying on an organization’s own identity governance controls. And since access to those systems should be restricted to certain authorized users “you have to question if SSO is necessary.” He said forgotten passwords were a more common issue for users of earlier generations of Anvil services, but the company has since developed a means for users to quickly and securely reset passwords.

Judge also pointed out that HR, travel and security managers working remotely, perhaps during an emergency, may be restricted when using SSO because they first must authenticate themselves on their corporate networks. “So you have to provide for several ways for a client to access the tools anyway,” he said.

Anvil developed its own authentication service using tokens. Judge said the firm also is working toward using  SAML (Security Assertion Markup Language) and OAuth.

Canada-based TRM firm e-Travel Technologies can accommodate user requests for SSO access to dashboards that display info from tracking tools, said president Don Churchill. Other users rarely forget their eTT passwords, he added. If they do, they must call. And when they do that, “there’s a dialogue that occurs,” Churchill explained. “Who are you? How do I know you are still employed there?”

A new entrant in the space, Travel Recon has considered SSO for the enterprise tools it’s building, including a tracking system. CEO Toby Houchens said the idea is to integrate within a company’s own tech platform if they want to. Others may prefer the “out-of-the-box platform-as-a-service model” through which Travel Recon handles the “heavy lifting” of data storage and transmission. That approach may mean less opportunity to customize the features and functionality.

“We’d advise them on the pros and cons of an SSO solution,” Houchens said. “I have found that most companies want that integration.” Currently in beta testing, Travel Recon’s suite of products ranges from a free mobile app for individuals to more comprehensive solutions for organizations.

TRM expert Charles Brossman said the most effective SSO methods “involve a multi-step authentication process (i.e., password, plus SMS text access codes).” At the network level, such validation can establish “a secure handshake” to third-party systems. He noted that network user-based SSO manages not only the authentication, but also which access levels to different applications or databases users should have.

Without SSO, Brossman continued, organizations must support multiple user credentials, some of which don’t require multi-step authentication. That can make it more complex for users and more costly for organizations to maintain. He noted Oracle’s SSO ROI Calculator, which finds that without SSO and automated password resets, reset calls can cost upwards of $140 or more to an organization.

Next Steps For iJet Tech

Executives at iJet said an upgraded central database came online last month. More tech investments are planned for the coming year, including work on mobile and tablet apps.

“Technology used to be a cost of doing business,” said Pereira, who also runs the iJet Labs research and development group. “Now it’s a strategic asset.”

For 2016, iJet is developing a unified messaging capability. Most systems enable users to send an SMS text, voice message, email or notification, but they usually go through a single communications vendor. In the future, iJet’s system will send messages “through the most effective medium and vendor until it reaches the employee,” according to officials. They said it’s an important function because messaging capabilities and reliability vary by vendor and location, and change as crises unfold. Wi-Fi can be the most reliable because first responders often bring access points with them to emergency scenes.

IJet also is building another version of its Worldcue Global Command Center platform to provide easy access to the most used tools, which is especially important during an emergency. For the pre-existing Worldcue GCC system, “90 percent of logins use 10 percent of the functionality,” Pereira said. “Our next-generation products focus on this 10 percent.”

Called Worldcue Companion, the new version is planned for a January release. It will map traveler itineraries and risk alerts. Later next year it also will indicate where travelers are as they check in and display client facilities.

International SOS, too, is augmenting its tracking system to bring together in a single display itinerary data and physical evidence of travelers’ whereabouts based on check-ins. The company also is working with “a well-known parsing partner” to collect travel booking data from non-designated channels, according to Daniel.

It’s also experimenting with new messaging functions that would automatically prompt travelers to check in based on where their itinerary says they should be (perhaps for high-risk destinations only). A next step, planned for the summer, would use an incident as a trigger to immediately contact employees in an affected area.

“Something like Paris happens and the manager doesn’t even need to proactively send a message,” said group product director Gwendoline Pichon de Vendeuil. “It can be automated if they wish.”

The same goes for e-Travel Technologies users, whether they are TMCs or organizations that purchase the services via their TMCs. “We married the alerts process in real time to triggering the tracking process and procedures that either TMCs and/or corporate travel management want,” Churchill said.

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Altour Continues Push Into Managed Accounts With A&I, Top Flight Acquisitions

New York-based Altour International continues to acquire its way into managed corporate travel. It bought a controlling stake in 62-year-old A&I Travel Management in Memphis. Altour expects to announce another U.S.-based deal next week. The company also bought the United Kingdom’s Top Flight Travel Management.

Adding to its existing U.K. holdings, the Top Flight deal will bring Altour’s sales there to more than £100 million. The company sells more than $2 billion in travel globally per year.

Altour owns operations in France and Japan, and in September announced it joined the Radius Travel network. It remains the largest member of the American Express Representative Network.

The moves are part of Altour’s effort to attract more thoroughly managed corporate clients, if not also larger ones.

“Over the last two years we were selling mostly into the $1 million to $5 million market,” said COO Barry Noskeau in a September interview. “The Altour name simply wasn’t known in the corporate marketplace. We had great recognition in the supplier market. We were the only agency with an amenity hotel program, which led to the Amex partnership. So we were doing very well with suppliers, and well internally. But it was hard to make an impression beyond accounts in that range. We feel like we have grown to the point where we’re going to the next step, selling into much larger pieces of business.”

The company has been adding technology related to data consolidation and consulting services. But Altour execs believe a renewed appreciation of service over price will help it win business.

Altour chief marketing officer Suzanne Aaronson

Altour chief marketing officer Suzanne Aaronson

“There’s been a swing in our space in what is seen as high-touch service,” said chief marketing officer Suzanne Aaronson. “We’re not a machine. We’re a large company. Our technology is up to speed. But the dynamic of the company is that old-fashioned, we-take-your-hand approach. It’s not acceptable to us to do anything else. There are times when it’s been harder to get that message across. People have been sensitive to price. We feel like people have come to appreciate service.”

It’s that orientation which makes the new acquisitions a good fit, executives said.

A&I Travel president Rebecca Martin said the TMC joined the Altour fold largely because of company culture. “We were amazed at the similarities between our two organizations: an entrepreneurial spirit, a flat organizational structure, an exceptional focus on customization and service,” she said.

Existing leadership at A&I and Top Flight are staying on. “There’s a time and place to acquire a company and let the founders go,” said Aaronson. “What we’re finding is that typically it’s good to keep the people on board.”

Meanwhile, joining Radius provided Altour more global coverage through the network’s partners. It also improved global travel data collection and cleansing capabilities. For Radius, the timing was right in light of the 2014 Direct Travel acquisitions of former Radius members Best Travel and Peak Travel, according to Radius CEO Shannon Hyland.

Altour’s Noskeau said the consensus among industry consultants was that Radius was “far ahead of everyone else in terms of quality of data.”

Altour also offers clients data management services from Cornerstone Information Systems, Grasp Technologies and Prime Numbers Technology. It provides a travel diagnostic tool to help clients examine their programs in a consultative fashion.

Altour’s booking tool partners include Concur, GetThere, KDS and nuTravel. Even for many midmarket clients, Noskeau said online adoption is in the 70 percent to 80 percent range.

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