Monthly Archives: July 2016

U.S. Federal Government Funds Artificial Intelligence For Travel Risk Management

Monitoring the “dark web” for chatter to predict terrorist activity is expensive and largely the purview of law enforcement. Travel risk management startups, however, are developing technology to help clients more quickly respond to threatening incidents. It’s possible, for example, to issue tsunami alerts following an earthquake. Good intel can highlight areas with a higher likelihood of violence, preparing organizations in case it happens.

The U.S. federal government has determined that enhancing intel gathering and communications in a race against time is an endeavor worthy of taxpayer assistance. TRM provider Stabilitas has won a $225,000 Small Business Innovation Research grant for research and development that could lead to an additional $750,000.

The funding will accelerate existing efforts. “We think we can take the world, in baby steps, from a pre-travel report to something that makes them more situationally aware every day,” said Stabilitas co-founder and CEO Greg Adams. “If people are more informed about what’s going on, they can avoid emergencies. In certain cases, there are warnings out there where we can get people word to take shelter, move to high ground, etc. We want to get as predictive as possible. You can’t predict a lone wolf attack, but you can predict protests.”

Stabilitas co-founder and CEO Greg Adams

Stabilitas co-founder and CEO Greg Adams

Stabilitas takes in data from traditional and social media to look for threats. It’s seeking to apply algorithms and big data concepts to analyze even more data, more quickly and with more accuracy. The information helps clients in security or other corporate departments take action.

Stabilitas is one of a relatively new crop of providers aiming to take TRM to another level through technology. Many have a military background.

The overall goal is improved responsiveness. Adding to the “lone wolf” metaphor, Adams also noted that care must be taken to avoid crying wolf. While highlighting areas of higher risk can be useful, it’s not always. “You can make people numb,” he said.

This is part of the reason why simply pulling in, boiling down and exporting information is not enough.

“A lot of providers call their capabilities artificial intelligence or machine learning or intelligence when really they are just automating the inflow of data,” according to Toby Houchens, CEO and founder of competitor Travel Recon. “What matters is the analytical processes built that can automate and aid analysis of relevant and granular data and therefore intelligence. You can’t avoid the need for human factors, nor should you.”

Adams agreed. “When it comes to machine learning, you need humans in the loop somewhere,” he said. During the Global Business Travel Association convention last week in Denver, Stabilitas chief of data Sean Maday said analysts identify points of interest, skewing the algorithms to focus on particular areas. “Every person on the platform, to some extent, is an analyst,” said Adams. He suggested that a community approach in which clients’ analysis is shared among them is a worthwhile goal.

Houchens emphasized the value of “true ‘crowdsourced’ data which is geocoded out of the box.” He also highlighted the need for “a user experience that stimulates interest and buy-in for intel dissemination.” Travel Recon just released its GoRecon app, using gamification concepts to draw user-submitted security intel. “We are seeing steady growth in our user base” of travelers and locals, according to Houchens.

Stabilitas also is looking to develop crowdsourcing capabilities.

“A version of that is in place,” said Adams. “We can crowdsource right now, but this is some of what we’re researching.”

Also speaking at the GBTA event, Stabilitas co-founder and COO Chris Hurst illustrated the potential for intel from the ground. When he managed risk for a non-profit operating in the Congo, he said, a female colleague transiting from Rwanda was sexually harassed by a border guard. “It was frustrating because we found out that the ex-pats working [there] all knew to avoid this border guard,” said Hurst. “There was a pattern of harm there. Why didn’t someone tell me? Why didn’t my employee know? Now I know, so how would I tell someone else? No analyst would have caught that. It never would have made its way to social media. So patterns of harm are not captured in the old model.”

Maday outlined four kinds of artificial intelligence that he said were “ripe” for use in TRM.

Sentiment analysis: Computationally identifying and categorizing opinions as they are expressed — looking at a tweet, an email, news reports
Usefulness scoring: Training a computer system to read and understand human language, and recognize patterns of speech that have relevancy to safety and security
Semantic topic modeling: Grouping a set of objects with similar objects, for example computers can start to understand that Beijing semantically is related to China, which is different from Japan
Geo-parsing: Identifying and disambiguating places as they are mentioned in text, so computers understand when a location is referenced and bring that location data back to be plotted on a map

Stabilitas offers a tiered licensing model, with a “bulk plan” also available, Adams said. New clients include AXA and Torchstone.

He described the federal grant as a “vote of confidence.”

Additional info: The Small Business Innovation Research grant program is designed to support research and development that both benefits society and can be commercialized. It funds about one-quarter of “all federally supported basic research conducted by America’s colleges and universities.” The Stabilitas grant came from the National Science Foundation, one of 11 federal agencies involved in the SBIR program.

Adams declined to share internal development milestones, but said as part of the grant the company must submit a progress report to the government within six to 12 months. In the meantime, the company is permitted to commercialize any resulting products or services. Grant beneficiaries retain intellectual property ownership.

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NexTravel, W Travel Partner To Take Midmarket Firms Across Borders

Corporate booking tech developer NexTravel partnered with little-known travel management company W Travel to go after multinationals. Related to a provider of premium-class services to business travelers, W is investing to compete with the megas. NexTravel will retain other TMC partners, notably Atlas Travel and Technology Group.

You will find bold proclamations in the NextTravel-W Travel announcement, but they’re just getting started.

The partners promise easy setup with global, 24/7 support and fulfillment. They intend to offer consistent pricing across markets. They claim their fees for reporting and service are lower than market averages. They cite an “already impressive” portfolio of “fast-growth, new-age” multinational clients. A handful will be testing the solution in the coming months. NexTravel has some currency and language programming to do. It’s still building connections for non-GDS content.

The target is small and medium enterprises that are growing and expanding internationally. “Most boutique agencies are only serving the U.S. market and not looking abroad,” according to NexTravel founder and CEO Wen-Wen Lam.

Wen-Wen Lam

NexTravel CEO Wen-Wen Lam

W Travel CEO Sarosh Waghmar identifies newly built infrastructure as an advantage. While larger TMCs years ago developed a “follow the sun” service approach for some large clients, W is essentially starting there. Waghmar said agents are always available from offices in Bombay, Hong Kong, London and the United States (Houston, New York, San Francisco). They use customer relationship management built with Microsoft Outlook. Traveler profiles and travel reservations mainly run through Sabre (with some on Amadeus). They move bookings geographically between points of sale to get the best pricing and availability. A joint venture with Frosch provides what Waghmar calls “big-boy corporate discounts.” Account management is organized in teams to cover time zones.

Waghmar attacked traditional multinational solutions for failing to deliver consistent reporting and service. W’s “proprietary” global platform allegedly streamlines those. “If you’re global, why are you getting reports on different platforms in Australia and London?” Waghmar asked.

Travel management consultants corroborated that there is persistent dissatisfaction among some corporate buyers on service and data reporting consistency from existing players.

Turning to service, Waghmar said, “Nothing is outsourced. No one is working in the middle of Idaho. We have actual people coming in at 10 p.m. and leaving at 7 a.m. ‘After hours’ and all that? We’ll never have it.”

KesselRun Corporate Travel Solutions partner Brandon Strauss said it would be unfair to say TMCs have not been innovating on service configurations. Use of home-based agents is commonplace. The call center is “old school,” he said.

“The difference is that ‘after hours’ for a lot of providers is really considered part of the core service model,” said Strauss. “You have the same service-level agreements as the regular service, and in some cases they stagger schedules for their normal agents. So you have a bank of five agents — one might be on after hours one week a month. An agent who knows you. The idea that TMCs haven’t tackled the after-hours challenge is generally untrue. The bigger problem is not so much after hours but the emergency services, where phone calls get stacked up.”

Corporate Travel Buyer Resources principal Donald Swartz said W Travel’s approach is “exactly what I’ve been telling ‘super regionals’ they need to do to survive. All they need is four to six locations, but they need to own them and then can probably service 80 percent of global companies. They can legally do cross-border ticketing and get lower rates. The wild cards are Japan and China. You can’t service other countries from those, and you can’t service those from India.”

Thinking Around The Box

Strauss was skeptical that anyone has created the sort of “turnkey” approach that can keep costs low in a multinational travel management offering. He said the challenges on content, language and local travel knowledge — and the needs for customization — are just too great.

Swartz wasn’t as concerned about customization. “Obviously the smaller the number of countries, the easier it is,” he said. “Corporations are moving toward standardization already. The bigger challenge is the brand name. Especially at a big company, it’s still easier to sell ‘American Express’ than ‘W Travel’ to the CFO.”

Strauss didn’t rule out the potential success of a “box” designed for “the right size company, with the right disposition, at the right stage in the lifecycle of growth.”

Many providers are working on an SME box, from megas like Carlson Wagonlit Travel to new tech firms and their TMC partners. The midsized multinational, in particular, is an enticing prospect.

SMEs that prefer the attention of a national player sometimes partner with those TMCs’ networked affiliates for foreign servicing. This is the kind of setup that Waghmar said sparked the idea for his approach. Why, he asked, should the lead agency give up business to TMCs in other countries?

Additional info: W Travel has more than 120 employees and claims more than 100 corporate clients. These are mainly from the private equity, venture capital, hedge fund and technology sectors. Waghmar founded the premium-class travel company, Spotnana, in 2004. In 2013, parent W Holdings acquired former Frosch affiliate Global Air Travel in Houston to become what Waghmar called a “full-fledged TMC.” W supports Concur Travel and “can implement” other booking tools. It uses Cornerstone Information Systems’ iQCX for the mid-office. 

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Dav El BostonCoach, EmpireCLS Jump Into Ground Technology Fray

[UPDATE, Jan. 27, 2017: Dav El BostonCoach parent Marcou Transportation Group acquired GroundLink and LimoAnywhere. “These companies provide us the opportunity to directly compete” with Uber, Lyft and other so-called transportation network companies, according to a statement from Marcou CEO Scott Solombrino. He noted that implementing auto-dispatch and “geospatial pricing” capabilities will help Marcou offer “the industry’s first on-demand service in the corporate market.” Terms were not announced.]

Denver – Dav El BostonCoach Transportation Network and EmpireCLS Worldwide Chauffeured Services last week announced plans for a new on-demand app. Music Express plans to join. Flyte Tyme is considering it. A bunch of tech intermediaries are pushing parallel initiatives, Deem, GroundLink and iCars among them.

Operators say these developments are more of a response to customer expectations for convenience and expedience than to competitive threats from Lyft and Uber. Those, they say, really are taxi replacements, not proxies for higher-end ground services. Even so, portions of traditional operators’ clientele occasionally use Lyft, Uber or other so-called transportation network companies. Some use them all time. Lyft and Uber also now are expanding into scheduled service.

New on-demand booking options may help travel management pros provide a better experience for their travelers without the risk concerns associated with TNCs. The key question still is whether any one platform achieves a critical mass of supply.

Tim Nichols, Ernst & Young’s supplier leader for global travel, meetings and events, pointed to the problem of extreme fragmentation in ground transport. “The black car industry has been dragged kicking and screaming” by TNCs, he said here at last week’s Global Business Travel Association convention. “There is not a systematic consolidated booking platform. There are things out there that you can explore, but not a one-stop shop that matches the experience of TNCs.”

Heavy hitters in the space, Dav El BostonCoach and EmpireCLS hope to change that. Their new app will allow customers to “order a car within minutes,” according to the companies. They plan to make the app available first in New York City “later this summer.” A U.S. rollout would follow.

ground transportation

Image: Thinkstock

During an on-stage discussion at the GBTA convention, Dav El Boston Coach CEO Scott Solombrino called the effort “the biggest consortium of chauffeured car companies ever put together in the world.” The platform, he said, will be “equal or better than [the TNCs], unifying over 1,000 chauffeured car companies.” It would include affiliates of these big brands.

“We may be a dinosaur today right this very second but we won’t stay a dinosaur,” Solombrino said. Lyft and Uber “have invented a new paradigm shift that we want to adopt, but we want to do it under the rules.”

Music Express CEO Cheryl Berkman has been pursuing this type of development for a few years. She was involved in an effort by Deem and the National Limousine Association that went nowhere.

“We all have individual apps for our clients. They work great. Clients use them and love them. But they want a real-time app nationwide,” she said. “That’s something way out of one company’s hold. The sooner the better.”

Flyte Tyme Worldwide CEO Tim Rose confirmed his company has been asked to participate in the Dav El/EmpireCLS initiative. It is now assessing the requirements and expected benefits. “As society becomes more mobile we’ll have to adapt our business models from a more scheduled approach to flexibility,” he said.

DK Consulting Group’s Dave Kilduff said the large operators’ individual on-demand apps pretty much already serve the intended purpose in many markets. The Dav El/Empire project, he said, is more about marketing. However, he did concede that for participants, “if there are any holes or if they are weak in an area, this just helps them get stronger.”

Carey International is a prominent player apparently not involved in this initial phase. At GBTA, Lyft chief business officer David Baga said his company and Carey have had “exploratory conversations” about some sort of cooperation.

Baga appeared on stage opposite Solombrino. He said corporate ground transportation data “is a mess.” Asked if he sees convergence coming among TNC and traditional operator models, Baga said, “There are a variety of different use occasions within a company. They will have a black car company, and they will have ride-sharing company in Lyft. They want a unified experience with data transparency, reporting and being able to dispatch. The market needs and wants us to collaborate.”

Herding Cars

As an independent intermediary, Deem has a different strategy. This month it announced new tools as part of its Car Service. For travelers, desktop and mobile apps would offer “the convenience of ride-sharing with the trusted reliability of chauffeured car service.” For operators, Deem offers the Whisk reservation and dispatch management system (acquired in February). Whisk links to the Deem Affiliate Connect network of operators.

Execs acknowledged that Deem executed poorly on earlier ground tech initiatives. Deem VP of car service and travel Mike Daly said aggregating tens of thousands of cars from many operators in big markets to create an on-demand environment is “like herding cats. We’re getting closer.”

Tony D’Astolfo is Deem’s new chief commercial officer. He said that when he worked at GroundLink three years ago, “we were technically able to do on-demand” for participating operators. “They all would have been able to take in rides and farm out rides but they couldn’t get over the competitive threat. It’s a tech play but it’s also getting their head around changing their business, becoming more flexible and convincing drivers to operate differently.”

Putting a client in a competitor’s car just because that car is a bit closer isn’t an idea many operators love. But to some extent, competitors already cooperate. Berkman said Music Express “works closely” with rivals “on many issues.”

Flyte Tyme’s Rose agreed that there’s precedent for collaboration. In client programs with multiple suppliers, he said, the primary oftentimes acknowledges the other program participants.

Kilduff highlighted the challenges. “Who is going to get the ride and who is going to get the revenue?” he asked. “There’s protectionism. You will exhaust your system before you farm that ride out, which is done today with their affiliates. Essentially these guys are saying they’ll make their affiliate networks mutual. Will it be set up operationally and technically to do that?”

Meanwhile, GroundLink has since moved to near-time on-demand. By year-end, it intends to provide cars to customers within 20 minutes in Miami, London, Los Angeles San Francisco and Washington, D.C. It’s planning another 15 markets in 2017. The service already is available in Chicago and New York. Users can see all pricing details before the ride, track their car and contact the driver. They can send resulting e-receipts to Concur. Like others, GroundLink touts supply from global affiliates that use only licensed and insured drivers.

“With all of the buzz surrounding on-demand, ride-hailing services, business travelers want more options,” according to GroundLink CEO Liz Carisone.

Another option is iCars. The company this summer began its B2B service in Austin, Dallas and Houston, following an initial launch in San Francisco. “By year-end we’ll be in all the top 20 U.S. business travel markets,” said president Ed Silver.

Asked how quickly cars get to customers, Silver said it depends on the market. In San Francisco and San Jose, he said, it can be less than 10 minutes. In Austin, it can range up to 30 minutes.

Time Is Short

Given how quickly on-demand services have taken taxi share, one can’t help but think the traditional operators are running out of time. While corporate policies for a long time were “silent” on TNCs, those coming around to decisions nowadays are approving the option more often than not.

William Blair travel analyst Meghan Hartsell has been researching Lyft and Uber for a few years. The Chicago-based finance company recently approved them. Speaking at the GBTA convention, Hartsell said, “We had the same policy that most corporate travel managers had — ‘It’s out there, we know people are using it. We’re just not going to say anything about it.’ We looked at our credit card reports and what we found was astonishing. Our growth between 2014 and 2015 was 6,000 percent for both Lyft and Uber. When we saw that, we realized we could not ignore it.”

After discussing the option with the company’s director of security, William Blair did some testing — first with safety and security personnel. Now, brief policy language permitting the options advises travelers to use common sense. When stepping into the vehicle, they’re told, they should be greeted by name. They should make sure the license plate and the driver match the information in the app. They should get out if they feel uncomfortable.

Ernst & Young’s Nichols said his company’s employee base, with an average age of 28, is using TNCs all over the world. “They are convenient and simple; you get a receipt right away,” he said. “In the black car space, travelers ask, ‘Do I have to show credit card in the car? Some ask me for it and some don’t.’ Frankly, I have had that experience and I run the program.”

Liberty Mutual also allows employees to use TNCs. “Getting buy-in from senior management was not difficult because they were using it already,” said director of travel Michelle de Costa. Getting the OK from legal, too, wasn’t the big challenge she expected. “We worked with these vendors to provide the right level of insurance coverage for our employees,” de Costa said. “We are building good relationships with these sharing economy providers and they have been very responsive.”

The unexpectedly tougher sell, she said, was Liberty’s employee relations department. That was because of the “tremendous amount of information” the company collects on employee TNC rides as compared to taxi rides. “If you are going somewhere and you don’t want us to know about it,” de Costa said, “don’t use the business account.”

Additional info: Both Lyft and Uber have been enhancing B2B programs. Uber for Business has new features that the company says makes it “enterprise-ready.” Users can charge rides to individual corporate cards rather than a central payment mechanism. Admins through a dashboard can flag possibly non-compliant trips. They also can designate a manager to review and flag trips for specific employees. Use of the features adds 5 percent to the fare, but Concur said its customers enjoy them at no charge. Mutual clients will get policy control functions and receive reports.

International SOS announced that “in the coming months,” it will include Uber rides in its TravelTracker tool.

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Sources: Hilton Stops Dickering Around With Reduced Commissions

Hilton Worldwide is no longer considering reduced commissions on its member rates, according to sources. Hilton press officials did not respond to requests for comment sent Thursday morning.

This a relief for travel agents and their business customers. Yet, concern about exposure to changes in supplier revenue — especially from hotels — will remain.

“We do worry about what will happen with hotels,” said Ovation Corporate Travel CEO and founder Paul Metselaar in June. “We have been reassured by some of our largest hotel properties not to worry and they will reward us for the business they want.”

Even with Starwood and Marriott joining, some say, no lodging entity has the market power to seal a broad cut like the airlines pulled off around the turn of the century. Any such move would significantly alter the economics of business travel management. Supplier revenues can contribute as much as 100 percent of a travel management company’s profit. In other cases, those monies pass through to clients or offset client fees.

Hilton-commissions

Image: (c) 2016 Hilton Worldwide

However, New York University hospitality professor Bjorn Hanson in June called the idea of hotels cutting traditional agency commissions “mostly wishful thinking” by hoteliers.

Mixed messaging from the big brands of late has not helped ease concerns and speculation. Trust issues are on the rise. With regard to the book-direct member rate programs, for example, many travel managers are feeling left out in the cold.

Tesla head of global travel Steve Sitto described the situation this week during the Global Business Travel Association convention in Denver.

“We were not involved,” he said. “Neither were sales. It’s clear that sales and the rewards people are working in silos and not talking about the impact to the managed travel program. You’re trying to show value to your CFO, and in comes your preferred hotel chain with ‘book direct.’ I had a traveler send me a member rate in London that was 80 pounds better than the corporate rate. This makes it look like we’re not doing our jobs. The messaging is vague, at best. The whole thing is misleading.”

Speaking at the Revenue Strategy Summit in Washington, D.C., this month, Hilton Worldwide senior vice president for global strategy Nathalie Corredor said the “Stop Clicking Around” book-direct campaign was generating “positive results” and a “lift” in direct bookings.

“We’ll see where it goes,” said Corredor, who joined Hilton from Google in January. She talked about the importance of “retraining” the customer.

“Even if you do want to look elsewhere, booking direct and creating a direct relationship with us will give you overall the most value for your stay,” said Corredor. “Whether that’s by us personalizing your experience or it’s because you get free Wi-Fi … you can’t match the total value equation somewhere else.”

Travel professionals may disagree, not least because it’s only “somewhere else” that travelers can shop Hilton’s competitors.

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GBTA Committee Praises AA, Delta And Partners For Media Bag Work

Denver — The media have a lot of baggage.

Seriously, when they travel, employees at companies like CBS often lug loads of equipment. Fees for excess bags can easily swamp the cost of a ticket. On many trips, these travelers need to go beyond the airlines’ normal bag limits.

Alliance partners of American Airlines and Delta Air Lines during the past 18 months made significant gains in accommodating the unique needs of this sector.

SkyTeam’s Air France/KLM and Alitalia, and Oneworld’s British Airways, Finnair and Iberia, joined their respective U.S. partners’ media bags programs. Not only does this cut expenses for media clients, but also it helps smooth over processes at the counter. Both sets of airlines now provide their media clients with special cards which employees can present at the airport. The cards help check-in agents with the proper coding, rates and procedures for excess baggage.

“This has been huge,” said CBS Corporation vice president for travel services Hal Rudy. “Things just don’t go well at the airport when folks end up paying regular rate and we have to apply credits on the back end. It’s an ugly process.”

media

Image: Thinkstock

Rudy spoke this week during a seminar presented by the Global Business Travel Association’s Sports, Media and Entertainment committee. He joined the group three years ago, in conjunction with its expansion beyond sports.

The committee estimates that amateur and professional athletics organizations spend $7 billion a year on travel. For cable networks, movie studios and publishing companies, it’s $1 billion.

These areas have a lot in common when it comes to travel management: they often buy premium-class and last-minute travel; they’re all but “recession-proof;” they can’t use preferred vendors as much as other corporations; and they have a lot of bags.

The committee is aiming to entice other carriers to adopt more comprehensive media baggage processes. Members praised Delta as the first-mover, building off its original work with the Sports committee for improved team check-in procedures.

United Airlines also has special media bags pricing. An official said those rates are “automated through our baggage engine,” enabling the carrier’s agents to “easily” apply them. The official noted that United is looking for ways to include joint-venture partners from the Star Alliance, which include Air Canada and Lufthansa. Separately, United late last year created an Entertainment Desk to handle baggage requests from companies in that sector and alert airport personnel.

Rudy noted that the card idea adopted by American and Delta originated years ago with Continental, now part of United. It especially helps overseas.

Particularly to help moviemakers in Toronto, Rudy is hopeful for progress with Air Canada after some preliminary talks this week.

With “60 Minutes” heading to Iran next month, Rudy said CBS negotiated with Etihad for bag fee relief in a deal signed last week.

The GBTA committee exemplifies a movement among industry educators to focus on the unique needs of different verticals. The Association of Corporate Travel Executives at its April conference offered “buyers only” content on about a dozen sectors. Open to the media, GBTA’s Sports, Media and Entertainment presentation supplemented various “peer-to-peer” roundtable sessions on various verticals at the association’s convention here.

The energy, government, higher ed, non-profit and pharmaceutical sectors are often highlighted by industry organizations. ACTE in the spring provided dedicated programming on other areas like financial services, telecom and professional services.

Additional info: For the third to 25th bags on an international trip, Delta and participating partners charge broadcasters and filmmakers $70 — a significant savings off tiered public rates such as the $285 additional bag fee for travel between Europe and North America. Media bags can be up to 100 pounds, whereas limits for the public are 50 pounds. American Airlines and its partners allow media travelers up to 25 bags, versus the normal ten. They also can be twice as big as the public limit. Offering a roughly similar rate program for its operated flights, United’s website indicates that “to obtain media checked bag service charge rates, media representatives should provide United airport check-in counter representatives with media credentials; company personnel identification for an entertainment, media or production company; or clearly identified media equipment cases labeled with company identification.”

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AA, Concur Announce TripLink Collaboration

[UPDATE: Nov. 15, 2016: British Airways and Iberia agreed to participate in Concur TripLink. A Concur official indicated that there is “no timeline to share at the moment” for when the American Airlines Oneworld alliance and joint venture partners expect to go live.]

Concur signed American Airlines to its TripLink supplier-direct program.

AA joins Air Canada, Etihad, Lufthansa and United as announced airline participants. The program allows business travelers to book their company rates on supplier websites. Employers can examine associated data for risk and spend management.

“Travel managers are caught in the proverbial middle seat when it comes to visibility into bookings,” according to a statement attributed to Concur executive vice president of travel Tim MacDonald. “Business travelers sometimes need to book outside the program.”

Signing AA represents a significant endorsement. When Concur first introduced the precursor to TripLink four years ago, air wasn’t a big part of the agenda. Certainly, the bigger problem with bookings “outside the program” is in lodging.

United was the first carrier to announce its participation in TripLink, two years ago. Concur is currently testing the United linkage with clients.

Concur EVP of travel Tim MacDonald

Concur EVP of travel Tim MacDonald

“It’s running,” United managing director for sales and distribution Amos Khim said last week. “There are successful connections and a few hundred bookings. Some features are not yet in full production. There’s no duration for the beta or defined timing for the next phase. It’s been a good example of United’s IT resources working with the business groups.”

In this supplier-direct version of TripLink (as opposed to the email parsing facet), the supplier’s website must facilitate communication between a loyalty program database and Concur’s expense system user profiles. After an initial setup by the traveler connecting these respective profiles, they can access company rates.

United went through a website overhaul after announcing the Concur partnership, which delayed integration. Absent a similar situation and possibly including economies of scale on the Concur side, the AA implementation could end up being quicker than United’s.

AA and Concur did not disclose terms of the deal. They likely worked out economics, data sharing, data ownership and possibly a service-level agreement. They also might have negotiated the development burden.

As for any pricing between the airline and Concur, there’s little precedent for this kind of agreement in the airline industry. “There are no standard market rates,” said Khim. Although Concur has said it intended to charge them, airlines may or may not have agreed to pay transaction fees. A more traditional IT services contract may be an option.

Presumably TripLink costs airlines less than distribution through global distribution systems, travel management companies and/or corporate booking tools. It’s not clear whether airlines are in a position to share some of that savings with clients.

Some TMCs also play a role in TripLink, although how they get paid for it remains a work in progress.

For clients interested in using the program, additional supplier participation is only a good thing. Concur likely is hoping the AA announcement helps convince other carriers to join.

Additional info: Other announced TripLink partners include AccorHotels, Airbnb, Avis, Booking.com, Captain Train, Enterprise Rent-a-Car, Etihad Airways, Hertz, HRS, HotelTonight, InterContinental Hotels Group, Marriott International, National Car Rental, Omni Hotels, Starwood Hotels & Resorts, Sixt Rent a Car and Wally Park.

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FCM Travel Solutions Takes Mobile TMC Service To A New Level With Messaging

FCM Travel Solutions soon would like you to meet Sam, a multi-platform mobile messaging service bringing e-concierge and virtual agent concepts into the managed arena.

The Company Dime last month previewed the platform, which FC USA has been testing internally. About 20 users from FCM Travel Solutions’ largest corporate customer also are testing it, and its second-largest will participate as well.

Based on texting, the “chatbot” service applies artificial intelligence for simple tasks like gate change notifications. For more sensitive functions including bookings and changes, travel counselors back Sam using Salesforce’s Customer Relationship Management technology and Sabre.

Travelers can converse through various touch points. In addition to SMS and the iOS native Sam app, support for Facebook Messenger and Telegram appear to be firsts in managed corporate travel. The look-and-feel is similar in all interfaces. Sam eventually will synchronize these different touch points so users can pause the interaction in one and pick it up in another.

John Morhous, FCM

FC USA Corporate Brands chief strategy officer John Morhous

Among Sam’s features are context-aware notifications, policy messaging and disruption care; integration with Certify for enhanced expense submission using itinerary details; deep-linking to other apps including Lyft (with more to come); WorldMate-powered email parsing; Open Table dining recommendations based on preferences and optional GPS safety check-ins.

The app also includes traditional itinerary functions like maps, calendar sync, weather, trip sharing, packing tips and driving directions.

In addition to agent assistance for virtually anything, the service out of the gate will offer hotel self-booking capability powered by nuTravel. Air and car will be later. Mobile self-bookings would come with a slimmed-down application of policy and preferred suppliers, but larger clients will be allowed to customize that.

Enabling bookings, changes and cancellations may require new commercial terms with clients, said John Morhous, chief strategy officer for Flight Centre USA’s corporate brands. The definition of typical pricing parameters like “touchless” could change. With this in mind, FCM in June was preparing its first client pitch without an online booking tool. The client was a tech firm specifically looking for something different. Morhous said RFPs seeking a mobile-first approach are becoming more common.

FCM has rolled out the Salesforce CRM tool to counselors in stages for more than a year. It’s ongoing. That’s that system which manages email, phone or text communications with clients. It highlights clients’ profiles, preferences and current issues. Morhous said he has seen some retail agencies using Salesforce but none in corporate travel. “I know we’re not the only ones using CRM in conjunction with the point of sale tool,” he said. “It was easy to roll in the mobile workflow into it.”

Optionally for clients, Sam will offer Google Flights integration to compare search results against public rates for a “sanity check.” It sounds crazy for a TMC to present that, but Morhous said the company believes it can find the best rates and if there are any issues, it will discuss the matter with clients.

In building the service, FCM benefited from its network. The company’s French partner, 3Mundi, runs a development shop in Barcelona called Path. Path built the Sam app. A variation of it is available in France and Switzerland. FCM Travel Solutions has exclusive local rights to license the technology for “a couple of years,” said Morhous.

While that relationship covers the app and its artificial intelligence, he said, FCM in North America built other elements of the service. It eventually will be available to other Flight Centre brands, such as the SME specialist Corporate Traveler.

An Android version of the app is due in the fall. Morhous described the company’s investment in Sam as “multiple hundreds of thousands.” He said FCM has no issue with its previous app provider, Mantic Point. “We just wanted to invest more heavily and do different things,” he said.

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Pana Downplays Commissions In Unmanaged Business Travel Service

It’s hard to keep track of all the startups now addressing small or unmanaged business travel. They’re applying a number of concepts including rewards, texting, personalization and artificial intelligence. They promise a better user experience than existing corporate booking systems offer. Investors during the past two years have put millions into them. One already was acquired by a more established player; another has refocused on event travel. A third has gone back to the drawing board.

Some of these new entrants aim to make their money on supplier revenues. Leaders of newbie TripActions and longtime corporate provider Serko believe small companies don’t want to pay for travel management. Pana is an exception.

The 16-month-old firm is marketing a membership fee model for its chat-based concierge app. It’s building a platform for travel management company partnerships and adopting basic policy controls.

Pana CEO Devon Tivona

Pana CEO Devon Tivona

CEO Devon Tivona echoed other founders’ raison d’être: Planning business travel sucks. A different and better blend of technology with human support could fix it.

“We’re looking to revive some of the magic coming from a centralized point person,” he said. “It’s a 21st Century version of a travel agent. We know the TMC is alive and well, but from a consumer perspective, we want to give you a hyper-efficient, hyper-smart travel agent. Rethinking the agent workflow and making tools that help agents be hyper-efficient brings that executive-level handholding that someone with an executive assistant has.”

The company is exploring staffing models and currently employs some in-house agents. They use a proprietary interface that connects to Sabre’s API and supplier websites. Because agents are not directly using the GDS, said Tivona, Pana can train them in three days. They just need to be good with customer service.

For fulfillment, Pana works with Bruvion Travel, a contractor to Cassis Travel Services in Los Angeles. Pana has access to preferred deals and shares in some of the commissions. Because it’s a membership program, though, Pana markets its unbiased perspective as a differentiator. “Our search algorithms don’t factor in commission,” Tivona noted in an email exchange. “We take commission when it is available, but our brand promise is that we will never artificially weight commissionable inventory when returning results. Our search algorithms are tailored to an individual’s preferences. Our agents don’t even know if a commission will be earned on a booking.”

In general, he said, this funding model is more conducive to “delivering amazing support.” This includes help on the road, down to restaurant recommendations. It also means booking non-traditional suppliers like Airbnb. Tivona declined to say how Pana does that.

Pana still is working out some tech kinks. In our testing, it had to go back to the programmers to fix a problem with loading a credit card profile. The company really does not want to take phone calls. The provided “agency line,” which we triple-checked, went to a landscaping company. A Pana agent suggested we call the supplier if we had any issues. “We prefer to be reached in app or email if possible,” the agent noted.

Tivona said “we’re building muscle around” outbound calls to travelers for disruption services.

Besides all that, the booking experience was solid. As other chat proponents have noted, depending on the circumstances it’s handy to multitask while chatting. The agent can serve multiple clients at once. The client can do something else and come back to it, whereas on the phone that’s just rude. Chat also creates a paper trail, so to speak.

“It saves me so much time comparing the options,” said Closed Loop Fund managing director Rob Kaplan, a frequent traveler and Pana user for six months. “I can’t do it all at once. Pana allows me to tell them what I need, and I just look at the app in between meetings or calls and respond. On a browser, I would lose track or it times out.”

Kaplan thought it was nifty when Pana responded to his request for rail options due to a delayed flight by getting an airline refund and booking a cheaper fare on Amtrak. He said he doesn’t see much of a need to call for help, and in fact appreciates that he can use the Pana app while on the phone with someone else.

Pana recently moved out of beta with its $19/month and $199/year service for unmanaged business travelers. Next up is a “turnkey,” travel management “lite” service for SMEs, said Tivona. Pana’s pricing for teams starts at $95 a month for five active travelers and reaches $1,900 a month for 100. Policy parameters like spending controls, approval processes and class-of-service limits are another $100 monthly. Basic travel activity reports sortable by employee cost $200 more.

Bruvion Travel partner Jason Couvillion said his firm plans to test the TMC platform with “a few” corporate clients. Even short of that, he said, Bruvion is benefiting from the additional volume Pana is driving through suppliers. “They have done a good job of automating everything,” said Couvillion. “We don’t really have to touch their bookings — they quote, hold and book. We do quality control.”

Pana offers clients email templates and unique URLs to enroll co-workers. It supports third-party bookings by admins. Pana integrates with Concur and Expensify.

Pana claims hundreds of clients. They include Booyah Advertising, consulting firm Convince&Convert, education and co-working company Galvanize and Jennifer Fisher Jewelry.

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Lodging 2017: Buyers May Be ‘More Aggressive’

When Bjorn Hanson last year published his preliminary outlook for 2016 corporate negotiated hotel rates, the New York University professor predicted buyers might suffer their biggest increases in years. It didn’t happen.

The aggressive prognostication followed several years in which hotels outperformed expectations on rates.

Entering 2016, Hanson said last month, “There was a sense that the increase in rates would be greater than it had been because the sell side’s attitude was, ‘You buy-side guys got a better deal than you deserved’ and ‘We have more pricing control now.’ ”

Hilton CEO Chris Nassetta last year was particularly pointed.

However, Hanson said average rates realized in 2016 are “way below” expectations, meaning corporate rate hikes weren’t justified. “That will play into negotiations” for 2017, he said.

Bjorn Hanson

New York University Preston Robert Tisch Center for Hospitality and Tourism clinical professor Bjorn Hanson

Average daily rate is up just 3 percent in the United States, according to STR, Inc. Occupancy is flat.

The business travel lodging market has been a seller’s one for many years, but lately not everywhere. The largest 25 markets that STR tracks have been showing weaker performance than the rest, largely due to supply outpacing demand. Occupancy in May declined in those markets by 0.8 percent, according to STR. Average daily rate grew just 2 percent and revenue per available room (RevPAR) rose 1.2 percent.

According to STR, ADR growth across all markets in the first quarter was the lowest since the three months ended December 2013. Occupancy fell 0.5 percent, the first such year-over-year decline since the fourth quarter of 2009.

“Demand growth is expected to slow in 2017, just as the pace of supply growth accelerates above the long-term average for the first time since 2009,” PwC wrote in a May report based on STR data. “As a result, our outlook anticipates occupancy levels to decline, but still remain near peak levels. Average daily rates are expected to continue to grow, although at a decelerating pace, driving a more modest RevPAR increase of 3.7 percent.”

“Concurrent with the deceleration of industry performance,” real estate advisory firm CBRE Hotels last week adjusted its forecast for 2016 downward. “The current RevPAR change forecast of 4.2 percent for 2016 is down 130 basis points from our March 2016 projections. What has changed is our outlook for ADR. Low inflation, new competition in select markets and enhanced consumer empowerment created by technology and the sharing economy have contributed to a reduction in our forecast for ADR.”

Ovation Corporate Travel in May said domestic hotel rates booked by clients in the first quarter were “relatively static” versus 2015. But the average price paid for non-U.S. hotels reached a six-year low. The travel management company data is based on clients with $210 million in annual air and lodging spend.

First-quarter data from Travel Leaders Corporate based on 3 million reservations showed a 2 percent increase in domestic hotel rates, with wide variations across different locales. Non-U.S. rates were down 1.6 percent.

Hanson sees other factors at play for discussions on next year’s corporate rates.

As hotel companies fiddle with pricing and distribution, he said, “There’s a realization that with member rates and nonrefundable rates, or special program rates, suddenly too many travelers can find rates that are very favorable. So buyers are doing audits and the corporate rate doesn’t have the value it did one year ago or three to four years ago. The buy side is probably going in and saying, ‘We need to catch up on overpaying.’ I think there will be a more aggressive position going into 2017, though I don’t think the sell side will fully embrace that point of view.”

Building a base of demand from managed corporate travel accounts is still desirable and important for hoteliers, Hanson said. They have a lower cost of customer acquisition than certain consumer channels which have been targeted by some of the hotel brands’ most aggressive rate and channel campaigns to date. “I think that’s giving the buyers more power,” said Hanson.

Buyer experiences are mixed.

Educational Testing Service recently completed negotiations in Austin, Texas. Six out of the seven hotels there with which it engaged “were very accommodating to hold rates at the same level and/or provide a little extra incentive,” according to global travel and meetings operations Marty Hoski. “They weren’t bending too much though. That being said, I feel newly established buyer relationships have more leverage than they did over the past two years.”

Ametek travel commodity manager Donna Bibbo also has found long-term hotel partners to be “pretty fair” recently. She cited California as an exception, where strong demand has led hotels to request larger volume commitments, if they are even willing to provide a corporate rate. “We pretty much removed them from our program as we had alternatives in those markets,” Bibbo said. “I’m looking at the same thing happening for 2017.”

In general, for next year, Ametek intends to reduce property counts to one or two per location. “We are hoping that by doing that and offering a higher volume to those properties, we will keep rate increases for 2017 to a minimum,” Bibbo added.

While there are local opportunities for holding the line or even reducing rates, overall 2017 lodging costs still are likely to be higher than they are this year. In addition to rates, sources said hotels will pursue more revenue through ancillary items.

“Hotel demand is at an all-time high and rates are also reflective of that,” according to one travel manager. She isn’t optimistic about 2017 negotiations outside a few of her company’s highest-volume properties where she “can control marketshare commitments.”

“I think the markets are softening but not to the point where hotels won’t ask for increases,” said Tesla head of global travel Steve Sitto. “They will always try.”

Last year, three big travel management companies projected 2016 North America corporate rates would increase between 4 percent and 6 percent. In its June forecast revisions, BCD Travel’s Advito maintained that expectation but upped predicted hotel rate hikes in Europe by a percentage point and in Africa and Latin America by two. Advito’s only downward revision was for the Southwest Pacific region.

Looking another year down the road, Marriott’s proposed blockbuster purchase of Starwood will — if it goes final — affect negotiations for many 2018 corporate programs. Recent analysis by Carlson Wagonlit Travel showed that Marriott declines to bid much more often than other big hotel companies and “has been vocal in reducing discounted corporate pricing in favor of best available rates.” Combined with Starwood, it will command greater than 4o percent share of CWT client hotel spending in several big North American markets. Considering this and other mergers, CWT anticipates that “a key concern for buyers should be whether some of the newly combined hotel entities will push the price increases even further in certain markets.”

It’s not all gloomy. CWT wrote that some clients could benefit from Marriott/Starwood, since combined volume across the two may warrant chainwide deals previously out of reach. Moreover, the TMC expects “fierce” competition from other players.

“The industry has passed the uphill recovery phase of the cycle, and we are now in a prolonged period at the top,” noted CBRE. “Looking forward two to three years, we do not see any reason why U.S. hotels should not continue to enjoy gains on both the top and bottom lines, albeit at a more modest pace compared to the past two or three years.”

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Lodging 2017: Time For A New Approach?

Thanks partly to rate assurance technology and data, some buyers now are thinking about setting fire to the lodging RFP process. Or, at least, subjecting it to a little controlled burning.

According to 2014 GBTA Foundation research sponsored by Best Western, the hotel RFP process was taking between three and six months for more than half of 127 North America-based companies surveyed. For 63 polled companies spending more than $50 million on travel, the figure was 87 percent. Despite the required resources, surveys continue to show that negotiating with hotels delivers a return.

It’s nothing new to limit the number of cities in which one negotiates or the number of properties one includes. A smaller part of the company footprint may then be covered by negotiated rates. The rest would rely on the spot market and re-shopping tools, exposing buyers to volatility in broader market pricing. But industry figures imply that in a growing number of cities, that would have been the better strategy of late.

Steve Reynolds

TripBam CEO Steve Reynolds

Proposing a new approach, GoldSpring Consulting last week announced an agreement with TripBam to partner on sourcing projects.

“We believe there are savings to be had by reducing the bid list and focusing on key markets where competition drives savings,” said GoldSpring Consulting partner and hotel product line director Neil Hammond. “There will be parts of the program where traditional sourcing yields very competitive corporate rates and then parts where — due to low volume or other reasons — using a fare assurance program like TripBam effectively replaces what traditional sourcing could have offered. Medium and larger programs will be better positioned for this.”

TripBam founder and CEO Steve Reynolds said the company’s data and new reporting tools show where negotiated rates fall down. These are the places where a client might decide instead to go with the open market. TripBam also uncovers the potential revenue flow from commissionable rates, something travel management companies might not want clients to know about. Reports also identify last-room availability and rate-loading failures.

After pioneering efforts last year by Dell, Reynolds said last week, “a lot more” companies are attempting to tell hoteliers what they’re willing to pay based on TripBam data.

TripBam claims as clients more than 1,100 corporations and two-dozen TMCs.

Hammond said GoldSpring is open to working with other providers. TripBam competitor Yapta also is producing data that suggests clients may want to move toward the spot market. “We have had clients tell us that because they use us, they are considering not going through the annual rite of passage,” said CEO James Filsinger in April. “It’s not something we intended. You’re supposed to get last-room availability but that’s based on general inventory and properties can do things with their rooms such that there is not general inventory available so you’re not getting LRA. We’ll have public rates that are lower than negotiated rates. The value of negotiating is becoming diminished.”

Hammond said if a client has less than 50 room nights in a given city, it would be very difficult to negotiate. For HRS, the rule of thumb is a minimum of 250. Microsoft negotiates for cities where it has at least 500 room nights, with exceptions. Business needs may drive that number to 100, and in high-risk cities it could be 50. Microsoft outsources the “grunt work of the RFP process” to Lanyon, noted Microsoft group manager for travel strategic sourcing Georgie Farmer on an Association of Corporate Travel Executives text chat in April. The company still manages strategy and supplier relationships internally. Sourcing takes three to four months and covers 110 countries and 1,200 preferred hotels.

Evil, Expensive, Exasperating

“The hotel RFP process is still brutal, and long,” HRS head of corporate sourcing for the Americas Jeff Hillenmayer told The Company Dime in November 2014 while he was still at Lanyon. “It’s an unavoidable evil.”

Nary a business travel professional would disagree on whether it’s horrible. Unavoidable? Debatable.

“If you are negotiating with everybody then you have no value to anybody,” said Best Western worldwide sales director Sandra Taylor during the Institute for Supply Management’s T&E conference in April. “Just because we have always done something a certain way doesn’t mean that’s the way we need to continue to do things. The RFP process is almost a security blanket for some people. If we took it away, what would they do with themselves? Sometimes we need to empty the toolbox and rebuild it. That may not be right for every customer. It doesn’t mean everyone has to have dynamic pricing. But we need to be thinking outside the box so it’s not a year-long process.”

“Wouldn’t it be nice if everyone had the same special questions?” asked Wyndham SVP for global sales and revenue Kathy Maher in a recent interview. “Fire and safety questions would be an area where one would think most of the questions could be standardized across companies. I think the safety of guests from Verizon is the same as from IBM or Goldman or Joe’s Donut.”

Procurement veterans including Concur’s Linda Doty, consultant and former chief procurement officer Frederic Khalil and CAPS Research’s Deb Stanton recently warned against over-simplifying and dissing the security blanket. While agreeing the process can be inefficient, they pointed to important reasons for it. During the ISM event, Stanton said going through the process can uncover opportunities that buyers may never have heard about otherwise. Khalil noted that it’s sometimes designed to satisfy other departments, like legal, compliance or security.

“RFPs are crazy,” said former buyer Doty while recording for a February podcast episode. “You need to try to boil it down to the critical questions.” Nevertheless, she added, “the ethics of your supplier decisions do get called into question sometimes and you need to be able to point to something that shows the process you went through and the criteria on which you made the decision. Without that, it can create problems downstream. So there needs to be some process there; it just doesn’t need to be as onerous as it often is.”

Bottom Line Consulting’s Al Norman in May said he doubts there will be fundamental changes to the hotel sourcing process. “Everyone is still following the GBTA format,” he said. “A lot of clients jump straight into the execution. As far as core execution of RFPs, we don’t see changes. We think the innovation needs to happen on the strategy side. That’s what most of my clients have also been challenged with. Are these the right hotels? What markets should we go into? Extended stay? Chain deals? Airbnb?”

Disclosure: The Company Dime this year partnered with the Institute for Supply Management on its T&E conference.

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Lodging 2017: HRS Hunts Sourcing Clients, Lanyon Quiet

It’s natural to look askance at HRS when executives say they’ll do your hotel sourcing for free. We’ll get to that. The other story on hotel sourcing partners this year is whether we’re at peak Lanyon.

To manage the onerous hotel rate negotiating process, corporations and travel management companies turn to technology. Lanyon has been the go-to partner for years. One TMC source said it is really the only choice for large programs.

This year opened with Lanyon cutting several dozen employees in multiple departments, according to sources. A media relations representative in January confirmed reductions.

“The past 24 months have been transformative for Lanyon as we have brought together four companies,” according to the press official. “As with any business, at the beginning of each year and after integrating companies, we look for ways to optimize our operations to ensure we are delivering the maximum value to our customers and partners, including looking for efficiencies within our team structure. We conducted a thorough review of roles with overlap and/or ability to combine responsibilities, and a small percentage of the organization was impacted.”

Lanyon’s meetings business seems to be a more strategic piece of the company than its transient hotel sourcing services. The recently announced acquisition of Cvent by Lanyon parent Vista Equity only doubles down on group.

Lanyon declined to outline anything new it may have to offer for transient sourcing. The press official did not respond to several queries between February and June. Last week he declined to make an executive available for an interview. The company has not replied to written questions sent a week ago.

Glassdoor.com reviews by about three dozen current and former Lanyon employees suggest a company going in the wrong direction.

Suzanne Neufang

HRS vice president for the Americas Suzanne Neufang

One of those laid off was vice president of professional services Jeffrey Hillenmayer. Two months later he showed up as HRS head of corporate sourcing for the Americas.

Germany-based hotel aggregator HRS is making a big push into the U.S. market. It’s aiming to raise usage of its 180,000-property distribution system. The company last year helped eight clients in the market source their hotel rates, according to HRS vice president for the Americas Suzanne Neufang. Its target market is companies spending more than $10 million annually on lodging.

Globally, HRS claimed 100 sourcing clients last year and in the past two years nearly doubled its sourcing staff during to 36. The company claimed it negotiated rates on more than 10 million room nights in 50,000 hotels last year. Average savings were 9 percent.

“We’re the only ones who don’t use Lanyon” for the RFP technology, Neufang said. HRS built its own electronic RFP tool last year. Neufang said HRS gets a 93 percent response rate from hotels.

According to an HRS-sponsored survey by the Association of Corporate Travel Executives, lack of responsiveness from hotels can be a challenge for companies that do their own sourcing. The March poll of 300 buyers found that almost two-thirds of organizations conduct their sourcing processes in-house, though 75 percent of those use a third party for the automation.

One hurdle for the HRS model is getting customers over the price — free. Large corporations sometimes spend upwards of five and six figures to conduct hotel negotiations. HRS finds that its sourcing clients are more apt to book its “long tail” of independent hotels, which generate commissions for HRS. They’re more likely to use its portal and apps, and to turn on HRS rates in their online booking tools.

“There’s skepticism until buyers figure out how we make money and how transparent we are,” Neufang said. “It’s absolutely a loss leader. There’s no ROI based on the sourcing, but it drives a better partnership.”

Despite its focus on independents for distribution, four in five properties included in U.S. client sourcing programs are with chains, Neufang said. That’s a good thing, considering a study commissioned by HRS and published last month by the United Kingdom’s Guild of Travel Management Companies. The poll of 1,000 business travelers showed that three in four “prefer the safety of a chain hotel.”

One multinational buyer who uses HRS but was not authorized to speak publicly said sourcing results for this year were “acceptable.” The buyer said both parties are closely watching bookings. “The question is, how much of the content will go through HRS?” the buyer said. “We’re slowly making traction. Where they add value is non-global distribution system content through their API. There is a cost to that. The charges are not unreasonable, and it helps in markets where you have limited inventory.” HRS also provides some of its inventory through GDSs.

Consultants and other sources raised the adage about getting what you pay for on a free service. Some warn buyers they may not want to use a partner that makes money from the suppliers. That’s also a consideration with some TMC programs. They have provided sourcing services to clients for decades, sometimes for no added fee on a bare-bones offering.

Corporate buyers also can fully outsource the process to consulting firms and the consulting divisions of TMCs. Many of those use Lanyon. Other travel buyers prefer to use a less expensive vendor to help with automation while they do most of the analysis and benchmarking. Several mentioned Sabre RFP. Lodging Logistics is another option.

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