Monthly Archives: February 2017

Big Clients Signal Acceptance As Rocketrip Signs General Electric, Twitter

[UPDATE, April 26, 2017: Rocketrip said Carlson Wagonlit Travel, Deem, Ovation Corporate Travel, Sabre and Travel Leaders Corporate joined Concur in its partnership program.]

Rocketrip CEO Dan Ruch thinks too few travel managers are advocates for travelers. He said the profession has a policy compliance problem and lacks innovation. His new, big-name clients apparently agree with at least some of that.

Rocketrip this month announced that General Electric and Twitter signed on. Most clients now are mid-sized or larger. That’s a change from the small-market focus Rocketrip launched with in 2013.

Rocketrip uses algorithms to present a trip budget to client employees when they’re searching for travel options. When travelers spend less, they split the savings with their employers. The thinking is that rewarding frugality is better than chastising extravagance.

Car information and shopping platform Edmunds is another new Rocketrip client. “We have a fairly non-restrictive travel policy,” according to emailed statements attributed to chief people officer Julie Merges. “We trust our employees to make smart choices that are reasonable and appropriate.

“The gamification aspect of Rocketrip was one of the main reasons we engaged with the platform,” Merges added. “Rocketrip takes an unpleasant task (booking travel) and makes it engaging and enjoyable.” The program taps into “natural enthusiasm for beating the system and having a little fun.”

Dan Ruch of Rocketrip

Rocketrip founder and CEO Dan Ruch

Once Edmunds travelers use Rocketrip to find the price to beat, they’re “encouraged” to book travel through Egencia, according to Merges. “The two sites are integrated in a fairly seamless way and we’ve taken advantage of Rocketrip’s web browser plug-in to make the process even more fluid.” She said the set-up was “fairly simple.”

Integrating with client travel management companies is not how Rocketrip entered the market. Rather, it began with the “gloves off” against TMCs, Ruch said during a Feb. 15 New York City Business Travel Association meeting. The company didn’t fare well with that approach, he admitted. “I didn’t understand the role TMCs play when I first started.”

Nearly every one of Rocketrip’s clients uses a travel management company. “In most cases, we partner with the TMCs to incentivize decision-making on top of the services that the TMC provides,” Ruch said. “It requires deep integration with existing infrastructure. We spend our time connecting the dots. TMCs, online booking tools and expense have to be our partners.”

Rocketrip’s smallest customers spend about $2 million on travel annually, Ruch said. He claimed the biggest top $1 billion. In all, the account roster numbers in the “high-double-digits.”

Ruch said the Rocketrip model works at programs of all sizes — managed or unmanaged — because “human beings tend to respond to incentives in similar ways.” For the same reason, it works at companies in various sectors. “Even in the most conservative industries,” Ruch said, “people are realizing that, in terms of talent retention, it matters how we treat employees.” He said Rocketrip has clients in manufacturing, for example.

Ruch had a simple response to the concern that some travelers will sacrifice too much comfort and productivity — and therefore jeopardize their missions — in an attempt to maximize rewards. “Travelers are smart enough to know what works for them,” he said.

In another pivot, Rocketrip about 18 months ago changed its pricing structure. When it started, the company charged a percentage of savings realized by the client, which Rocketrip advertises as typically around 30 percent. Ruch said that performance-based model was the wrong one because “clients weren’t investing in the success of the program.”

Now it charges a license fee equating to about 2 percent of the client’s travel spending. “If a client spends $100 million, we charge $2 million to manage the program,” Ruch explained. “If we return back to them $30 million in savings, half goes to employees and half goes to the company, so $13 million in net savings after rewards and our fees.”

He said the charge can be lower than 2 percent for big clients with multiyear contracts.

Such clients typically have negotiated supplier agreements, which Ruch admitted can be a complication. He asked what difference the hotel contract for 8 percent off best available rate makes if “I get 30 percent of your employees to stay with friends?” For air travel, he noted, losing an airline discount program could mean executives flying premium class at the last minute will pay a lot more.

In some cases, he said, Rocketrip will run a “program design” for large clients that accounts for the potential negative impact on supplier deals. Sometimes the analysis is “so sophisticated,” Ruch added, that Rocketrip will guarantee results: “You spend $5 million on travel, and it costs $100,000 to run the program. If we don’t return at least your investment, we’ll return the $100,000 because we know it works.”

Ruch said rare failures normally stem from “a weird cultural fit.” Maybe employees aren’t engaged, he said, or maybe they hate the CFO.

That’s apparently not happening at Edmunds. According to Merges, the program first opened to sales leaders and trainers. It then expanded to the rest of the sales team and is expected to cover all employees.

“The more people use it, the more we’re hearing reports of top savers and employees bragging to one another about their expertise in travel booking,” Merges said. “Now it’s a point of interaction for our salespeople and increases their engagement, their sense of camaraderie and their connection to Edmunds.”

Based in Santa Monica, Calif., Edmunds in 2016 had 528 travelers, according to a spokesperson.

Travel management pros at GE and Twitter declined to comment for this article.

Additional info: In August 2016, Rocketrip introduced a rewards program for administrative assistants who book on travelers’ behalf. In June it raised an additional $9 million in financing, led by Bessemer Venture Partners. In October, the company introduced a customizable analytics console. It plans to soon provide internal and external benchmarking, and a mapping feature showing where employees should be based on their bookings.

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Startup Applies Policy To Web Buys For Small Businesses

This site’s readers are well aware of the parade of startups looking to tackle small-market or unmanaged business travel. None has gone quite as niche as Compl.ai. The new firm from Daniel Senyard, formerly of Tripchamp, is aiming to bring a policy tool to small businesses. That’s right, it’s a travel policy startup.

Reminiscent of ProcureApp — which disappeared within Runzheimer — Compl.ai for the moment exists as a gestating extension on the Google Chrome browser. The small piece of software is installed on the browser and watches as travelers shop online for business travel. It guides them on policy, tracks their spending and reports reasons for over-spending.

The platform allows managers to create “lightweight” but customized policies. A gamification component contemplates upgrades and lounge passes for compliant travelers.

Daniel Senyard

Compl.ai founder and CEO Daniel Senyard

Senyard is the latest innovator using software to bring some benefits of managed travel to firms that otherwise have nothing. Although it has accelerated in the past couple years, the trend goes back to 2012 when TripIt first offered a business version for a low monthly fee to departments and work groups.

“We’re not trying to match big online booking tools and expense tools,” said Senyard. “We’re targeting way down-market, more the growing companies. If you look at the evolution of software as a service, it’s a lot less of the top-down mandate. SlackTrello — these applications are introduced by a department as opposed to a chief operating officer.”

He said the solution could “in theory” work for larger businesses. While he has been researching interest among firms that spend under $1 million on travel, Senyard noted that there are bigger companies with no travel policy.

Compl.ai’s closed beta starts this month with a handful of companies employing people Senyard knows personally. They’ll do some experimentation with its minimum viable product.

The business model is to be determined. The company could seek affiliate fees from travel sites based on directing traffic their way. Senyard knows he does not want to make bookings or charge for transactions.

While he wants to “make our mistakes on one platform,” Senyard said he has an idea for mobile, which offers a bigger challenge to the concept than desktop browsers.

To scale, Senyard faces the same issues innumerable companies have when it comes to getting the brand in front of small and middle-sized prospects. He hinted that he could pursue channel partners in financial or HR circles, like Serko and Fraedom.

Compl.ai received support from startup accelerator Capital Factory.

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CWT: Still Plenty Of Low-Hanging Fruit On Clients’ Mobile Wish Lists

Many software builders during the past several years moved toward a development process that involves clients in more steps along the way. This “agile” method allows them to prove the utility of smaller components of the technology, avoiding the commitment involved with major releases. This can increase speed to market for top-of-the-list features.

Carlson Wagonlit Travel shifted to this approach starting last year. Now clients will see shorter development cycles and more frequent informational updates. With mobile, for example, customers this year can expect quarterly communications about the development roadmap. They should see the next bulletin in March.

Amir Kirshenboim, chief technology officer for CWT’s digital division, offered some glimpses of the mobile plan in a Feb. 13 phone interview. Clients can expect better design continuity with other CWT systems, more personalization and more global hotel content. CWT is considering air bookings, too.

Mobile app development isn’t cheap, so it’s important to be confident about development priorities. Kirshenboim noted that the digital strategy under relatively new leadership in CEO Kurt Ekert and CTO Andrew Jordan means the CWT To Go app would no longer be funded particularly by hotel booking revenue.

“Our mobile channel is part of the overall digital strategy,” said Kirshenboim. “Our CEO and shareholders believe a best-in-class customer experience eventually will fuel a more successful business for us. There will be KPIs, but the reason we’re building it is that it will benefit clients.”

That means delivering on what they want. Kirshenboim said identifying that is fairly easy, for now.

Amir Kirshenboim

Amir Kirshenboim, Carlson Wagonlit Travel chief technology officer for the digital business

“The basis of every product management exercise is trying to find the widest common denominator (not the lowest). What will achieve the most impact?” he asked rhetorically. “Wherever we can, we’re trying to avoid specific customizations because that would not scale. Scalable solutions have to be relevant to as much of our client base as possible. At this point, it’s not very hard. We’re pretty much at the beginning of the journey. We’re now still finding capabilities that 70 to 80 percent of our clients want.”

He said a few dozen large clients specifically anticipated one of the app’s latest enhancements — hotel rate caps and justifications for travelers exceeding them. A CWT press official said that about three in four large clients have defined hotel rate caps.

“Clients are setting caps and daily budgets, and there are lots of complicated rules that differ by city and country and currency,” said Kirshenboim. “As part of this, when they book over policy, they need a reason. Maybe the other hotel was booked or they need to be close to the airport. So we’re supporting that to the full extent now. It’s important to make sure we’re working toward client priorities. We’re trying to make travelers happy but also balancing client requirements.”

Is it hard to determine what to build when traveler desires and their employers’ needs differ? Yes and no, he said.

Mostly it’s a no, because a lot of features help both. He called this overlap the “golden circle.” Hotel bookings, for example, please travelers for productivity reasons. They also help companies maintain compliance and comprehensive reporting.

Kirshenboim said clients can expect to see more small features such as the rate caps and reason codes. “They will seem minor, but they will be very important to clients,” he noted.

Down the road, Kirshenboim said chatbots would “probably” become a mandatory mobile app feature.

“Bots and artificial intelligence will facilitate a better user experience — quick answers and productivity,” Kirshenboim said. “It requires significant infrastructure changes.”

In an earlier interview, Jordan had described Carla, CWT’s chatbot that has been trialed in China. “If you read the science, we are nowhere near as far forward as the world would like to think we are,” said Jordan. “AI still is nascent. If we can liberate agents and surface those [requests] in To Go, the useful time with which agents can do more complicated things goes up. We see that as an intersection between online and high-touch.”

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The Grey Areas Of Noncompliance

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Traveler Engagement: (Hard) Work In Progress

Traveler engagement is an area of opportunity, but translating touchy-feely principles for a procurement mindset of compliance and savings is problematic.

Many practitioners remain in the earliest stages of a more robust engagement program, studying and planning. According to an Association of Corporate Travel Executives/American Express Global Business Travel September 2016 survey of 254 corporate travel managers, 90 percent of companies maintain key performance indicators on travel savings. For associated “traveler-centric” concepts like productivity, wellness, work/life balance and retention, the rate of KPI usage dropped below 30 percent.

More than two-thirds of those polled do measure satisfaction, a likely departure point on the engagement journey. Some travel managers are trying to take the traditional traveler survey into the 21st century using new communications channels including internal social networks. This can give rise to what Advito VP and emerging practices lead Lesley O’Bryan calls the voice of the traveler, enabling managers to learn about things surveys cannot tell them.

“You need to get more into the mindset of marketing and communications,” O’Bryan said. “It’s not just one communication at a time. It’s pulled together in a more cohesive way.”

“It’s not easy,” said Festive Road associate Mia Andersson. “This is a huge effort. You need to invest time before the engagement part. But it is putting you in a position where you can stop fire-fighting and be proactive, and you will do much better work.”

Julia Fidler

Julia Fidler, global employee engagement and user experience lead for MSTravel and VenueSource at Microsoft

The two consultants last week joined two buyers on The Company Dime’s Teleconference. They discussed the benefits and drawbacks of traveler feedback, among other topics.

Shire senior manager of global travel procurement Mary Batal-Riley said ratings and reviews of suppliers are not a bad thing, but careful consideration of the output is warranted. “My concern about traveler feedback is, it’s so subjective,” said Batal-Riley. “What works for one person may not work for another.”

Batal-Riley said she once witnessed corporate travelers change their bookings after a colleague posted false information about a preferred hotel property. Her preference runs more toward a star rating system because it seems more objective.

“Having the right filter on your ears is important,” agreed Julia Fidler, global employee engagement and user experience lead for MSTravel and VenueSource at Microsoft.

Microsoft owns social enterprise tool Yammer. Fidler said about 30,000 people (40 percent of the company’s traveling population) participate in the network’s travel group. “It has not been overwhelming and concerns are outweighed by the benefits,” she said. The travel department enlisted a Microsoft customer relationship management group to monitor the several posts per day.

Having help from the CRM department may not be realistic for many companies, but other departments like human resources, marketing or communications could offer a hand. External providers can, too.

U.K.-based Tripism has just gone live with its marquee client — Microsoft. Tripism’s platform allows employees to rate and review offices, hotels, restaurants, meeting spaces, entertainment venues, WiFi hotspots and even transportation options. These selections can be filtered to include only one’s co-workers. Preferred restaurants are loaded in based on company expense data. To help with adoption, the service uses traveler booking data for post-trip emails to users including links to “dynamically created landing pages,” said founder Adam Kerr in an interview last week. Having previous trip information allows users to quickly review and provide feedback.

On the conference call, Andersson and O’Bryan agreed that requests for information should be sent to travelers immediately after the trip is over.

Kerr said monthly or semi-annual surveys are flawed because “people are skewed by their last experience.” Tripism now has mobile apps which allow for in-trip feedback, but Kerr has found travelers don’t take much advantage since they have other priorities. With scale, Kerr said, sentiment analysis and machine learning will take the platform to another level.

Fidler wants a multi-channel approach, and said the choice of communications mechanism has been answered naturally depending on the need.

She said her company’s next stage will include “having conversations with people,” which almost sounds like a joke until one considers the corporation’s size. “We have a strong survey mentality and a little survey fatigue in Microsoft,” said Fidler. “So we feel user experience testing and user experience interviews will be the next opportunity for us to understand more about the ways we can integrate maybe into other systems and communications through other channels along with, say, HR or IT.”

Indiana-based Peoplocity launched four years ago to improve customer engagement. It has turned to managed business travel after attracting the attention of startup accelerators at ACTE and RunUp Labs.

“The bar is low” on survey response rates, said founder and CEO George Klein, also in a separate interview. Peoplocity’s mobile app facilitates traveler communications for issue resolution and delivers “instant” feedback. Data fields created to capture info for program improvements and supplier relationships can be customized by the client. Peoplocity is considering integrating with itinerary apps or using geolocation for automated context. It also may offer up its software to become a “button” on the apps of other business travel mobile developers.

As the company has yet to launch with clients, the business model is open. “Ultimately the supplier is maybe best suited to pay for it,” said Klein. “But our path to success has to come initially through travel managers or travel management companies.”

Fidler said harnessing the traveler’s voice in work with suppliers is still relatively new, but suppliers are interested.

The wins from traveler engagement don’t have to be systemic, negotiated or quantifiable in a KPI, said Jeroen van Velzen, CEO and co-founder of Dutch app developer Roadmap, during a separate telephone interview.

“We’re running a big campaign on hotel feedback in major destinations for one global company,” van Velzen said. “We got feedback on hotel security issues at properties, for example the parking lot was dark in multiple instances. We sent the feedback to the team, they sent it to the suppliers. And there was lighting in the lots one week later.”

In general, he said, engagement remains a “work in progress” for many firms. “First you need the adoption. The next level is, you want to influence their behavior. And the last one is actually the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow — what the procurement people really want — supplier relations.”

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Direct Travel Buys MacNair Travel As Midmarket Play Keeps Rolling

[UPDATE, April 11, 2017: Direct Travel agreed to merge with Canada’s Vision Travel, which claims to be “the largest independent travel management company in Canada.” The pair revealed “a shared strategy to build a global company.” The companies employ more than 2,000 people across more than 60 offices and process more than $3 billion in travel sales, they announced. Direct Travel is a member of the GlobalStar network while Vision is part of Radius. “Each partnership will remain in place for the time being,” according to Direct CEO Ed Adams. “We both have had longstanding, wonderful relationships with both partnerships and as with all of our mergers, we evaluate all options and look for what is best for our customers and our future business.”]

Anyone who follows this space knows that Direct Travel is buying up travel management companies. Its purchase of MacNair Travel Management last October, though, flew under the radar. With it, Direct Travel since 2011 has closed 21 acquisitions of TMCs and meetings management firms.

President and CEO Mike MacNair and his wife Ellen founded MacNair Travel Management in 1989. It claims to be one of the largest privately owned TMCs in the Washington, D.C. area. Servicing small and medium-size companies, MacNair also focuses on managing travel for associations, NGOs and government contractors.

Government work was one of the attractions, said Direct Travel CEO Ed Adams in an interview today, along with MacNair’s penetration in SME event management. MacNair is “a well-run SME corporate travel company, profitable, with a good reputation,” Adams said.

MacNair hasn’t publicly reported sales volume. “We love someone right around $100 million in air sales,” Adams said. “That’s a perfect spot for us, though we are talking to much larger ones.” He said to expect more TMC acquisitions this year.

In 2016, Direct Travel also bought Colpitts World Travel of Massachusetts, Atlanta’s Georgia International Travel and Traveline Travel Services in Cleveland.

Ed Adams

Direct Travel CEO Ed Adams

Some assume that after it completes the buying spree, the company will sell to a mega agency. That’s what Adams did with Navigant, when he rolled up more than 60 TMCs and then sold to Carlson Wagonlit Travel in 2006.

“I tell clients a move to Direct Travel may be a short play because the company could likely be sold to a larger TMC within two to three years,” said consultant Donald Swartz of Corporate Travel Buyer Resources.

Adams said he has heard that concern but sought to reassure prospective clients. He pointed to a 2015 transaction in which Silver Oak Services Partners sold its equity interest in Direct Travel to ABRY Partners, another private-equity firm. ABRY, Adams said, “has more resources and is a longer-term player. The intention isn’t to just drive the top line and flip it. I doubt ABRY is looking for a strategic buyer. The more likely scenario is a larger PE firm looking to expand.”

Direct Travel is focused on being one operating company. Adams said maintaining customer-facing activity in each region is key, as is retaining employees. With all the acquisitions, it now has more than 1,200 employees. They’re spread across 50 U.S. offices and two more operated by Colpitts in the United Kingdom. Overall annual sales volume surpassed $2 billion, blowing past Adams’ originally stated goal of $1.5 billion. He has no “magic number” in mind.

As for integration, Adams said Direct “slowly” is converting all 21 acquired companies to Sabre CentralCommand for back-office functions. After narrowing mid-office contenders to Cornerstone Information Systems and Concur GDSX Compleat, it selected the latter and continues to work on integration.

Meanwhile, the Direct2U mobile app hasn’t been updated for two years. Adams said he and CIO Darryl Hoover have been “going around and around” in trying to determine whether to build new mobile tech or white label. “We will probably end up white labeling,” he said.

According to its website, MacNair uses the Sabre reservations system and TripCase mobile app. It has an online booking tool powered by Sabre GetThere called MacNairport. The TMC also supports the Concur booking tool and TripIt app. (Direct Travel is a Concur preferred partner.) MacNair uses Cornerstone’s iBank reporting tool and, like Direct Travel, BookingBuilder for additional fare searching.

MacNair is a member of the American Express Representative Network. Will it stay in that group? “We’d like it to,” Adams said. “A lot of it is out of our hands. Many times the parent, or affiliate network, has a clause that [the acquired TMC] has to back out. We would love to be part of many different support groups.”

Direct is already a member of GlobalStar, the international TMC network. Adams said business has been flowing both ways. When a network partner’s client needs service in the United States, Direct Travel can step in. And when one of Direct’s few multinational clients needs service overseas, it can lean on GlobalStar.

But Adams said Direct’s sweet spot is SMEs. “We are not competing for the Fortune 100,” he said.

Direct Selling Point: Systems Integration

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Airlines Not Interested In Carbon Tax Floated By Big-Name Republicans

A group of political heavyweights from yesteryear wants the United States to introduce a carbon tax to help cut greenhouse gas emissions. Surprisingly, they’re conservative Republicans. Unsurprisingly, airline trade associations aren’t interested.

Including a corresponding carbon dividend for Americans, the plan comes from the newly launched Climate Leadership Council. Former cabinet members James Baker, Henry Paulson, Jr., and George Shultz are among the co-authors. They helped publicize the proposal last week and now are pushing the Trump Administration.

Economist Martin Feldstein also is a co-author of the proposal. Last week at the Climate Leadership Council’s kick-off news conference in Washington, he explained how the tax would work: “Require each household and each business that causes carbon dioxide emissions to pay a tax in proportion to the volume of emissions that they create.” The tax, Feldstein continued, “would be levied indirectly by taxing the raw material at the point at which it enters the economy.” For example, oil would be taxed at the refinery, or at the port where it enters the country. “The tax at the source,” Feldstein said, “is then built into the prices of the products made from that raw material.”

In a January 2017 white paper, Climate Leadership Council founder and CEO Ted Halstead wrote that the tax would be “passed on to consumers in the form of, for instance, higher gasoline prices, airfare and electricity bills (depending on your source of power).”

Climate Leadership Council

Former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker
Image: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque

The tax would start at $40 per ton of carbon dioxide and gradually increase.

It would “send a powerful market signal that encourages technological innovation and large-scale substitution of existing energy and transportation infrastructures,” according to the proposal.

For businesses, the idea is to create an incentive to use more fuel-efficient technology. For airlines, think new-age airplanes and biofuels.

Because tax proceeds would go to Americans as a cash dividend, the Climate Leadership Council said it should be palatable to Republicans and Democrats in Congress, President Donald Trump and the American public. It’s not about more regulation; as envisioned, it would mean less. It’s not about more tax revenue for the government to spend. It is about free market principles.

The council highlighted a January 2017 report from the U.S. Treasury Department. It determined a carbon tax and carbon dividend would be a financial net positive for about 70 percent of Americans.

The carbon tax contemplated by the report’s authors would exclude “aviation fuels used in foreign trade, a designation that includes international flights.”

An official at the International Air Transport Association also assumed the new proposal would directly impact only domestic U.S. industries. “As a general comment,” according to the official, “aviation is not against paying for our emissions and we have come to the conclusion that an offsetting scheme is the most efficient way for aviation to do so, as in last autumn’s historic agreement at the International Civil Aviation Organization to implement a market-based measure.”

American Airlines and Southwest Airlines indicated that Airlines for America speaks for them on this issue. In an emailed statement, a spokesperson for Airlines for America also pointed to the ICAO approach:

“Airlines are proud that our business model aligns with environmental interests and doesn’t need a carbon tax to further build on our exceptional environmental record. U.S. airlines continue to address aviation carbon emissions through a wide array of technology, operations and infrastructure measures. The global market-based measure agreed to at ICAO will complement those efforts, in addition to a robust effort to bolster the development and deployment of alternative aviation fuels. As part of a global aviation coalition that successfully advocated for the historic ICAO agreement, airlines remain committed to leading the way toward a more environmentally friendly future and will collaboratively work with the Administration and Congress to that end.”

Called the Carbon Offset and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA), the ICAO program is scheduled to start in 2021 with a voluntary phase. It would become mandatory five years later as part of an effort to achieve carbon-neutral growth. Sixty-five nations pledged to take part in the initial phase, including the United States.

It’s no certainty that the United States will stick to its commitment. Trump has shown no hesitation in pulling the country out of international agreements. His skepticism about climate change is well-known. The United States’ participation in the landmark Paris climate agreement, which unlike CORSIA counts domestic aviation emissions, appears in jeopardy.

Climate Leadership Council founder and CEO Ted Halstead said Paris accord commitments are “as we know, very much in doubt.” Baker said the Paris agreement is “not a treaty” and there is no penalty for withdrawing.

Halstead and team are challenged to convince Trump that their plan is sensible. Trump last May tweeted his opposition to a carbon tax.

“For too long, we Republicans — and conservatives — haven’t occupied a real place at the table during debate about global climate change,” Baker said last week. “I was and remain somewhat of a skeptic about the extent to which man is responsible for climate change. But the risks are too great to ignore. We need some sort of an insurance policy.”

They may have a sympathetic ear in new Secretary of State and former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson. Tillerson during his Senate confirmation hearing last month said he favors a simple carbon tax over “the hodgepodge of approaches that we have today.” He qualified that by saying a carbon tax must be “revenue-neutral,” meaning “none of the money is held in the federal treasury for other purposes.”

The carbon tax concept has plenty of detractors and proponents. Former U.S. Department of Labor chief economist Diana Furchtgott-Roth doesn’t see it flying. In an opinion column published Monday by Investor’s Business Daily, Furchtgott-Roth suggested Trump won’t “be fooled” by the “cleverly” crafted carbon dividend smokescreen. All the proceeds are unlikely to be returned to the American people, she argued. Some would find its way to special interests in Washington. The result of any carbon tax, she concluded, “would be an additional tax, without the offsets that make it so attractive to academics.”

Ian Lipton, president and COO of greenhouse gas tracking firm The Carbon Accounting Company, welcomed the Climate Leadership Council proposal. “Without putting a price on carbon pollution, the market cannot operate efficiently,” he told The Company Dime in an emailed statement. “At present, carbon is not factored into the true cost of production in the United States, and therefore the market is not a ‘free market.’ ”

Also a member of the GBTA Sustainability Committee, Lipton said he “particularly” likes the proposal’s import levy on products from countries lagging in environmental performance. That would protect domestic U.S. manufacturers from a competitive disadvantage.

“Whether the way to go is via a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade system is debatable, but at least they are recognizing the cost of carbon pollution on the planet and on society as a whole,” Lipton wrote. “The real question now is what should be the level of taxation. Some say that level should start no lower than $40 per metric ton and should gradually increase to over $100 per ton. Otherwise, the tax will be insufficient to cause meaningful change. I agree.”

Blogging for the World Resources Institute, climate economist Noah Kaufman called the Climate Leadership Council plan “well-thought-out and ambitious.”

“This tax-and-dividend approach would be highly beneficial to poor and middle-class households, who would receive far more in dividends than they would spend on the tax,” Kaufman wrote on Feb. 10. He noted “strong support” for carbon taxes from the American public and business community.

A carbon tax proposed for the state of Washington would have been the first in the United States, had voters in November not rejected it.

Canada already has started down the path, both on the national and provincial level. Alberta on Jan. 1. began levying a carbon tax on various fuels. It covers jet fuel but only for flights within the province. British Columbia has a similar tax.

Canada’s number two carrier, WestJet, in November said the Alberta carbon tax would cost C$3 million, on top of the C$60 million it already pays in yearly provincial and federal fuel taxes. A national tax in Canada could cost another C$70 million, “all of which we would work to pass through ticket prices,” according to WestJet CEO Gregg Saretsky.

Additional info: Trump met with U.S. aviation leaders last week. They did not discuss the environment, according to a 3,400-word transcript of a 20-minute portion of the meeting. An Airlines for America statement following that meeting mentioned emissions once, as they relate to air traffic control modernization.

The Climate Leadership Council website notes “competing agendas” on climate change around the world. It suggested that the European Union spent 11 years on the “failed Emissions Trading System that has crashed twice and missed its objectives.”

The European Commission just last week proposed to continue the aviation portion of ETS, and to keep the scope to flights within the European Economic Area. EC shelved earlier plans to include flights in and out of EU airspace.

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Messy Handling Of Global Entry Eligibility Mirrors Wider Chaos Following Executive Order

[UPDATE, April 19, 2017: Attorneys for the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee filed suit Tuesday against U.S. Customs and Border Protection in a Washington, D.C. federal district court. The plaintiffs are seeking to compel CBP to produce records in response to previously filed Freedom of Information Act requests related to CBP actions to “revoke, suspend or terminate participation” in Global Entry for certain Arab and Muslim U.S. citizens “without legal justification.” The complaint is here.]

Confusion following President Donald Trump’s Jan. 27 executive order suspending entry into the United States by people from Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen also colored the government’s handling of business traveler-friendly expedited screening programs. A media official from U.S. Customs and Border Protection late Wednesday responded to questions sent Monday about revocations of program memberships.

Although the ban on entry for travelers from the seven countries — now on hold amid legal challenges — was temporary at 90 days, CBP decided impacted “trusted” travelers should lose their status.

“The executive order did not provide an exemption for trusted travelers so impacted travelers with a trusted traveler membership had that membership suspended,” according to an email from the CBP spokesperson.

That implies a temporary act, but notices sent to affected members did not say as much: “We regret to inform you that your membership in Global Entry has been revoked for the following reason: You do not meet program eligibility requirements.”

After the White House on Feb. 1 adjusted its order to clarify that legal permanent residents would be exempt, CBP had to shift its Global Entry posture as well.

Donald Trump, John kelly

U.S. President Donald Trump, flanked by Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly
Image: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst

“After the guidance was issued, CBP worked to reinstate LPR trusted traveler members who were no longer subject to the executive order,” according to the press official. “Those members were fully reinstated as of Feb. 2.”

Some members of Nexus and Fast “were still subject to the executive order and as such, their memberships remained suspended” until a federal judge in Seattle last Friday halted Trump’s order, the official explained.

“Following that ruling, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security suspended any and all actions implementing the affected sections of the executive order,” the official wrote. “CBP worked to reinstate members whose memberships were suspended. All trusted traveler memberships affected by the executive order have since been reinstated.”

Making determinations of which trusted travelers should or should not be subject to the order requires CBP to review each account “individually,” the official said.

Immigration attorney Greg Siskind has been following the issue closely. In response to the CBP statements, he wrote by email, “My initial observation is that none of the legal permanent residents have received a notification regarding reinstatement. If CBP isn’t notifying people, they will logically assume they’re not in the program anymore and may not bother accessing the kiosks. Second, it doesn’t explain why U.S. citizens also had their Global Entry revoked.”

Siskind said Tuesday that he knew of three citizens who lost their memberships.

A U.S. federal appeals court is deliberating following Tuesday’s arguments on the executive order.

Meanwhile, the government of Canada issued a statement Wednesday saying the roughly 200 Nexus members whose cards were revoked following the executive order have been reinstated.

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CWT Redesigning Reporting Tool Launched In 2015

Heard this one before? Large travel management company promises to become truly digital through better use of data and personalization. Carlson Wagonlit Travel chief technology officer Andrew Jordan in an interview last week described the very same as his top priority.

Jordan didn’t disparage the “predictive” CWT AnalytIQs reporting system, ballyhooed and rolled out 16 months ago. Still, he thinks it can be better. “We have substantially re-architected and replanned our entire approach to reporting and data,” said Jordan. “However the previous iteration was designed, I believe this will be a game-changing approach.”

There’s reason to set aside your skepticism. Jordan started at CWT last March after four years at NBCUniversal, most recently as senior vice president of international operations and technology. Before that he was CTO at Thomson Reuters for two years after it bought Complinet, where he had been CIO for two years. Previously he was co-founder of software and advisory services firm Beyond Analysis.

“I know this domain extremely well,” he claimed. “AnalytIQs is very much alive. It’s deployed quite widely and it’s used very powerfully to look at the performance of [client] programs. It’s not that it’s a bad product. It’s very comprehensive in what it does. We add data to it all the time — you can now access Airbnb information, for example. That’s generation one. We’ll build on top of that. The reporting side will get powered up. We will start to surface data in other areas. How do you serve results to the mobile app? Policy and the best rate are at the top. People are seeing more or less the same info. We can be much more specific now. We can use data to make it a personalized experience.”

Andrew Jordan

Carlson Wagonlit Travel CTO Andrew Jordan

Jordan talked about “rich” data on client hierarchies, travel frequency and types of travel — revenue-generating or not. These pieces can be considered “more substantially” as compared with standard “retrospective reporting.” Think “what-if scenarios.”

New CWT VP and chief data scientist Eric Tyree is boosting these efforts, Jordan said. Tyree “looks at data for where the value is,” said Jordan. “How can we take this data and convert it to something customers can use? We could end up having a conversation with a CFO about data. That’s a big shift.”

When will CWT deliver?

Admitting he wasn’t directly answering the question, Jordan said, “You’ll see us bring things to market more frequently.” He said the first activity following the new strategy, developed last year, is underway.

“When I came in, I looked long and hard at investments and commitments to different products to determine how much was still valid — and a lot was — and what can we do better,” Jordan said.

What was not still valid? Jordan said it’s not so “black-and-white.” Some products and services were only partially eliminated. “A lot of the things we look at and say, through data eyes, they might sound good but they won’t necessarily be things you can give to a customer and derive value from,” he said. “If you can’t answer the question ‘So what?’ then the value you are creating is questionable.”

A new, dedicated data and analytics division emerged from Jordan’s restructuring of company tech operations.

A separate product group is involved with what he described as an increased presence in Silicon Valley incubator Plug and Play. CWT announced its collaboration with the tech accelerator in February 2016. “We’re doing it so we can search and see what’s interesting,” Jordan said. “There may be a time when we see something we consider so important that we’ll take a stake.”

CWT’s platform unit manages traditional travel technology like global distribution systems, booking tools and agent interfaces. “There’s big activity there,” said Jordan. “There’s more automation and sophistication in what we serve to an agent. We’ll start doing new things with data there as well, so that when someone calls we know the last five bookings they have made, etc.”

He resisted making detailed comments about sources of inventory, other than to note that CWT is adding Booking.com for lodging. Business models for distribution are “challenged,” he said, and the “jury is out.” He declined to say, for example, whether CWT is prepared to support a setup like Siemens and Volkswagen have with Lufthansa.

Jordan did advise against head-burying: “It’s an industry going through an inflection point. You have to think of the economics of this space and look at where there is margin squeeze or share shifts. There’s a need to open a more aggressive approach, as we’re doing with hotels. If anyone thinks they can survive on the existing transaction-based economic model alone, and not do anything new, that is dangerous.”

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Trump Policies Apparently Impacting Nexus, Global Entry Eligibility

Attorneys are observing an uptick in canceled Global Entry memberships, and they suspect it is related to President Donald Trump’s policies on immigration and border controls.

After a federal judge on Friday ruled to temporarily invalidate Trump’s so-called travel ban, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security said it “suspended any and all actions implementing the affected sections” of the order. Legal challenges to the Jan. 27 order are working through the courts.

In the meantime, though, the executive branch’s approach to expedited border crossing programs Nexus and Global Entry seems to have changed.

Following the order, a number of members in both programs received notice that their participation was revoked. Redacted copies of the letters surfaced on social media.

Mike Ivancie is a California attorney who helps travelers appeal Global Entry denials by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. He said he has noticed over the past few days a higher-than-normal number of inquiries from pre-existing enrollees whose memberships were revoked for no specific reason. Most are U.S. legal permanent residents originally from one of the seven countries listed in Trump’s executive order.

“I tend to think they’re correlated,” Ivancie said. “It does seem like there’s a pattern with individuals from those countries contacting me, though the sample size is not huge. They are U.S. citizens who are Muslim. There’s no obligation for CBP to provide reasons. It’s one thing to have a logical basis for a decision; my concern is that if this is based on religion, there are a lot of constitutional implications.”

Donald Trump executive order

Image: Reuters/Carlos Barria

Immigration lawyer Greg Siskind is considering a lawsuit on behalf of Global Entry members whose participation was nixed. He said he knows of six cases in which members lost their privileges. Three are U.S. citizens. Siskind said one is a New York-based doctor who was born in the United States after his parents emigrated from India in 1971. He said the doctor’s travel history includes no destinations likely to raise concern. The attorney’s guess as to why the doctor was flagged is that he has a Muslim-sounding name.

Siskind said he couldn’t be sure of whether the revocations are related to the president’s executive order. “We have seen agencies do things outside the order,” he said. “Maybe CBP is looking at the spirit of the order.”

A former CBP employee, Ivancie agreed that the agency could be making decisions on its own as a result of the president’s approach: “Okay, the president has made this risk assessment, so we’ll implement that analysis into our Global Entry calculus,” he said.

Some media reports have tied the executive order to Global Entry revocations.

According to a CNN article last week, “U.S. legal permanent residents who are from the seven countries will again be allowed to participate in the Global Entry program.” The Company Dime was unable to confirm that information or learn whether and how federal agencies plan to reinstate those who lost memberships. An inquiry sent Monday to the Department of Homeland Security and forwarded to CBP was not immediately answered. “We are looking into this for you,” a CBP official wrote late Monday.

The New York Times last week reported that a CBP official declined to address the revocations but indicated that Global Entry members “can be kicked out for a number of reasons, including being inadmissible to the United States under immigration regulations.”

Canadian public safety minister Ralph Goodale said Monday that about 200 members in the Nexus program lost their memberships. A Canada Border Services Agency media spokesperson did not comment specifically, deferring to DHS. “Canada and the U.S. determine admissibility into the Nexus program independently of the other country,” the official wrote. “Acceptance by one country does not guarantee acceptance by the other. To become a member you must be accepted by both countries.”

These programs are “just a privilege,” said one travel management company executive in Canada, speaking on the condition of anonymity due to the speculative nature of his comments. “It’s related to Trump’s follow-up in that he instructed border controls to beef up their scrutiny. I think he will get away with it.”

Assuming they were authentic, the copies of notices sent to Global Entry and Nexus members revoking participation were almost identical to one another. They indicated that the member does “not meet program eligibility requirements” but did not explain what changed since the member was first approved. The letters advised users to write to CBP and/or contact local enrollment centers if they believe there’s an error. “Inadmissibility to the United States under immigration laws” is listed among several circumstances that may make a person ineligible.

Lawyers at Jackson Lewis wrote over the weekend that it is “not clear whether individuals whose Global Entry memberships were canceled in response to the executive order will have their memberships reinstated.”

Few government initiatives are more popular among business travel advocates and representatives than these “fast pass” border programs. CBP officials often present at industry events the benefits of these and the domestic air travel PreCheck” variation.

After “extreme” vetting including a detailed application, fingerprinting and an in-person interview, participants are deemed low-risk and their passage through airport security typically is expedited.

That people previously identified as low-risk after detailed vetting have since lost their privileges raises questions. It’s not clear whether the new administration’s policies mean anything for the future of expedited processing programs themselves. As for the “travel ban,” Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said today there are no plans to expand the list of seven countries.

According to a report from Taiwan quoting a foreign ministry official, “Trump’s travel ban and Taiwan’s work towards the Global Entry program should be seen as separate issues.”

Global Entry has been updated since the start of the Trump administration, with citizens of Switzerland able to join as of Feb. 1. Citizens of Colombia, Germany, Mexico, the Netherlands, Panama, Singapore, South Korea and the United Kingdom also may apply. Canadian citizens and residents gain the same benefits through the Nexus program.

Several surveys during the past week indicated that many corporations expected the president’s action on immigration and travel to impact them. According to the Institute for Corporate Productivity, 24 percent of 261 companies surveyed said they expected the order to have a negative effect on productivity this year. Another 23 percent were undecided and 19 percent said they did not know.

The American Society of Travel Agents is concerned about a “chilling” effect on the travel industry as a whole, said government and industry affairs SVP Eben Peck. “Our head is spinning too,” Peck told reporters today. “The way this was implemented and all the confusion it created is having an impact — it’s clear — beyond the people coming in from these seven countries.”

ASTA officials pointed to anecdotal feedback from member agencies, including some seemingly unrelated to Trump’s executive order. For example, an employer didn’t want a Norway-born employee with a U.S. green card to travel. One agency client (a U.S. citizen) didn’t want to maintain travel plans to visit the Bahamas owing to concerns about U.S. re-entry.

Peck said that “uncertainty is bad for the travel industry, and this undeniably created a lot of uncertainty.”

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Teleconference 8: NDC In Corporate Travel

NDC In Corporate Travel
April 13, 2017

Download the recording here.
Gift the recording here.
Get the slides here.

Many in the business travel community know the general idea behind the International Air Transport Association’s New Distribution Capability. It’s not only for direct channels. It could improve access to airline services. What else does NDC mean for corporate travel providers and programs? When is it coming?

tcd-teleconference-featuredTackling these and other questions were Festive Road managing partner Caroline Strachan with NDC Travel Manager Advisory Group members Pascal Struyve (Ingersoll Rand global travel, fleet and meeting services director) and David Weaver (Bechtel Corporation manager of travel procurement).

Strachan delivered a primer on what NDC is and what it’s not. It’s not another distribution channel, she said. It’s not a new technology. Rather, it is a standardized language and an enabler of efficiency, differentiation and even corporate recognition.

For Struyve and Weaver, NDC is about traveler service, refined airline relationships and a level playing field among distribution channels. They said it would prod travel management companies, online booking tool providers and other partners to move past transactions and on to “service intelligence.”

Find information on other upcoming Teleconference episodes and download previous ones here.

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Updates: Air Emissions; Upside; Basic Economy; PayForTrip; Real ID; Compl.ai

Sometimes the things we write about peter out. Sometimes more developments happen, but they don’t warrant an entirely new article. In other cases, something unexpected or counterintuitive is noteworthy in its continuance. Hence, the Updates post.

Click to jump to United’s carbon emissions pledge to corporate clients, Upside’s launch, proliferating Basic Economy airfares, PayForTrip’s pause, the federal government’s Real ID implementation, a check on startups and shutdowns of ARC mobile tech and SGTP.

With Older Planes But Cleaner Fuel, United Promises Lower Emissions Than AA, Delta

United has been making a big deal about its commitment to the environment. It also sought to nullify any advantage rival Delta was getting through a performance guarantee by establishing a matching program. At the beginning of this year it tied the two together. Now, in addition to committing to on-time performance and completion rates that are no worse than both American’s and Delta’s, United also now is pledging better baggage handling than at least one and a smaller carbon footprint than both.

The airline describes the environmental component of its guarantee as an industry first. It’s calculating carbon emissions per available seat mile for 2017, for both mainline and regional operations. United said the data used is “reported and independently verified in each competitor’s Carbon Disclosure Project response or Corporate Responsibility Report.”

For 2015, United said its carbon dioxide equivalent per million ASMs was 152.8, American’s was 156.4 and Delta’s was 161.3. If United slips behind either this year, it will pay eligible corporate accounts based on their carbon footprint (tracked by ticket designator code and/or tour code).

At an average age of 13.9 years at year-end 2016, United’s mainline fleet is older than AA’s (expected to be 9.8 years by the end of this year, according to officials) but younger than Delta’s (16.9 years, according to its website). Older planes generally are less fuel-efficient and therefore burn more fuel. United, though, said it used lower-carbon emitting biofuels on more than 39,000 flights through 2016 while AA and Delta used it on none. United also said it’s contracted to buy 15 million gallons of biofuel compared to zero for AA and Delta.

Meanwhile, Delta last month said its on-time performance metric for the operational guarantee now is based on A0 measurements (the percentage of flights landing exactly on time or early) rather than A14 (landing within 15 minutes of the scheduled time). United’s program has used A0 since it launched.

A Delta press official added that the airline has been “working with a couple of accounts” on carbon emissions measurements.”

Discuss.

Upside Launches

Jay Walker’s new service for unmanaged business travelers officially launched last month. Upside’s approach is opaque packages for air and hotel that are cheaper than buying them separately. He said the service now has sufficient inventory: 1,200 hotels and “almost every major airline in the world.”

Upside's Jay Walker

Upside chairman Jay Walker

It hasn’t been entirely clear how the nine TMCs listed on Upside’s site are involved with the service. Walker said language on the site suggesting TMCs would bring Upside to existing managed travel clients is “probably a little outdated.” They’re not providing agents to help with Upside customer service, he said, but rather simply advising on “systems, processes, procedures — that kind of thing.”

So what’s in it for them? “To be part of the ecosystem,” Walker said. “It makes sense to keep any new inventions as close as you can to your business.” He’s also perfectly happy to let TMCs use Upside on behalf of any interested clients.

Next steps could include adding car rental and other ground transportation, dining and entertainment.

“There is no question there will be smart ways to integrate all kinds of innovations and value-added services into our packages,” Walker said. “There are better ways to understand your opportunities while traveling. We are ultimately wide open to be a platform to integrate all kinds of other elements. We just have our hands full for the next few months.”

Walker is aiming to achieve a $1 billion run rate “very quickly.” Using direct-to-consumer advertising, he said it probably will take about six months to determine appetite among the target audience — some 25 million or so business travelers who work at small companies. “What percent of the market will buy their air and hotel together?” Walked asked. “If the answer is 5 percent, that’s a multibillion-dollar business. if the answer is 1 percent, that’s a problem. If the answer is 30 percent, then you have $50 billion in sales.”

Discuss.

AA, United Focusing On Distribution As They Prep Basic Economy

As expected, American Airlines last month followed Delta and United in adding a Basic Economy fare type. It goes on sale Feb. 21 in select markets. Like those of its rivals, AA’s new bottom-level, nonrefundable product is meant to provide more choices for customers and a defense against no-frills competitors. United will start selling its version of Basic Economy later this quarter (first in Minneapolis).

Regarding such fares already for sale (Delta’s), travel management pros have raised concerns about deficiencies in disclosing restrictions to travelers using corporate self-booking tools. Some block Basic Economy from showing in those tools.

United Airlines economy class

Image: United Airlines

All three airlines plan to expand Basic Economy across their domestic networks and eventually on international routes. They have said they’ll work to disclose all airfare rules at points of sale. At United, president Scott Kirby said making that happen within global distribution systems “hasn’t historically been at the top of their investment list.”

An AA agency guide noted that Basic Economy fares are not available for open jaw or multi-city itineraries. During irregular operations, those purchasing the fare type would be reaccommodated only on AA or joint business partners British Airways, Finnair, Iberia, Japan Airlines and Qantas — unless they have elite status. If they do, regular reaccommodation policies would be in effect.

Meanwhile, unlike Delta, both American and United disallow Basic Economy passengers from using overhead bins. Both will charge passengers a $25 penalty fee when they try to bring aboard bigger carry-on items, on top of the regular checked bag fee that would apply for gate-checking the bag. Both also said flight attendants won’t be the baggage police.

Kirby said United personnel will aim to get rollerboards and the like checked in while Basic Economy passengers still are in airport lobbies. Without providing specifics, he said there are “some really clever ways” to do that.

Discuss.

PayForTrip Loses Card Partner, Contemplates Future

Things are on hold for virtual payment startup PayForTrip, which we highlighted in July 2015.

Cindy Allen, CEO of PayForTrip

According to CEO Cindy Allen, the company’s card-issuing partner, VPay, “will be suspending their efforts in the travel industry for the foreseeable future” to take advantage of new contracts in other verticals.

Allen is “assessing next step options” for PayForTrip. The company has not identified a replacement for VPay.

PayForTrip partner and chief commercial officer Kathy Burns in January joined W Holdings as VP for TMC services, according to her LinkedIn profile.

Discuss.

Clock Ticking Toward Real ID

Eight U.S. states have less than a year to fall in line with federal rules or their residents’ driver’s licenses won’t get them on commercial airplanes. Under the Real ID Act, states must start issuing new, “secure” driver’s licenses and ID cards. Once regulations phase in, TSA will accept state-issued driver’s licenses or ID cards only from compliant states.

Photo courtesy of U.S. Department of Homeland Security

A year ago, DHS deemed Minnesota, Missouri and Washington noncompliant. They still are. Now, so is Maine and Montana. If these states don’t move to comply, residents from Jan. 22, 2018, will need another acceptable form of ID to board planes (including “enhanced” driver’s licenses issued by five states” and U.S. passports). The same is true for Kentucky, Pennsylvania and South Carolina. Those three have “limited extensions” for other phases of Real ID but not the commercial travel component.

Full implementation is Oct. 1, 2020; every domestic U.S. air traveler will need a Real ID-compliant license or other acceptable identification.

Discuss.

Startup Check

We’re not sure if 2015 PhoCusWright People’s Choice Award winner Tripchamp is down for the count, but its support line is and the company hasn’t tweeted in five months. We first covered it here in our LinkedIn group. Tripchamp chief product officer Daniel Senyard is now (also or instead) CEO of new company Compl.ai. Compl.ai “allows business travelers to book on any platform or site they want by overlaying a display showing what’s in and out of policy on sites like Expedia, Airbnb, Orbitz and Kayak,” according to its website. Senyard indicated by email that he would share details about the new venture later this month. He didn’t respond to a question about Tripchamp. [UPDATE, Feb. 7: “Our business is actually doing very well,” according to Tripchamp chief revenue officer Michael Culhane, “with some large international customers and a major U.S. agency consortium getting onto our platform which is producing results ahead of what we expected.” Senyard has transitioned to an “advisory role,” Culhane noted.]

If Compl.ai’s idea sounds familiar to you, it’s probably because you remember Procureapp, which Runzheimer acquired in 2014. Oh yeah, what ever happened to that? We asked Runzheimer. According to a spokesperson, “Unfortunately, they are going to pass on offering any commentary.”

More fortunate is TripActions, which last month said it has 70 customers and raised more than $14 million in funding.

ARC Zapped App Shop

In September 2015 we covered Protravel’s and Tzell’s new mobile apps, ProTrip and tZapp, apparently powered by ARC’s Better My Trip technology. What came of the effort? Zip.

“In late 2015, after looking at the economics in an increasingly crowded market of like-solutions, we felt it didn’t make sense to continue investing in the resources needed to keep Better My Trip current and competitive,” according to an ARC spokesperson. “Basically, the business case just didn’t hold up.”

Discuss.

SGTP Still Stopped

Just over a year ago we reported on the issues facing the Society of Government Travel Professionals, a once-venerable membership group for government travel managers. It didn’t look good but the door was left open for a potential comeback. Consider it shut. The group’s former leader did not reply to a request for comment.

The National Defense Transportation Association, meanwhile, is about to put on its second annual GovTravels event with support from several corporate travel suppliers.

Discuss.

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After Enlisting Two Dozen TMCs, Concur’s Preferred Program Loses A Few

Frosch recently left the Concur preferred travel management company program because it didn’t want to use all the required technology. A similar thing happened with Altour and at least one other TMC. In the three cases, officials said they remain Concur supporters even if they no longer meet the formal program’s criteria. At more than two dozen other TMCs, though, fully aligning with Concur is a priority.

For some of them, pursuing membership in the program was an obvious choice. Staying close to the travel and expense market leader makes strategic sense, they said. Many if not most of their clients are using Concur Travel and/or Expense anyway.

To qualify as preferred partners, TMCs must resell Concur Expense and Concur Travel and use (or be contracted to implement) the Concur Compleat mid-office system. They are “strongly” encouraged to adopt the Concur Messaging risk management platform. “The idea is the experience of a traveler using Concur Travel will be better” if that traveler’s TMC uses all those other Concur technologies, said Mike Koetting, Concur’s EVP of supplier and TMC services.

Concur’s preferred TMC program started in 2013 with a handful of agencies. Now, there are about two dozen participants in North America and three more in the United Kingdom.

In exchange for adopting the required Concur tech, preferred TMCs get help with implementation and integration. They play a role in product development (as with TripLink) and get the first crack at the newest tools (for example, TripIt for TMCs). They also get referrals to Concur’s travel and expense clients. Some participants thought they’d see more of those.

“For us, having dedicated resources within Concur is very important,” said Ovation Travel EVP Michael Steiner.

Atlas Travel & Technology Group VP Christy Conrow mentioned the benefits of joint networking, training and sales initiatives. Already a Concur Travel supporter and Compleat mid-office system user, Atlas Travel in 2015 adopted Concur Messaging and joined the preferred program.

“From a sales perspective, you don’t want the No. 1 product you are offering to be 100 percent recommending someone else,” Conrow said. “We still offer other product lines outside of Concur, but we look for ways where it makes sense to solely recommend Concur and for them to solely recommend Atlas.”

Conrow and other TMC participants said they looked at other risk management systems and determined Concur Messaging worked best for their portfolios.

“If you are a customer that doesn’t have the requirements of a big, standalone provider like International SOS or iJet, this fits the bill,” said Dirk Baerts, president of Canadian TMC and Concur preferred partner MeritBiz. “The technology from ISOS and iJet is superior but comes at a price tag that our customers are not willing to pay.”

Mike Koetting

Concur EVP of supplier and TMC services Mike Koetting

Frosch decided against using Concur Messaging, opting for its own tool. The end of its participation in the preferred partner program represents quite a change in positioning.

A strong Concur proponent, the TMC in 2014 hired Steve Sedgwick as vice president for Concur platform services and sales. A year later, the Frosch TripLink app became available, the first TMC app listed in Concur’s app center. That app, along with preferred partner status, meant Frosch was “well-positioned to exceed the expectations of corporate clients and Concur users,” according to the company’s November 2015 press release.

Now Frosch isn’t preferred and Sedgwick left the company. “We are very strong Concur supporters,” according to Frosch CEO Bryan Leibman. “We just didn’t adopt their entire portfolio of technology products as we have some proprietary tools instead.” The Frosch app still is listed in Concur’s app center.

Altour left the preferred TMC program last year owing to technology decisions. An Altour official said the company would have had to switch to “either” Concur’s Compleat mid-office or the Concur Messaging system, but the resources required for that were too great. The official added that the Concur relationship remains strong.

An executive at a third TMC said his company recently left the preferred partner program after deciding not to use Compleat.

Koetting said there are others “who meet most or some of the criteria but don’t wish to be designated as a preferred partner TMC. They feel their objectivity is best represented by not being designated in that way, and that’s fine.”

Sedgwick now is in corporate travel consulting, focused on helping TMCs and travel managers understand the Concur platform. “For some agencies,” he said, the preferred partner program “wasn’t a match. They want to do their own thing, whether that’s technology-related or they just didn’t buy into the whole concept. It is a costly entry. You have to be willing to invest in the vision and the tech stack, and believe what you are really saying.”

With Both Feet

World Travel Service “made a strategic decision” to focus fully on Concur Travel “versus being a generalist on multiple tools,” said president Lamar Shuler. WTS converted all customers using other tools and today still supports only Concur’s booking tool.

Toronto-based MeritBiz, Cain Travel in Boulder, Colo., and Maryland’s Safe Harbors Business Travel each concluded that aligning with Concur’s tech stack was the best path forward.

Pointing to Concur’s influence in the market, Safe Harbors president and CEO Jay Ellenby said, “We have the ability to support other tools but we focus on Concur.”

These TMCs hope their advocacy translates to referrals. “We never get enough referrals,” said Beth Marino, CFO at Wisconsin’s Fox World Travel. “That definitely is a core piece of the preferred partnership.”

“What I have heard from the team is that hopes were higher than what actually is being delivered,” said Baerts, who just joined MeritBiz last month after eight years with Egencia. He said he hopes to “revise” the relationship so both sides get more out of it.

Sedgwick said most existing preferred program members “probably would tell you there are not enough leads coming through. Perhaps some of these people are disappointed. But this still is in its infancy. The first few years were about education. It’s an evolution. Some of the TMCs are certainly on board with the process and are not looking at this as, ‘Well, heck, last year I didn’t get enough leads so I’m out.’ ”

Cain Travel president Michael Cain said he is “extremely optimistic” about getting more business through the Concur channel.

Other TMC execs said the same. They’re not too concerned about losing out to other TMCs as the program grows. The pre-requisites for membership, they said, keep the group size manageable. That doesn’t mean some won’t look over their shoulders. “We certainly don’t want preferred partners in our backyard or in a vertical where we feel we are a differentiator,” Conrow said.

Koetting said Concur isn’t aiming for any particular number of TMC participants. While he said it’s a “select group,” he added that the program is open to any TMC reseller that meets the criteria and wants in. Koetting also suggested the program would expand to markets beyond the United States and United Kingdom “in the relatively near future.”

Looking ahead, TMC execs generally feel there’s room to grow their Concur partnership — in terms of referrals, yes, but also in other ways. They want the company to keep Concur Travel updated as suppliers tinker with prices and products. They all praised Concur’s level of support, though a few said there’s always room to improve communications. Some want more clarity on long-term product development plans. Marino mentioned an opportunity for agencies and Concur to further collaborate on expense management.

Koetting said there’s more work to be done on integrating Concur Travel and Compleat. “We are launching a series of mid-office service resolution features that will allow a traveler to resolve a service or ticketing issue on their own,” he explained.

For example, when an airline reservation fails ticketing because the traveler’s credit card expired, the fix today is manual. It goes something like this: The travel agent calls the traveler to get an updated form of payment and then issues the ticket. The traveler separately might have to update his or her profile within Concur Travel. Going forward, Koetting said, the mid-office system would automatically flag the problem and notify the traveler. The traveler then provides corrected payment info, the ticket is automatically issued and the Concur Travel profile auto-updates.

And TripLink?

TripLink is a microcosm of the market’s polarized views on Concur. Some TMCs see it as a threat that marginalizes them. Others see opportunity in being part of bookings they never really touched before.

Executives at Concur’s preferred TMCs said they were willing to work with customers that want to use TripLink, but haven’t seen much appetite. Asked whether supporting clients on TripLink is a requirement to be part of the preferred program, a Concur spokesperson did not go that far.

“Support for clients who have purchased TripLink is an example of the strategic alignment,” the official noted. “Ultimately we expect preferred partner TMCs to be able to view TripLink reservations on the agent desktop, perform quality control and file finishing on those reservations and include the relevant trip data in client reports.”

Sedgwick said Concur has become “a little more neutral” on TripLink, pointing to the early rebranding from Open Booking. He’s still a backer of the concept and thinks TMCs need to “reinvent themselves.” They shouldn’t care where clients book, he said, only that they can support all those bookings.

Koetting said Concur isn’t forcing TripLink on anyone and end-user clients will decide for themselves. “We wholeheartedly support the TMCs’ participation in that solution and are anxious to enable that however we can,” he said. “We know it is growing rapidly. Clients want visibility. It makes sense that TMCs want to be involved.”

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