Monthly Archives: June 2016

At Your (Leisure Travel) Service

Usage of vacation time in the United States has been falling despite research that shows a rested employee is a productive one. When they do make plans, co-workers sometimes bug travel professionals with questions about vacations. They don’t always have answers. A couple of companies born from business travel management are looking to help.

A brand-new spinoff of Ovation Corporate Travel, Skylark is working to draw to its online luxury travel model VIPs who work for Ovation’s business clients and beyond. Not about luxury per se, Employee Travel Specials is a more established firm, part-owned by Travel and Transport. It works with corporate clients directly, particularly on weekend and leisure hotel discounts.

The basic idea is that whether they are rich or super-rich, businesspeople are attractive clients for travel suppliers. By offering private access to special rates — within the corporation’s firewall as with Employee Travel Specials or though a members-only site like Skylark’s — suppliers can discount their vacation products without diluting publicly available rates.

leisureThe notion of travel as an employee benefit isn’t new. With the client’s permission, TMCs sometimes waive vacation booking fees or make special rates available to employees. Perks firms like Next Jump and TicketsatWork have been around for years, offering discounts at Disney and the like.

Many companies don’t allow employees to book leisure through the main corporate travel apparatus. Travel buyers are reluctant to get too involved with vacation planning. One fear is that an employee or executive suffers a bad experience on vacation and blames the employer or its service provider. Another concern is bandwidth; travel managers have enough to do. Pointing colleagues to a partner’s leisure services or to a special rate program is about as far as it goes.

“You’re the face, name and authority on travel for your company,” said Cindy Novak, global travel director at Kiewit Corporation. “I don’t have the resources to handle all leisure questions, but I want to offer a good employee benefit.”

“We walk a very fine line with the liability,” said Nova Chemicals senior buyer Mary Taylor. “Legal counsel says, ‘We don’t want that liability. We don’t want you recommending a supplier and then something happens.’ So we’re cautious.”

Employees Travel Special

Nova and Kiewit both use Employee Travel Specials, which via corporate intranets books private leisure rates at more than 60,000 hotels. It charges clients nothing; suppliers pay 10 percent. Founder and lodging industry veteran Sean McCurdy said the company has more than 2,000 clients, most in North America. Setup takes one day. Its portal uses Travelport on the back end. It also books at online consumer sites if there’s a deal to be found, though McCurdy said service issues sometimes arise in those cases.

More than half of the business goes to Employee Travel Specials’ preferred suppliers, which typically commit to a certain percentage off the best available rate and include a valuable amenity or two. McCurdy is proud to report that more than 30 percent of users come back again.

McCurdy about five years ago brought the idea to Travel and Transport, which invested and helped form the company. Employee Travel Specials works with other TMCs as well, including The Travel Team.

Travel and Transport president and CEO Kevin O’Malley said Employee Travel Specials booked 17 rooms in its first month. Now, O’Malley said, each month it’s doing several thousand bookings and more than $1 million in volume.

“Being a big corporate travel agency, it’s hard to find the best ways to navigate in the B2C space,” said O’Malley. “Generally speaking, a proactive approach by the TMC going after the leisure side of a client’s business has always been somewhat taboo. Sometimes you can offer it, but they have to want it and come to you; you can’t market to them. Some clients don’t want their people bothered with it, or they’re concerned they may have a bad experience. There still is some of that.”

Skylark CEO Paul Tumpowsky said these concerns are among the reasons his company is utilizing Ovation’s 24/7 support. He also acknowledged the issue of stress on the travel manager’s time. Tumpowsky described three other challenges to the concept: corporate travel systems are not set up to handle vacations; the business traveler is not always the booker; and the employee is not always the family decision-maker.

He said Skylark is different from similar initiatives in that it’s blending online and offline using proprietary technology. For $400 a year, members access its services by phone, app or web. Skylark is not installing pages on client intranets.

“Where people start, with inspiration, it’s rarely at the corporate intranet,” said Tumpowsky. “Maybe that’s one of the eight to 24 browser windows that get cross-referenced.”

Skylark is offering clients special rates on air travel as well as lodging and “hundreds” of other luxury services. “Every major airline is giving us incredible net deals on business- and first-class airfare,” said Skylark chairman Paul Metselaar, also Ovation’s chairman, founder and CEO. “I raised two rounds of seed capital funding and we’ll try to raise a Series A by year-end.”

Leverage In Leisure?

O’Malley said corporate buyers sometimes try to leverage leisure volume in supplier relationships. “We collect the booking data, report it to the corporation and they can see where their employees are spending some leisure travel dollars,” he said. “It’s not a big enough amount that it will change the course of negotiations, but it’s another thing to throw on the table.”

Informatica global travel manager Rick Wakida said airlines typically aren’t interested, but hotel and car companies usually don’t mind or even encourage it.

At Kiewit, Novak said employees are allowed to book negotiated corporate rates for their leisure trips, and that’s included in discussions with hotels. However, many of the negotiated programs are in locations that are not particularly appealing for vacations. That’s where Employee Travel Specials offers a nice supplement.

Nova’s Taylor said she doesn’t see much benefit to negotiations, mainly due to her company’s particular travel patterns. As an employee perk, though, “We have had a lot of good feedback and people are happy” with Employee Travel Specials.

Whether using such a third party or the TMC’s leisure desk, Wakida advised travel managers to “make it very clear that it’s a personal trip and they’re using a leisure [service], not the group doing business travel. It’s totally separate, personal, and their responsibility.”

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GBTA Education Preview

After the golf outing and spa day are over and before evening frivolities, away from the exhibition floor din and the general session celebrity, GBTA’s convention attendees in Denver next month will seek education. This year there are more than 80 sessions. Putting on that many in an effort to appeal to all is an impressive feat by conference organizers. For any one attendee, though, the array of options can be overwhelming. Below we spotlight eight that caught our eye.

Risk management is a clear focus this year, with 10 or so dedicated sessions. That doesn’t count four on the sharing economy, likely to include duty of care talk. Nine sessions cover lodging, six are on meetings and five are for managing air programs.

Most presenters prepare well and impart wisdom. But in general, we disfavor sessions that rehash previously published research (there are several of those). Single-speaker sessions can be insightful but we prefer varied perspectives.

GBTA DenverSessions both sponsored by and featuring a speaker (or speakers) from a particular supplier raise red flags. There are at least nine of those. Even if supplier-side speakers are not sponsors, discussions without buyers in the front of the room usually feel incomplete. There are exceptions: a session on risks travelers face around the world probably is better explained by TRM experts than travel managers — other than the likes of Facebook’s Erin Wilk, who is speaking on three panels. For selfish but also practical reasons, we’re no fans of sessions that start at 7:30 a.m.

Our picks, in chronological order:

Simplifying The Airline Request For Proposal (RFP): A New Set Of RFP Documents For Optimizing Efficiency And Accuracy In The Airline RFP Process (Monday, July 18, 9:00 a.m.): GBTA’s EMEA and North America Aviation committees designed a new air RFP template. The session write-up calls it “a suite of easy-to-use documents that reflect the shifting industry trends and the evolution of ancillary services, fuel surcharges, distribution fees, etc.” Anything that makes the air sourcing process easier is welcome news for buyers. We’ll be interested to see of this does the trick.

Speakers

What’s So Different Between Higher Ed And Corporate? (Monday, July 18, 9:00 a.m.): Some say travel management within the higher education vertical is getting more play. There are several reasons, including better technology, and more awareness among institutions’ leaders about cost control and duty of care. Four current or former collegiate travel managers will discuss.

Speakers

Weed Through Your Obstacles: Get Your Stakeholders High On Sustainability (Monday, July 18, 9:00 a.m.): The local play on words aside, we know how important sustainability is. That’s part of the reason we’re highlighting this session. We also like seeing three buyers listed as speakers.

Speakers

Single-Use Virtual Payments: Benefits And Barriers (Tuesday, July 19, 10:00 a.m.): Though the session sponsor also provides a panelist, this one includes a travel manager, a major hotel company’s vice president of global sales and a key intermediary. It’s a leading topic du jour. There are lots of questions about how to make it all work but also a sense that virtual payment in business travel may soon spike.

Speakers

Why Is Corporate Hotel Procurement So Screwed Up? (Tuesday, July 19, 10:00 a.m.): It’s a great question. We’ve been writing and talking about it a lot during the past year. As in any summer, the timing works well as many companies work through RFPs for the coming year’s hotel programs. We like the mix of represented companies on this panel: two buyers, two corporate TMCs (one mid-sized and one mega), a major hotel company’s senior vice president of global sales and revenue and a key third party.

Speakers

Tech Trends 2016 (Tuesday, July 19, 10:00 a.m.): No buyers here, but these speakers bring an intriguing mix of personalities. The session description promises the audience will pick topics. Regardless, it will be lively.

Speakers

How Do You Measure Up? – Quantifying the Value of Managed Travel (Tuesday, July 19, 10:00 a.m.): This one is presented by the GLP Designation Group, which “has devised a weighted value estimator tool for organizations to use to quantify the value of managed travel.” Four buyers and a TMC rep will discuss.

Speakers

Staying Relevant – How Travel Management Professionals Can Continue To Prove Value In A Changing Landscape (Tuesday, July 19, 11:30 a.m.): This panel has two speakers from the same supplier, but also includes three buyers. Like the session described above, the subject matter gets to the crux of the profession. As per the session write-up, “some corporations are phasing out the role of a dedicated travel management professional in favor of a procurement-managed program or an outsourced solution.” So how does a travel manager demonstrate value? We’re eager to find out what these pros say.

Speakers

Worth A Mention

Trusted Traveler And Expedited Screening Programs Can Take A Lot Of Guessing And Stressing Out Of Travel (Monday, July 18, 7:30 a.m.): Representatives from DFW airport, TSA and Customs and Border Patrol will discuss government programs that make airport processes easier for travelers. When we participated in a Chicago Business Travel Association event last fall, a similar presentation drew the most audience questions of the day.

Recreational Marijuana Legalized In Colorado: How Does It Impact The Business Travel Industry? Hear What You Need to Know (Monday, July 18, 7:30 a.m.): Colorado tourism leaders and the state’s director of marijuana coordination discuss a new twist on business travel and meetings.

Peer-To-Peer Think Tank (Various times): New for this year is a series of roundtable discussions. They will focus on sports/entertainment/media, meetings, higher ed, technology, pharmaceutical, government relations, risk and hotel. GBTA board member Cindy Shumate — currently senior manager of travel and meetings at Regeneron Pharmaceuticals and a former collegiate travel manager — said pharma and higher ed are two of the new verticals to be specifically addressed at this year’s conference. “The reason these verticals are important is because these sessions (Peer-to-Peer Think tanks and targeted education sessions) is where the massive convention becomes intimate,” said Shumate. “This is where attendees in these verticals can find the take-home value from convention.”

Additional info: For good reason, people make a big deal about buyer/supplier attendee ratios at industry events. Putting aside non-travel celebrity lunch speakers, about 30 percent of this conference’s speakers are on the buy side. That’s true for none of the nine “Center Stage” speakers (six come from industry suppliers, including three conference sponsors).

GBTA moved the timing of its Annual Business Meeting, during which members can vote on board races. Last summer it started at 7:00 a.m. Tuesday. GBTA officials said the unfavorable time did “not explain” why the association fell short of a quorum leading to last year’s election failure; members can vote in other ways without attending that meeting. But they did say they’d look into changing the schedule. This year’s ABM is Monday, July 18, at the decidedly more humane time of 10:30 a.m. There are no other overlapping conference activities scheduled.

This article is based on info GBTA posted to its event website as of June 27, 2016.

Disclosure: The Company Dime in 2016 partnered with the Institute for Supply Management on its T&E conference and in 2017 with the American Society of Travel Agents on research and events.

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Serko, Xero Seek Small Business Travel Syndicate

Everyone talks about the SME, but they really mean the M. That’s the midsize in small and medium-sized enterprise. Executives at business travel booking tech firm Serko are going after the S. They say this collectively huge segment of the business world is due for recognition with quality travel management services. Serko is releasing a business travel management program dedicated to small companies next month in New Zealand, followed by Australia. In partnership with nuTravel for content, Serko will soon add Canada and the United States.

New Zealand-based Serko has spent millions of dollars and four years building what it thinks small businesses need. According to Serko, that’s predictive booking technology, optional gamification, end-user interface customization, ultra-fast implementation, nifty add-ons like bag tracking, consortia rates, online changes, accounting integration and “lite” expense management. All for free. Three designated travel management companies in each market would support online and mobile bookings. Phone calls are not free. Serko and the TMCs (and reseller partners like Xero) would share supplier commissions. Serko plans to announce the first TMC partners as early as this week.

Darrin Grafton

Serko co-founder and CEO Darrin Grafton

Serko defines small companies, at least Down Under, as having no more than 150 employees. Anyone bigger than that doesn’t qualify for its latest and greatest. The employee limit may be adjusted in other markets.

“Because of its fragmented nature, fickle buying patterns and low willingness to pay, the SME market has been near impossible for TMCs, airlines or hotel chains to target effectively,” Serko co-founder and CEO Darrin Grafton wrote in a blog post due out next month.

These challenges accompany disconnects in industry discourse. For the purposes of federal contracting, the U.S. government definition for small business varies by industry. It may be capped at 100 employees or 1,500. In some industries, the definition is based on revenues and could be $7 million or $38 million. These are smaller companies than are typically addressed by SME conversations in corporate travel. In the context of managed travel, midsize companies are small and small companies typically aren’t managed.

An upcoming Global Business Travel Association SME webcast, for example, features travel managers with three companies that have between 6,189 and 15,000 employees. A recent Business Travel News SME report focuses on firms with travel spending of more than $1 million, implying revenues of at least $100 million.

These are organizations that travel management companies can afford to onboard. Speaking last week with The Company Dime, Grafton said the cost to implement booking technology for an SME can reach as high as $1,500. TMCs don’t want to bother with clients that are too small, and they’re left to go direct or pay for full service. According to Serko research, TMCs currently handle just 30 percent of SME travel.

“The process is flawed for the little guys,” said Grafton. With the new service, called Serko.travel, “you can sign up your whole company in less than two minutes.”

Strength In Numbers

Once enrolled, clients benefit from what Serko is calling a “networked buying consortium.” Prices for travel services fall as purchasing volume grows. Grafton said a number of travel suppliers have agreed to participate; he mentioned Avis Budget and Enterprise.

“It’s different for every supplier,” said Grafton. “People looking at opportunities or sectors of the market are more willing to contribute than others. Not everyone will contribute to the same level. Some will choose not to until the volume is there. It may come down to preferencing and site content.”

In addition to the usual business travel channels, Serko.travel books through traditionally consumer sites like Expedia and Booking.com.

Participants will get access to Serko’s latest mobile and desktop booking technology, available later to larger clients. That’s partly because in New Zealand, small company business travelers are more likely to self-book than those at large firms. “Therefore we made the call to push mobile and predictive booking to that audience first,” said Grafton.

Predictive booking uses calendar information, previous patterns, policies, loyalty programs and other data to highlight the most compelling choices. A new iOS mobile app including booking is due out in July; an Android version should be released by fall.

Serko also is creating partnerships with specialists in gamification and rewards.

As clients grow, Serko can flip a switch to convert them to the enterprise model, according to Grafton. This service comes with a fee but includes more advanced policy controls and reporting.

A well-known refrain on reaching small businesses is that it’s difficult to find them. Like Hogg Robinson Group’s Fraedom, which partners with banks, Serko is trying a new path by aligning with accounting software firm Xero. Under a deal that’s exclusive for now, Xero will offer clients Serko.travel as its preferred travel solution. The arrangement puts no restrictions on partnerships with expense management firms or travel distributors.

Grafton said he spoke to Intuit, maker of Quickbooks and the top accounting software provider for small businesses in the United States. “They’re not really sure what the travel side would mean to them,” he said. Xero claims more than 700,000 customers globally.

Grafton said Serko has not yet selected its TMC partners in the United States.

Serko is publicly traded in New Zealand. It expects Serko.travel to contribute to its current year earnings, and to help it reach profitability by fiscal 2018.

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Hilton No Longer Providing Concur E-Receipts

[UPDATE, June 22, 2017: Concur no longer integrates e-receipts from Starbucks purchases. “This is due to issues that prevent us from providing you with the standard that we maintain for all our apps,” according to information sent to users. When Concur announced the feature in 2015, it claimed Starbucks was “the most commonly expensed restaurant” and that its users held 10,000 meetings each month at Starbucks locations around the globe. Fellow expense system provider Certify also routinely reports that the coffee giant is the most-expensed restaurant chain among its users.]

Concur in March notified users that Hilton stopped providing e-receipts for expense reports. Concur cited “changes to Hilton’s systems” and said it is working with the hotel company on alternatives. E-receipts in Concur are digital replicas of paper receipts provided by many travel suppliers. Travel managers like them because travelers need not do anything to get them into expense reports. They’re especially helpful for importing line-item details from hotel folios.

One travel manager who works for a Concur client and requested anonymity said Concur e-receipts are a big part of a paperless push. “The fact that Hilton is no longer providing those will put a hole in the program,” the travel manager said. “It is disappointing. It will make it all a little clunky but not insurmountable.”

Acquis Consulting co-founder and managing partner David Kaufman said the impact depends on how organizations view their data sources. “If Hilton isn’t giving e-receipts anymore, to some companies that is going to matter,” he said. “They are relying heavily on those e-receipts for detailed data. They are doing it at a lot of hotels and may feel they are capturing a very high percentage of their spend. Taking out 10 or 20 percent of that data may be a big deal. Other organizations are using other data from other sources and e-receipts aren’t a primary thing, so it won’t be a big deal.”

The other ways expense management systems bring in data come with varying levels of convenience, but all beat keeping track of paper receipts and remembering to physically send them along. One popular way is for travelers to snap pictures of their receipts via mobile apps. Several providers offer that by using optical character recognition, including Concur through the ExpenseIt app. With Concur’s e-receipts, though, there’s one less step for the traveler to take. They are also less prone to the errors that sometimes plague image capture.

receipt

Image: Thinkstock

“OCR is not a perfect technology,” said Chris Harley, vice president of sales at expense management provider Databasics. “It is fantastic when it reads PDFs, or a receipt template, but if you leave a bar at 2 a.m. and scribble a tip, or find a receipt in your jeans pocket two days later, it won’t read that so well. It’s a learning process, and it continues to get better.”

Another way, of course, is corporate card data. Many expense management systems get nightly transactional data feeds and, in some cases, so-called Level 3 data that may come a few days later. Level 3 data is more granular, including items like individual hotel folio charges. For clients who request it, expense systems oftentimes automatically upload that line-item detail into expense reports.

Why not rely solely on card data, which is a record of what travelers actually purchased? IRS regulations state that all lodging expenses need substantiation via actual receipts, as well as other T&E items exceeding $75. Many companies use lower thresholds or require receipts for every expensed item.

Expense firm Chrome River pointed to another obstacle. “The extent to which we can incorporate rich data such as airline flight information and hotel folio into expense reports is entirely dependent on the individual merchant,” according to an official. “While many larger organizations are already set up to provide Level 3 data, smaller merchants haven’t yet set up their systems to deliver this kind of information.”

Travel management companies are another data source. There also are other supplier-direct data delivery mechanisms. Some suppliers email digital receipts to travelers who in turn can email them into their expense systems. In certain cases beyond Concur, expense management providers establish links with suppliers.

“Those can work but there could be a million merchants out there,” Kaufman said. “If there’s low volume, it won’t pay to set up those direct connections. Where it does pay is where there is a significant amount of data, say with an Airbnb or a Lyft. That direct information can close a big gap.”

Chrome River takes in data feeds from “a number of TMCs, as well as Uber and several rental car companies,” according to an official. The company can add more based on client needs and, “on a case-by-case basis we can bring in feeds from other vendors who augment credit card data, e.g., AirPlus or Conferma.”

Harley said Databasics also undertakes such activity based on customer requests. When customers want those links, typically it’s for better reporting. “Data from the credit card is pretty good, and you can do analytics, but what we can get from a rental car purchase is the booked amount, class of car, etc.,” Harley explained. “It’s basically an e-receipt, but in our case it’s a dataset. If we get a feed from National, which we do, and match to the corporate card, all the data is there but we don’t show an actual picture of the receipt.”

Certify takes in feeds from TMCs and from Uber, but the expense management firm wants its receipt image capture method to be the sole method, “regardless of the vendor and regardless of the situation,” CEO Bob Neveu said. The company has three pending patents on receipt parsing and other automated expense technology.

Kaufman also favors a consistent process with fewer components. “The more data sources you have and the more processes you have and the more things you have to tell travelers to do, the more complex it becomes and the harder to manage,” he said.

The travel manager at the Concur client is less concerned about overlapping data. “We have counseled our employees to take pictures of everything,” the travel manager said. “They get an e-receipt and have an ExpenseIt receipt as well. We don’t care if they have two receipts for the same thing.” To handle those situations, several expense system providers will do the reconciliation.

Neveu acknowledged that squaring away multiple data sources isn’t always simple. “The trickiest part is de-duplication,” he said. “You may have a TMC voucher for a Marriott booking, the receipt from the employee and the expense charge from Amex. That’s all one charge and needs to be merged.”

Scan, Fax Or Photograph

Concur’s e-receipts program makes life easier for travelers. It doesn’t require users to book via Concur Travel. For those who do, incoming e-receipts automatically are matched to itinerary and credit card data.

Cathy Sharpe is director of strategic sourcing for global T&E at Concur client ITW. She said the end-to-end simplicity means her travelers want to use the Concur process. Once e-receipts from the airfare, hotel stay and car rental are in, along with card charges, “your expense report is a 5-minute process,” she said. Hotel expense itemization, required by ITW, usually is done for them.

“They might have to make a simple adjustment and move on,” Sharpe added. “That is a great experience.”

To take advantage, Concur users have to individually opt in and link at least one credit card. Since not all suppliers participate, it’s not a complete solution. Without Hilton, it’s that much less complete. Travelers need to know which paper receipts they need to scan, fax or photograph.

In May, Concur told users that it and Hilton “have discovered that the current integration must be replaced in order to reliably deliver Hilton e-receipts to our customers. Some e-receipts may be delivered to users in the interim but most will not.” Therefore, when Concur Travel users search for hotels, “all Hilton properties will now be shown as not supporting e-receipts,” according to the company. “The logo will not appear and the E-Receipt Enabled search filter will exclude those properties.” This covers all properties of all brands in the Hilton portfolio, not just Hilton Hotels. Ten years ago, Hilton was among the first to work with Concur on e-receipts.

A Concur press official did not provide some requested information; Hilton declined to comment.

Additional info: Here’s a partial list of travel suppliers participating in Concur E-Receipts: Avis/Budget, Enterprise/National/Alamo and Hertz; Carlson Hotels, Choice Hotels, Hyatt, InterContinental Hotels Group, La Quinta, Omni Hotels and Starwood; Airbnb and HotelTonight; Addison Lee, Curb, Lyft, Uber, eCab, FlyteTyme, Grab, GroundLink, MyTaxi and Summitqwest. Specifics vary, like geographical coverage, the granularity of the data, whether the customer has to call the supplier to activate or whether users must have a corporate discount code.

According to Concur, car rental and hotel e-receipts “typically” show in user accounts within three business days.

For airfares, Concur itself creates e-receipts from ticketing data from passenger name records or from “TripLink suppliers and TMCs using the Connect API,” according to Concur. If the airfare is booked via a TMC, the e-receipt is available “a few hours later.” Bookings via direct connects (like with Southwest Airlines) produce e-receipts “in real time.”

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Sabre CEO Klein: Underperformance Not Connected To Departure

[UPDATE, Dec. 16, 2016: Sabre announced that Sean Menke will become president and CEO on Dec. 31. He’s been at Sabre since October 2015 as an EVP and as president of Sabre Travel Network, responsible for the the company’s global distribution system. He previously was CEO of Frontier Airlines and served in senior positions at Air Canada and Hawaiian Airlines. Non-executive chairman of the board Larry Kellner, a former Continental Airlines’ CEO, becomes executive chairman on the same day.]

After Sabre on Monday announced president and CEO Tom Klein’s plans to depart the company at year-end, Evercore ISI equities analyst David Togut called the news “surprising.” However, Togut in a research note cited an April 25 Sabre financial statement for his conclusion that the company’s board “was not pleased” with Klein’s 2015 performance.

In an interview this afternoon, Klein said there was no connection between the board’s 2015 assessment and his departure. Klein wants to spend more time with his family.

“In 2015, our board of directors considered the performance of our CEO and, while acknowledging his strong operational and financial performance, found he had demonstrated shortcomings in other leadership areas,” according to the Sabre financial statement. “Consequently, our board of directors recommended to the compensation committee that it reduce the amount of the CEO’s 2015 executive incentive plan, payable in 2016. The compensation committee did not exercise its discretion to adjust any other named executive officer’s actual cash incentive payment for 2015.”

Sabre Corporation president and CEO Tom Klein Image: World Travel & Tourism Council / Flickr

Sabre Corporation president and CEO Tom Klein
Image: World Travel & Tourism Council / Flickr

In his note, Togut reiterated the firm’s “buy” rating on Sabre stock, calling it “one of our best” investment ideas.

According to Klein, the board was happy with the quantitative aspects of his work in 2015 — the operational and financial elements. “However, in 2015 I missed on some qualitative goals,” he said, without being more specific. “I didn’t have any dispute with that.”

He suggested that the six-month transition period now underway would not be happening if he was “sideways” with the board. “I have a great relationship with the board,” he said.

To connect the 2015 performance assessment with his departure, Klein said, is “incorrect speculation.”

Klein said he believes Sabre is in the “best competitive position it’s ever been in,” and “I wouldn’t be contemplating leaving the company if I felt it was in anything but great shape.”

In terms of its corporate products, Klein reiterated the company’s plans and challenged both Sabre and the industry to “do a better job” on business intelligence, mobile tools and traveler services.

CEO for more than three years, Klein joined Sabre 22 years ago.

“By making this announcement now, the board of directors will have ample time to identify a successor as we work through a smooth transition to keep the company’s growth plans and our customer deliverables on course,” according to the Monday statement from Sabre.

The company reaffirmed its financial guidance and “medium-term goals.”

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Travel Risk Management Experts: Limited Value In French, Israeli Risk Alert Apps

Lots of apps alert travelers to danger. Two of the newest come from the French and Israeli governments. These seem like good additions to the phones of ex-pats or travelers, and travel risk management experts say any info is usually better than none. Obviously partial to their products, TRM providers said one concern is that using both public and private-sector apps may be confusing during critical moments. Another is about the accuracy of info from a single source, even if it is a government entity.

The French and Israeli mobile apps for iOS and Android are meant to provide real-time, one-way notifications. They’re available to anyone.

Released this month, the French Ministry of the Interior’s app uses geolocation to alert users to things like terrorist attacks. SAIP (Système d’alerte et d’information des populations) is available in French and English. Users can request alerts covering as many as eight selected geographical locations.

The app delivers “behavioral advice and instructions” based on the type of incident and the user’s location, according to a translation of the ministry’s announcement. An expected update would “take into account all major natural and technological risks.”

risk-alert

Image: Thinkstock

Tom Roberts, global operations manager at TRM firm Drum Cussac, has checked out the French app. “The concept of a government-designed and administered app is very useful; accurate and actionable intelligence in the first minutes of a significant security incident is a critical factor to the safety of travelers and citizens,” he wrote by email. “The app may also help to control rumors and false information that are prevalent in emerging security incidents.”

Roberts added that SAIP’s “good practices” section is “a great idea” but “very basic” in this initial phase. He said he wants to see future releases provide more explicit guidance on how to react during specific incidents. He also said the app should deliver “pre-event mitigation advice” to educate travelers before they go somewhere.

Andrew Miller, executive vice president of Europ Assistance Global Corporate Solutions, said SAIP will be a “very valuable resource” during weather issues, transportation strikes and the like. For security incidents, though, he’s skeptical.

“If the app is designed to provide instantaneous information on the location and the details of an attack, active shooter situation or police activity, what you see often is the first three or four reports that come out aren’t the full picture,” he said. “Information on sheltering in place, or if there is a safe haven four blocks away … even that initial piece of information for that traveler could cause more confusion than its worth.” He added that government-provided info very often is susceptible to “political leanings or a nationalistic agenda.”

Miller acknowledged his bias for private-sector apps like the one furnished by his company. Those, he said, issue information based on many sources — including multiple governments.

For organizations building travel risk programs, TRM expert Charles Brossman also pointed out the benefit of neutrality from third-party risk firms. However, he said, individual travelers assume governments disseminate info for their benefit.

Israel’s Home Front Command app came out this winter for iOS and Android devices. It provides “alerts, instructions and explanations for live updates during times of routine and times of emergency,” according to Apple’s iTunes page. Users select the specific area for which they want to receive notifications. The app defaults to the Hebrew language but also is available in Arabic, English and Russian.

Some TRM experts give the Israelis the benefit of the doubt in light of the constant threat of rocket attacks. But in general, what happens when a government app provides info or advice that differs from a TRM provider’s? Many organizations construct travel risk management programs specifically to handle dicey situations.

“If the employer facilitates adequate, ongoing training as to the differences and value of what their program provides versus publicly available resources, there should be little or no confusion,” according to Brossman. “While on business, if there is ever any question in terms of conflicting information or confusion of any kind, travelers should contact their TRM program’s 24-hour crisis hotline or designated internal TRM sponsor.”

Travel Recon founder and CEO Toby Houchens said government apps are a good place to start for any traveler. However, some are limited by “funding and bandwidth issues as far as technology and personnel,” he said. “The time of generalized country-level information is coming to an end. Clients and customers expect more, and understandably so. Just knowing that an event is happening in certain geographic locations is only part of the story.”

The U.S. State Department has two, free iOS/Android apps for overseas travelers. The Smart Traveler app is for any traveling American. It has extra features for Smart Traveler Enrollment Program members. The Overseas Security Advisory Council app is for existing members. It “provides a forum for sharing best practices,” according to its iTunes description. An update this month features a “streamlined and enhanced dashboard.” The two State Department apps have similar functions. They provide local info like embassy locations and contacts. A spokesperson said both provide official State Department alerts and travel warnings, sometimes “within hours” of an incident.

Commercial Updates

IJet International in April announced enhancements for its Worldcue Mobile app. It now pushes alerts and “actionable intelligence” to users, “even when the app isn’t open,” according to the company.

Also in April, International SOS and Control Risks updated their TravelTracker tool. It now includes emailed itineraries booked outside designated corporate channels. The new functionality uses email parsing capabilities from Carlson Wagonlit Travel’s WorldMate.

The latest iteration of Travel Recon’s free Go Recon iOS and Android app came out this month. It uses crowdsourcing to provide “near real-time, hyper-local reports.” Houchens said the company now is building out “crowd verification capabilities.” Travel Recon this month also announced general availability of its subscription risk management platform. The Basic version includes intelligence, GPS tracking, emergency push notifications and community reporting features. Still in development, the Pro version will offer a travel manager dashboard and more tracking, risk assessment and communications tools.

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For Concur TripLink Clients, Motivations Vary

Users of Concur’s TripLink service have various reasons for participating. At IT consulting firm Sopra Steria, it’s about equipping employees. The company partnered last year with InterContinental Hotels Group on an unusual program in which Sopra Steria employees earn bonus IHG loyalty points for enrolling in and booking on IHG’s websites with TripLink.

“As a company, we allow our travelers quite a bit of freedom if they want it,” said Sopra Steria chief procurement officer and travel and expenses director Andy Hepworth. “Generally, our culture is that people are empowered. It’s not ‘open booking.’ It’s giving people the technology and tools so they can make decisions themselves. This is not to say that everyone who books IHG is going that route, but it’s capturing those who do.”

Sopra Steria spent 97 million euro on travel globally last year, including about 19 million in the United Kingdom, where Hepworth is based. Travel management company Corporate Travel Management supports a U.K. in-house team and a full-time travel manager. The company has a travel and expense policy, risk management program, travel sustainability reporting and preferred suppliers.

Andy Hepworth

Sopra Steria chief procurement officer Andy Hepworth

“People are regularly staying at IHG hotels, so they want the rewards for that,” he added. “They may feel slightly disconnected going through the TMC. It’s very clear if you’re going to IHG’s site itself.”

Perceptions about a better booking experience on supplier websites also are part of the reason Illinois Tool Works is testing TripLink.

“The experience you get from the online booking tool in terms of really trying to see what you are going to be experiencing when you get to a hotel is just not acceptable,” said ITW director of global travel and expense management services Cathy Sharpe. “Concur knows that too. Concur knows they cannot get the content in there that today’s traveler needs.”

ITW is a more reluctant participant than Sopra Steria. Sharpe called the program a “contingency” and a “stop-gap.” She is concerned about uncertainty surrounding TMC and global distribution system models.

The test is focused on particular employees who “consistently go outside the program,” she said. The most disconcerting observation so far is that booking outside the preferred channel “translates into savings for us in pretty much all instances,” said Sharpe. Between 2013 and 2015, the share of hotel bookings through ITW’s TMC fell to 40 percent from 67 percent. In the same timeframe, she said, the average hotel rate fell by $2 per day. Sharpe lays some of the blame on member rates. She said hotels also are keeping inventory open via their websites that is not available through corporate booking systems.

Through TripLink, users connect their loyalty accounts to Concur so they can make bookings on supplier sites using negotiated rates. The sign-up process requires several steps.

“Communication is key for anything,” said Hepworth. “We told them steps to follow. I have not heard any negative feedback about people not being able to link up their accounts. Silently in the background, you see the numbers of people who had connected rise. Whether it’s clunky or not, it worked.”

Sopra Steria is building better messaging. “When users log in to the Concur system, it knows whether they signed up for IHG/TripLink,” he explained. “If they have not, it suggests they ‘click here’ and insert their reward number. We’re just about to launch that.”

Hepworth said most of the suppliers participating in the supplier-direct version of TripLink are not preferred for his company. IHG is a big exception. For the rest, he said, employees use the email parsing aspect.

Parsing is pretty much all employees at the University of Tulsa are using. Associate director of special projects and energy conservation Jason Grunin said that for whatever reason, university staff don’t enroll in loyalty programs as much as corporate travelers. Travel management at institutions of higher learning tends to be fragmented, and Tulsa is no exception. As such, Grunin has supported TripLink since the school first went live with Concur Travel and Expense two years ago.

The university allows employees to book car and hotel however they want, though air bookings must go through Concur Travel or the preferred TMC, World Travel Service. It encourages travelers to use the email element of TripLink to improve its risk management program.

“Then we’re able to capture itinerary information, and at least we have an idea,” said Grunin, who said the school also uses card-swipe data. “It may not be pinpoint accuracy if they don’t follow all our procedures, but it’s so much better than where we were three years ago.”

Not Perfect

Speaking at Concur’s Fusion Exchange event in New York on June 1, one client asked whether it was possible for administrators to set up supplier-direct registrations for travelers. Privacy considerations prevent that. Another asked whether Concur has a solution for travelers inadvertently adding personal trips to the system. “We’ll look into it,” said TripLink consultant Marja Moore.

One of the bigger challenges is getting travelers to forward the emails at all.

“It takes a little handholding at first,” said Grunin. “No automated system is perfect.”

Grunin said that whether it’s with itinerary emails that don’t process accurately or spending data that comes through with errors, Concur is responsive on fixing import and data mapping issues.

As of last week, Riot Games global travel wizard Sean Parham could not say the same. Parham wants TripLink to work but he said half the time he can’t get travelers to forward emails. For those that do come in, he said price and schedule data often are incorrect.

“TripLink is a fail as far as I am concerned,” Parham wrote in The Company Dime LinkedIn Group. “I have asked Concur numerous times for help and have received limited support.”

Hepworth and Sharpe said they haven’t looked at the TripLink reporting.

Air Developments

ITW’s Sharpe emphasized that her TripLink program is a pilot.

“We’ve piloted the hotel piece of it and now we’re expanding a bit,” she said. “We’ll do a pilot with an airline just to see what that looks like. The gap, of course, for airlines is much smaller than the hotel.”

Supplier-direct TripLink testing between several mutual customers of Concur and United Airlines kicks off this month.

“We have done the development on the back end so data is passed from United to Concur for TripLink when a booking is made,” said United managing director for sales and distribution Amos Khim last week. “Some front-end work for the customer interface is in testing right now.”

Any friction in registration, Khim said, should not be seen as poor execution. “We tried to think through a lot of the different use cases and user needs so the day-to-day experience of doing a TripLink booking” is smooth, he said.

Concur expects Air Canada to be up and running by year-end.

“We’re in active conversations with other major carriers,” Concur’s Moore told the conference crowd. “They all see the value. What we need from our customers is for them to encourage suppliers like American, Delta and Southwest to join the TripLink network.”

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SR Travel Takes Action To Manage The Unmanaged

The creators of TripActions think they have a slick reservations app, a fun incentive program and an innovative approach to travel policy. At $0 per transaction, the price also may be attractive. Its travel management company partner, S.R. Travel Service, sees TripActions as a differentiator in the market.

When San Francisco-based S.R. looked at TripActions a year ago, president and COO Nancy Atkinson thought collaboration would be premature. “But they move quickly,” she said last week. In October, Atkinson got a closer look as an advisor. By January, the S.R. management team agreed to provide the startup with fulfillment and call support.

The relationship is similar to other cases where TMCs work behind the scenes with would-be disruptors. Atlas Travel supports both NexTravel and Cinch. TravGroup backs 30SecondsToFly.

The operational benefits are obvious. With few exceptions, tech startups don’t want to become travel agencies. TripActions co-founder and CEO Ariel Cohen also noted that innovators often need industry knowledge.

Nancy Atkinson

S.R. Travel Service president
and COO Nancy Atkinson

There’s no investment relationship between S.R. and TripActions, said Atkinson. She called the technology “special” and “unique.” It’s too early to call TripActions the TMC’s preferred corporate booking tool, though. “We support all the others,” she said.

TMC veteran Ron Wagner introduced TripActions to S.R. when he worked for the latter as a vice president. Now he works for the former as client engagement advisor. He’s most impressed with the speed of the booking system, which is heavily mobile-oriented.

“It should take two or three minutes to book,” said TripActions CTO and co-founder Ilan Twig. The mobile app also features destination and other contextual information. FlightStats provides flight status info. If a car rental isn’t booked, the app interacts with the Uber app for easy ground transfers.

When it’s not so easy to self-book, S.R. Travel is available on the other end of the phone. “The support needs to be perfect,” said Atkinson. “We have a specialized desk here supporting TripActions.”

TripActions is setting “optimum” budgets based on observed market pricing and pays travelers back in “Tripbucks” when they spend less. These are redeemable for Amazon gift cards, personal trips or business upgrades. Officials say the app can help clients cut as much as 30 percent from their travel spending. That’s not necessarily on the same products and services. “The real savings come from changing behavior,” like trading down on class of service, said Cohen. “What would you do if it was your money?”

TripActions makes its money on supplier deals, sometimes in partnership with S.R. The TMC charges TripActions fees for fulfillment.

Sans Complex Policies

TripActions is targeting smaller and medium sized businesses with 50 to 1,000 employees. “For them it’s not just about savings but also they are starting to manage travel without bringing in a more traditional application,” said Cohen.

Bobby Shoker is VP of finance and accounting at Netskope, a Bay Area cloud security company. It’s three years old and has 300 people. It shares with TripActions a board member, Lightspeed Ventures Partners’ Arif Janmohamed. He introduced the companies a year ago. Now all of Netskope’s salespeople are using the app. “I don’t think on the airline side there’s that much savings,” said Shoker. “It’s on the hotel side where, say, instead of Marriott they choose Hilton and it’s $100 cheaper, and maybe the employee gets $30. It’s more of a behavioral change. We don’t force people to use it.”

Netskope VP of finance and accounting Bobby Shoker

Netskope VP of finance and accounting Bobby Shoker

Shoker said the company doesn’t have many travel policies. They include guidance on advance bookings and a per-diem cap on hotel rooms of $250. He said the company considered a TMC relationship, but this was “quick and easy — and also intriguing since it’s all mobile.”

TripActions is attracting interest from firms larger than its target range. Xilinx global travel manager Jean Sloan also is impressed. The 3,500-employee firm is considering a beta with one of its divisions. Xilinx may be a company that takes advantage of the more robust TripActions policy parameters.

TripActions offers a dashboard allowing clients to create policy tiers based on company hierarchy. Price and class of service are applicable elements. Per diem caps can be adjusted by city.

However, Cohen argued that many corporate policies are “bad processes” which are losing relevance. He suggests incentives, good experiences and “great prices” ought to be enough for many companies.

“It might be the segment we’re after,” he said, “but we are encouraging customers to go with a dynamic policy option. There are no hard borders. It’s a way to maintain certain control but then really let us decide the right price for a certain city, and same with airlines.”

Additional info: Menlo Park, Calif.-based TripActions uses Sabre under its own contract. It also makes bookings with online travel agencies. Cohen said he sees the S.R. agreement as a “long-term” partnership, but the proposition “could later resonate with other TMCs.” TripActions now is working on a risk management aspect for its app, using notifications. It is also exploring expense management integration with firms such as Expensify.

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Making Soft Dollars Less Squishy

Big U.S. airlines sell lots of add-ons. Business travelers crave several of them. They get some from status or their company’s travel program. Bundles and fare families can deliver them, too. Ascribing dollar values to these value-adds can be challenging. Reports from the Big Three airlines help make the case about the usefulness of their corporate relationships. Delta last month began providing such new reporting to corporate accounts. American and United have been offering that for a few years, albeit in less detail.

Quantifying the benefit of airline contracts beyond hard dollars also can prove the travel program’s worth. Travel buyers may start looking at these items after tapping out share-for-discount opportunities. “I have seen cases where the value part of the relationship in a heavily domestic program far outweighed the upfront discounts,” according to a post by GoldSpring Consulting partner Neil Hammond.

“The story here is getting the airlines to report in relatable terms, which we’re not quite getting,” according to one travel manager speaking on the condition of anonymity. “Some are better about this than others.”

Delta makes a big deal about value-adds for corporate clients through its Edge and Corporate Priority programs. The latest enhancement to the airline’s SkyPartner reports quantify much of that. The reports show the number of passengers benefitting from the perks and “associated monetary value.” Priority boarding and preferred seats are based on “the value that passengers would be charged if purchasing directly from Delta,” according to the airline. For denied boarding protection and priority rebooking, Delta calculates an estimate by “comparing the associated costs and lost productivity if the passenger were to experience a cancellation or delay, respectively.”

soft dollars“People look at a contract and just look at the bottom-line savings but there are so many more pieces of the relationship that drive overall value,” said Kristen Shovlin, Delta VP of sales operations and development.

“The vision” of the reports, added sales technology director Sarah Reid, “is to make the value evident and transparent.”

American Airlines for a few years during quarterly meetings has shared info on client-specific perks. It assigns dollar values on class-of-service upgrades, free checked bags and complimentary seat assignments. Those are based on what any traveler would pay if purchasing directly from the airline. AA also shares data on baggage handling and flight punctuality. The airline now is working with joint venture partners to align this type of reporting.

United, too, provides reports on soft-dollar items and service funds. The airline, like the others, first determines which add-ons clients get as part of a contract by considering various factors. It makes an offer balancing discounts and amenities, “i.e., more discount less amenities, less discount more amenities,” according to a United official. “To determine the value of the benefits we provide, we then use the same dollar value we used to determine the offer and add the benefits or other amenities they received as a result of frequent flier status, etc. (which is cost avoidance but very clearly a contract value).”

The official said a new, self-service corporate and agency portal expected next year will include “more comprehensive reporting.”

Air Contract Add-Ons

ItemValuable to ...Always/often in contract for ...
No itinerary change fees99%25%
Name change waivers/ticket credits97%61%
No checked bag fees91%15%
Frequent flier status 88%65%
Free Wi-Fi 85%8%
Fare-class upgrades 81%31%
More leg room 69%11%
Airport lounge access65%29%
Free food or drink44%6%
Free inflight entertainment 28%4%
December 2015 GBTA Foundation survey of 103 travel managers, sponsored by Amadeus

Suppliers aren’t interested in waiving some of the more profitable items, said Amadeus North America business travel group head Jay Richmond. Change fees, for example, may be “a reach,” he said during a May 2016 GBTA Foundation/Amadeus webinar.

Accounts often earn waivers and related “funds” during contract periods. But Hammond agreed they are “something that many airlines like to keep away from the negotiating table and out of the contract language.” To bring it back into the discussion, he suggested buyers review “previous usage and or refund rates.”

Airlines are more likely to include other types of soft-dollar perks. Richmond said buyers need to know which ones are beneficial to their organizations and worth the effort. They also shouldn’t lose site of the total cost of a trip. “There are things that could have been bundled into the fare for a nominal fee that instead everyone is paying rack rate for,” he noted during a follow-up discussion.

“My inclination is that this is not a very mature science in terms of supplier relations,” Richmond said. “It is critically important for the corporation to understand what carries intrinsic value — productivity, comfort, reduction of anxiety, etc. — and what carries monetary value. You need to make sure you bring that holistic value metric with you to your negotiations with suppliers. Don’t go into this and let the supplier say, ‘Here’s the value we assigned.’ ”

Frequent flyer status, of course, is a biggie. It can bring a variety of perks, including free checked bags. Companies often secure new or higher status on preferred airlines for frequent travelers and senior execs.

“Try to assign the status matches first before using up your allotment of ‘free’ memberships,” Hammond advised. “Sometimes the offer will come with strings attached based on the travelers’ subsequent activity. This can be a negotiating point, but it is also important to make sure that you are assigning the status levels to those who are most likely to retain them.”

It’s essential for companies to communicate what they’ve negotiated, lest they waste the effort. Informing travelers of conveniences reinforces the benefits of booking in designated channels. It also can help avoid double-paying for certain items. “That is most often happening with airlines [as compared to hotels and rental cars], without a doubt,” said GBTA foundation research manager Kate Vasiloff.

Time As Money

Delta also is pushing beyond-contract benefit in another way: avoiding costs through reliable operations.

The airline made a splash last summer when it introduced an operational performance guarantee. United one-upped Delta with a similar program covering international and regional flights, and disruptions beyond its control. Delta recently matched that and added baggage handling comparisons. It now is using data from FlightStats rather than the U.S. Department of Transportation (United uses info from aviation data firm MasFlight).

Last week Delta switched on an online calculator showing the estimated dollars saved by taking its flights rather than American’s or United’s. Based on how much a client travels with Delta, the tool makes assumptions on how many delays and cancellations travelers faced. It compares that to AA’s and UA’s performance for the period. The system then calculates added expenses resulting from extra hotel nights, meals, taxi fares, Wi-Fi charges and, potentially, agency fees. It also works out an estimate on lost traveler productivity.

Travel managers can adjust the average cost of each expense item to reflect their specific company.

Delta’s operational performance assessment is “a big picture story,” according to carrier officials. It doesn’t measure the actual disruptions an account’s travelers suffer. Instead, “the calculator is designed to directionally show travel managers there’s some money being spent not realized through a contract negotiation.” Users also can see how much more they might save by shifting share given to Delta.

Vouchers travelers receive from airlines during disruptions to cover certain expenses aren’t factored in. Delta reports that compensation by account in SkyPartner reports.

Additional info: According to FlightStats, Delta in each of the first five months of 2016 had higher completion rates than both American and United. In on-time performance, it beat AA during each month and United in four of five. For full-year 2015, Delta bested both rivals in both categories.

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Wyndham Executive: Don’t Want Direct Bookings? Don’t Reimburse For Them

Wyndham Worldwide has made fewer headlines on book-direct programs than some competitors, but it has one too. Asked in an interview how companies should respond when these campaigns impact support for managed travel programs, an exec last week offered what some may see as an insensitive or unrealistic answer: non-reimbursement.

Reading it there makes it seem like Wyndham SVP for global sales and revenue Kathy Maher was being caustic. She wasn’t.

Maher was presented with Hess global travel manager Nicki Leeds’ anecdote about elevator advertising. If travelers work for a company that only reimburses travel expenses incurred in the approved manner, said Maher, “It wouldn’t matter how many times I heard that Marriott commercial because I want someone to pay for my business trip.”

Kathy Maher

Kathy Maher, Wyndham Worldwide senior vice president of global sales and revenue

She elaborated: “We’d like to influence you to come and book with us and not the online travel agencies. The importance of our corporate clientele is huge. If it’s not about influencing corporate travelers where to book, it’s about influencing them to book with us. There’s a fine line between influence and responsibility.”

According to TripBam CEO Steve Reynolds, incentives for travelers to book direct increase corporate costs. “The ultimate result could be companies having to take the purchase decision away from the traveler,” he noted.

Non-reimbursement is the ultimate stick. In some company cultures it’s not unrealistic. Nor are other measures some would call draconian. The Company Dime recently reported on a corporation that stops trips in their tracks when hotels are not properly booked. In response, a travel manager at another large company said it’s doing the same. The source asked that the company not be named as the policy is not yet in effect.

Like most suppliers working with managed corporate travel programs, Wyndham favors strong client policies. The track record on booking policy compliance for lodging is weak. Perhaps hotel companies are comfortable with an outcome that puts more pressure on managed clients to deliver.

Maher pointed out that clients with high percentages of travelers booking where they should and using negotiated rates earn more benefits from preferred suppliers.

There isn’t a lot of related, new industry research. An August survey by the Association of Corporate Travel Executives and American Express Global Business Travel found that 32 percent of 350 companies further restricted the use of alternative booking channels during the preceding two years. By comparison, 6 percent of companies loosened booking channel policies. Seven percent indicated no such policy.

Meanwhile, Maher suggested a possibility that marries book-direct with corporate benefit, and also mimics Concur’s TripLink.

“We can give [corporate clients] one-click hyperlinks so their customers could book direct with us if that’s what they’d like,” she said. “Even as a Wyndham employee, I’m required to book on our site. It’s not just compliance — I was recently in Shanghai, Singapore, Australia. What if something is happening? Who do we have in Brussels, Paris?”

A Different Take

Wyndham has a different take on fighting online travel agencies, and on the loyalty program in general, than some of its rivals. Maher, who spent more than a decade each at Hilton and Marriott, said “we’re not aiming at business travelers or weekday travelers” with the direct-booking benefits.

Advance-purchase rates are lower for logged-in Wyndham Rewards members. Corporate negotiated rates typically are lower than that, she said.

More unique is Wyndham’s current book-direct promotion. Travelers get $100 in Wyndham Rewards gift cards for completing two “qualified” stays at participating hotels through Sept. 6. Maher said corporate negotiated rates are considered qualified; online travel agency rates are not.

Wyndham last month simplified its loyalty program. It added new levels after previously doing away with blackout dates and settled on a 15,000-points rate for a one-night stay anywhere across its 16 brands.

Additional info: Maher is scheduled to speak next month in Denver at the Global Business Travel Association convention.

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Ground Transportation’s Battle For Convenience

Uber and Lyft mastered the technology to make the on-demand car experience simple and nearly immediate. Traditional black car operators are trying to do the same. But their world is a complicated patchwork of platforms, patents and partnerships. No initiative has unified the industry, and more pop up all the time.

Sorting out on-demand capabilities means aggregating supply across providers and their affiliates. Only at scale can the car services industry compete for real-time ride-hail customers. Is that fight against the so-called transportation network companies worth it? For true limousine operators, maybe not. Their clientele usually doesn’t overlap with Uber or Lyft. It’s a different story for black car companies.

Nothing means more than time for many corporate executives. This spring, Jet Edge International SVP Tracy Chaplin shared a tale of five VIP travelers on a flight diverted from White Plains, N.Y. to Teterboro, N.J. The private jet company set up car services to accommodate the change. Three passengers hailed Uber cars and were gone before the chauffeured cars arrived.

“They did it themselves on the app even though they literally just flew cross-country on a Gulfstream,” Chaplin told attendees to an Institute for Supply Management conference.

chauffeur

Image: Thinkstock

“The worst thing you can do is get an executive to the end of a trip and then he is cooling his heels waiting for a car,” noted Ascend Materials director of global indirect procurement Tom Barrett.

Several quickly developing solutions intend to help the traditional ground transport industry get up to speed.

GroundLink’s Ride Now service lets app users in New York City book cars from the company’s network and be on their way “within 10 minutes.” GroundLink is growing the service in New York, testing it in Chicago and contemplating expansion to other markets.

ICars has been offering ride-hailing for chauffeured cars in San Francisco. Austin, Texas services start on Monday. Within a few months, iCars plans to expand to Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles and New York, according to founder and CEO Gary Bauer. Former Global Business Travel Association SVP Edward Silver this month joined iCars as president.

At Dashride, an affiliates network will go live next week. Like similar platforms, it will enable operators to feed rides to partners in the same or other cities. The company since last summer doubled the number of connected operators, according to co-founder Thomas Bachant. It now is available nationwide. Last month it went international and now is in six countries. The company is about to integrate with taxi comparison and booking app Karhoo.

Deem is still in the thick of ground transport technology. A company official declined to detail development of promised on-demand capabilities.

Deem last month announced a partnership with tech provider GroundWidgets, a competitor. That came as the two parties settled a patent infringement appeal after Deem lost the original suit it had brought. “We want to focus on innovation. We don’t want to spend time, effort and distraction on litigation,” said new Deem president and COO John Rizzo during an April interview.

GroundWidgets chairman and CEO Apurva Patel said the new partnership isn’t about ride-hailing, but rather connecting to Deem’s Saturn reservation system for GDS transactions.

Meanwhile, Deem’s technology partnership with the National Limousine Association, announced last summer, did contemplate real-time ride-hailing. The partnership already is dead. Spokespersons from both parties did not provide a reason.

An Orbitz For Us

Dav El Chauffeured Transportation Network president and CEO Scott Solombrino wants the industry to rally behind one platform. He reckons that if the biggest corporate service providers agree on which one, many others would join.

“Let’s pool our resources and select a platform and continue moving the platform along,” Solombrino said. “That gives us a better shot at consolidating, getting cross-use of inventory and interchanging transactions with the corporate clients. It’s similar to what Orbitz was supposed to be. Then we can all go to all the travel providers and say, ‘This is how you can get to all of us.’ ”

Solombrino suggested a decision among the big players could come by this summer. “The sector has to get it together,” he added, or it will “become more irrelevant everyday.”

Based on interest he is seeing in iCars, Bauer said the vision can work. “We have thousands of companies that want to be on board,” he claimed. “They know if there is going to be change we have to band together.”

Some are skeptical. The fragmented industry has 8,000 operators using disparate and often antiquated technology. They may not want to spend much money on new connectivity. Bigger players heretofore have focused on internal solutions matching their own goals. Some say it’s all too daunting to expect everyone to get behind a single initiative.

Dashride’s Bachant expects the number of intermediary platforms “to at least boil down to a smaller pool than it is now.”

“It would be wonderful to get a single ‘here’s-how-to-connect-to-everyone’ — a GDS for car service,” said Jeff LaFave, CEO of ground transport management firm Summitqwest. “But I don’t see that happening any time soon.”

Like others, Summitqwest uses a mix of connectivity. It includes direct connections to operators using APIs, as well as the Transponet reservations system (owned by Deem).

According to Limo Anywhere president Mark Gentry, “supply sharing solutions via multiple platforms with direct integrations and strong network standards are both possible and plausible.”

On Or Off The Grid?

One potential road is a clearinghouse of sorts in development by Gridd Technologies. Previously marketed as CoNext, Gridd connects systems used for dispatch, reservations, billing and accounting. It would exchange information among operators, and to passengers and their employers. It would work even if a traveler is using a car company’s overseas partner. A later step may be connecting to global distribution systems.

“The idea is to let the all systems exist and respect different technologies,” said CEO Amir Zafar.

GroundWidgets, which also owns the GroundSpan corporate travel system, was involved in Gridd but left because of what Patel described as the slow pace of development. Now he is resurfacing his own plan to create a universal platform connecting software providers with APIs.

Bigger back-office platforms Fasttrak, Limo Anywhere, the Hudson Group and Livery Coach each did or will integrate with Gridd, according to Zafar. Same for corporate travel system providers GroundScope and Summitqwest, according to executives at those companies.

GroundScope vice president of U.S. sales and account management Scot Graf is optimistic about Gridd’s plug-and-play promise. He said it will help the industry close in on the Holy Grail — an on-demand GPS-based app that accesses a company’s preferred service providers, their affiliates and other approved operators across connected intermediaries. Those diverted travelers in Teterboro would use their company provider’s app instead of Uber’s and be on their way just as fast.

“In terms of technology, it brings luxury operators up to almost the point of where Lyft, Uber and other apps of that ilk are,” said Pat Charla, a Gridd project partner from limo marketing agency Drive Profit. “The market is telling us that use of ride-sharing apps isn’t so much price but simply convenience. If it’s convenient, we won the battle in terms of keeping our clients.”

Near-Demand

How convenient should it be? Bill Faeth founded Silver Oak Transportation and then founded Limo University to educate smaller operators. He’s a Gridd proponent, but “even when it is available, I don’t think everyone will jump on the on-demand bandwagon.” Instead, he favors “near-demand” for this sector. “If we can go from a minimum two-hour pre-arrangement to 30 minutes or less, it’s kind of that tipping point for passengers based on how operators differentiate themselves from a level of service versus a typical TNC hail app,” he said.

Bachant said operators new to Dashride start with near-time services. They move toward on-demand as they optimize auto-dispatching capabilities. He suggested “a false correlation. People think all these companies need to be Uber, which is definitely not true. They can’t be and in a lot of cases don’t want to be.”

Patel pointed to lots of logistical issues. Operators don’t want drivers sitting around waiting for on-demand requests. They don’t want their customers using another provider’s car just because it’s closer. Traditionally, many don’t want to cooperate at all. For limo companies, in particular, which are less exposed to TNCs than black car companies, “until they feel the pain of losing a lot of business, they are not going to jump into making their cars available,” Patel said.

Some operators are updating dispatch systems to reduce lead times, including one in five connected to Summitqwest, according to LaFave.

He said that about one-quarter of all end-user corporate clients approved the use of TNCs. Their travelers can send a ride request to Uber or Lyft through the Summitqwest app. If the client has an Uber or Lyft business account, ride details and payment information flow back.

The rest of Summitqwest’s clients disallow TNCs or don’t address them in policies. Even so, “expectations are changing,” LaFave said. In New York, for example, where you can get a ride in under five minutes, “waiting for 15 can be frustrating.”

Solombrino said corporate executives “breaking their own policy because they are impatient is the crux of the problem.”

Limo Anywhere also is working to enable traditional ground transportation operators and their affiliates to provide near-time service. “What I hear from end customers is we need ETAs around 20 to 30 minutes,” and probably a bit tighter in New York, Gentry said. “The industry is just not large enough to have one-minute ETAs.”

When starting in a new market, iCars begins with near-time — “usually within 1 hour,” Bauer said. Once it has enough supply, the service moves closer to real time. That means pick-ups in “three to seven minutes,” he said. Otherwise, users “go back to the TNC.”

Disclosure: The Company Dime has a significant partnership with Institute for Supply Management.

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Egencia Bags Incremental Advance On Ancillaries

[UPDATE, June 10: Amadeus clarified comments on NDC, which may have given some readers the wrong impression. This article contains revised quotes.]

Egencia in March began selling bag checks online to European customers. It’s another example of a corporate travel distributor making gains on access to ancillary airline options.

In partnership with Amadeus, the service is available on 14 airlines. It lets travelers avoid paying for checked baggage at the airport, going to the airline’s website after booking the ticket or asking agents for help.

Egencia vice president for global marketing and product Michael Gulmann said Egencia expects to enable the service in other markets and with other distribution systems. It uses Sabre in North America. When travelers pay for bags through Egencia, the spending data is included in management reports (though not broken out). Data reporting is one of the bigger headaches for buyers related to ancillaries.

The program expanded to 13 undisclosed airlines following initial “success” in tests with Air France. Transatlantic Air France passengers pay $80 or more for a second checked bag and as much as $285 for a third.

luggageEgencia did not indicate how the service is priced. A press official said any fees an airline pays the travel management company for facilitating payment of bag charges are variable and negotiable.

“This is a lot less about fees as it is ensuring that when customers arrive at the airport, they don’t have to take out their credit cards and pay for bags,” said Gulmann. “That’s just a poor experience.”

Industrywide, the ancillary purchase experience needs improvement, Atmosphere Research Group reported in October. Sponsored by the International Air Transport Association, Atmosphere had polled almost 5,000 travelers. Nearly two-thirds of respondents said paying for checked bags before going to the airport was helpful. Among ancillary fees, checked baggage is the most likely to be reimbursed by employers, the survey found.

According to a March Phocuswright report, TMCs as of next year will represent 83 percent of online managed travel spend. Yet, “ancillary spend mostly goes through supplier-­direct channels,” Phocuswright noted.

According to Amadeus IT Group director of managed travel Arlene Coyle, “Other TMCs are still struggling with the business model.” If they can solve it, she expects “massive adoption.” Coyle said overall ancillary services sold by TMCs through Amadeus increased by 200 percent last year.

Some airlines report weak take-up in sales of optional services through travel agency channels. Travel agencies presumably would be more likely to help with such sales if they got a piece of the action.

United Airlines doesn’t offer standalone checked bag purchases through third parties. It does offer its Economy Plus seats. “I’ll give the GDSs some credit for investing in that development to consume the content,” said United managing director for sales and distribution Amos Khim.

Adoption is lower than hoped, he said, but it’s ticking up.

“With continuing education and collaboration, we can make this a part of the regular selling process,” said Khim. “In call centers, there’s a process issue that some agencies have done a really good job of solving and others haven’t. There’s a commercial issue. Some agencies are more reluctant to turn this on without getting an incremental return from the airlines.” As for online bookings, “GetThere has been able to sell our seats but we’re still waiting for other corporate booking tools to be able to support the sale of ancillaries,” he added. “That’s another stumbling block.”

Despite the hurdles, Khim said he’s optimistic. The airline now is adjusting its API so GDSs can enable its new bundled fares, which include a checked bag.

One-Off Or NDC? That’s Not The Question

The Atmosphere report hailed IATA’s New Distribution Capability as the solution for ancillary sales woes. It called NDC “the retailing catalyst to happier passengers, happier third parties and happier airline partners.” At their big meeting in Dublin last week, IATA officials called NDC “mainstream” and “a reality.”

However, most corporate travel efforts on ancillaries thus far do not incorporate NDC. It’s as if there are parallel universes of industry discourse. In one, TMCs and GDSs are announcing initiatives to get the content in travelers’ hands now. In the other, airlines and technologists are living in the future.

One reader recently demonstrated this duality in his response to an article about Concur’s program with the GDSs on branded fares.

“Is the underlying message of the article stating that Concur is not interested in integrating NDC?” asked Travel Tech Consulting’s Norm Rose. Nope. Concur hadn’t said a word about NDC. The article’s author hadn’t thought about it.

Rose described some of the benefits of NDC and the challenges of using one-off GDS options which are “in a constant state of catch up.” But he also acknowledged that for NDC “there has been a gap between desire versus actual practice.”

For Egencia, NDC or no NDC isn’t the question.

“Expedia is part of the steering committee that helped develop the standard,” said Gulmann. “I understand why we get questions about it, but at the same time, in some ways I don’t. We think the standard is just fine. We build our technology and product against what’s available today. Part of it is, ‘Let’s see what technology prevails and we’ll go build for that.’ We’re not putting all our eggs in one basket.”

“I don’t see how it’s related at all,” said Coyle. “NDC is a messaging standard. It’s up to each airline and travel player to choose the messaging standard they want to use. But we’re already capable of doing merchandising.”

According to IATA’s annual report, published this month, “A significant number of NDC deployments are expected to be initiated by airlines globally in 2016 in partnership with travel technology and travel agency partners.”

United’s Khim said “NDC is just a technical standard — it doesn’t necessarily solve this in and of itself. There’s still that last mile issue where it’s a matter of integrating things from front to back.”

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Boston Consulting Group App Exemplifies Traveler-Centric Program

Given the intensity of its people’s travel, The Boston Consulting Group is not known as a stickler on expenses. But relatively flexible policies and willingness to spend on better services aren’t everything. Ease of process is important, too.

BCG head of global travel Gehan Colliander said the company is moving toward a more employee-centric travel program. Some observers would interpret that as meaning employees get more freedom on where to make their travel plans. Not BCG. Sweden-based Colliander hailed a “clear, end-to-end process” that avoids the complications of fragmentation.

The company in March released an Amadeus-built iOS itinerary management app to employees in more than 80 offices. It imports trip details, facilitates flight check-in, synchronizes with calendars, alerts users to delays or cancellations, suggests alternative flights and connects to agents for rebooking.

BCG Amadeus mobile app

Image: Thinkstock

“We’re defining the strategy to make life easier for the traveler and make sure they’re compliant by ensuring mobility,” said Colliander in a Tuesday interview. “Many apps are not corporate-endorsed apps. They can help you on the road, you send an itinerary to an email, but then your trip is on that app. We’re providing the organization with one app, with the same look and feel. It’s only displaying the info that has been processed through the proper channels — the contracted travel agency and preferred vendors.

“Then as a traveler you don’t have to bother uploading, or finding telephone numbers,” she added. “With other apps, when you click to call, you go to an airline, but they can’t help you. Here you click to call your agent in your designated country. You can also can click to call after hours. This app solves for the needs of people on the road irrespective of which global distribution system the booking was made in.”

BCG travelers download the app from its internal store. It uses BCG’s branding. Sporting the firm’s look and feel should draw more employee adoption, said Colliander.

“With many apps out there including TMC apps you may have a different organization’s logo, and also the product push,” said Colliander. “So you’re sitting with an app and someone is pushing you info on non-preferred vendors, etc.”

Also part of BCG’s traveler engagement efforts, the firm last month published a new travel portal. Incorporating aspects of social media, the portal “brings us much closer to travelers,” Colliander said. “It’s more interactive. They can rate vendors, post comments, give us the opportunity to get back to them, reinforce the program policy compliance, etc.” The portal offers “one stop” for info on destinations, travel alerts and travel agency phone numbers.

The BCG mobile app is based on the Amadeus Mobile Platform, also available to travel agencies and other travel companies. An Amadeus official told The Beat there are “several” more corporate clients.

A number of corporations have expressed interest in their own branded travel apps. Providers including Amadeus, Roadmap and Travelport build those. Shipping conglomerate Maersk reportedly is looking to develop its own. Maersk travel officials did not reply to a request for an update.

Colliander also is president of GBTA Europe.

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