It’s well known that lodging is a strategic driver for travel management companies. Mobile is a key vehicle.
American Express Global Business Travel next month in the United Kingdom will add hotel booking and chat to its Amex GBT mobile app. The move furthers a hotel strategy that recently included the integration of Booking.com content, according to American Express Global Business Travel president Philippe Chérèque.
BCD Travel has added to its TripSource app content from aggregators including the Expedia Affiliate Network. It now offers mobile booking in about 15 markets, according to BCD Travel senior vice president of product Yannis Karmis. Carlson Wagonlit Travel will “soon” offer mobile hotel bookings in 30 markets, having most recently added Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Ukraine. CWT’s To Go app now has virtual payment capability, too.
Some other TMC mobile app developers have tended to say they’re focusing on services related to itineraries rather than bookings. They don’t want to be an online booking tool. They don’t want to do what Concur’s mobile app does.
Enabling mobile hotel bookings isn’t a priority for Travel and Transport in the near term, but lodging is very much on its mind. The latest update to its Dash app includes a “hotel interaction enhancement” that deep-links users from their itineraries as shown in the TMC app over to the supplier’s app for check-in, digital keys and loyalty program management. Hilton is the first participant, and Travel and Transport CIO Mike Kubasik said other hotels and suppliers have shown interest.
Montreal-based mTtrip is a mobile developer making inroads of late into corporate travel through partnerships with Atlas Travel, MeritBiz, BCD Affiliates and Radius. Mtrip head of business development Carole Moreira said her firm can enable mobile hotel bookings directly in the TMC client’s app or by integration with third parties. “It’s a bit of both,” said Moreira. “For some TMCs, the online booking tools lack the ability to adapt to what they want in their mobile app.”
One way or the other, she said, many are interested in bookings as well as associated opportunities for policy-compliant up-selling.
Agency network Radius Travel is working with mTrip on a mobile itinerary-based app that it expects to offer multinational corporate clients by year-end. Senior director for global implementation and client technology Nicole Wilcock did not rule out bookings down the road. For now, she said, the app complements mobile technology from online booking tool providers.
Mtrip caught the eye of Toronto’s MeritBiz in part because of their shared nationality but also because the technology is easy to work with and provider-agnostic, said MeritBiz president Dirk Baerts. In addition to typical features related to areas including itineraries, flight status and risk management, the app links to expense apps and provides a communication platform. Atlas Travel this week announced it used mTrip for its Amigo app, first released in early July. In addition to itinerary features, the app offers “one-click access to Concur and GetThere.”
According to a 2016 survey by the Global Business Travel Association of about 500 U.S.-based business travelers, TMC apps are far from the most commonly used on the road. Indicated by 11 percent of respondents, TMC apps followed those offered by airlines, online travel agencies and metasearch sites, hotels, car rental firms, restaurants, ride sharing companies, expense management providers and general itinerary services.
However, flight and hotel bookings ranked third after flight check-in/status and airline boarding passes on the list of reasons business travelers use a travel app. Hotel check-in, navigation, reviews, car-rental bookings and ride sharing trailed.
At the client’s option, BCD Travel’s Expedia content can include mobile-only rates. The idea isn’t uncommon in leisure travel. Hotels.com, for example, offers “secret prices” on its app. Ctrip promotes savings of up to 50 percent with “mobile-exclusive hotel deals.” But some sources thought of it as a curiosity in managed corporate travel. After all, TMCs are pushing for an omni-channel approach where rates and services are the same regardless of touchpoint.
Rates only available for distribution through a mobile environment are defined by hotelier interests in offering distressed inventory to en-route business travelers, said BCD’s Karmis.
Other sources suggested mobile-only rates could be designed to increase usage of that channel, which suppliers may see as more efficient.
“Hotels tell me mobile searches and booking are up 50 percent from last year,” said Atmosphere Research Group’s Henry Harteveldt. “They may be recognizing the fact that almost every business traveler is using a smartphone, and it may be a way to do some things if it’s last minute and only available on mobile.”
HRS senior vice president Lukasz Dabrowski said the philosophy behind mobile-only rates developed when mobile computing was in its relative infancy and hoteliers sensed another yield management opportunity.
“You actually could count on the mobile rates being more attractive because they had a different booking window [and] a different customer group than the traditional rate programs,” he said. “When you think of the corporate community these days, the value of that is diminishing. It should not be tool-centric. The mobile rates in some of the markets are very last-minute creations. Who knows? Maybe that will be the up-and-coming thing, bearing in mind the new developments restricting the cancellation policy by some of the big players. Maybe that’s one of the ways of going back into this.”