[UPDATE, April 6, 2017: World Travel Inc. last month enabled fingerprint ID for logins and an option for users to remain signed in even as they switch to other apps.]
Like other travel management companies, World Travel Inc. enabled email parsing and off-channel booking data capture in its mobile experience. Technology from Traxo powers itinerary data aggregation in the WorldMobile app as part of a deal announced in October. Some think of it as an obligatory function; the TMC sees more differentiation in other capabilities. There’s notable value, a company exec argued, in recent app enhancements on seemingly mundane functions like profile editing and airline check-in.
That not all the big TMC apps offer certain functions deemed useful to World Travel’s clients illustrates part of the promise in TMCs taking control of their mobile environments. Just about everyone syncs itineraries and has touch-to-call buttons. Beyond some of the basics in the first crop of TMC apps, though, a measure of diversity is emerging. This is good for clients and their employees.
“Every client will be different and it’s all about what the end users want, what the TMCs want and what the corporate clients want,” said Carole Moreira, head of business development in North America for app developer mTrip. “Clients ask for flexibility and personalization — their image and branding. It’s different to build for a fashion designer versus a bank.” Companies have different concerns about data privacy and storage, she added.
Pennsylvania-based World Travel Inc. in 2012 was one of the first TMCs to build an app. This was at a time when the native app-versus-mobile web argument remained robust. It’s still an argument, but apps have won for now. Most large TMCs nowadays have a native app experience on Android and iOS. It’s not too late to get in the game. Recent additions include apps from American Express Global Business Travel, HRG and Ovation Corporate Travel.
World Travel worked on its behind-the-scenes technology during the past few years. It established PCI compliance, joined the EU-US Privacy Shield, enhanced its telephony, built a centralized profile database and generally improved systems integration. It leveraged the customization capabilities in Concur’s GDSX mid-office tool.
For its app, the plumbing work paid off in December. World Travel Inc. EVP of business development Kevin Martin said the ability to edit one’s own profile — and have it sync properly with TMC, GDS and online booking tool profiles — isn’t sexy new technology, but it’s important to travelers.
“You walk into the Intercontinental, the front desk attendee asks if you have an IHG number,” Martin explained. “If yes, you can easily look it up in the app, but even better, if no, you can sign up and enter it into your profile on the spot. If you spoke to an agent and they updated it in the GDS, that syncs back to the app.”
Another form of integration that TMCs have struggled with is airline check-in. Just how seamless one can make it is a challenge as the many different airlines have differing levels of willingness and capability to offer an API. World Travel took a step back, making it less ideal but functional.
“If you’re on our mobile app within 24 hours before the flight, it tells you that you can check in,” said Martin. “It does send you to the right site, but instead of carrying that confirmation number and embedding it, all it does is copy your confirmation number and suggest you paste it on this page. Flawless.”
According to Moreira, integration is one of the biggest challenges for mobile development. She said it’s especially difficult in leisure travel, where much of the existing software is outdated. “TMCs have either nothing or something that is reasonably good, and then it’s more about the resistance of providers who might have a mobile product and they push their own,” she said. “So the client has to convince them of integration. If the TMC has an IT team that is good with integration, they will make it work. Pushing itineraries into the system is the first challenge. If they can find a way to do that, they will find a way to do the rest.”
There are real technology and security issues, Moreira added, but another challenge relates to mindset. “Some are more old school than others,” she said. “We have seen that evolve.”
Martin said certain functions enabled by integration are underappreciated by some in the industry, but not travelers.
On the other hand, while it gets a lot of attention since it’s related to the radioactive “open booking” topic, Martin does not expect the email parsing capability to get much adoption.
New features in the latest versions of some other TMC apps also are decidedly practical.
Carlson Wagonlit Travel is doubling down on corporate with its mobile app strategy, and new features reflect that. Updated this month, CWT To Go now offers “business justifications for travelers who exceed their rate cap,” according to the iTunes store. Users can choose “from several explanations” to help companies “better understand booking behavior.”
The app now also displays hotel loyalty program numbers during the booking process and passes these details to booked properties. CWT To Go since 2015 has allowed users to edit their profiles and that information synchronizes with TMC, GDS and OBT profiles.
FCM’s Sam app on iOS also allows some profile editing that syncs with the other profiles in the tech stack. Users may “edit basic address information and add in additional email addresses,” according to John Morhous, chief strategy officer for Flight Centre’s corporate brands in the Americas. “We can add more profile elements as needed, but so far customers haven’t really asked for any more.”
Further to that, World Travel’s Martin said his company’s app can “allow all elements of the profile to be edited. However, based on client feedback, we chose to only allow traveler preferences and traveler-defined fields such as loyalty numbers, passport number, known traveler number, additional email, phone number, emergency contact info, king size/double beds, window/aisle, smoking, etc. Companies do not want travelers overriding any internal HR info such as general ledger codes, employee ID numbers, approvers — even the way their name appears in their profile.”
One issue is with authentication. Easy access to profiles is a risk. TMCs can’t control how well travelers secure access to their phones, but they can establish rules around app login. FCM this month added the option to save the Sam app login password. Martin said World Travel is struggling with that.
By default, WorldMobile users are logged out after 15 minutes of inactivity. But users have said that’s not long enough. “We’re balancing that,” said Martin, noting that the company is considering user-defined logout intervals. “We have a few ideas, with touch ID, etc. We want to make it faster.”
BCD Travel’s TripSource enables editing of profile fields as defined by clients, according to a spokesperson. Users also “can add new payment information to their profile so that hotel and ancillary bookings are possible,” the official noted. BCD last month added in-app hotel bookings in select markets, as well as company-specific policies and other info for users of the enterprise version.
An Egencia official declined to comment on whether the company’s app offers profile editing. According to a client of the TMC, it does not and travelers must use the website. Created even before World Travel’s app, the Egencia app recently got faster and had some bugs fixed.
The American Express Global Business Travel app does not allow for profile editing today, according to a spokesperson. GBT will introduce the capability after rolling out a new global profile solution.
“We will also expand the use of additional channels, including web and mobile, to collect additional traveler preference data that is not normally collected today by the GDS/OBT profiles but allows us to deliver high-quality service such as proactive traveler care,” according to the official.
One of the first providers of a TMC app, Travel and Transport does not currently offer mobile profile editing. EVP and CIO Mike Kubasik said the firm is using single sign-on functionality with supported online booking tools, where users can edit profiles. With that, it’s building a profile editing solution that will integrate with “mobile, portal, agent desktop, GDS and OBT,” he said. Kubasik credited Sabre’s latest profiles product for easing development.