As they work for advantage, clients, suppliers and those in between keep business travel management interesting. Changes to underlying and consumer-facing technology make it a dynamic business function. The personal and geopolitical elements of business travel offer points of note from the micro to macro levels. As one of our featured practitioners noted, this job is about economics, geography, psychology and then some.
And so last year was as interesting as any. Here’s a rundown of 2015, including links mainly to our premium coverage for paying subscribers and those on free trials.
Travel managers are always on the lookout for new ways to save money and improve safety and service. Last year we highlighted efforts to improve programs by using social media to communicate, applying sophisticated sourcing tools, pushing suppliers to provide insightful and actionable data, and proving their worth to senior execs. We covered different approaches to policies, including those on pre-trip approval, refundable fare rules, non-reimbursement and the question of who pays for expedited airport screening memberships.
The Company Dime spotlighted travel management in specific sectors, like energy, higher education and government. We pointed out that while disruptive companies garnered success with new-age business models, they also sought the guidance of veteran travel managers.
We profiled consummate travel manager Jack Reynaert Jr. of Meritor; planet-saving travel management by T-Mobile’s Bob Jacobsen; an intriguing TMC solicitation by DHL’s Michelle Hunt; aggressive T&E cost-cutting by leaders at Mondelēz; and Mark Dropsey integrating corporate travel with internal logistics at NetJets.
On earlier podcasts we talked with travel management pros about the issues of the day as well as the day-to-day. Guest buyers included Bhart Sarin from Ingredion, Pam Massey from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Craig Banikowski from Amgen. We appreciated the participation from all our guests, especially the TMC trio that helped us build the podcast and will continue to make regular appearances: American Express Global Business Travel’s Evan Konwiser, BCD Travel’s Miriam Moscovici and Carlson Wagonlit Travel’s Patrice Simon.
A Risky World
The biggest business travel story of 2015 may have been the Paris attacks. If company leaders and their employees were not getting the message before, many did on that Friday night in November. Travelers get sent out into a risky world — even where perceived risk is low — and having their backs is job No. 1.
Businesses can access a lot of resources in meeting their duty of care. In the past year, new or improved mobile apps and tracking tools hit the market. Travel risk management firms updated their systems and TMCs added services. Industry conferences offered training. A new book on the topic just went on sale. TRM is no fad.
For airlines, such services were among several they developed to improve corporate relationships. United introduced new corporate emissions reports, improved ancillary spend reporting with Visa and formalized a customer service program for frontline employees. Delta backed its operations with performance guarantees for corporate clients in good standing (United followed). After watching competitors merge, American Airlines pulled off the big US Airways res system switch without stumbling.
U.S. airlines also were as punctual as ever and plenty profitable. They appear better equipped to generate and keep customer goodwill. But all this hasn’t meant easy client contract negotiations. Companies with more modest volumes still don’t get much individual attention. For a majority, at least fares didn’t go up.
If travel management pros didn’t send holiday cheer to one carrier, it was Lufthansa. Slapping a surcharge on GDS bookings without offering viable alternatives frustrated many. They hope it doesn’t set a precedent.
Some say JetBlue’s recent delisting from Travelport is evidence of ongoing de-emphasis of the GDS model. But squabbles between distributors and suppliers over pricing terms and content specifics were by no means a new thing in 2015. In almost all previous cases, the two sides find common ground (see Amadeus-Air Canada).
As a group, it was the big hotel companies that came off a bit corporate-unfriendly. They talked up more stringent cancellation policies and intentions to draw travelers to direct channels. Buyers complained that last-room availability increasingly isn’t that.
With some localized exceptions (notably New York City), tight lodging supply and healthy demand made for another year of appreciably rising rates and tough negotiations (and even more interest in price assurance tools like TripBam and Yapta). Marriott’s planned purchase of Starwood won’t help those matters.
Big acquisitions also occurred among online travel agencies. Expedia bought up Travelocity and Orbitz. That gives the behemoth even more leverage to offer low fares and rates, more technology to integrate and more corporate business for subsidiary Egencia (but not IBM’s).
The Company Dime was first to report that Sabre would acquire full ownership of Asian GDS Abacus.
Within the realm of corporate TMCs, the on-again-off-again speculation on a mega merger didn’t amount to anything (yet). In the United States, Direct Travel and CTM bought more small and midsize corporate TMCs, Altour grabbed A&I and BCD Travel purchased World Travel Service.
We also focused on several other TMCs: technology development at Travel and Transport and Travel Incorporated; new consulting services from Travel Leaders Corporate; and American Express Global Business Travel’s plans (a booking tool will play in).
One of our most widely read articles of 2015 wasn’t about improved service or innovation, but rather some nasty allegations leveled at Flight Centre in Canada. It’s not clear whether the company made changes. It later moved its top exec in Canada off the leadership post.
Meanwhile, many continued to lament the status of traditional online booking tools, in terms of service, user experience and access to content. But the past year also brought progress. Amadeus e-Travel secured Southwest’s participation. KDS grew its North American client base. AmTrav’s homegrown tool began accessing fare bundles.
In corporate payment, many players got in on virtual cards (including familiar names Cindy Allen and Brian Barth). Some of the limitations feel like growing pains on the way to wider adoption, but still with the fax? You also probably noticed new chip-enabled credit cards in your wallet. To prep for the so-called EMV migration in corporate travel, issuers got new cards to their clients and provided education.
In the international commercial card market, another exclusive by The Company Dime revealed JPMorgan Chase would exit the scene.
The biggest payment news, though, may have been a court decision invalidating American Express’ anti-steering rules. As a result, merchants could push customers to cheaper forms of payment. But the saga spills into 2016 now that an appellate court overturned the lower court’s decision to ban those Amex practices.
Uber is another industry player that found itself in court last year. Travel managers kept track of the headlines and grappled with the question of whether to promote, condone, grudgingly permit, discourage or flat out ban employees from using the car hailing service. Meanwhile, Uber’s ground transportation competitors tried to stem the tide.
Another lightning rod, Concur hit some bumps in 2015 and faced upstart competitors that secured millions more in funding. Early in the year it suffered performance issues that left many corporate accounts and agency resellers disappointed. The company in March said it would slow innovation to get existing systems running well. But the expense management leader also introduced some new tools including a revamped risk messaging service. It added plenty more clients and announced new TripLink partners.
Airbnb also stayed controversial as travel program managers wrestled with the questions of if and how the accommodation sharing platform fits. The company helped make the case by curating business traveler-friendly properties, launching a business program, aligning with Concur’s TripLink and working with risk management firms.
We look forward to further chronicling these and other corporate travel developments in 2016. Happy New Year!