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[UPDATE: Sept. 27, 2016: Standards company BSI announced it published the code of practice commissioned by International SOS. Publicly Available Specification 3001:2016 can be purchased here.]
[UPDATE, April 8, 2016: We published new information related to this article here.]
International SOS commissioned the British Standards Institution to develop a duty of care “code of practice.” Though the approach and scope differ, the basic intention is similar to that of the Travel Risk Management Maturity Model (TRM3) originated by iJet International — to guide organizations in preparing and protecting travelers.
A BSI steering committee will convene in a few weeks. That group will include representatives from risk organizations, medical and security services, government and academia. The code of practice document is scheduled for public consultation in March.
According to International SOS officials, organizations want “a formalized way” to enhance their duty of care. The document will impart best practices for travel risk assessment, policies and procedures. It will spell out recommended methods of training, tracking and communicating with travelers. It also will suggest “accountability procedures.” The code is designed for any organization that sends people to other countries. That includes employees, their families, volunteers and contractors.
Shelby LeMaire is corporate travel manager for iRobot. She presented on travel risk management last summer at the Global Business Travel Association conference and sees TRM3 as a good starting point. “But from a corporate perspective, while we have this outline, now we have to author a policy,” LeMaire said. “It takes more than just looking at a white paper.”
That means accounting for corporate culture and risk tolerance; addressing myriad details including local laws around the globe, insurance programs and medical payments; and paying attention to domestic travelers and even non-traveling employees.
“The difference,” LeMaire said, “is BSI’s backing and track record. The organization is recognized around the world for the ISO 9001 quality management standard. If BSI can in fact develop a team of travel risk experts from throughout the industry coupled with stakeholders from the corporate sector the possibility is real that a meaningful ‘standard’ could be developed. The associated prestige of a BSI standard will not only serve as a benchmark but as an incentive for program excellence.”
Dueling DOC Docs?
There is a commercial incentive for iJet and International SOS to stand behind recognized industry touchstones. Both firms and others familiar with travel risk management say the more resources the better. IJet founder Bruce McIndoe described the current version of TRM3 and the proposed BSI code of practice as “100 percent complementary.” He said a new version of TRM3 expected within a few months, though, will “overlap a little bit.”
The existing TRM3 is a well-known benchmarking tool. GBTA’s risk management committee adopted it in 2007. It provides self-assessment across 10 “key process areas,” benchmarking against peers and a framework for continuous improvement.
Now GBTA controls it. IJet still sponsors but is one voice of many working on it. An association official said the update would be ready later this quarter or early next. It’s spearheaded by the GBTA Foundation Risk Task Force, which is separate from GBTA’s Risk Committee (though with some of the same members).
GBTA declined to comment on the new BSI code.
McIndoe pointed out a distinction based on the International SOS announcement. The TRM3 framework “says you need a policy and a process for updating it,” he explained. “What that policy contains is not within the framework. International SOS will actually develop artifacts — sample policies, guidelines and best practices.”
McIndoe said the new TRM3 version will be more sophisticated than the original. Many more questions will determine KPA scores. It will cover some of the same ground — on a macro level — that the BSI code will address. “Instead of just saying the score is X, here are 10 best practice guidelines,” McIndoe said. “If you answer no to this question, this is what you should be doing.”
International SOS EVP Tim Daniel offered a different take. He said the BSI code would be global in scope and cross-functional, whereas work from GBTA tends to focus more on the United States and specifically addresses travel managers.
McIndoe balked at that, at least as it relates to TRM3. He ran through the 10 KPAs, and said none are U.S.-centric and none specify travel. The same KPAs also are used for meetings, events and facilities. Regarding the ‘T’ in TRM3, McIndoe said the maturity model is applied to travel risk across various functions — legal, HR, travel, safety, security, business continuity, etc.
Neither TRM3 nor the BSI initiative really is a “standard.” McIndoe contrasted them with ISO 27000 and ISO 9001. “Those hold significant weight,” he said. “They are cross-industry, committee-driven standards that have a certification process.”
The formal name for what International SOS is calling a first-of-its kind document is Publicly Available Specification (PAS) 3001:2016. BSI explains that PASs always result from an external sponsor funding “a resource-intensive process.” That allows for quick development “to satisfy an immediate business need.”
International SOS execs said they hope the BSI code of practice they’re underwriting will become “widely recognized and a candidate to become an ISO standard.”
International SOS also participates on GBTA’s risk committee. It is “involved in a number of local or industry-specific initiatives related to the health and safety of a mobile workforce,” according to Europe regional managing director Laurent Fourier.
HospitalityLawyer.com’s Stephen Barth, a professor and host of the Global Congress on Travel Risk Management, applauds International SOS and BSI’s plans — especially bringing together thought leaders. He also supports the TRM3 model. “I’m a big fan of options,” he said. “Competition drives this type of innovation.”
For any new or renewed resource, Barth advocates a scope that goes well beyond travel management. “Ultimately we all need to focus on converging all the functional areas that play a role in worker safety and data security, and looking at this holistically,” he said. “This concept is evolving right before our eyes.”
‘Hard To Regulate’
The legalities of employer liability for a business traveler’s death or injury are complex. The when, where and why of travel can matter.
Travel risk expert Charles Brossman is a proponent of TRM3. He’s hopeful that as the model gains wider adoption, it will help leverage reduced premiums with insurers. He also sees its potential “as part of any defense proceedings when necessary to show [an organization’s] efforts to prevent and prepare for critical incidents or situations.” Within a proactive rather reactive approach, he said the goal should be demonstrable improvements over time for “reasonable best efforts.”
Donald Dowling is an attorney focused on international employment law as a partner at K&L Gates. He said a “standard” might sound like a good way to take precautions, but adopting one likely wouldn’t absolve employers of liability.
“As a practical matter in the real world, in many situations with a standard, if a person gets maimed or killed, his lawyer will scour the standard and say the employer failed to meet the standard,” Dowling explained. “The employer, on the other hand, will scour the same document and say it did meet the standard. It’s quite likely you’ll get a dispute over whether the employer met the standard.”
Within the U.S. jurisdiction, according to Dowling, the Worker’s Compensation system often applies. U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration regulations usually don’t. OSHA “tends to be quiet or almost silent on duty of care in a business travel context,” he said. “My opinion is business travel safety is hard to regulate to any degree of specificity. Business travel is inherently unpredictable because every trip is different.”
And every company is different.
Toby Houchens is the founder of emerging travel risk services provider Travel Recon. He views a new duty of care document as a positive development and said adhering to common practices can help limit liability.
But Houchens said it is hard to define DOC standards given the variation in company resources, structure and risk exposure. As such, “it’s probably not advantageous for companies to answer to a governing body or feel compelled to adhere to universal standards.”
Knowing where you stand, though, is a good idea. McIndoe said managers don’t like hearing about how their companies lag peers. “The maturity model gives that unbiased evaluation,” he said. “TRM3 is more focused on standard of care. Duty of care is a by-product.”
Additional info: The Association of Corporate Travel Executives and American Express Global Business Travel in August polled 350 ACTE buyer members. Twenty-three percent identified duty of care as the biggest driver of travel policy change during the past few years. Fifty-five percent said they educate travelers about employer duty-of-care obligations, and 21 percent said they ensure travelers understand their rights and responsibilities.
The U.S. federal government’s program operates under the Federal Travel Regulations. Until last summer it didn’t address duty of care. In July the U.S. General Services Administration agreed with industry recommendations that it do so. GSA said it will “identify where [federal] agencies must have minimum standards of duty of care.”
Disclosure: The Company Dime strives for impartiality in all its work. The reader should know that as it relates to industry associations, The Company Dime has a significant partnership with Institute for Supply Management.
Bridgewater State University institutional travel coordinator Greg DeMelo is on a mission. Having established a cost-saving, insourced travel management program at his school using ARC’s Corporate Travel Department designation, he wants to get all eight other Massachusetts state public universities on board. He’s got a foothold in one. Seemingly like everything in higher ed change management, though, patience is paramount.
Of all the jobs in business travel, being a university travel manager may be the toughest. Many in the traveling population — particularly faculty — just don’t listen. Professors are empowered by tenure, researchers control their outside-funded projects and study-abroad managers think they know travel as well as you do.
For Terri Gill, travel and expense manager at the University of Wisconsin System, it took a state budget crisis for her savings and service ideas to gain recognition. She had been trumpeting them for more than a decade prior. Rewritten state statutes empowered the university system to create strong travel policies. “They wrote a two-sentence change that gave the university system authority,” said Gill. That was the beginning.
The inevitable cross-departmental committee has been meeting every other week since 2012. Wisconsin a year ago mandated that all university-sponsored airline tickets be booked through Concur and Fox World Travel. Misperceptions about higher management costs meant the system had to pay its booking fees centrally, lest travelers feel they have a case for booking outside the program. “People don’t like change when they’ve been allowed to do whatever they want,” said Gill.
Nancy Sutherland is aircraft operations and travel program director for the University of Texas System. She’s been there 16 years. “The issue of academic demands makes higher education different from the corporate world,” she said. Sutherland said she is fortunate that the University of Texas System approaches things with a business mindset, but nevertheless any initiative requires care. A recent push to require all bookings be made through preferred agencies, for example, in the end was softened to allow exceptions. For risk management purposes, international travelers booking off-channel are expected to enter their itinerary details into a database. Not ideal.
The Wisconsin system has 39,000 employees and about 181,000 students. Texas has nearly 20,000 faculty and more than 200,000 students.
Back in Massachusetts, Bridgewater State has 1,000 staff and 11,500 students. The smaller scale seems to make things a little easier. DeMelo secured 15 percent savings shortly after implementing insourced travel management four years ago. But DeMelo isn’t satisfied with his scope in light of the benefits he thinks travel management can drive. He’s eyeing savings for the roughly 8,000 staff and 72,000 students systemwide.
Another school in the system, Westfield State University, now pays an annual fee to DeMelo’s department for use of a seat in its Travelport contract. So far only Westfield’s international student travel office takes advantage, but the school’s new president is expected to soon consider a pitch to bring the whole university on board. At other schools, DeMelo said, travel is decentralized and some pay up to $75 as a booking fee for simple roundtrip tickets. They’re also not recouping commissions, a benefit of the CTD program.
“It’s a double-negative,” DeMelo said. “Things got easier for me once faculty understood I was part of the university and not a TMC — not a third party making decisions based on other revenue.”
BSU now has discount deals with a few international carriers. Perhaps those can be expanded to the partner institutions, like the consortia buying programs other schools have.
“It’s such an untapped opportunity,” he said, proceeding to understatement: “But there’s a lot of buy-in required.”
Insourcing isn’t the only approach, of course. A university CFO might even argue that outsourcing helps offload a lot of challenges. Still, academia poses many of the same difficulties for travel management companies.
Christopherson Business Travel has won about 10 university accounts during the past two years. President Mike Cameron agreed with one competitor’s assessment that when a TMC wins a school, it’s akin to a hunting license.
“They have soft mandates,” he said. “Tenured professors are the center of the universe. Grant and research travel, which drives a lot of the money, is also at the center of the universe.
“Then there’s athletics and coaches — do you think they think they’re the center of the universe?” Cameron joked. “It’s an art and a science to create high adoption. So you have to figure out all kinds of ways to motivate them. You need a specialized service configuration, a dedicated university team, athletic team, group travel team. It helps to have specialized account managers. Then there are concerns like the Fly America Act, grant fund tracking requirements, NCAA rules. Research travel has unique needs, there are team travel benefits with airlines (lots of equipment). We haven’t tackled student travel — that’s a whole other arena.”
Safe Harbors Business Travel president and CEO Jay Ellenby summed it up: “With universities, there’s no doubt — it’s a lot of face time.”
Executive Travel sometimes declines to bid on schools. Gant Travel in Wisconsin runs like the wind from university business. “I do not want to participate in higher ed,” said president Patrick Linnihan. “The ROI is questionable. If you say, ‘I sort of want this managed,’ or, ‘The professors rule,’ it’s difficult. It’s a huge contrast from the steely eyed entrepreneur.”
World Travel Service has been involved with higher ed for three decades. It added three schools last year, including Vanderbilt University, which fired its previous TMC due to “faculty and staff concerns.” In general among institutions of higher learning, World Travel Service president Lamar Shuler said things do appear to be changing, if slowly.
“We’re seeing a more focused effort by institutions that are realizing there are opportunities for cost savings,” he said. “A lot of those programs require students to travel, and that brings on a lot of responsibility and the potential for liability. State government finances are tight.”
Flight Centre has identified opportunity in this market. Last summer the travel giant opened Campus Travel USA.
“Rather than looking at a university as a $20 million opportunity,” said Campus Travel USA general manager Cameron McLeod, “we look at it as more like 10 $2 million opportunities, and servicing it with very boutique expert service, and boots on the ground all the time. You’re educating educators. But if in higher ed they hear you know they’re different, then collaboratively you have a shared focus.”
[UPDATE, Feb. 4: Sabre announced that AA’s Preferred and Main Cabin Extra Seat now are available in the Sabre global distribution system. A Sabre official said a “phased rollout” will wrap up in mid-February.]
Sabre at U.S. points of sale on Feb. 2 will start facilitating American Airlines’ paid seats, according to a Sabre memo to agency subscribers. Those seats are the favorable economy-class ones the airline calls Preferred and Main Cabin Extra. It’s made possible by AA’s XML-based API, built by Farelogix.
Lack of access to optional airline services is a headache for corporate travel professionals. For paid seats, though, there has been progress. Ready for its first such GDS implementation, American is playing catch-up. Delta made Comfort Plus a distinct fare type, accessible at all points of sale. It also lets travel agents book for certain ticketed customers complementary aisle, window or exit row seats. United Airlines’ Economy Plus is available through Sabre, Travelport and Amadeus agent desktops.
Corporate booking tools, though, are another story.
AA first divulged plans for paid seats through Sabre in October during an ARC conference. According to published reports, initial implementation was to start in November. The airline in 2013 announced similar plans with both Amadeus and Travelport, but hasn’t implemented.
Travelport has been working with AA “for a while to get seats in place and we’re on track to get that in 2016, hopefully as early as possible,” said Travelport SVP and air commerce managing director Derek Sharp.
Speaking along with Sharp at an investor meeting last month, Travelport merchandizing product director Steven Ratcliffe noted that AA’s paid seats would be available in Travelport in the same way Delta’s already are.
Sharp said airlines pay Travelport a small transaction fee to process a paid seat or handle a bag fee.
At Sabre, a spokesperson said enabling AA’s paid seats “is targeted as a global phased rollout,” but provided no additional information.
According to the Sabre memo, fulfillment of AA’s paid seats will use the associated Electronic Miscellaneous Document (EMD-A). It’s not clear exactly how AA will apply EMDs for paid seats. An AA official wouldn’t comment.
EMDs are designed for optional services. They can be used internally by airlines for direct settlement or externally in the distribution chain. When used externally, they flow through the Airlines Reporting Corporation’s normal agency data reporting and are sent to credit card companies just like e-tickets.
According to ARC information, “More carriers are allowing agents to issue EMDs through their GDS for services such as preferred seating and baggage, but not all carriers support agency-issuance of EMDs.”
United, for example, doesn’t issue EMDs for Economy Plus bookings through Travelport. Instead, according to its fact sheet, “upon receipt of payment, United will create an Electronic Data Document (EDOC) to store the payment information. The EDOC number will be returned from United and serve as the receipt of payment for the Economy Plus seat.”
Considering trends like open booking and self-service, it may be surprising that nearly half of U.S. midmarket firms expect their reliance on travel management companies to grow during the next five years.
That was another finding of the Global Business Travel Association’s September survey of more than 200 U.S. travel managers, also covered here and here. Seventy-three of the respondents hailed from the midmarket category of companies spending no more than $10 million annually on travel. Among 67 respondents in the $10 million to $50 million range, one-third expected reliance on TMCs to grow; among the 62 above $50 million, it was one in five.
Continued validation from the middle market is huge, especially for non-global TMCs. Despite significant M&A activity, there are still plenty of those out there. But don’t think the larger competitors are not eyeing this market as well.
Unsurprisingly, the GBTA poll result has TMC execs high-fiving each other. Should they be? Is it a mirage? “People have been sticking forks in our industry for a long time,” said Tower Travel Management president and CEO John Smith. So why would midmarket companies expect to need TMCs more? We checked in with 11 TMCs to find out.
The travel industry is always changing. Companies with hundreds or a few thousand employees don’t have the resources to stay on top of things. Travel management becomes infinitely more complex when crossing borders.
Egencia senior director for sales and account management Michael Robertson pointed out that as companies grow, open offices abroad, source internationally or simply start having meetings in multiple countries, their business takes on a more “in-person” aspect.
Gant Travel president Patrick Linnihan said small accounts opening offices in other English-speaking countries just didn’t happen so much ten years ago.
About a quarter of companies looking for their first TMC do so because of globalization, estimated Travel Incorporated senior vice president for business development Tony Peter. Midmarket companies sometimes spend as much as 20 percent of their travel budget globally, said Executive Travel president and founder Steve Glenn. “It’s about a lot more nowadays than simply aggregating data,” he said. “It’s much more complex than that, and expensive.”
Local market expertise can be invaluable to middle-market companies. In a digitally connected world, “almost every business is a global business,” according to Colin Temple, vice president and general manager for the North America middle market at American Express Global Business Travel. “Companies today are becoming more aware of the regulatory risks and global changes in compliance standards that can affect their business operations.”
Growth in multinational management is not for everybody, though. Christopherson Business Travel partners with BCD Travel to service its clients’ global needs. But that wasn’t a big component of the company’s 116 new SME implementations last year, according to president Mike Cameron.
Multinational expansion isn’t the only driver of complexity. Plenty of change, and noise, must be deciphered.
“There’s always been a ‘next big thing,’ regardless of whether it has relevance,” said Smith. “The marketplace has gotten increasingly complex. Now we’re looking through the prism of the oligopolistic airlines, and their right to pursue revenue opportunities that work for their model — ancillary fees and things. Corporations eventually are going to have to start to tackle the full cost of purchasing airfare. Same on hotel.”
Egencia’s Robertson cited the “proliferation of solutions, devices and platforms” for greater acceptance of a travel solution among SMEs.
“Every employee is being asked to do more with less,” said Ovation Corporate Travel executive vice president Michael Steiner. “So they’re looking for strong partners to accomplish their goals.”
2. Cost Control
SMEs want to save money on travel as much as large firms, but they tend to have fewer options. Among those, business loyalty programs can be challenging to maximize, so TMCs often help. They also provide discounts and rates negotiated on behalf of their wider account bases. For individual accounts, data analysis and consulting can uncover process savings.
Carlson Wagonlit Travel senior vice president of global marketing Nick Vournakis pointed out that savings are not just about rates. A recent internal study determined that SMEs are as interested as larger companies in services like price assurance and low-fare checks, the on-demand economy and unused ticket management.
3. Duty Of Care
GBTA’s researchers suspected this was an area of opportunity for TMCs. “Compared with low-spend companies, medium and high-spend companies are more likely to rely on TMCs for safety and security services at least a ‘moderate’ amount,” they wrote. “They are also more likely to rely on in-house resources and other third-party providers at the same level. This could mean larger organizations have more extensive duty of care efforts, compared to smaller ones. TMCs may be in a good position to close this gap when they have existing relationships with small and midsize firms that do not have large travel or security departments.”
You won’t find a TMC exec who disagrees. Several said SMEs tend to turn to the travel providers to leverage their risk management partnerships.
Amex’s Temple referenced a counter-trend in which so-called consumerization of travel actually drives business travelers into rather than away from the arms of TMCs. New traveler expectations have “driven TMCs to invest in technologies, including mobile, as they look for ways to improve the overall traveler experience,” according to his written comments. “Specifically, today’s travelers expect 24/7 accessibility to the travel products, solutions and services they interact with most. These travelers also rely on their TMCs to have a greater familiarity and deep understanding of their specific traveler preferences and trip details in advance, before they embark on their journey.”
Temple added that many SMEs view a travel program “as a contributor to overall employee satisfaction and talent retention,” creating more desire to hire a TMC that provides extra attention to travelers.
The GBTA research also found that medium enterprises rely on their TMCs for self-booking technology much more than larger firms, which generally source their own tools.
Worth Its Weight
According to Casto Travel president and COO Marc Casto, the importance of the SME segment gets lost amid compelling headlines about larger companies and their nine-digit travel budgets. But the legions of SMEs are “the lifeblood of the vast majority of TMCs in the marketplace,” he said.
A base of small and medium enterprises can offer TMCs a measure of predictability and insulation from industry-specific shocks. They also minimize the risk of blanket cost-cutting decisions TMCs sometimes endure with larger clients. SMEs help TMCs aggregate volume that generates supplier incentives and discounts.
It can be a challenge to find these clients. Entrepreneurs may have never heard of the concept of a business-specific travel agency. The positive perception among midsize clients that manage travel helps with marketing to those just beginning to consider it — those who, by default, were not part the GBTA survey. This helps the owners of TMCs that specialize in SMEs to resist selling their businesses. Instead, they may invest in their products and services and attract more clients. Win. Win.
But it’s not just about new wins.
The SME sector can be a gold mine of organic growth, as well. There are about 200,000 U.S. companies in it, according to The Ohio State University’s National Center for the Middle Market. Based on data from more than 1,000, about two-thirds last year reported higher year-over-year revenues. The organization’s executive director, Tom Stewart, noted that despite a general slowdown from a year earlier, fourth-quarter data to be released next week shows continued “good growth.”
According to the center, midmarket firms weathered the 2007-2010 global financial crisis best, adding more than 2 million jobs in that period. Some see them as an economy in their own right.
[UPDATE: Oct. 13, 2016: According to Business Travel News, Concur in early 2017 will include expense receipts and credit card transactions to augment traveler tracking within the Concur Messaging system.]
During a crisis, business travelers don’t always check in with their companies when requested to do so. That may result from complacency or ignorance to corporate policies. Perhaps their phones are lost or not working. Travelers might have booked outside designated channels and their employers don’t know where they are — or even where they should be. Or maybe they really are in trouble. To help close the loop, American Express Global Business Travel is putting an old idea into action: examining very recent credit card transaction data.
The concept of card swipe data as a travel risk management tool dates back a ways, at least to the aftermath of 9/11. Amex GBT in 2014 was the first to announce a formal program, and in November 2015 said the feature is part of an expanded relationship with TRM firm iJet. It’s made possible by an ongoing relationship with American Express corporate cards.
How good is the data?
Amex GBT vice president of digital traveler Evan Konwiser acknowledged that some such data points are more effective than others. A swipe at a Starbucks in the destination airport is a pretty good indication that a traveler physically arrived around a certain time. But other swipes may not include a geolocation.
Working with a different, undisclosed card issuer, International SOS also experimented with swipe info. EVP Tim Daniel in November pointed to challenges related to timeliness and nailing down merchant locations. Addresses may not be accurate.
“In the test we ran we were getting about a 70 percent successful conversion to a lat/long,” Daniel said. “It’s coming. The technology will sort itself out. The challenges will be around regulation, privacy and access. The technology will get to the point where it is enterprise-grade, so 90-plus percent. Then it’s valuable and worth doing. If it’s just 60 percent or so, then it’s just noise.”
TRM expert Charles Brossman likes the concept as a supplement to traditional traveler tracking info or the sole data source for bookings outside designated channels. But he, too, highlighted some considerations. “From the data that I have seen on programs that want to incorporate card data for traveler tracking, the only data that is timely and useful enough is pre-authorization data, as the details provided in the settlement data could introduce a data delivery latency, making the data not as useful,” he said.
Brossman said more work is needed to determine the amount, types and criteria of data captured in the swipe process.
A “handful” of clients have inquired about a card swipe data program, according to Anvil Group managing director Matthew Judge. He said the U.K.-based TRM firm on request could integrate that kind of data — perhaps to “plug holes” for organizations with neither centralized travel data nor robust travel policies. “However, the better strategy,” Judge said, “is to fix the root causes and not patch over them.”
To minimize traveler unease about perceived privacy intrusion, Brossman said, “there most definitely needs to be a careful approach to ongoing disclosure about the utilization of such a program.” There may be legal considerations, he added, depending on where cards are issued and where cardholders are located.
At Amex GBT, Konwiser said card activity would be accessible only through “emergency activation.” In those scenarios, when a traveler does not respond to requests to check-in, “the more info the better,” he said. “The idea is not to comb through millions of card swipes. The idea is we have identified through our normal channels where everyone is and is OK, but there may be one, two or three people where you are not getting the data you need and can dig into card swipe as a precaution. In the cases where that provides a difference, that means all the world.”
Networks MasterCard and Visa, and corporate card issuers Bank of America, Citi, Chase and US Bank, declined to comment. When Amex GBT first announced the feature last summer, an executive said there were no plans to work similarly with other payment systems.
On the flip side, will Amex Co. extend the functionality to card clients using another TMC and/or another TRM firm? An Amex official wouldn’t comment.
Additional info: IJet and Amex GBT have worked together in a referral deal since 2007. Now, Amex clients using the TMC’s Expert Care platform can customize their TRM program with iJet services. Expert Care enables travel and account managers to locate and message travelers. “Soon to be available in our own mobile app, you will be able to ping them to their geolocation and they can respond back to you and be recorded on a map,” Konwiser said.
The card swipe feature comes as part of Expert Care, pricing for which is based on “air/rail volume and risk tolerance,” according to an Amex GBT official.
Meanwhile, the TMC’s expanded relationship with iJet has “no implications” for its other partners. Risk intelligence firm Riskline “will continue to be offered as an option for our clients.” Amex also will continue working with Charter Solutions International “in the development and maintenance of the technical solution to visualize and communicate with travelers.”
BCD Travel is working with undisclosed partners to help clients process compensation claims when airlines fail to meet regulatory standards for service. European Commission Regulation 261/2004 calls for varying payouts on cancellations, long delays or involuntary denied boarding.
The new BCD program applies to travel to, within and (on EU carriers) from Europe. It’s available to clients there but the company also is in “pre-launch” for customers based in the United States. BCD is not the first travel agency to adopt such a service, but it seems to be one of the first that specializes in corporate travel. Officials with American Express Global Business Travel and Carlson Wagonlit Travel last month said such a program was not part of their new disruption services. Execs with several smaller U.S. TMCs said they hadn’t looked at it.
Henrik Zillmer is CEO and founder of AirHelp, a three-year-old firm that “fights for your right to compensation” both in Europe and the United States. U.S. rules require airlines to pay up for involuntary denied boarding, also called bumping.
Zillmer said air travelers generally don’t know about the regulations and don’t want to deal with the hassle of processing claims. Many disputes go to court. As a result, few make claims.
Airline representatives often obstruct such claims with paperwork and mumbo-jumbo, said industry entrepreneurs. AirHelp has sued carriers more than 4,500 times, Zillmer said.
The maximum compensation for a cancellation or long delay in Europe is 600 euros. Getting bumped in the United States can result in a payment of as much as $1,300. Amounts depend on how long it takes the airline to get the passenger to their destination.
“Airlines will do everything they can not to pay,” said FairPlane director Daniel Morris. “They’ll require a complicated online form or long wait periods. They don’t reply or they come back with an excuse that sounds very legal and you say, ‘Fair enough.’ But if you look at the law, that’s a lot of rubbish.”
AirHelp publishes carrier ratings based on responsiveness.
“You may have money hiding in your inbox and just don’t know it,” Zillmer said. Depending on the market, travelers may make claims for trips booked as many as two to six years prior. After a couple clicks for permission, AirHelp even scans the inboxes of email clients including Gmail, Outlook and Yahoo. It looks for past itineraries and matches with historical disruption data.
On an enterprise level, the equivalent allows BCD Travel or Concur (which partners with RefundMyTicket) to upload and scan past trips for opportunities. According to RefundMyTicket, corporations can estimate the euros available to them by multiplying by nine their travelers’ annual departures from European airports. Another rule of thumb is that less than 2 percent of tickets are eligible, depending on the market mix.
“We send the vendor our clients’ air data,” said BCD Travel director of emerging technologies Miriam Moscovici. “They review that and monitor it every day. They message the traveler and let them know if there’s potential for compensation. The traveler can choose to file for it on their own, but it’s a convoluted process. So the traveler can opt to have the third party take care of that claim all the way through a court appearance if necessary. It can take months.”
She declined to comment on how much BCD charges.
AirHelp, Green Claim and Refund.me charge contingency fees of 25 percent. FairPlane keeps 21 percent plus value-added tax. RefundMyTicket charges 15 percent. AirRefund charges 20 percent including VAT, plus an administrative fee of 35 euros. There are more.
Zillmer said the AirHelp fee is negotiable for enterprise accounts.
Whose Money Is That?
“When we talk to clients, the first question out of their mouths is, ‘Can I recover some of this?’ ” said Moscovici. Moreover, she said, it’s not clear whether the payout is subject to income tax. BCD advises customers to talk to their in-country attorneys. Regulations vary by market and can change.
According to the European regulations, the money is to be returned to the passenger even if his or her employer bought the ticket. It’s the individual who endured the disruption, the thinking goes.
On the other hand, the company also suffers from hurt productivity and wasted expense. Sources said companies can ask employees to sign an agreement to share all or part of any returned funds.
“I’ve seen many companies and TMCs where the corporation takes all the money,” said Zillmer. “I’ve also seen a split. There’s no general tendency to one or the other.” He said explicit written authorization has to be separate from an employment contract. Morris said FairPlane has “advised large corporations to put a clause in your contract to say that money is, at best, split.”
Green Claim CEO and co-founder Tom van Bokhoven hasn’t seen companies employ a split: “We have been asked to provide our service for companies whereby the full compensation will go the employee, but in other cases the exact opposite, so that the company wants to receive the full compensation amount.”
After three decades in operation, the Society of Government Travel Professionals last spring lost its tax-exempt nonprofit status. It had failed to file required Internal Revenue Service documents for three consecutive years. Sources said the organization’s board blames its former executive director, Rick Singer. SGTP last year fired his company, the now-defunct Edge Consulting, which had been providing executive director services for several years.
SGTP in recent years had run two main conferences, AnCon and EdCon. But in 2015, government travel professionals were left with a dearth of dedicated conferences to attend. Now, a different government-oriented membership association, the National Defense Transportation Association, is looking to fill that hole. NDTA is planning a new event called GovTravels, to be held at the end of March in the same Alexandria, Va. hotel where the SGTP events typically took place.
“We have been searching for a new executive director to again actively function in 2016 but the search has taken longer than expected,” according to SGTP president Marc Stec. Stec early last year posted to the organization’s website that it was “temporarily” delaying the AnCon event normally held in April “as we search for a new executive director.”
Stec also is vice president for strategic business initiatives in military and government markets at CWTSatoTravel. He did not reply to a followup question about the IRS action.
The IRS automatically removed SGTP’s tax-exempt status in May. Federal regulations require organizations that are exempt from taxation to file what’s called Form 990. They don’t have to be very timely. Here’s the latest from the Global Business Travel Association, for tax year 2013. That’s also the year of the latest 990 from the Association of Corporate Travel Executives.
The most recent 990 from SGTP is for tax year 2011. It shows a much larger deficit (loss) than the prior year, $154,005 versus $48,821. After holding fairly steady for a few years, the group’s revenue in 2011 fell by 28 percent to $241,862. Expenses grew to $395,867. Edge Consulting was drawing $120,000 annually for its services.
Omega World Travel’s Gloria Bohan in 1984 co-founded the group, formerly known as the Society of Travel Agents in Government. Omega won the National Defense Transportation Association’s “Distinguished Service Award” in 2009. NDTA has run conferences in conjunction with SGTP, and apparently shares some members with the languishing group.
According to NDTA’s website, the new GovTravels event will “engage all levels of experience, from policy makers and CEOs to senior travel officials and junior employees.” It will feature professional development, training and best practices.
Meanwhile, key government travel tech provider Concur continues to offer a significant amount of government travel programming at its conferences, including the marquee Fusion event coming up on March 8.
Can SGTP make a comeback?
American Society of Association Executives president and CEO John Graham said the IRS for about four years has been cracking down on exempt organizations that fail to file proper forms. He said about 300,000 of roughly 1.9 million organizations lost their exemptions. They can apply to be reinstated. Graham suspected any sort of proven negligence would help an association’s case.
Now in sales at the Lord Baltimore Hotel, Singer could not be reached for comment.
Disclosure: The Company Dime strives for impartiality in all its work. The reader should know that as it relates to industry associations, The Company Dime in 2016 had a brief partnership with Institute for Supply Management. It worked with the American Society of Travel Agents beginning in 2017.
Travelers often complain about the airplane seats they’re stuck in. Now available in the iTunes App Store, Seateroo lets them swap for more preferable seats. The idea to create a marketplace of buyers and sellers on the same flight is a nifty one backed by a traveler survey. But how would this work in corporate travel?
A statement from Seateroo founder and president Brad Pursel claimed both employers and employees benefit when they share travel savings. Travelers may be unwilling to split the proceeds when they are the ones sacrificing a degree of comfort. Perhaps the travel department can come up with a fair policy. Either way, monitoring such activity might be impossible.
Andy Menkes of Partnership Travel Consulting doesn’t see the concept flying. “If an employee takes cash for giving up a premium seat, that money should be returned to the company,” he said.
TClara managing partner Scott Gillespie guessed that such a service would “alarm and agitate most travel managers, for fear that travelers will sell their expensive seats.” But he said frequent travelers would want the option to pay their way out of a bad seat if there’s a good business reason, like to finish a sales pitch during the flight.
Companies view it many ways, according to Pursel. “Some companies have a very progressive view of corporate travel and share any cost savings that a traveler can generate, such as the programs used by Google and promoted by Rocketrip,” he wrote in an email. “So perhaps the savings captured by the seller could be shared between the company and the traveling employee.”
Others may have no gripe about harried road warriors “pocketing a little ‘free’ money,” according to Pursel. As long as employees follow company policies when initially purchasing airfares, he sees no ethical issues.
Furthermore, Pursel said he thinks companies would reimburse travelers when they buy a better seat, much as they sometimes do when paying for an upgrade. He said travel managers could promote the app as a “travel hack” that improves the experience. Pursel suggested companies could manage the app for employees. That way they can determine when seat swapping is justified.
Gillespie said policy parameters could help. If a traveler isn’t downgrading their level of service — and not creating a “clear conflict of interest with the employer” — let them keep the cash. On the flip side, companies could “reimburse employees for purchasing an upgraded seat within the same cabin, or to a better cabin, within a preset cap.”
American Express Global Business Travel business development manager Al Gilbert said it’s a matter of corporate culture. The way he sees it, if a traveler sells a favorable seat he or she had obtained through loyalty program status or points redemption, “then any sale profit is theirs.” But otherwise, proceeds from the sale of a premium seat “should be returned to the company in the form of an expense report credit” or simply disallowed.
Gilbert said the question of who should get the money from selling through Seateroo is similar to that of denied boarding compensation. He asked, “If a business traveler volunteers to be bumped from a flight in exchange for a $500 travel voucher and rebooked on a later flight, should he return that voucher to the company?”
Free To Move About The Cabin
Seateroo works like this: After a user is ticketed, he or she posts the seat with an asking price and negotiates with an interested fellow traveler, if need be. Or the user checks which seats on the flight are available for purchase and submits a bid. Electronic payment via credit card completes the transaction. The app and service are free but Seateroo takes as commission 15 percent of the sale price, which can be as low as $5.
Seateroo explained that tickets and boarding passes are not transferable and should not change hands. Instead, users board the plane with their original documents and find their swap partners on board. The company said regulations force carriers to record everyone who boards a flight but not that they sit in a particular seat. It pointed to Southwest’s unassigned seating model.
Unofficial seat swapping within the same service cabin happens all the time as passengers settle in before departure. Seateroo discourages users from swapping in and out of exit rows. It notes that some airlines don’t allow swapping between cabins. Flight attendants have discretion to disallow seat changes.
Consultant Norm Rose of Travel Tech Consulting finds the app interesting but sees some operational challenges. “Imagine trying to swap a seat during boarding from the back of the plane to the front and trying to keep your luggage with you,” he said. “Without consent from the airline, I believe the app user will eventually run into some trouble, especially as airlines start offering onboard offers to travelers based on their status/value and located via their seat.”
Officials from American, Delta and United did not comment. Airlines generally aren’t known to embrace secondary markets for their products.
Having researched airline contracts of carriage and commercial aviation regulations — and talked with flight attendants including a formal advisor — Pursel insists passengers can swap seats.
Might Seateroo take a further step of partnering with an airline? The company claims no current airline affiliations, but given the “revenue potential,” Pursel said he sees opportunity. “We felt it would be better to launch the app and prove the concept before approaching the airlines. I’m guessing they’ll stand back and take a wait-and-see approach.” He said airlines generally adopt new technology and procedures slowly, and therefore might first consider a limited trial run.
What about individuals looking to defraud the system? One commenter on FlyerTalk wrote: “OK, so I use this app, swap seats and then complain to Seateroo the seat swap didn’t happen. It’s my word against the other passenger. How on Earth do they think they will be able to settle disputes?” Similarly, a commenter to a Daily Mail article about the service wrote, “I will take your money and not move … what a stupid app.”
In both channels, a user identified as either Pursel or Seateroo explained why that wouldn’t work. “Electronic payments are held but not transferred until after the flight, so you would not profit from such rude behavior,” according to one response. “After that, your user rating and reviews would likely lead to you being blocked from the app.”
Seateroo said it would approve refunds requested within a day if a seller refused to swap, a flight attendant prevented it or the airline canceled the flight.
Additional info: Users can list their seat or bid for a different one starting at five days before departure. Users at first display only their initials. Full names and photos appear to trading partners after the two parties agree on a sale. Seateroo won’t provide refunds when travelers miss their flights. Users can cancel transactions up to one day before departure. Multi-leg itineraries may require multiple seat swaps.
Seateroo in a future release plans to include flights operated by airlines that don’t assign seats, like Southwest. The company is looking to add other payment mechanisms including Apple Pay and PayPal. It may also expand the market beyond U.S.-based users.
After decades of hesitation, the business world has embraced climate protection. More companies than ever are taking stock of the environmental impact of their employee travel and working to reduce it. Videoconferencing and more efficient ground transportation are among the more common means. Several organizations last month announced commitments in conjunction with the COP21 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris.
Royal Philips said it would be carbon-neutral by 2020, in part by cutting energy consumption from logistics and business travel. Unilever’s goal is to be “carbon positive” by 2030. The company would derive all energy consumption for operations from renewable sources, with virtual training in lieu of travel as one component.
“This is an unprecedented international climate deal and sends a clear and unequivocal signal to the private sector: a global political intention to shift to a low-carbon, and ultimately zero-carbon, future,” according to KPMG.
In a 2015 survey, KPMG found that sustainability reporting around the globe is inconsistent. Eighty-two percent of the world’s 250 largest companies report carbon emissions. Half don’t publish reduction targets and among the rest, about one-third explain the targets.
Half of the 250 report upstream Scope 3 emissions generated from supply chains. That includes business travel. “While some companies are making progress in reporting on Scope 3 emissions, many are not reporting on all the relevant scopes,” according to the report, which didn’t survey firms specifically about business travel. The authors noted that Scope 3 emissions “are more complex,” requiring new processes and “significant input from third parties such as suppliers.”
Corporate travel emissions reporting is tricky business. It “poses many challenges due to the large number of variables, the difficulty in collecting data from suppliers and increasing uncertainty in the data as the sources become further removed from the company,” according to the 2015 Xerox global citizenship report. The company in 2014 began tracking Scope 3 based on the WRI Scope 3 Accounting Standard.
There are inherent dilemmas in managing business travel emissions. Apparel and footwear company VF Corp. has kept per-employee business travel emissions flat though the total has risen steadily. “VF is a decentralized organization with many facilities and operations in local markets,” according to company information. “Air travel remains a challenge to be addressed.”
At Bloomberg, face-to-face interaction with customers is “often cited as a distinct advantage we have over our competitors,” according to its 2014 report. “Employee travel is a key component of our business model and one of our biggest challenges in terms of reducing our emissions.”
Same at engineering firm CH2M. Bringing expertise to projects around the globe makes travel an “imperative and essential” part of the business and “a difficult metric to shift,” according to company info.
Coinciding with the opening of the Paris conference, the White House announced that 154 companies signed the American Business Act on Climate Pledge — more than double from when the initiative was announced in July. They include Bloomberg, CH2M, KPMG, VF and Xerox.
For each of the 154, the White House provided some details about commitments. Fewer than 10 of the listings mentioned business travel or corporate fleets. A closer look at these companies’ latest sustainability reports, though, finds several more monitoring, reporting, reducing and mitigating their business travel impact.
Microsoft is among those to attain carbon-neutral business travel, partly through offset projects. Goldman Sachs intended to get there in 2015 and stay there. BNY Mellon and Biogen also are among those working toward the goal.
On The Ground
There are several ways to attack emissions from employee ground transport. Some push travelers to rail when it makes sense. Bloomberg said that 60 percent of its 2014 travel between New York City and Washington, D.C., was on trains. Between London and both Paris and Brussels it was 97 percent.
On the roads, some companies are just starting to track emissions from car rentals. Others, like Wyndham Worldwide’s internal travel program, work with rental companies to offset emissions. Apple, HP, IBM and Autodesk are among those requiring suppliers to offer fuel-efficient vehicles when available.
Autodesk by FY2019 aims to reduce rental car emissions by 30 percent versus 2013. In FY2015, it achieved 12 percent. HP claimed that “100 percent” of employee 2014 car rentals were for designated fuel-efficient cars. The company updated its booking tool “to default to compact cars across all regions.” Apple said employees in 2014 drove more than half a million miles in hybrid rentals. That equalled the previous two years combined and cut out 35,000 gallons of gas.
In Global Reporting Initiative documents, Disney noted its business travel policy for ground transportation: While on business trips, “employees must choose one of the following alternatives: Mass transit or shuttle service; carpool or public taxi; hybrid or low-emission rental or town car service, from an approved vendor, when available and cost-effective; otherwise a standard car rental.”
Fleet management offers more opportunities beyond the obvious purchasing of fuel-efficient vehicles. HP in 2014 launched a new program to reduce fuel consumption. It called data collection the “first priority, and biggest challenge.” To overcome it, HP in 2015 planned to consolidate with one fuel provider and fuel card system across 23 European countries. The company said it is “on track” to cut global auto fleet emissions 20 percent by 2020 versus 2010.
Getting There On Not Going There
Videoconferencing is the most familiar way to cut down employee travel. Here are some examples:
• Cisco Systems is using the TelePresence remote meeting product it makes to further slash Scope 3 greenhouse gas emissions from business travel. The company is targeting a 40 percent reduction by FY2017 versus a FY2007 baseline. “However, replacing business-air-travel with remote collaboration requires more than just installing technology,” Cisco wrote in its most recent sustainability report. “We also had to adapt business processes, management practices and culture to take full advantage of these new network technologies.” The company said remote interaction between employees, customers and partners “progressed from being the exception of a few years ago to now being a standard practice within Cisco.” Such interaction “will be expected behavior worldwide in the near future.”
• Genentech intends to use virtual meeting technology to help trim 10 percent from all transportation-related emissions by 2020 (versus 2010). Air travel accounted for 24 percent of the firm’s 2014 greenhouse gas gases.
• Qualcomm in 2014 upped to 42 its number of telepresence rooms and last year planned to convert 26 existing videoconferencing rooms to telepresence facilities.
• By the end of 2014, Intel had 250 video collaboration rooms in 30 countries around the world.
• Novartis mentioned “significant progress” in 2014 travel cost-cutting. It decreased those global expenses by 23 percent, “primarily” through virtual meetings.
• Ikea in May 2014 began a “Let’s Go Virtual” awareness campaign. In FY2015 it had 18,000 virtual meeting participants using videoconferencing facilities across 265 company sites — all added in the past five years.
• EMC installed 50 TelePresence facilities around the globe. Employees also have been using a lot more desktop videoconferencing. The company said EMEA travel costs last year fell by 7 percent year over year after installing remote conferencing systems there in 2013.
• HP increased remote conferencing tools by 300 percent in 2014 from 2013. That helped cut commercial air travel emissions by about 23 percent.
Meanwhile, HP also is working on hotels. It flags for travelers those properties meeting certain environmental standards. The company said 69 percent of its 2014 room nights were at top-performing properties.
Ikea reported that it reduced from 20 to four the number of companies used to “plan and book travel arrangements.” That will help make carbon data collection more accurate. The company in FY2015 also started reporting a new metric: travel costs as a percentage of yearly sales. It was 0.39 percent in FY2014 and 0.41 percent in FY2015. The goal is 0.35 percent by 2020.
CH2M is using travel program globalization to advance sustainability efforts. The program has been covering Germany, India, Ireland, Italy, Poland, Qatar, Romania and the United Kingdom. CH2M brought it to Latin America in 2014. Asia/Pacific was on tap for 2015. The company said it would “exchange information that could improve current practices.”
At KPMG, member firms pitch voluntary carbon neutrality in tenders. An emissions calculator helps engagement teams measure and offset emissions from travel, lodging and other areas. Meanwhile, KPMG member firms work with conference venues on environmentally sustainable events and meetings.
Many other companies’ meeting management programs take similar steps. Autodesk trains meeting planners and includes sustainability questions and expectations in standard meeting contracts. Water tech company Xylem aims to go paperless for “at least 50 percent of events, conferences and meetings.” That goal is part of a “green office” checklist the company had tested and sought to roll out in 2015.
Additional info: Cisco has not applied different emissions factors for different classes of airline service. “Reporting reduced emissions because a larger percentage of employees flew economy class this year compared with last year moves the focus away from the goal of travel substitution,” the company wrote. “Second, we are unsure how to characterize emissions factors for different classes of air travel for a single company. Currently, we have chosen not to complicate what is inherently a conceptual reduction.”
The COP21 organizers opted not to tackle delegates’ business travel emissions en masse (except for the UNFCCC Secretariat’s own staff travel). “Some delegations also have a policy to offset their climate footprint,” they wrote. “For everybody else, it is voluntary.”
Travel suppliers joining the White House pledge include Airbnb, American Express, InterContinental Hotels Group and MGM Resorts. JetBlue is the only airline participant.
The aviation sector isn’t addressed in the final COP21 agreement (though it was in early drafts). That apparently surprised the aviation sector. The Air Transport Action Group figured there wasn’t enough time for a compromise. “The International Civil Aviation Organization already has its own mandate and well-established program for further addressing aviation and climate change, without the need for direction from COP21 or the UNFCCC,” according to the group. But ATAG did say COP21 added momentum to the cause. Aviation is aiming for carbon neutrality by 2020. That’s a tall order, given that the U.S. government only last year acknowledged airplanes are bad for the environment. ICAO aims to finalize a mandatory global offsetting scheme during its September 2016 assembly.
According to the Carbon Disclosure Project, the percentage of responding S&P500 companies reporting emissions from business travel steadily has risen. In 2010, 154 of 348 reporting companies did so, or 44 percent. Last year the figure reached 72 percent (250 of 349 reporting companies). A spokesperson noted that because CDP’s questionnaire changed after 2012, “the data is not exactly a direct comparison, but it is very close.”
The Global Business Travel Association through March 14 is collecting applications for its Project Icarus sustainability awards.
[UPDATE, May 9: Travelport revealed that its MTT division is the developer behind the American Express Global Business Travel app.]
American Express Global Business Travel late last year uploaded a new itinerary-based mobile app to the iTunes store. It’s working to release the app on other platforms this year.
GBT Mobile is available in English to U.S.-based travelers whose firms have enrolled. The company expects to add other countries and languages this year. The app includes upcoming and past itineraries booked through GBT agents or an associated booking tool, gate change notifications, flight status at a glance, touch-to-call and calendar synchronization. According to GBT, booking capability will be added “in the future.”
Chief rivals BCD Travel and Carlson Wagonlit Travel already offered apps and continue to develop them. BCD recently added Portuguese and Spanish to the pre-existing English, French and German versions. A new mobile-web edition serves clients who do not download apps. BCD’s TripSource app as of November had synchronized 3 million trips and added 250,000 users since its release a year ago.
CWT last month released a government-certified version of its app, called CWTSato To Go, for military and public sector travelers. It’s available on Android, Blackberry and iOS. For its corporate CWT To Go app, the company added travel arranger functionality and better airport maps in collaboration with navigation firm Here. CWT executive vice president David Moran said the company’s goal is to create “the super app” for clients.
“The best forward view of the lifetime value of a customer is their engagement with mobile apps,” said Gerry Samuels, founder of Travelport subsidiary MTT, which provides BCD’s app. “We don’t think this is a nice-to-have. It’s absolutely critical for the strategy of TMCs.”
BCD Travel president and CEO John Snyder agrees. “This is probably one of the largest tech investments that we’re making at BCD,” he said last month during a Travelport investor conference.
The enterprise version of BCD’s app, which includes advanced messaging and engagement capabilities, will enroll as many as 30 clients by mid-2016, according to Snyder.
GBT officials said they would offer additional details about the firm’s mobile strategy upon a more formal launch later this year.
The Amex GBT Mobile app complements the travel management company’s apps for risk management and meetings. Older apps for Android and iOS facilitate click-to-call, SMS and email-based communications and location services for emergencies. A Meetings & Events app offers schedules, networking and gamification components on Android and iOS.
As they work for advantage, clients, suppliers and those in between keep business travel management interesting. Changes to underlying and consumer-facing technology make it a dynamic business function. The personal and geopolitical elements of business travel offer points of note from the micro to macro levels. As one of our featured practitioners noted, this job is about economics, geography, psychology and then some.
And so last year was as interesting as any. Here’s a rundown of 2015, including links mainly to our premium coverage for paying subscribers and those on free trials.
Travel managers are always on the lookout for new ways to save money and improve safety and service. Last year we highlighted efforts to improve programs by using social media to communicate, applying sophisticated sourcing tools, pushing suppliers to provide insightful and actionable data, and proving their worth to senior execs. We covered different approaches to policies, including those on pre-trip approval, refundable fare rules, non-reimbursement and the question of who pays for expedited airport screening memberships.
The Company Dime spotlighted travel management in specific sectors, like energy, higher education and government. We pointed out that while disruptive companies garnered success with new-age business models, they also sought the guidance of veteran travel managers.
We profiled consummate travel manager Jack Reynaert Jr. of Meritor; planet-saving travel management by T-Mobile’s Bob Jacobsen; an intriguing TMC solicitation by DHL’s Michelle Hunt; aggressive T&E cost-cutting by leaders at Mondelēz; and Mark Dropsey integrating corporate travel with internal logistics at NetJets.
On earlier podcasts we talked with travel management pros about the issues of the day as well as the day-to-day. Guest buyers included Bhart Sarin from Ingredion, Pam Massey from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Craig Banikowski from Amgen. We appreciated the participation from all our guests, especially the TMC trio that helped us build the podcast and will continue to make regular appearances: American Express Global Business Travel’s Evan Konwiser, BCD Travel’s Miriam Moscovici and Carlson Wagonlit Travel’s Patrice Simon.
A Risky World
The biggest business travel story of 2015 may have been the Paris attacks. If company leaders and their employees were not getting the message before, many did on that Friday night in November. Travelers get sent out into a risky world — even where perceived risk is low — and having their backs is job No. 1.
Businesses can access a lot of resources in meeting their duty of care. In the past year, new or improved mobile apps and tracking tools hit the market. Travel risk management firms updated their systems and TMCs added services. Industry conferences offered training. A new book on the topic just went on sale. TRM is no fad.
For airlines, such services were among several they developed to improve corporate relationships. United introduced new corporate emissions reports, improved ancillary spend reporting with Visa and formalized a customer service program for frontline employees. Delta backed its operations with performance guarantees for corporate clients in good standing (United followed). After watching competitors merge, American Airlines pulled off the big US Airways res system switch without stumbling.
U.S. airlines also were as punctual as ever and plenty profitable. They appear better equipped to generate and keep customer goodwill. But all this hasn’t meant easy client contract negotiations. Companies with more modest volumes still don’t get much individual attention. For a majority, at least fares didn’t go up.
If travel management pros didn’t send holiday cheer to one carrier, it was Lufthansa. Slapping a surcharge on GDS bookings without offering viable alternatives frustrated many. They hope it doesn’t set a precedent.
Some say JetBlue’s recent delisting from Travelport is evidence of ongoing de-emphasis of the GDS model. But squabbles between distributors and suppliers over pricing terms and content specifics were by no means a new thing in 2015. In almost all previous cases, the two sides find common ground (see Amadeus-Air Canada).
As a group, it was the big hotel companies that came off a bit corporate-unfriendly. They talked up more stringent cancellation policies and intentions to draw travelers to direct channels. Buyers complained that last-room availability increasingly isn’t that.
With some localized exceptions (notably New York City), tight lodging supply and healthy demand made for another year of appreciably rising rates and tough negotiations (and even more interest in price assurance tools like TripBam and Yapta). Marriott’s planned purchase of Starwood won’t help those matters.
Big acquisitions also occurred among online travel agencies. Expedia bought up Travelocity and Orbitz. That gives the behemoth even more leverage to offer low fares and rates, more technology to integrate and more corporate business for subsidiary Egencia (but not IBM’s).
The Company Dime was first to report that Sabre would acquire full ownership of Asian GDS Abacus.
Within the realm of corporate TMCs, the on-again-off-again speculation on a mega merger didn’t amount to anything (yet). In the United States, Direct Travel and CTM bought more small and midsize corporate TMCs, Altour grabbed A&I and BCD Travel purchased World Travel Service.
We also focused on several other TMCs: technology development at Travel and Transport and Travel Incorporated; new consulting services from Travel Leaders Corporate; and American Express Global Business Travel’s plans (a booking tool will play in).
One of our most widely read articles of 2015 wasn’t about improved service or innovation, but rather some nasty allegations leveled at Flight Centre in Canada. It’s not clear whether the company made changes. It later moved its top exec in Canada off the leadership post.
Meanwhile, many continued to lament the status of traditional online booking tools, in terms of service, user experience and access to content. But the past year also brought progress. Amadeus e-Travel secured Southwest’s participation. KDS grew its North American client base. AmTrav’s homegrown tool began accessing fare bundles.
In corporate payment, many players got in on virtual cards (including familiar names Cindy Allen and Brian Barth). Some of the limitations feel like growing pains on the way to wider adoption, but still with the fax? You also probably noticed new chip-enabled credit cards in your wallet. To prep for the so-called EMV migration in corporate travel, issuers got new cards to their clients and provided education.
In the international commercial card market, another exclusive by The Company Dime revealed JPMorgan Chase would exit the scene.
The biggest payment news, though, may have been a court decision invalidating American Express’ anti-steering rules. As a result, merchants could push customers to cheaper forms of payment. But the saga spills into 2016 now that an appellate court overturned the lower court’s decision to ban those Amex practices.
Uber is another industry player that found itself in court last year. Travel managers kept track of the headlines and grappled with the question of whether to promote, condone, grudgingly permit, discourage or flat out ban employees from using the car hailing service. Meanwhile, Uber’s ground transportation competitors tried to stem the tide.
Another lightning rod, Concur hit some bumps in 2015 and faced upstart competitors that secured millions more in funding. Early in the year it suffered performance issues that left many corporate accounts and agency resellers disappointed. The company in March said it would slow innovation to get existing systems running well. But the expense management leader also introduced some new tools including a revamped risk messaging service. It added plenty more clients and announced new TripLink partners.
Airbnb also stayed controversial as travel program managers wrestled with the questions of if and how the accommodation sharing platform fits. The company helped make the case by curating business traveler-friendly properties, launching a business program, aligning with Concur’s TripLink and working with risk management firms.
We look forward to further chronicling these and other corporate travel developments in 2016. Happy New Year!