Company veteran Yannis Karmis left Sabre in January as the firm reorganized its approach to the corporate market. Led by newcomer Clinton Anderson, the ambitious strategy includes a new path for GetThere but ditches TruTrip. It seeks to solve the tricky issue of out-of-program spend. It aims to deliver heretofore untapped potential in payments and mobile. It’s benefiting from a 40 percent increase in investment this year, a realigned team and new blood.
Anderson joined Sabre from Bain & Co. in 2014 as senior vice president for strategy and business development. Four months ago, the company tasked him with running GetThere, TripCase and Virtual Payments — collectively the Traveler Experience unit.
Now senior vice president of corporate strategy and traveler experience, Anderson is looking for a new head of sales. The three key products he oversees will be among the first beneficiaries of the nearly 40 user experience and design experts Sabre has hired in the past six months. The plan is to deliver some product enhancements this summer and a fuller offering by this time next year. The long-term strategy also envisions enabling resources from outside Sabre.
“None of us in the travel space has the financial wherewithal to do everything we’d like to do,” Anderson said during a Friday phone interview. “To the degree we can create a platform where we can share and trade functionality and where third-party developers can write to standard APIs, then you start to create what is in a sense the Apple model. Apple sets the requirements, but there’s an open development model. I do believe in the concept of platform. I do believe there’s room for partnership. The old model of direct, head-on competition doesn’t work well in the tech space. Over time, if we create the right platform, we’ll all benefit more with a standard where people can plug in and plug out.”
Anderson mentioned that Sabre’s solutions could integrate with expense products including Concur’s. He named other players as potential partners, including Argo Solutions, KDS and New Zealand-based Serko.
Anderson elaborated on Concur’s efforts to solve for open booking.
“Concur is taking the approach of trying to manage that with a lot of direct connects,” said Anderson. “That’s an interesting approach. It takes you down the path a certain distance, but it’s really hard to scale because beyond the first 10 or 15 airlines, or 10 or 12 hotel chains, how do you ever manage the fact that these purchases can happen at literally millions of different points of sale?”
In comes Sabre’s new approach, tying GetThere with TripCase and Conferma-powered Virtual Payments.
“We have invested a lot of money in a [payments] platform that can be integrated in the Sabre Red Workspace 3.0 agent point of sale,” said Anderson. “We’re now investing to make that available via TripCase and GetThere. This makes the experience easy for the traveler, whether they’re deploying a virtual card, an e-wallet or the old green Amex card or cash. We’re capturing that receipt information. Then we’re standardizing that data at the point of sale and making that data consumable by any of the expense management tools. Now you have an application that can be used by any traveler at any company. Because it’s not a monolithic, integrated offering like Concur has, I now have the ability to choose who my expense partner is and to deploy this capability anywhere on the planet.”
It’s a bold vision, but Anderson laid it out with humility. He admitted Sabre’s mobile strategy, via TripCase, wasn’t enough to soothe the business traveler’s headaches.
GetThere, he said, “does a really hard thing.” That is, it offers very demanding global corporate clients multi-GDS booking in dozens of countries using dozens of languages and more than 3,000 points of configurability for policy, vendors and rates. However, said Anderson, “If you look at the last two to three years, it felt like to me that we didn’t have a clear strategy for where GetThere was going and how GetThere fit into the rest of the traveler-facing products we had. And because of that, we were responding to RFPs but not thinking about it in an integrated way around a pathway that led to something better and different.”
Anderson also said Sabre has shelved TruTrip, its prior attempt to help clients capture off-channel spending. The solution required clients to be users of TripCase Corporate and their travel management companies to be users of Sabre’s proprietary profiles system.
“It didn’t have a good capture element,” he said. “It was a bit of a limited solution. We had some big global customers who were interested in that. We have told them we’re putting that on the shelf and will come back with another solution we think will work better and have broader application. That was one where we missed it; we were looking at providing a solution and it wasn’t the right one. So rather than continue to spend on a solution that would have no application in the market, I have instructed my team to take those dollars to a more broad solution that would have more ubiquitous application.”
With the new organization and vision in place, Anderson said, “Now, clearly the onus upon us is to execute and prove we can do this. Within a year, we aim to offer an integrated product capability that we think can change the game. What you’ll see coming first [possibly by September] will be some of the basic functionality. We’ve been a little behind [on mobile] so adding air, adding hotel and canceling a trip.”
GetThere will power these booking features in TripCase, not unlike the strategy nuTravel announced last week. Virtual Payments would power the payment functions. TripCase is then seen as a trip management platform.
Anderson said the traditional GetThere desktop product also is benefiting from a multi-device redesign. He said booking efficiency improvements will come soon.
Anderson said clients can expect a pricing model that still emphasizes the original booking. “Booking fees range, depending on geography and volume, from the mid-$2s to mid-$3s, sometimes higher,” he explained. “Rack rate on a Virtual Payment is something like $1.50. I think the final model will look something like a basic booking fee, which is the way the underlying charge will take place, and then if you want to have the full functionality of itinerary management and payments, there will be an additional charge per trip. The incremental function will come in at a much lighter price point than a full booking fee. We think this functionality in the total price per trip will be relatively small compared to a) the price of the trip, b) the ability to manage the data and integrate it into expense, and c) the overall value it generates.”
Those interested in unbundled prices would, he noted, be able to avoid “paying for stuff they’re not using.”
Additional info: John Samuel, who had been leading TripCase, remained with Sabre Labs and now is focused on new projects and leading the overall user experience team. Neil Fyfe continues to lead Sabre Virtual Payments, reporting to Anderson. Karmis joined Sabre in 1999; most recently he served as GetThere president and VP of corporate solutions for Sabre. As part of the realignment, Sabre co-located its GetThere, TripCase and Virtual Payments teams, moving people from three locations on two different parts of its campus into a single location.