SR Travel Takes Action To Manage The Unmanaged

By | June 15, 2016

[UPDATE: Aug. 18, 2017: Direct Travel acquired S.R. Travel Service of San Francisco. Terms were not announced. A statement from Direct Travel West region president Helen Leon noted plans to expand “VIP and elite” services. Direct claims $4 billion in sales and offices in 60 locations.]

The creators of TripActions think they have a slick reservations app, a fun incentive program and an innovative approach to travel policy. At $0 per transaction, the price also may be attractive. Its travel management company partner, S.R. Travel Service, sees TripActions as a differentiator in the market.

When San Francisco-based S.R. looked at TripActions a year ago, president and COO Nancy Atkinson thought collaboration would be premature. “But they move quickly,” she said last week. In October, Atkinson got a closer look as an advisor. By January, the S.R. management team agreed to provide the startup with fulfillment and call support.

The relationship is similar to other cases where TMCs work behind the scenes with would-be disruptors. Atlas Travel supports both NexTravel and Cinch. TravGroup backs 30SecondsToFly.

The operational benefits are obvious. With few exceptions, tech startups don’t want to become travel agencies. TripActions co-founder and CEO Ariel Cohen also noted that innovators often need industry knowledge.

Nancy Atkinson

S.R. Travel Service president
and COO Nancy Atkinson

There’s no investment relationship between S.R. and TripActions, said Atkinson. She called the technology “special” and “unique.” It’s too early to call TripActions the TMC’s preferred corporate booking tool, though. “We support all the others,” she said.

TMC veteran Ron Wagner introduced TripActions to S.R. when he worked for the latter as a vice president. Now he works for the former as client engagement advisor. He’s most impressed with the speed of the booking system, which is heavily mobile-oriented.

“It should take two or three minutes to book,” said TripActions CTO and co-founder Ilan Twig. The mobile app also features destination and other contextual information. FlightStats provides flight status info. If a car rental isn’t booked, the app interacts with the Uber app for easy ground transfers.

When it’s not so easy to self-book, S.R. Travel is available on the other end of the phone. “The support needs to be perfect,” said Atkinson. “We have a specialized desk here supporting TripActions.”

TripActions is setting “optimum” budgets based on observed market pricing and pays travelers back in “Tripbucks” when they spend less. These are redeemable for Amazon gift cards, personal trips or business upgrades. Officials say the app can help clients cut as much as 30 percent from their travel spending. That’s not necessarily on the same products and services. “The real savings come from changing behavior,” like trading down on class of service, said Cohen. “What would you do if it was your money?”

TripActions makes its money on supplier deals, sometimes in partnership with S.R. The TMC charges TripActions fees for fulfillment.

Sans Complex Policies

TripActions is targeting smaller and medium sized businesses with 50 to 1,000 employees. “For them it’s not just about savings but also they are starting to manage travel without bringing in a more traditional application,” said Cohen.

Bobby Shoker is VP of finance and accounting at Netskope, a Bay Area cloud security company. It’s three years old and has 300 people. It shares with TripActions a board member, Lightspeed Ventures Partners’ Arif Janmohamed. He introduced the companies a year ago. Now all of Netskope’s salespeople are using the app. “I don’t think on the airline side there’s that much savings,” said Shoker. “It’s on the hotel side where, say, instead of Marriott they choose Hilton and it’s $100 cheaper, and maybe the employee gets $30. It’s more of a behavioral change. We don’t force people to use it.”

Netskope VP of finance and accounting Bobby Shoker

Netskope VP of finance and accounting Bobby Shoker

Shoker said the company doesn’t have many travel policies. They include guidance on advance bookings and a per-diem cap on hotel rooms of $250. He said the company considered a TMC relationship, but this was “quick and easy — and also intriguing since it’s all mobile.”

TripActions is attracting interest from firms larger than its target range. Xilinx global travel manager Jean Sloan also is impressed. The 3,500-employee firm is considering a beta with one of its divisions. Xilinx may be a company that takes advantage of the more robust TripActions policy parameters.

TripActions offers a dashboard allowing clients to create policy tiers based on company hierarchy. Price and class of service are applicable elements. Per diem caps can be adjusted by city.

However, Cohen argued that many corporate policies are “bad processes” which are losing relevance. He suggests incentives, good experiences and “great prices” ought to be enough for many companies.

“It might be the segment we’re after,” he said, “but we are encouraging customers to go with a dynamic policy option. There are no hard borders. It’s a way to maintain certain control but then really let us decide the right price for a certain city, and same with airlines.”

Additional info: Menlo Park, Calif.-based TripActions uses Sabre under its own contract. It also makes bookings with online travel agencies. Cohen said he sees the S.R. agreement as a “long-term” partnership, but the proposition “could later resonate with other TMCs.” TripActions now is working on a risk management aspect for its app, using notifications. It is also exploring expense management integration with firms such as Expensify.

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Author: Jay Campbell

Jay Campbell in 2004 created travel business newsletter The Beat, in 2006 co-founded Travel Procurement magazine and in 2010 integrated them into Northstar Travel Media's BTN Group. He served as editorial director until 2013. Jay made his travel industry media debut in 1993 at the Air Travel Journal of Boston while earning his undergraduate degree in journalism at Boston University. More on LinkedIn.