Denmark-based shipping and oil conglomerate Maersk appears to be one of the few companies building its own mobile corporate travel app. In an October discussion with Business Travel News, Mette Christensen, the company’s global head of travel and indirect services, said nothing else out there fit the bill.
The idea prompted a challenge from Jeroen van Velzen, co-founder and CEO of Dutch mobile tech firm Roadmap. “If you were to build our stack delivering the same functionality, you should think of millions of dollars to build it,” he told The Company Dime last week. “But I would ask all corporates not to take my word for it and do try to build it. Those who try will appreciate and understand why it’s so difficult to do right.”
Several travel buyers we contacted agreed with van Velzen, saying it’s just too expensive to build a custom mobile app.
It’s not cheap even when you outsource it. Roadmap charges upwards of 100,000 euros to deliver a travel app to big companies. BP was the first. The apps display no branding other than client’s own. Last year, four organizations signed up, van Velzen said. In this year’s first quarter, five more bought in. He expects another 25 to 30 clients by the end of this year.
Van Velzen said these companies are in talent-squeezed sectors where employers must take care of workers if they want to keep them. They also are proud of their brands. “In their minds it would be very weird to communicate with employees through a different brand,” he said. “That’s a no-go for them.”
Roadmap sees customized communication as the key in helping it stand out in a crowded corporate travel app market. Tailored dialogue with employees opens the door to collecting feedback, fostering communities and instructing them about policies.
“You have to explain why you limit my choices or why I am not allowed to do something,” van Velzen said. “We educate travel managers about how marketing works, how dialogue works. It is not a one-way street.” In that way, he said companies can start targeting improvements in specific program areas and customize communications to the individual employee.
Van Velzen said real-time feedback from corporates — “not the TripAdvisor guys” — can help buyers in future supplier contract negotiations and help suppliers improve their products. “They’re missing out on objective ways to measure that,” he said. How, where and when that dialogue occurs within the app is up to the client.
Many travel management companies and various other third parties offer apps broadly to corporate clients and/or consumers. Some are pretty slick, and many have features that Roadmap also offers, including step-by-step itinerary info. According to van Velzen, TMCs are not particularly good at technology and communications.
Roadmap apps fall short of the all-encompassing killer travel app that some clamor for. That is by design. Given the industry’s long history in building booking tools, “we’d be idiots to think we can improve on that,” van Velzen said. The same goes for expense management, though a Roadmap app can inform travelers about expense policies like per diems.
However, Roadmap connects with various systems. Van Velzen pegged the number at 62, including agency mid- and back-offices, global distribution systems, invoicing systems and other administrative systems. Shortcuts and deep links enable connections with airlines (notably for check-in and boarding passes), ground transportation companies or restaurant info, for example.
Travel Tech Consulting president Norm Rose said Roadmap is “unique as far as being a dynamic itinerary that has a plug-and play-platform for any booking tool (or a path including supplier apps) or expense solution.” He added that popular itinerary apps “could morph into a Roadmap-style product, dependent on the flexibility of their overall platform.”
Questioning The TMC Road
In the BTN article, Christensen expressed frustration that Maersk’s TMC had not delivered something “hot.” She even hinted that her company might sell the app to others.
Roadmap has provided apps to a GDS (Amadeus, for its m-Power app for agencies), TMCs (including Advantage Business Travel) and OTAs (including eDreams Odiego), which then provide them to their customers. Van Velzen said the company and some TMC customers now are questioning whether it makes sense for TMCs to spend so much money developing apps when their adoption is relatively low. For example, without naming it, he said one big client TMC — which put lots of marketing behind the app and gives it away for free — reached adoption of 35 percent to 40 percent. He said large corporate-direct clients immediately enjoy 70 percent adoption. Roadmap measures adoption in terms of usage per trip, meaning in those cases 70 percent of client travelers opened the app during their journey.
“Nothing is more important than adoption,” van Velzen stressed, “otherwise there is no mobile strategy.”
Additional info: Maersk’s Christensen declined to comment for this article. The conglomerate has expanded cost-cutting efforts, including travel expense reductions, after revenues fell 15 percent last year to $40 billion due to lower oil prices and freight rates. Maersk recorded a December quarter loss of $2.5 billion, though it was profitable for the year, according to its annual financial report this week.