Monthly Archives: April 2017

Who Speaks For You? (And What Are They Saying?)

Many groups advocate for a wide range of travel issues. Some relate to corporate travel, but who speaks specifically for the corporate travel industry?

Sixty attendees to the Association of Corporate Travel Executives’ New York event this week answered that question as part of an informal poll. They mentioned ACTE, Airlines for America, the American Society of Travel Agents, the Business Travel Coalition, the U.S. Travel Association and a few of their own organizations. Airline reps pointed to their companies’ active government affairs departments. Some said no group really represents the industry voice. By a wide margin, the most often-mentioned organization was the Global Business Travel Association.

That’s no surprise, even among attendees to an ACTE conference.

GBTA is active in Washington, at the local level and in Brussels. It runs a yearly legislative affairs event in Washington, during which members can meet U.S. senators and representatives. The 2017 edition happened this week. GBTA’s government relations committee is co-chaired by travel buyers. The group claims its political action committee is “the only federally recognized PAC representing the business travel industry.”

During a phone interview last week, new GBTA vice president of government affairs Andrew Meehan said there could be room to work with other groups on certain issues. That would please a few poll respondents who gave GBTA better grades for its efforts than for results. Some pined for stronger advocacy through a more unified voice.

“In any position that I have worked in during a decade of government relations, I have found there never is a shortage of coalitions to build,” Meehan said. GBTA recently worked with flight attendant groups on a successful fight to ban inflight cell phone voice calls.

He pointed to the pursuit of expanding (or at least maintaining) the Visa Waiver Program. That position has broad support. Proponents include Airlines for America, the American Hotel & Lodging Association, ASTA, GBTA, USTA and various chambers of commerce.

Andrew Meehan

GBTA vice president of government affairs Andrew Meehan

Despite its advocates, the VWP “comes under constant scrutiny,” Meehan said.

When asked which travel-related issue should be a greater priority in Washington, some poll respondents mentioned visas and border crossings. Anything that impedes travel is of course a concern for industry suppliers and companies that send people out on the road. Travel visa issues (potentially affecting both inbound U.S. travelers and Americans traveling to Europe), the “laptop” ban and the “Muslim travel ban” unnerve travel people. A tarnished image of America only hurts the country’s tourism sector.

Everyone wants a safe and secure aviation system but new rules sprung on the traveling public raise many questions. Both ACTE and GBTA issued statements asking a number of them. For some, though, such statements didn’t go far enough.

To push the message, ACTE executive director Greeley Koch last week spoke at a hearing convened by New York City Council’s Committee on Economic Development. He was there to discuss the travel and tourism ramifications of the travel bans. Koch pointed to a recent ACTE survey showing that “uncertainty regarding travel to the U.S. was suddenly affecting travel agendas.” He said businesses and their travelers “abhor uncertainty.” It leads to cancelled trips. That uncertainty, he said, “needs to end here.”

Thirty-eight of the 60 respondents to The Company Dime poll said they were worried about the Trump Administration’s impact on business travel.

Stateside

The most-cited issues by polled ACTE attendees were FAA reauthorization and closely related air traffic control modernization. FAA has operated with 23 short-term extensions, the current one set to expire on Sept. 30, 2017. GBTA said Congress ideally would pass a long-term reauthorization before that happens.

It’s hard to find opposition to a “NextGen” air traffic control system. It’s of primary concern to Airlines for America, GBTA, USTA and others. President Donald Trump’s budget blueprint calls for the Federal Aviation Administration’s air traffic control function to “shift” to “an independent, non-governmental organization, making the system more efficient and innovative while maintaining safety.”

Several poll respondents said travel taxation needs more attention. Airlines for America wants the tax burden on air travelers reduced, claiming that would “help keep airfares affordable.” Specifically, the association wants Congress to repeal the commercial jet fuel tax (currently 4.4 cents per gallon), reject any increase to Passenger Facility Charges and stop any proposals regarding “a value-added tax approach to airlines’ optional services.”

GBTA argues that more of the security fees paid should go to actually improving aviation security. While Trump’s budget blueprint calls for an increase in the percentage of collected funds directed toward aviation security, “having any amount of this fee go towards deficit reduction or other needs unrelated to the travel industry is too much,” according to a GBTA statement.

“We should all pay our part to cut the federal deficit,” Meehan added, “but security fees are supposed to help TSA recover costs to pay for aviation security.”

He talked up the idea of expanding biometric-based security screening at airports. By leveraging technology, Meehan said, it’s possible to “create a seamless, frictionless screening environment that is more secure than what you have now.” Trusted traveler programs like the Transportation Security Administration’s PreCheck and Custom and Border Protection’s Global Entry are key components.

Discriminatory taxation has been one of GBTA’s biggest pet peeves. Voiced for years, including during congressional hearings, the association’s position is that state and local taxes — notably levied on car rentals — paid by business travelers should not be used to fund projects unrelated to business travel. ASTA has a similar position.

Another travel tax issue relates to airline customers not recovering paid taxes and PFCs when unused tickets are refunded. A key question is whether these are levied on the sale of the transportation or the provision of it. It’s an age-old frustration that came up recently in a Travel Weekly column by industry lawyer Mark Pestronk. It seems corporate travel buyers have a beef but no one is speaking out.

Similarly, why should hotel customers be charged occupancy taxes and such when they no-show or don’t cancel in time? No group is openly complaining about that, either.

Laundry List

Perhaps certain issues don’t rise to the top because the catalog of gripes is long.

Passenger rights: Improving the travel experience and protecting passenger rights always has been an important issue. After the recent United Airlines incident, a few poll respondents said this is the travel topic that needs the most attention in Washington.

Business Travel Coalition said it supports Sen. Richard Blumenthal’s (D-Conn.) proposed Airline Passenger Bill of Rights.

GBTA polled members on the topic and “the three themes we got were dignity, transparency and fairness,” Meehan said. He suggested long-winded airline contracts of carriage full of legalese should be more accessible and understandable.

The American Society of Travel Agents said that while it has supported previous consumer protection initiatives by the U.S. Congress and Department of Transportation, “this disturbing incident should tell us loud and clear that more needs to be done.” ASTA called for “increased protections for overbooked and bumped passengers,” among other things.

Alleged protectionism: The Partnership for Open & Fair Skies opposes additional U.S. services by Emirates, Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways. The group’s members include American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines and various airline employee unions. Their argument is that the United Arab Emirates and Qatar infuse billions in subsidies into their state-owned airlines, creating unfair competition. Because of that, the group wants the U.S. government to “enforce its Open Skies agreements” with those countries.

For obvious reasons, Airlines for America also implores the U.S. government “to play its role in ensuring U.S. commercial aviation is operating on a level playing field with foreign competitors.”

BTC is on the other side of this issue, asserting that Open Skies deals do and should continue to foster competition. The Big Three U.S. carriers, BTC argues, are an oligopoly out to protect their dominant position in the transatlantic market.

Similarly, BTC fought against the Big Three U.S. carriers in advocating for approval of Norwegian Air International’s request to add U.S. services. Norwegian won rights to continue expanding here.

Home-sharing: Airbnb is a growing player in corporate lodging. GBTA and others have researched the home-sharing concept but no corporate travel association has come out in opposition. The American Hotel & Lodging Association has. “Rein in illegal hotels” is one of its three top agenda items, along with supporting hotel workers and promoting travel and tourism.

“AHLA believes that there should be a level and legal playing field within the lodging sector, and that regulations and taxes with respect to short-term rentals should be strictly enforced,” according to the association. “We support the rights of property owners to occasionally rent out a room or their home, but commercial operators within the short-term rental industry should not be allowed to operate outside of the law.”

Additional info: GBTA’s Meehan previously worked as the policy director for Keeping Identities Safe and as acting CEO for the Identification Technology Association, a nonprofit representing the biometrics industry. He has been involved with various groups, including some local BTA chapters, on the implementation of the Real ID Act.

Holly Woodruff Lyons is deputy general counsel for the House of Representatives Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and also staff director for the aviation subcommittee. According to GBTA, she told attendees at the Legislative Summit that the committee’s work toward FAA reauthorization “is up against many barriers such as budget constraints, reductions in force, lack of order in Congress and the fact that there has been no stand-alone travel appropriations bill since 2006.” Regarding the NextGen air traffic control system, she added that there have been “pockets of success” but “no real progress.” Lyons also said that committee chair Bill Shuster (R-PA) proposed the creation of a independent, not-for-profit organization responsible for air traffic control. GBTA said it will share its position on this topic “in the near future.”

Also speaking during the GBTA event, CBP deputy executive assistant commissioner John Wagner said new biometric technologies will be deployed for arriving and departing passengers. He said a test in Atlanta using facial recognition is working well without adding time to the process.

Like GBTA, ASTA routinely meets with Congressional leaders to discuss items of importance. Those include advocating for full disclosure of airline fees at travel agency points of sale, opposing new taxes on travel agency services, fighting the U.S. Department of Labor’s plan to end an exemption for travel agencies regarding federal overtime rules and adopting travel insurance standards. ASTA’s 2017 Legislative Day on Capitol Hill is scheduled for June 6-7.

Trump’s budget blueprint calls for reducing Amtrak subsidies. All federal support for long-distance rail service would be cut, allowing the rail operator to “focus on better managing its state-supported and Northeast Corridor train services.” The blueprint also proposes eliminating funding for the Essential Air Service program.

Disclosure: The Company Dime has a partnership with ASTA.

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Siemens Adds Benefits From Lufthansa Direct Connect, Talks With Other Carriers

Pioneering a new airline distribution program has its perks. The Lufthansa direct-connect initiative with Siemens will benefit the conglomerate’s travelers even when they don’t book that way. More than eight months into the program, Siemens officials last week briefed The Company Dime on progress and lessons learned.

It was always part of the plan to provide extras to Siemens travelers who use Amadeus Cytric to book without a global distribution system in Lufthansa Group internal reservations systems. Along the lines of corporate recognition programs, this started with access to Lufthansa Group lounges irrespective of status or booking class. Beginning this June, all Germany-based Siemens employees will get lounge access regardless of how they book.

Access is granted when Siemens travelers show a QR code that was emailed to them. Siemens VP for global mobility services Thorsten Eicke said Lufthansa worked out a way to provide the benefit using the traveler’s corporate email address. “I expect it will run smoothly but it’s still new ground,” said Eicke.

Siemens head of global airline procurement Susanne Steinmann said the airline company would prefer to provide such benefits “only in a direct-connect environment,” but acknowledged that this sort of collaboration has additional benefits in negotiations. “We get further advantages on price,” she added.

Siemens head of global airline procurement Susanne Steinmann

Steinmann estimated that by the second half of this year, Siemens travelers would enjoy early boarding on flights within Germany. This perk would be indicated on boarding passes and also in a QR code.

“For travelers, lounge access is No. 1 and priority boarding No. 2,” said Eicke. “We had underestimated priority boarding from a traveler point of view.”

He said other carriers are interested in working with Siemens this way. Talks are most advanced with a Middle East-based airline. Others in Asia or Europe may be next. “We see interest from United, but the Americas carriers at the moment are more passive,” he said. “They’re happy with the GDS environment.”

There are both risks and benefits when blazing trails, but Eicke said the Lufthansa arrangement “is working more robustly than we thought it would, and with less noise than we thought.”

Lufthansa pilots posed a challenge when they struck the airline in November. Eicke called it a painful but useful test:

“The TMC is in place as caretaker and in this situation, their involvement increased by 40 percent to quite a peak. On average, we have a number below 18 percent in terms of involvement of the TMC. So 80 percent-plus are really touchless. We’re using since November the Amadeus Ticket Changer. This is allowing us to make cancellations and rebooking also for the direct-connect bookings online by the travelers. This was or is the main part of requests coming to an agent or caretaker. We expect that going forward, this will go below 10 percent. So for those remaining, we need of course a high quality, high-touch concierge-type service where people get a really great experience.”

Carlson Wagonlit Travel in March announced it won a bid for Siemens’ European operations outside of Germany. About half of the 32 countries had been using BCD Travel, which supports the direct-connect initiative as the designated agency in Germany. Direct connect was one of the topics in the European tender process, said Steinmann. Siemens plans by 2020 to consolidate to one TMC provider globally from three.

According to Eicke, “it’s not about ticketing, reconciliation or credit card handling. It’s really about where they can bring service in. I’m even willing to maybe pay a premium for a nice concierge-type experience.”

While the bookings aren’t flowing through the GDS in the direct-connect environment, payment and ticketing processes are unchanged.

“We do ticketing on BCD’s IATA number,” said Eicke. “It’s the traditional way to do the core payment process.” Using the IATA Billing and Settlement Plan “is close to their current workflow,” he said, but did require the partners to establish “bridge” for data reporting.

Other payment solutions could come into play, but that’s not part of the immediate focus, said Steinmann.

Meanwhile, as Siemens moves to Concur Expense, officials are considering how to bring the direct-connect approach into an end-to-end framework.

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ETA’s Business Travel App Impresses In Beta

It’s hard not to gush over the new business travel app from ETA Inc., a startup that enjoyed investment from the International Air Transport Association’s NDC Innovation Fund. With travel distribution legend Jeff Katz and other Orbitz vets among its investors and advisors, ETA has produced a slick app. No two ways about it.

The app remains in limited beta and there’s plenty of room for error. But if testing and trying countless apps and bots from established firms and startups within a couple years teaches you anything, it’s how to spot a great user experience.

Like many mobile solutions, the “executive travel app” starts by asking for an email address to get you registered. The user quickly realizes that servicing is centered around chat, powered by customer messaging platform provider Intercom. “Shake to chat with us,” says the iOS app. Cute.

“Enter your name and make sure it matches your government-issued photo ID or password.” Fine, but can I do this on a website? Nope, mobile only. Okay, I guess my thumbs will have to do. Home address, etc.

“Allow me to find you the most comfortable seat on the best flight. Tap Edit and drag what’s most important to the top.” Choose from: aisle/window seat type, price, timeliness, loyalty, chance of upgrades (what!?), Wi-Fi.

That’s all pretty cool, if not so far afield from what others have talked about or already allow in their preferences.

ETA Inc. CEO and co-founder Choon Hong Peck

“Tell me what you care about in a hotel room, and I will find you the best room in the best hotel.” Choose from: proximity to meeting (nice!), price, workspace, Wi-Fi, loyalty, fitness center, chance of upgrades, quiet room (huh?), business center (LOL), view, swimming pool.

Permit the app to read my calendar? Sure, why not. Just testing here. Continue.

Manually enter a trip or pick from a calendar meeting? Sure. “New York Yankees vs. Boston Red Sox, Boston, Mass., July 16.” Sounds like an important meeting. Maybe there’s something work-related going on in town at that time as well. Better plan travel. Tap. “Where?” Okay, it might have known Boston, but anyway, type “Boston.” Save.

Now the Boston trip appears on the Trips page with a nifty local photo as the backdrop. Is that Paul Revere? Anyway, tap to search for travel.

Retrieving preferences. Looking for the shortest flight. Trying to get the flights with the most convenient departure and arrival times. Found the best flight, checking on-time performance. Finding the hotel closest to your meeting. Checking that the amenities suit your needs. Looking for premium seats …

It took less than a minute to return No. 1 air and lodging choices. Before it’s even done you can tap the cards that already came back to see details, or swipe to see more options.

In this example, “Tap to see details” showed various data on the first result, a JetBlue flight from LaGuardia. This option was “18 minutes longer than shortest flight” and “$38 above lowest price (good — top 30 percent).” Swipe showed an air-only card with more flight options and prices from JetBlue and other carriers.

Back to the main results page, the middle card showed a Hyatt Place. A tap showed this choice was “$55.85 above lowest price (great — top 10 percent)” and revealed other details like amenities. In a separate test with a different meeting location and hotel property, this details list indicated “walking distance to the meeting.”

The design was top-notch. Reminiscent of Uber’s. (To which, by the way, ETA deep links for when you’re on your journey.)

Not everything was perfect. In the setup phase, scanning the credit card didn’t work. In booking results, Hyatt Place showed as around five miles to the Fenway Park area. It’s more like seven.

There was little in the way of rate and fare rules. No way to know what the cancellation and refund policies were before committing to the purchase. ETA Inc. CEO and co-founder Choon Hong Peck said in a Tuesday interview that early testers already raised the issue of the rate rules, so it will be fixed.

“I don’t believe the app is ready for prime time yet,” said Peck. “We’re still working through the kinks and looking for feedback.” The app is currently only usable for domestic U.S. travel.

Peck and his team are engineers with backgrounds mainly in e-commerce. They see meetings, proximity and preferences as the drivers of travel planning. They’re targeting unmanaged business travel because there are fewer competitors, though he acknowledged the marketing challenge.

Peck met Katz when he sold a prior company to a non-travel firm that Katz was running. When Katz was coming back to travel, he met Peck and his co-founder for coffee and suggested they come, too. Katz is now chair of ETA.

Peck said that at the moment, there is no fulfillment partner. ETA is acting as its own agency. It uses Travelport. Some of the bookings are made directly, like a reservation on American Airlines that was processed by Farelogix using its NDC-compliant direct connect. ETA employees are using Farelogix’s Sprk interface to service those bookings.

How does that “chance of upgrades” thing work? “We apply algorithms using frequent flyer and loyalty data, and whether the next class has space,” said Peck. “We apply probabilities, but also are pushing suppliers to give us some help.”

He said there are “lots” of sources for hotel property info. How does he know what’s a quiet room? “We’re also trying to push suppliers there,” said Peck. “We’re the guy in the middle. If we can show them that users care about content like this, we go back to suppliers. Otherwise, we use proxies for something like that. A corner room is probably quiet.”

Peck said the team is still “batting” around a fee structure, but it will likely be a per-trip handling fee or annual subscription. In the beta, the first two trips are free.

Other investors include NDC Innovation Fund committee member and longtime industry attorney Gary Doernhoefer, Kalibri Labs co-founder Cindy Estis Green and former Orbitz VP Anne Marie Razza.

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American Express Global Business Travel Redesigns Midmarket Offering

American Express Global Business Travel last month started offering a bundled platform for new U.S. clients spending less than $20 million annually on air travel.

In partnership with Jigsaw Research and design consultancy Livework Studio, GBT crafted the program based on several guiding principles for the client experience: personalization, proactive servicing, consistency, value, local expertise and ease and clarity of deployment. It went into beta with some existing clients in December.

Customers benefit from the new approach through better call recognition, preferred rates and amenities and simplified pricing. Having invested in its telephony services and a new onboarding process, for example, GBT can automatically identify travelers and incorporate their preferences when they call for help.

The company reoriented its servicing teams to provide help regardless of booking channel or time of day. There’s only an online fee and an offline fee. Proactive traveler care, card and travel data visualization and air re-shopping through Yapta are included.

Colin Temple, American Express Global Business Travel VP & GM, U.S. and Canada

GBT vice president and GM for the U.S. and Canada Colin Temple leads the initiative. “I came into this role specifically with the goal of growing GBT’s share of the midmarket,” he said in a Tuesday interview. “It appeared to be an underserved space. Companies do not have a tremendous amount of resources to dedicate to managing travel. Clients who are new to managing travel appear to struggle. Travelers aren’t used to it. Many companies seem reluctant to mandate policies and programs. Once deployed, they’re struggling with getting returns.”

Temple said that while the goal is to be online booking tool-agnostic, most clients are using a portal backed by Deem. GBT owns KDS, but he said Deem remains “fully integrated into our roadmap.” For mobile, midmarket clients may use GBT’s app.

The $20 million threshold in the past was lower, meaning some accounts previously thought of as part of the large or global segment are now “middle market.” Exceptions may include firms with smaller budgets but complex multinational needs, or those with larger budgets and simple travel patterns.

Temple said clients previously considered large should expect no change in account management or customization capabilities. The new midmarket solution meets 90 percent of the existing client base’s needs, he said, and optional services like complex international faring and VIP or on-site configurations also are available.

At the moment, this is a U.S.-based program. Canada by year-end may be the first follower, Temple said.

In its former life as a fully owned entity of American Express Company, GBT made a few attempts at targeting the midmarket. It bought a midmarket specialist in 1998, and in 2010 created a bundled service for clients with less than $10 million in air volume.

Growing, Lucrative And Competitive

The space is highly competitive. Midsize to large TMCs like those affiliated with BCD Travel, GlobalStar and Radius often best the megas on local loyalty and customer attention. Egencia has loads of midmarket accounts built on its strengths in self-service and technology. Concur has a number of TMC partners to which it delivers leads. Startups are nipping at the lower end. On the upper end, even Carlson Wagonlit Travel sees opportunity in the small and mid-market segment.

Midmarket accounts are highly coveted. Often without their own negotiated rates, these clients help provide TMCs leverage with suppliers for commissionable rates and other special benefits.

The Ohio State University’s National Center for the Middle Market regularly surveys more than 1,000 midmarket firms on business performance and prospects. The latest revenue indicators, covering the December quarter and full year 2016, are among the strongest recorded since the research began five years ago.

“Forty-eight percent of middle market companies grew through expansion into a new market in 2016,” according to the group. “Projections for future growth have risen each quarter and are now at the highest levels seen in two years.”

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Fox World Travel Teams With Professor Brad Seitz For New School

Topaz International CEO Brad Seitz is leaving the travel auditing company he led since 2003 to build resources for corporate travel pros. The idea is to do some consulting, create a buyer community, conduct research and, along with Fox World Travel, formulate an education curriculum.

The last part would address both newbies and those looking for ongoing professional development.

For those entering corporate travel for the first time, there are a few collegiate programs out there, like at Metropolitan State University of Denver. The Association of Corporate Travel Executives’ Around the World program offers entry-level training and internships for beginners. The Global Business Travel Association runs a course on travel management fundamentals and the Ladders mentoring initiative. Sometimes local GBTA chapters get active with area colleges.

Feedback from Fox clients pointed the travel management company down the path. It plans to launch the Fox Travel Manager Institute in the second half of this year. Fox World Travel vice president of client solutions and event strategy Michael Farrell described a two-week pilot class as “extremely successful.”

“The industry is evolving,” Farrell said. Rather than travel agents filling corporate travel management positions, “other departments are starting to inherit those responsibilities — human resources, procurement, finance. Those professionals don’t have a baseline understanding of all the intricacies of the industry.”

The Fox Travel Manager Institute will offer week-long 101-like classes for employees of its clients involved with running travel programs. Fox expects eventually to market the service beyond its customer base.

The program also will offer one- and two-day classes. These more advanced sessions will dive deeper into specific industry topics. Both Seitz and Farrell mentioned contract negotiations and duty of care as potential subject areas.

Brad Seitz

Brad Seitz

“Travel Management 101, that’s easy,” Seitz said. “Where it gets difficult is going deeper, and trying to pique interest of people who have been at it for a long time.”

A professor of business at the University of Southern Maine, Seitz will be one of several instructors. Farrell said some Fox employees also will get involved, shadowing Seitz to gain teaching experience.

The plan is to conduct classes in multiple U.S. cities. There may be a virtual learning component, but Farrell said “that’s not our preference. There are lots of webinars out there. We feel learning in-person will be best.”

Farrell would not divulge the university with which Fox has had conversations, but he mentioned a possible partnership with the Society of Collegiate Travel and Expense Management.

“We haven’t spoken to GBTA yet about this program,” he added, “but would not be opposed to having our classes be part of their certification process.”

GBTA offers the Global Travel Professional certification, the Global Leadership Professional designation (via the University of Virginia Darden School of Business) and the Certificate in Meeting Management (in conjunction with Meeting Professionals International).

ACTE’s Around the World also includes a program for travel pros looking to learn more. The Institute of Travel Management for the United Kingdom and Ireland has workshops for buyers and administers the GTP exam for partner GBTA. The Institute for Supply Management has certification programs for purchasing pros.

Beyond The Classroom

The educational work with Fox is one component of Seitz’s new venture. He called his company Agilis, Latin for “agile.” It is “built on the premise that travel programs need to be more agile in what they do,” Seitz said.

Another pillar of his plan is a consulting service, taking on specific projects or designing outsourced travel management functions. Seitz agreed that there is no shortage of consultants in corporate travel and acknowledged the challenge. “It would be at a high level,” Seitz said, “not the minutiae.” Before Topaz, Seitz spent 10 years managing travel at Xerox. In between he worked for Carlson Wagonlit Travel and Rosenbluth International. From 2005 to 2009, Seitz volunteered as ACTE’s treasurer.

A first step for the new company will be building a community of travel buyers. Within it, members will exchange information and hear Seitz’s industry observations and product reviews.

Seitz anticipates collecting subscription fees that are tiered based on the number of participants from a given company. He declined to specify pricing.

Independent research would enrich a travel manager’s membership. Access to it will be part of the subscription fee. There will be no sponsors. Seitz said the needs and wants of the community will determine research topics. One that has “nagged” at him for 10 years is an examination of the financial benefits of online booking versus agent-assisted booking. It would get into the costs associated with each, as well as time and productivity studies.

Additional info: Distinct from the new Fox Travel Manager Institute, the TMC also runs the Business Travel Institute. It is one of several schools designed to train travel agents.

GBTA Ladders is coming to the local chapter level. The Silicon Valley BTA, for example, “will find the industry veterans from our membership as mentors and then form a group of mentees,” according to SVBTA vice president Makiko Barrett.

At Topaz, current vice president and part-owner Tricia Wischmann will take the reins.

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Still Looking For The All-In-One Business Travel App? What’s That?

Corporations are looking for an all-in-one business travel app that doesn’t, and won’t, exist. Developers think messaging, natural language and “deep linking” between apps bring the notion as close to reality as possible.

A single mobile app that does everything sounds great. Why? Simplicity. It’s natural for procurement pros to seek fewer suppliers. It’s easiest to point travelers to one thing. It’s better for compliance if that thing does more. It’s handy to have a single point of contact for help.

However, this scenario has drawbacks and loses out to realities. Not the least of these is the fact that employers can make suggestions but often they do not control what travelers download. They’ll always find something better if it exists.

“One of the cautionary tales of the all-in-one travel app, which a lot of corporations are asking for, is that the more things a mobile app does, the more watered-down it becomes,” said BCD Travel VP for digital and product strategy Will Pinnell during our mobile tech Teleconference last month. “The best apps and the ones that are most-used are the ones that have a single purpose — a weather app, Uber.”

“A lot of clients are interested in a Swiss Army Knife app,” said American Express Global Business Travel VP digital traveler Evan Konwiser. The industry debate over the right approach, he said, is “very real.”

Festive Road consultant Aurélie Krau had sparked the conversation by raising the idea of a “one-stop shop” or “single point of entry instead of having so many apps.” But she also agreed with Pinnell.

Others have raised the all-in-one idea, notably BCD Travel CEO John Snyder. In 2015 he told The Beat that buyers are “sort of waiting for that perfect travel app to be developed and be out on the market. We’re well along the way on that. By the middle to the end of next year, it will be the all-encompassing app that folks are looking for.”

Asked during a phone interview last week about the comments, Snyder conjured Bill Clinton: “It depends on how you define all-encompassing.” Later, he asked rhetorically and answered correctly, “Will it do everything every traveler wants it to do? No. That would be impossible.”

In a separate conversation, Konwiser agreed that such an app is a “hope and a prayer at this point. There isn’t a tool that can do everything, but you can tie together the right elements and be in the center of it to provide some key services.”

Business travel apps often do include simple functionality for ancillary needs. But those that specialize in a given service go deeper. These may appeal especially to frequent or international travelers, restaurant hunters or amateur weather gurus. Some like to explore when they have downtime. Others seek alternatives to typical transportation and lodging choices.

IT pro John Morhous is about to mark 10 years working in travel. Now chief strategy officer for Flight Centre USA’s corporate brands, Morhous cut the all-in-one seekers a break during an interview this week:

“Every client asks for the same thing. It’s around simplifying the traveler experience. I really think it comes down to them trying to find a way to provide an excellent user experience to travelers, knowing that what they do now is [junk]. And there’s some naiveté on what’s possible. Some travel managers don’t understand mobile. One app to rule them all? There’s no way to get a boarding pass without Delta’s app. You can’t get keyless entry without Hilton’s. It comes from the legacy command-and-control mindset with not as much understanding of some of the practical challenges.

Mobile deep linking, which allows apps to direct the user to a specific location in another app, helps cut through app clutter. FCM’s Sam app sends customers directly to taxi alternatives, for example.

“The beauty is we’re living in an API world and we’re supposed to be able to connect different services more easily,” said Krau.

Tell that to app developers, said Morhous. Some are more of a breeze than others.

Messaging platforms, contextual intelligence and natural language processing may help, as well. Long press on the button, tell Siri what you need.

“In the end, the app is just an interface,” said Roadmap CEO Jeroen van Velzen during the Teleconference. “Many people relate mobile to the app, but roughly 80 percent of the work we’re doing isn’t the work on the app but it’s trying to understand what the travelers are trying to figure out. Whether you put a bot on top of that or a voice interface, it’s just another interface.”

Van Velzen half-joked about a smartphone with a single button. The user presses the button and the software just does what it has to because it knows everything else that is going on. With a trip, that would be weather, flights, check-in status, etc.

Language parsing with regard to business travel apps isn’t just for non-techies and journalists. Roadmap bills itself as “the ultimate all-in-one white label business travel app.” Asked to explain that, van Velzen argued that inasmuch as Roadmap can guide the traveler to the appropriate tools, his app is all in one.

“My clients aren’t asking for, technically speaking, one app,” he said during a followup interview. “They want one interface. Through the eyes of the consumer, it’s one app.”

Van Velzen agreed that, technically, it’s not one app. “But that’s semantics, right?”

Related

Teleconference 7: Mobile Technology

Variety, Practicality Mark Newest Travel Management Company App Features

Boston Consulting Group App Exemplifies Traveler-Centric Program

Sabre Claims Lead In ‘Early Days’ For Itinerary Apps

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

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Teleconference 9: Payment

Payment
May 11, 2017, at 12 pm EDT
Register here.

Payments underpin travel management. Ease-of-use for travelers and data for employers are vital. Join us for a live, multi-part discussion about the latest in corporate travel payment. We’ll talk one-on-one with Citi managing director Gonca Latif-Schmitt, head of the bank’s commercial card business in North America. Next we’ll examine the complicated, high-potential world of virtual payment. A roundtable discussion will feature Conferma co-founder and CEO Simon Barker, CHG Healthcare travel manager Gordon Cowley and U.S. Bank head of corporate payment systems emerging markets and strategy Nicole Schrader Tackett.

Reserve your dial-in spot now for only $10 (price subject to change). Limited tickets available!

Register.

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

More On Teleconference 9:

For the first time in our Teleconference series, we’re happy to conduct an executive interview. A leader at one of the world’s largest issuers of T&E payment solutions, Gonca Latif-Schmitt oversees market, product, sales and account management for corporate and public sector clients. We’ll chat with her about what’s on clients’ minds and what’s new with T&E payment.

tcd-teleconference-featuredAfter that, Conferma’s Simon Barker, CHG’s Gordon Cowley and U.S. Bank’s Nicole Tackett will take us through the still-emerging technology, process and opportunity of virtual cards.

We’ll look at use cases. We’ll consider the challenges of bringing together financial and operational parties in a corporate environment. We’ll discuss the role of the travel management company.

What will it take to push these solutions over the edge to mainstream? Perhaps a huge government contract.

It’s our ninth Teleconference, May 11 at 12 pm EDT. Join us.

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International SOS Covers Emotional Rescue

Caring for a traveler who gets sick, injured or kidnapped is a visible side of travel risk and medical services. Residual trauma also can occur even if an employee is physically unscathed by a car wreck or security incident. Frequent long-distance travel itself can weigh heavily. Culture shock is real for expats and their families.

Emotional support services generally are the province of human resources departments and employee assistance programs. Recognizing a need to loop in travel risk management, International SOS partnered with EAP provider Workplace Options to offer “rapid response psychological support” around the globe.

“While we provide ongoing, regular EAP services, we are frequently asked by our clients to assist them in fleshing out duty of care services,” said Workplace Options SVP Mary Ellen Gornick. “In our current business, we still work a lot with HR as the main contact but increasingly we are seeing the travel team become more interested and involved in making successful overseas assignments.”

Anxiety, stress or depression can affect productivity and performance. Long-term assignments can and do fail. When they do, it’s costly. Gornick said expats or assignees may need help acclimating to new environments, adjusting to day-to-day living there or mitigating reverse culture shock when returning.

International SOS VP of global alliances and partnerships Sally Wang said the joint service is part of a proactive approach embedded within the company’s core medical and security offering.

Client employees get one number to call for medical, security or emotional assistance. This includes counseling for employees and their families. It is available in 60 languages by phone, video call or face to face. Specifics vary by client type, be it an oil and gas company, NGO or academic institution.

International SOS

Image: Thinkstock

Robert Mintz is a former travel agency owner, a long-time travel manager and current member of the Global Business Travel Association’s risk committee. He said every traveling employee is unique when it comes to handling stressful situations.

“You can’t judge people,” Mintz said. “You need a system to accommodate the broad spectrum.” He said the new service addresses that while playing to the International SOS strength in global medical services.

Health and travel assistance company On Call International said it also provides emotional and psychological support around the globe. According to president Tom Davidson, it does so through a partnership with an unnamed behavioral health crisis and disaster management company. He said the most common issue addressed by the service is pre-existing mental health disorders exacerbated in unfamiliar cultures.

While On Call typically works with HR, Davidson said travel, risk and corporate security departments also get involved.

Davidson said organizations may bring in a counselor to talk with employees after a terrorist attack. “Does the employer need to do this?” he asked. “Not necessarily, but organizations are learning that the investment in their employees’ well-being is a smart move on many fronts – from workplace culture to reputational risk to employee retention and productivity, just to name a few.”

Some traditional U.S. employee assistance programs also extend beyond borders. Chestnut Global Partners, for example, uses a network of local providers for its expatriate assistance program. It includes pre-departure support, “outreach check-ins and cultural adjustment coaching,” and help upon repatriation, according to its materials.

Chestnut managing director Matt Mollenhauer said tackling these issues early is critical. “In general, if you sit back and wait for expats to call for help, they won’t,” he said. Maybe it’s a high-profile assignment and they don’t want to draw attention.

Mollenhauer said employers also tend to take a more passive approach. They focus on the logistics of the travel or relocation, and then become reactive. He said exceptions come from academia, where schools establish emotional support programs before placing students in foreign countries.

For expats and long-term business assignees, “adjusting to the move always is the number one presenting issue,” Mollenhauer said. One misconception is that an assignment for an American worker in the United Kingdom or Europe won’t be as tough as one in Asia, Africa or South America. “People don’t ramp up coping the way they should,” he said. “They underestimate the adjustment.”

Employee awareness is a top challenge. “In this space, we are frequently an afterthought in the benefits world,” Mollenhauer said.

Mintz said training is paramount. Some “best-in-class” companies make it a prerequisite for travel.

“Just because you have a traveler tracker and you checked that box, don’t think you are done,” he said. “That’s baby steps. Everyone has to know the number to call, what the communications capability is and who is at the other end.”

Related:

International SOS Commissions New Duty Of Care Code As GBTA Preps TRM Tool Update

Study Shows ROI On Travel Illness Prevention Programs

Travel Friction And The Diminishing Returns Of Cost Savings

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Air Canada Moves To Blunt Rising Commissions

Air Canada reduced travel agency compensation on certain fares, effective April 1. The change followed increases in the airline’s sales and distribution costs as a percentage of passenger revenue in each of the past three years.

A spokesperson confirmed that the carrier reduced commissions paid on some international airfare types, including interline and business-class fares. The moves, which impact only “Canadian” agencies, came despite an international expansion plan that includes more intercontinental flying and a bunch of new U.S. transborder routes.

Air Canada also bumped up agency compensation on certain fare types, the official said. “In some cases other changes will increase overall compensation for agents,” according to a written statement.

It’s not unusual for airlines to modify the methods or amounts of agency compensation. Industry consolidation offers leverage to reduce payouts. Air Canada dominates its home market, though rival WestJet has made significant gains over the years.

In 2009, WestJet and Air Canada went back and forth in announcing new or revised commission levels for certain fare types. After a few weeks of activity, both settled on 7 percent for affected fares. For Air Canada, these were its lowest, or Tango, rates. In 2015, Air Canada reversed this decision.

One agency source speaking on the condition of anonymity said Air Canada replaced that 7 percent program with a “monthly guarantee on Tango. This way the payment is ‘hidden’ from the other carriers.” Now, the source said, the airline is “foolishly” going to zero.

The Air Canada official confirmed the change for North America Tango fares as well as a commission reduction on international Tango fares.

Air-Canada-commissions

Image: Air Canada

Another TMC executive said that regarding the commission change on Tango fares, Air Canada tells agencies they should instead sell higher-priced Flex or Latitude fares. “The view in the market is that if you don’t want us to sell these fares, then don’t put them out there, and understand you are not competitive,” the source said.

For travel agencies, commission cuts on premium-class international fares hurt the most. When the front-end commission is knocked down by four or five percentage points, that can mean hundreds of dollars for a single booking.

“Air Canada says they have very aggressive global expansion plans and they need the travel agency community to support them,” said one TMC leader. “Then they cut back our commissions on high-yield international travel. There is a lot of mistrust in the travel agency community.”

The executive noted that back-end override programs also took a hit. This source indicated that all the changes, on balance, mean lower overall compensation.

Competition has been pushing commission expenses northward, according to the airline’s financial reports.

Air Canada in 2016 incurred CA$845 million in sales and distribution costs (including regional operations). That was up 15 percent from 2015. The airline’s annual report indicated the increase reflected “higher commission expenses” partly due to more tickets sold and “new and enhanced competitive incentive programs.” Air Canada also sold a higher proportion of tickets outside Canada, driving up “transaction costs.”

As it had in years past, Air Canada noted that its competitors “continue to pursue commissions/incentive actions and, in many cases, increase these payments.” A decision to match “competitive actions,” it added, could “have a material adverse effect.” At the same time, also according to the 2016 annual report, Air Canada continued “to undertake sales and distribution initiatives in an effort to increase revenues and reduce overall costs of sales.”

Asked why Air Canada made the latest changes, the spokesperson wrote:

Air Canada continually refines its agency compensation structure for a variety of reasons, including market conditions, for competitive reasons and due to strategic considerations. The overall aim is provide a structure that balances the ever changing interests of our agency partners and those of the airline and our customers. We expect this evolution to continue, but that agencies will remain a valued partner for our company long into the future.

Within Canada, WestJet is Air Canada’s only sizable competitor. In December it announced updates to fares and change fees but kept base commissions unchanged. The lowest fares generate no commissions with the rest ranging from 4 percent to 8 percent. WestJet in March also announced a renewed travel agent portal, including a booking tool.

According to its 2016 annual report, WestJet’s sales and marketing costs increased nearly 10 percent from 2015. This increase outpaced revenue, which grew 2.3 percent. The carrier cited higher ancillary revenue partially offset by downward pressure on fares resulting from the depressed energy sector. Revenue from “managed corporate business,” though, jumped 15 percent.

Canada’s No. 2 airline last year began seasonal service from six Canadian airports to London Gatwick. Air Canada’s leisure-oriented Rouge brand competes on a few of those routes. Mainline Air Canada serves London Heathrow from six cities in Canada.

More Costs Of Sales

According to its annual reports, Air Canada’s sales and distribution costs — including commissions, GDS fees and credit card fees — amounted to 6.4 percent of its total 2016 passenger revenue. That was up from 5.9 percent in 2015, 5.7 percent in 2014 and 5.6 percent in the two previous years.

For the year 2015, the carrier noted those costs increased partly due to “a higher volume of ticket sales generated through global distribution system providers.” But some of that was “offset by the impact of more favorable distribution rates negotiated in 2015.”

The airline had announced new deals with Amadeus (in 2015) and Travelport (in 2014, renewed in February 2017).

Air Canada’s relationship with Sabre is complicated. Last fall, the companies marked progress in selling the carrier’s paid seats. At that time, a Sabre announcement said the development “solidifies both companies’ collaboration” on personalizing offers. A Sabre official said the company “is distributing Air Canada’s full content to its subscribers.”

However, collaboration was not a theme in Air Canada’s February 2017 court filing related to the US Airways v. Sabre antitrust case. It said the parties were no longer using a “full content” agreement. Air Canada claimed to have “endured substantial year-over-year price increases imposed by Sabre, making Sabre’s booking fees almost twice what Air Canada pays to other GDSs.” Its current Sabre deal, Air Canada added, prohibits expanded work with “other, lower-cost GDSs.”

In both 2013 and 2012, Air Canada reported lower commission expenses, offset somewhat by “higher transaction fees paid to global distribution service providers.”

Additional info: Air Canada in 2016 began 12 new transborder and 15 other international routes. This year it started or announced eight more to the United States. “On routes between Canada and the U.S., [Air Canada] now accounts for 45 percent of seat capacity with WestJet its nearest rival [at] 19 percent,” according to Airline Network News & Analysis. “Both Delta Air Lines and United Airlines have just over 9 percent of capacity.”

Related

Airline Consolidation, Other Factors Further Squeeze Travel Agency Commissions

Amadeus, Air Canada Reconcile

New AA Travel Agency Incentive Favors Higher Fares Over More Passengers

Airline-GDS Negotiations Heat Up As Parties Try To Sway Lawsuit’s Outcome

Sabre Sees An ‘Inflection Point’ On Ancillaries Via Travel Management Companies

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TripLingo Translates Roaming Plans For Additional Travel Management Value

As with areas like expense, meetings, payment and risk, mobile phones and plans don’t fall within the typical travel manager’s bailiwick. Building on its language and Wi-Fi dialing capabilities, TripLingo is looking to challenge that norm. Its latest service helps companies that do not have a centralized mobile phone program to manage excess charges.

From one country or region to the next, there are loads of cell phone networks. Keeping track of them isn’t a human task, let alone one for a busy international traveler. Knowing which plans to enroll in for lower roaming fees is even harder.

“This isn’t a big issue when the entire company is on a centralized mobile plan managed by IT and they have huge contracts with an AT&T or Verizon and a centralized companywide data plan,” said TripLingo founder and CEO Jesse Maddox. “In these cases the rates are already negotiated.”

An unrelated firm called Visage partners with Concur to pull expense and travel data, and advise clients on when to activate discounted roaming programs from their existing mobile providers. But “most” companies don’t have such providers, according to Maddox. And sorting through “180 different plans from 30 carriers” is all but impossible.

Based on an employee’s travel itinerary, home location and carrier, TripLingo can recommend phone plans, even for temporary use. The service is now live with a large customer whose procurement official spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the firm’s media policies. The manager said that for safety and security reasons, the company wants its travelers to keep their phones on and connected when they travel internationally. The result is big roaming charges.

TripLingo founder and CEO Jesse Maddox

Now, when travelers book international trips, they get an email recommending an add-on plan, cutting down on those expenses. “IT is happy,” said the official. “Finance is happy.”

For some travel managers, it may be challenging to establish a program like this since it can cross multiple departments. According to surveys by Business Travel News between 2013 and 2015, no more than 15 percent of travel managers have responsibility for mobile phone contracts.

“It’s not usually a travel manager’s responsibility or budget, but they have the data and the ability to drive savings,” said Maddox. “So for travel managers taking a holistic approach to it and being proactive, it’s a great place to add value. There’s only so much you can get from air, car and hotel.”

ITW director for strategic sourcing, global travel and expense management services Cathy Sharpe is a TripLingo booster. A subset of the company’s approximately 14,000 travelers logged in to TripLingo more than 1,000 times during a recent 30-day span. They enjoy its language and Wi-Fi calling features. ITW hasn’t pursued the new roaming management service, but Sharpe said it piqued IT’s interest.

“A lot of companies have just gone to reimbursing a fixed amount, but that doesn’t really work for the international traveler,” said Sharpe. “You can’t just leave them high and dry out there. So we’re partnering with IT on it.”

Asked about travel management personnel reaching beyond their fiefdoms for such services, Sharpe drew a parallel with expense management.

“Looking back 12 years, as a travel manager I had nothing to do with expense,” she said. “If I asked travel managers how many had responsibility for both travel and expense, no one did. But now most travel managers have something to do with the expense side, too.” She said Concur “forced that hand,” and similarly TripLingo “puts a spotlight on that mobile phone spending and how we’re managing it.”

TripLingo’s Maddox sees TMCs as the main means to get the service to end clients. It recently signed a partnership with BCD Travel. TripLingo has a few dozen enterprise customers.

‘Instant Confidence’

Meanwhile, TripLingo has updated some other facets of its app. Last summer it added an image translator, allowing users to photograph a sign or menu, read the translation and hear the pronunciation.

Sharpe said this and the app’s other tools — the phrasebook, plus language learning, safety tips and culture info — all add up to “instant confidence” for travelers when they’re abroad.

These intangibles mean a lot, said TripLingo clients.

Is it possible to calculate the app’s return on investment? Savings can be attributed to the Wi-Fi dialer by comparing minutes used versus what they would cost on a cell plan — but otherwise, not really.

“It’s a very easy-to-use app that more than pays for itself,” said Tokyo Electron manager of travel and fleet services Dianne Bradley.

Related

Custom Travel App Makers Gain Interest

Teleconference 7: Mobile Technology

 

 

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United States Requires Virtual Cards In Next Federal Payment Program

The largest charge card program in the world is getting with the times, or maybe ahead of them.

Bidders for the third generation of the U.S. General Services Administration’s SmartPay must include virtual cards. Until now, they have been an optional component in the governmentwide program. SmartPay2 runs through November 2018. SmartPay3 will pick up from there. GSA issued the request for proposals in February and finished collecting bids last week.

The SmartPay program encompasses purchase, travel, fleet and integrated card programs. The current, second generation is furnished by Citi, J.P. Morgan Chase and U.S. Bank. Virtual accounts have been considered a Tier 2 “value-add” feature. For SmartPay3, virtual cards will be a Tier 1 “core” feature. Each federal agency will determine use cases. Government travel management contractors, including TMCs like CWTSato and tech providers like Concur, will need to support them.

In the corporate world, the application of virtual payment for travel has been somewhat limited. Companies that do not have younger employees or non-employee travel are less likely to appreciate the benefits.

Consultants including Andy Menkes of Partnership Travel Consulting and MW Travel Consultancy principal Martin Warner said virtual payment is becoming more common in corporate payment solicitations. Better collaboration between travel management, finance/treasury and procurement helps uncover payment pain points and improves RFPs, said Warner. Still, virtual travel payment has had hiccups. In the United States, it still is mostly used for hotel stays. A few other industry consultants said most clients haven’t gone down the path.

GSA-virtual-cards

Image: Thinkstock

“Companies with more established card programs seeking advanced fraud protection or other improvements might see virtual payments as a core RFP element,” according to Debra Moss from Acquis Consulting Group, “but they’re the minority.”

According to a GBTA Foundation survey in early 2016, sponsored by U.S. Bank, 6 percent of 179 buyers said their companies apply single-use virtual accounts for transient travel or meetings. Another 20 percent expected to do so in the coming two years. Nearly two-thirds said they weren’t sure when, if ever, their companies would.

For GSA, virtual cards are among SmartPay3’s “new, innovative solutions and avenues for incorporating appropriate future payment processes.” GSA is focused on getting better data, reporting and analytics; fraud detection and security measures like tokenization; and program efficiencies.

Other new Tier 1 elements relate to mobile capabilities. Mobile apps “shall, at a minimum” let users make purchases, pay invoices, get alerts and view statements and payment info.

Also required are EMV chip cards (PIN is the preferred verification method, but agencies can request a signature-and-PIN set-up), declining balance cards and ePayable supplier-initiated payments. Contractors must support authorization controls that can deny transactions at domestic and international points of sale.

Like SmartPay2, SmartPay3’s travel component will include centrally billed and individually billed accounts. GSA said federal agencies and organizations “generally” use travel CBAs for airline ticket purchases via such third-party systems as the GSA E-Gov Travel Service and the Defense Travel System. The “tax advantage travel card” is a new account type in the SmartPay3 solicitation. “It provides a means for agencies to obtain tax exemption at the point of sale for rental cars and lodging,” according to GSA.

Like SmartPay2, SmartPay3 contracting card companies must provide programs supporting the GSA City Pair Program and FedRooms, with lots of data reporting for both.

GSA intends to award multiple SmartPay3 contracts. If all contract options are exercised, they will run until 2031.

Additional info: How big is SmartPay? Big. It currently supports 3 million accounts across more than 560 federal agencies and organizations. In fiscal 2016, 91 million transactions generated $28 billion in spending, including $8.1 billion for 43 million travel card transactions. Since SmartPay began in 1998, it has handled $432 billion in federal spending, earning rebates of more than $3 billion.

GSA noted that while state and local governments currently are not authorized to take advantage of SmartPay3, they may be in the future. Bidders must be able to support that possibility.

Related:

Conferma Virtual Card Advance Isn’t The End Game

Virtual Payment: Just (Kill) The Fax

Riot Games Coping With Corporate Travel’s Virtual Card Adolescence

Sabre GetThere Latest On Corporate Travel Virtual Card Bandwagon

GBTA Speakers Attempt To Answer Virtual Payment’s Questions

CWTSatoTravel Wins 20 ETS2 Accounts, Preps Government App

Defense Department Identifies Concur As Vendor For DTS Pilot

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