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.”
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.
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.”